Tag Archives: obscure deities

Fulla: goddess of secrets

Fulla is one of the lesser-known Norse goddesses, described in the Prose Edda as Frigga’s right-hand woman. (Closest comparison Ninshubur and Iris/Hebe?) Her name means “Bountiful”. She only appears in one myth, but we do know a few things about her, thanks mainly to Snorri Sturluson’s efforts to preserve pagan lore for poets.

Poetic Edda

Fulla has a small role in the prologue to the poem Grimnismal. In it, Frigg tries to turn Odin against his protege Geirroth. Odin already made sure that his protege became king instead of hers, so she sets up a plan to put an end to Geirroth’s kingship.

She tells Odin that his protege is reknowned for his stinginess and the two make a wager about it. Frigg then sends Fulla ahead to make sure that Odin’s reception is a poor one:

Frigg sent her handmaiden, Fulla, to Geirröth. She bade the king beware lest a magician who was come thither to his land should bewitch him, and told this sign concerning him, that no dog was so fierce as to leap at him.

(As if dogs would attack a god who had two wolves as pets.) This is the only time Fulla appears in a myth, but it shows Fulla’s role as Frigg’s messenger/confidante. The Merseburg Charm below, if it also refers to Fulla, also emphasizes their closeness.

Frigg and Fulla. Wikimedia.

Prose Edda

Snorri Sturluson, in his efforts to catalogue the pagan lore of Scandinavia, left us the names of many goddesses we would never have known about otherwise. The first quote from the Gyflaginning part of his Prose Edda comes from his list of the Norse goddesses, the second from the story of Baldr’s death:

Fifth is Fulla. She too is a virgin and goes around with her hair flowing free and has a gold band around her head. She carries Frigg’s casket and looks after her footwear and shares her secrets. (Gylf. 34-5)

Then Hermod got up and Baldr went with him out of the hall and took the ring Draupnir and sent it to Odin for a keepsake, and Nanna sent Frigg a linen robe and other gifts too; to Fulla finger-ring. (Gylf. 49)

That Baldr and Nanna sent a gift to Fulla alongside their gifts for Frigg points to her status within their family circle – Fulla might be a servant but she is an honoured one.

She’s also mentioned in the Skaldskaparmal as present at the Aesir’s feast for the giant Aegir (ch. 1). Snorri’s quotes from the poets include her name being used as a kenning for gold in a verse by Eyvind skaldaspillir (36-7):

The falling sun [gold] of the plain [forehead] of Fulla’s eyelashes shone on the poets’ Ull-boat [shield-] fells [arms] throughout the life of Hakon.

and one from Kormakr Ogmundarson uses her name as a kenning for “woman”:

bauð gulls Njorun auðar
mitt villat fe Fylla
fingrgoll gefit trollum

commanded the finger gold [both]
to be given to trolls – the
goddess of gold doesn’t want my riches

and she also appears (by implication) in a verse by Orm Barreyjarskald (23):

However mighty, goddess of Draupnir’s band [lady], I learn the lord is – he rules his realm – the ruler of the constellation’s path will welcome me.

Apart from the poems cited in Snorri’s Edda, a poem quoted in Gisli’s saga Sursonnar uses the name Fulla as a kenning for “woman”:

Fals hallar skal Fulla
fagrleit, sús mik teitir,
rekkilát at rökkum,
regns, sínum vin fregna;
vel hygg ek, þótt eggjar
ítrslegnar mik bíti;
þá gaf sínum sveini
sverðs minn faðir herðu.

or in English:

“Wife so fair, so never failing,
So truly loved, so sorely cross’d,
Thou wilt often miss me wailing,
Thou wilt weep thy hero lost.
But my soul is stout as ever ,
Swords may bite, I feel no smart
Father! better heirloom never
Owned thy son than hardy heart.”

Merseburg Charm

Moving away from Scandinavia, a manuscript in Old High German from the 9th century also mentions Fulla alongside Frigg, Woden and the mysterious Phol. In fact, there are two pairs of women in the charm, the sun and her sister, and Frigg and her sister Volla, or Fulla.

