When you think about Asgard and the Aesir, Thor is among the first gods you picture with his mighty hammer Mjolnir. A lot is known about him, including his victories and epic battles with giants. He’s been incorporated in a lot of today’s pop culture. In contrast, however, very little is known about his wife Sif.
Still, the much that is written about Sif, show that she was an important Norse goddess in her own right. Still, you can’t help but wonder, who is Sif? What stories and legends are told about her? What does she represent? Well in this post, we take a closer look at the Norse sources, in an attempt to understand more about Sif, not just as Thor’s wife, but as a major Norse goddess.
Who is Sif?
Although she is barely mentioned in today’s modern pop culture, Sif is often mentioned in Norse literature, even though it’s just as a passing reference. Despite being a seemingly passive character in most of the stories that mention her, she is still seen as one of the most important Norse goddesses and a major Asynjur. Her powerful position, however, seems to be largely dictated by her marital status.
To begin with, the name Sif is said to be the singular form of the Old Norse term Sifjar. The term Sifjar is related to the Old English word Sibb which means affinity, family, or connection by marriage. That, therefore, means that Sif’s name translates to ‘relation by marriage’. As such, Sif is associated with fidelity, family, and caregiving.
As a Norse deity, Sif’s roles are said to overlap with those of Frigga, but the two are distinct Asynjurs. She is an Earth goddess of harvest and Autumn. She was associated with bountiful harvest and worshiped by the Norse people as the goddess of the earth who provided fertility to the crop fields. She was, however also linked to the sky, family, and love, much like Frigg, although hers had more to do with her marriage to Thor.
In terms of appearance, the most iconic thing about Sif was her long and beautiful locks of golden hair. Artistic representations of her were that of a young and extremely beautiful woman, with long flowing golden hair that almost touched the ground. Some would argue that it would be difficult to tell who Sif was without her hair since there is a little description of her. Some mentions of her, however, describe her as smart and loving.
Like many of the Norse goddesses, Sif may have also been considered a prophetess. This is because, in Prose Edna, Snorri refers to her as a prophetess named Sybil. In Greek mythology, Sybils were oracles who prophesied at sacred sites. So, it is possible that Snorri’s reference many have been inspired by Greek mythology. Sibyl, however, is linguistically similar to the Old English word Sibb, which is linked to the name Sif.
Sif’s Meaning and Symbols
Like any other Norse deity, there are symbols ad various meanings attached to Sif as one of the Norse deities. Her greatest symbol was her hair. The golden color of the locks was said to represent an abundant field of a golden wheat. According to some sources, the health of her hair was believed to be directly connected to the health of the Norse people’s crops. Therefore, she was seen as the representation of fertility. Her hair was also a representation of the bright-colored leaves that fall during Autumn. It was believed to be as golden as the sun and as such, she was associated with light and was believed to control the light in the sky and have a hand in changing seasons. Sif’s hair according to the Old Norse beliefs, made her the epitome of womanhood and the embodiment of ideal female allurement.
Aside from her hair, Sif was also seen as the representation of a stable family. She is often described as a good and faithful, loving wife, who’s husband completely trusted and loved. Even when Loki or Odin (in disguise) accused Sif of infidelity, Thor didn’t believe that they were telling the truth. Their union was often described as the definition of a healthy marriage. Her being an earth goddess and Thor being a sky god, their marriage is seen as a symbol of the connection between the earth and the sky, where the rain from the sky is responsible for the fertility of the land.
Sif, wife of Thor
As already mentioned, Sif is married to Thor, given that, that is the role she is widely known for. Their union is seen as a divine one between the sky god and earth goddess, also known as hierogamy (hieros gamos) which translates to divine marriage. Being the sky god, Thor is associated with agriculture by providing rain for the crops, it, therefore, makes sense that Sif, as his wife, and an earth goddess, is associated with fertility and land.
Not much is said about how their romance begun, all that is known is that they met and got engaged. Throughout the Norse mythology, except for the instances when she is accused by Loki and Odin who were in disguise, Sif is portrayed as a faithful and loving wife. Her marriage to Thor is described as a healthy and stable one.
None of the authors of Norse mythology, ever described either of them as unfaithful to the other, despite both of them having children outside their marriage. Thor had two sons by other women, their names were Magni, which means mighty, and Móði, which means wrath. Sif on the other hand had a husband before Thor, with whom she had a son by the name Ullr (Old Norse WulÞur). Ullr is the god of winter and hunting and his father was believed to be the god of snowshoes and hunting. Although not much is known about Ullr’s father, he is described as a handsome warrior, always called upon to aid in battles. Some speculate that he could be Urvandil, although there is no proof supporting this.
In their marriage, however, Sif and Thor had two children. The first was a daughter named Trude (Old Norse Þrúðr) which means might. She is believed to be a goddess and one of the Valkyries. They also had a son, his name was Lóriði. Not much is mentioned about him, other than the fact that he takes a lot after his father Thor.
