You wouldn’t expect a Norse myth to be a parable on economic exploitation, and how bad deeds rebound on the doer. Grottasöngr, a story of how king Frodi forced two giantesses to work a mill without cease, and thus wrought his own destruction, is an unusual myth.
Thorgerd Holgabrudr and her sister Irpa were Norwegian goddesses. Some of the sagas relate tales of her rich temples and statues. Her followers gave her rich gifts, and expected her to intercede on their behalf. Her most influential follower was Haakon Sigurdsson, who was essentially the ruler of Norway in the last part of the 9th century.
Norse myth tends to echo; one story calling to another. There are at least three stories in Norse myth about a young man passing through a wall of flames and other hazards to reach a woman. This would seem to be a straightforward story of a woman sought and won, except that in two of these stories the young man is a stand-in for another, and only one story has a happy ending.
This is an extremely condensed look at the myth of Njord and Skadi. For a much more detailed study, see my book Njord and Skadi: a Myth Explored.
The myth of Njord and Skadi could also be called the Divine Divorce. Usually, even unhappily married deities stay together, but these two bucked the trend. Skadi married Njord as part of a settlement after the gods killed her father, but the marriage didn’t last.
Popular sources describe this story as a nature-myth, with the sea-god and the mountain-goddess being unable to find common ground. This myth, however, has multiple meanings, and goes to the heart of Norse myth and the god-giant conflict that will bring destruction.
My last post on Gefjun touched on the question of her status. She is counted among the goddesses, but so are Skadi, Gerdr and Jord, all of whom are giantesses by birth. John Lindow has argued that she was obviously a giant or other primal being, although others have seen her as an earth goddess. So is she a goddess, a giantess, or both?
While it’s part of Norse myth that the gods and giants are enemies, it seems that the giantesses were a different story. Odin clearly never met one he didn’t like, and he was far from being the only one to have a fling with one. Even Thor the giant-smasher had an affair with Jarnsaxa. These romances usually resulted in the second-generation gods, such as Thor’s son Magni.
Sometimes, however, the sons of these unions were mortals, or demi-mortals anyway. The Swedish ruling dynasty called the Ynglings and the Norwegian earls of Hladir traced themselves back to the giantesses/goddesses Gerdr and Skadi, respectively.
There are many stories in which a heroic character penetrates the otherworld and is challenged by some sort of ogre or other strange being. This challenger may question the hero’s worthiness or ability.
Norse myth has two examples of a female quester who faces a challenge to her fitness and an attempt to thwart her in her aims. In Hyndluljod Freyja has to convince the far-from-agreeable Hyndla to help her protegé win a lawsuit, while in the poem Helreid Brynhildar Brynhild is challenged on her way to Hel by a giantess who questions her ethics and actions.
Verbal duelling is a major part of the sagas and Eddas, as a substitute for other kinds of violence. Mostly it happens between two men, who accuse each other of cowardice, effeminacy, and general unmanliness.
However, there are incidents of male – female flyting as well, with men and women trading insults, usually much the same insults. The two best-known examples of male – female flyting in the Eddas are the quarrel between Skadi and Loki in Lokasenna, a poem which is essentially Loki’s verbal duel with each god and goddess in turn, and the heroic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, which features a bout between the hero and a giantess.
“The rowan is the salvation of Thor”, was a Icelandic proverb, and we have to wonder how this small tree could save a mighty god.