Phol and Wodan
rode into the woods,
There Balder’s foal
sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt,
her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija,
her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan,
as he well knew how:

The verse is similar to other charms for healing horses, but it does leave us with the questions of who Phol and Sinthgunt were. I’m going to cover Sunna and Sinthgunt in another post, but Phol is usually assumed to be Baldr, although it could be a male form of the name Volla. (Leading some to assume that Phol and Volla are Freyr and Freyja.)

What’s interesting is that it shows all four female deities using magic. And while some scholars have seen the sequence as implying that Wodan was able to heal the horse while the goddesses weren’t, it could equally mean they were all chanting togeher, or that Wodan is learning from them (as Odin seeks knowledge from Saga and various volvas and giantesses). We’ll never know for sure, but we can be certain that the charm is telling us that Fulla/Volla knew healing magic.

Frigg and Her Maidens. Fulla carries the casket. Wikimedia.

Fulla’s Casket

A lot of the standard reference works on Norse myth assume that Fulla is an aspect of Frigg, although if you look at her carefuly you can see the delination of a distinct goddess with her own concerns and attributes. Fulla is connected with gold (ring, snood) and wears her hair loose lke an unmarried woman, her name means Abundance, and she carries Frigg’s casket and knows her secrets.

I think we can get at her nature by looking at her casket, or in Old Norse, eski. The Icelandic-English Dictionary defines eski as:

eski, n. [askr], an ashen box, Edda 17, 21, Fms. ii. 254, Fas. i. 237, Ísl. ii. 79; mod. spelt askja, and used of any small box.

eski-mær, f. a lady’s maid, Gm. (pref.)

Lest anyone think I’m suggesting that Fulla is merely Frigg’s maid, I’m not. I do think, however, that her position is that of a subordinate to Frigg, someone who knows her secrets and carries out her will. In fact, when I think of Fulla the first goddess I think of is the Babylonian Ninshubur, who was Inanna’s servant, rescued her from the underworld and helped her fight off demons.

The other Norse goddess who carries an eski is Idunn, who keeps the apples of immortality in hers. This suggests to me that whatever Frigg has in that box, it’s not mere fripperies, although given how powerful Freyja’s necklace Brisingamen is, Frigg’s jewels may be more than just adornements.

(And remember that letters supposedly written by Mary Stuart to her lover Bothwell became famous as the Casket Letters.)

The other use for apples is food, and apples are a fruit that can be stored. Thus Fulla’s box may well connect to her name, Abundance. Food stored in a box was food available for winter and spring when there was little to eat. I was struck by a verse attributed to Kormakr Ogmundarson, which also mentions an eski:

You do not need to bring with you
either basket (eski) or tankard
to the generous man.

Kormakr was praising Earl Sigurdr’s generosity (we’re back to that again) and his mention of an eski leads up to a reference to Thiazi, Idunn’s kidnapper. After all, we never hear of Idunn running low on apples, so we have to assume that her supply is never-ending. (Especially since kidnapping her for the apples would make no sense if they ran out.)

Fulla is an intriguing goddess, because she embodies both abundance and something more mysterious – something kept back, or hidden. We’re told she knows all Frigg’s secrets, and perhaps that is what her casket symbolizes: all the secrets that she holds, and the power that knowledge gives her. After all, Fulla is the confidential servant of the goddess who “knows fate, though she does not say [it].”


References and Links:
Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman Press, Penguin, 1992. (reprint)
The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Jesse Byock, Penguin Classics, 2005.
The Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford UP, 1996.

Lindow, John 2001: Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs, OUP, New York and Oxford.
Orchard, Andy 2002: Cassell’s Dictonary of Norse Myth and Legend, Cassell Reference.
Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall) 1996: Dictionary of Northern Mythology, D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.
Sundqvist, Olaf Sagas, “Religion and Rulership: The Credibility of the Descriptions of Rituals in Hakonar Saga Goda,Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 1: 225-50.

dooley, d. Kate 2006: The Spinde Hearth: A Sourcebook for Goddess-Centered Living, Yarrow Press, Asheville-Lewisburg.
Karlsdottir, Alice 2003: Magic of the Norse Goddesses: Mythology, Ritual, Tranceworking, Runa-Raven Press.
(And my own Asyniur: Women’s Mysteries in the Northern Tradition.)