About Sif in Prose Edda
Sif has been attested in both the Poetic and Prose Edda as well as the Skaldic poems and the Old English poem Beowulf. As we pointed out earlier, most of these mentions portray her as a passive or passing character and never the main one. Still, what is depicted of her points to the fact that she may have been an important deity especially in the early medieval times?
In the Prose Edda, Sif is mentioned at least thrice. Snorri talks about her in the Prologue, in Gylfaginning that is in chapter 31, and Skáldskaparmál, the second part of the Prose Edda. In the Prologue section, where Snorri introduces the origins of Viking mythology, he also introduces Sif as Thor’s wife. This section is where Sif is described as the prophetess Sibyl who many know as Sif. Snorri also mentions here that Thor and Sif have a son named Lóriði, who Snorri describes as having taken after his father.
The next mention of Sif is in Chapter 31 of the Prose Edda, Gylfaginning. Here Snorri mentions Ullr as Sif’s biological son and Thor’s foster son. In this chapter, Ullr is described as the best bowman and skier, who is so skillful that no one stood a chance competing with him. He is also said to be a great and accomplished warrior who is handsome and good to look at. Most people prayed to him when going into single combat.
Lastly, Sif appears three times in Skáldskaparmál in the Prose of Edda. The first mention is in the duel between Thor and Hrungnir, the strongest of the giants. The duel is said to have started when drunk Hrungnir began boasting openly about his desire for Freya and Sif. He said that he would kill all the gids, except the two goddesses who he would take home as his wives. Enraged by his words, Thor killed him in the duel.
The second time Sif is mentioned in the Skáldskaparmál is when Loki decides to prank her by cutting off her golden hair without her knowing. Angry at what he did, Thor threatened to kill Loki, who is then forced to go to the dwarves to find a solution to his mistake. It is around this time that Thor’s hammer and Odin’s spear among the five treasures in Norse Mythology were created.
In other parts of the Skáldskaparmál, Sif is mentioned as heiti meaning earth, and in a kenning for a woman who keeps gold. She is also once referred to as Hildr, a Valkyrie. In other places, she is referred to poetically as the wife of Thor, the rival of Járnsaxa, the fair-haired deity, or the mother of Ullr or Trude.
The Legend of Sif’s Hair
Despite her mentions as a passive role, Sif has several legends and stories to her name. The story and legend of her hair is, however, the most common one about her in Norse Mythology. Based on the legend, just as Thor was known for his strength and masculinity, his wife Sif was known for her long thick locks that were the perfect shade of gold. Her hair was described as always being flawless and flowing easily down her back, almost touching the ground.
She used to comb her hair with an encrusted comb and wash it in sparkling water before laying it out on the rocks and letting it dry from the warmth of the sun. One day as she was waiting for her hair to dry, she fell asleep. Some speculate that her falling asleep was Loki’s doing. He thought it would be a fun prank to cut her hair while she was asleep. When Sif woke up, she found that she was nearly bald with a heap of her hair lying around her. She burst into tears which fell on the ground where the crop fields were, causing a flood.
When Thor was unable to find his wife, he went out searching for her. Finally, he heard her whispering his name, saying that she was ashamed and needed to go into hiding. When her husband saw her, he was saddened by her suffering. Thor loved his wife immensely and treasured her hair more than anything. He would often boast about it every chance he got. The idea that someone would do this to his wife enraged him. He approached the other gods demanding to know who was responsible and threatening to kill whoever it was. Loki finally confessed to the crime after Odin made Thor promise not to harm him. The other gods demanded that he look for a way to make amends and give Sif her hair back. Loki was forced to travel to the Dwarves’ realm to find a solution. There he found the Ivaldi brothers who helped him make a hear piece that was made of gold strands and enchanted to grow on Sif’s head as if it was her hair. To ensure that Thor would no longer be angry at him, he also had the dwarves make Mjolnir for him along with other treasures that he gifted to Odin and Freyr.
When Sif received the headpiece, it fit her perfectly and the strands from it shone brighter than her hair previously did. She stopped crying and was happy once again. As a result, the crop fields were no longer flooded and she went back to caring for the crops once again.
Thoughts on Sif
Sif is envisioned as the crops growing and stretching out to the sky towards her husband, who is seen as the summer storms that pour down to nourish her. Her ever-growing wig is symbolic of the cycle of harvesting and regrowing crops, as well as the shedding of tree leaves in autumn and them growing back in spring. She was worshipped as the goddess of the harvest, food, and provisions for the family. She was also considered the goddess of the family by the Proto-Germanic heathens. Her symbols are said to be gold, cosmetics, wheat and grains, autumn seasons, and family.
The two important facts to know about Sif is her golden hair that was symbolic of golden wheat and the fact that she was Thor’s wife. Although she has no active roles in Norse Mythology, she was still revered as an important deity given that she was the goddess of the harvest, and associated with fertility and the earth.