Diana Paxson on Frigga’s Handmaidens
Journeying to the Goddess
Lofn’s Bard
Lesser-Known Goddesses in Norse Mythology
Fulla from LadySaga
Fulla, from the Almighty Johnsons Wiki
Icelandic-English Dictionary

Image at the top by kropekk_pl from Pixabay

Hlin: Protector Goddess

Frigg was the Queen of Heaven, but she had many other goddesses around her, including several who functioned as her ladies-in-waiting. Fulla carried her casket and kept her secrets, Lofn sought her permission for unlawful lovers, and Hlin protected those that Frigg wanted to save.

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Ritona: goddess of the crossing

Ritona is not a well-known goddess, considering that she is attested by six different inscriptions1 from four different parts of modern France and Germany. This means that three different tribes acknowledged her as a power. According to Deo Mercurio “she must rank as one of the most major ‘minor’ deities from northeastern Gaul.”

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Spring’s Victory: the Goddess Hretha

Two weeks ago I wrote about the goddess Eostre, who gave her name to the Easter festival. In Anglo-Saxon times, Eostre’s festival was in April, while March belonged to another goddess, Hretha.

If we know very little about Eostre, we know even less about Hretha. The only source we have for either of them is the Venerable Bede‘s book on the calendar, where he lists the names of the Anglo-Saxon months in England, with brief explanations of each name. I think you’ll agree his descriptions are terse:

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Alauna and Boudina: nurturer and warrior

The title of this post might seem a bit catchall, but it was inspired by the goddess Alauna and Boudina, who appear together on a couple of altars in Romanized Germany, while the similarly-named Alounae seem to be mother-goddesses from modern Austria.

As with Dea Vecana and Meduna, another pair of Germanic goddesses, one is warlike, while the other is more peaceful. The name Boudina comes from the Celtic root boudi-, victory, while Alauna means either nourisher or wanderer.

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The Smith and the Mountain: Ucuetis and Bergusia

Gaulish Alesia, the home of Ucuetis and Bergusia, was nearly lost to history entirely. After Julius Caesar’s military successes in Gaul, the Celtic tribes formed an alliance to push the Romans back, led by the Arverni chieftain Vercingetorix. At first the Gauls scored several victories against the Romans, but at Alesia the Roman army settled down to a seige which only ended when Vercingetorix surrendered.

After that Alesia became a Roman oppidum, and seems to have prospered, becoming famous for its metalworking. In the 5th century, after the Western Empire collapsed, the Gauls  abandoned the town. Alesia’s location became a mystery, solved only in 1838 when an inscription, IN ALISIIA, was uncovered. Napoleon III ordered archaeologists to excavate around Mt. Auxois, confirming that Alise-sur-Reine, near Dijon, was Alesia.

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Seshat: Mistress of the Books

The Egyptian goddess Seshat is one of the lesser-known Egyptian deities, and yet she was an enduring one. Her name means “Female Scribe” and the art of the scribe was her area: the burgeoning state of Egypt needed to keep records, formalize contracts and agreements, and make blueprints for buildings. This made her a useful deity, but also limited her cult, as we shall see.

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Morpheus and the dream gods

Neil Gaiman fans already know this, but Morpheus and his family were the spirits of dream, who sent dreams to mortals from their home in Erebos. This was a place, but also their father. (Having a personification for a parent can be confusing.)

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Thorgerd Holgabrudr

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.

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Astraios: Father of the Stars

Astraios was one of the Greek Titans, the older gods who ruled before Zeus and the Olympians. His name means “Of the Stars”, and he was the father of the stars and winds. Astrology was one of his specialties, but he was also connected to the seasons and possibly navigation.

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