If you’re familiar with Norse Mythology, then you must be aware of the enmity between the Norse pantheon and the Giants. The feud between them has existed since the creation of the cosmos when Odin and his two brothers killed the first giant Ymir. Despite their differences, Norse deities are often seen having affairs with the giants, and even bearing children with them.
It is, however, rare to find a giant married to one of the gods, most of them were mostly concubines. The giantess Skadi, however, is among the exception of giants who married gods and gained the title of a goddess. Although she is attested in various Norse sources, not much is known about her. In this post, we take a closer look at her story, to find out who she was, what she symbolized, and her abilities and roles.
Who is Skadi?
As mentioned, Skadi is among the few, if not the only, giantess known as a goddess. Originally, Skadi is a frost giant, who gains the status of a goddess through marriage. The marriage was as compensation from the gods, for having killed her father. She is the goddess of winter, hunting, and skiing. Some also refer to her as the snowshoes’ goddess. Skadi is sometimes associated with the Ullr, son of Sif and an unknown god who was described as the god of snowshoes. Ullr is also the god of winter and considering that Skadi’s name is masculine in Norse mythology, some speculate that she might be the feminine form of Ullr. Also, since she got her status as a goddess through seeking revenge and justice for her father’s death, she is often associated with vengeance, justice, and damage.
Skadi is seen as an independent goddess who lives her life according to her wish and not the wish of the Aesir. Her home was in the highest part of the mountain where the snow never melts. There she lives in her father’s hall, Thrymheim, that Odin once described as the ‘ancient courts’. She lives there with her trusted animal companion, the wolf Kaldr. She is also associated with dogs and wild animals. She is said to rule over the wilderness and winter in those mountains.
In terms of appearance, she is described as the shining bride of the gods. She is often depicted in paintings in the snowy peaks of mountains in her ski shoes and her wolf. Not much is said to describe her. Being a giant, who is the god’s enemy, Skadi is associated with darkness, death, and cold. She is also, however, seen as more benevolent than the other giants considering that she is also a goddess.
Skadi Symbols and Meaning
Skadi, along with the life she lived carried a lot of meaning and symbolism. Starting with her name, which is pronounced as SKAHD-ee, is believed to be from the Old Norse term, skaði, which means harm. This ties in with the fact that she is a giant, who is normally associated with death and darkness. Her story is also one that is mainly of rage, and vengeance.
Her name is also said to be associated with the gothic term skadus, the Old English word, sceadu, the Old High Germanic word, scato, or the Old Saxon word scado, all of which means shadow. This may be due to Skadi’s association with the famous woman warrior in Irish mythology called Scáthach, meaning ‘the shadowy one’.
Most scholars also believe that Skadi may be an embodiment of the region of Scandinavia, although there is a debate as to whether she derived her name from the region or vice versa. John McKinnell for example believes that Scandinavia etymologically means ‘the island of the goddess Skadi’, hence insinuating that the name Scandinavia came from Skadi. Georges Dumézil, however, disagrees, believing that the first part of Scandinavia (i.e., Scandin-) has or once had a connection to Darkness. He, therefore, states that it’s more logical that the Skadi’s name was derived from Scandinavia.
Aside from her name, Skadi’s life is also highly symbolic. Given her attributes, she is seen as the representation of independence and self-reliance for women. She is portrayed as a woman with equal standing to men and one who doesn’t back down when it comes to fighting for what she is owed. Her marriage is also a representation of a healthy long-distance relationship, the idea that a married couple can be happy living independently and pursuing their interests. The goddess of winter also represents the closing down of the trading season since seafarers couldn’t voyage during winter, given the ice and storms and the harbor water would freeze over.
Skadi is mentioned in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda and the Heimskringla book. Her most common and famous story, however, is when she went to Asgard seeking revenge for her father’s death. The story starts with her father, Thjazi, kidnapping Idun an Aesir goddess, so he could force her to marry him. Idun was later saved by Loki, who had gotten her in the predicament in the first place, and who killed Thjazi.
Upon learning of her father’s death, Skadi was enraged. She took up her weapons, swearing to avenge her father, and stormed into Asgard where the gods were celebrating the safe return of Idun and the death of the giant. Not wanting to fight with her, Odin offered Skadi gold as compensation for her plight. She, however, turned down the gold saying that her father and grandfather had left her enough treasures of her own. She continued to say that the only compensation she would accept is if they let her pick the husband of her choice from among the gods. Fearing that she intended to pick Balder, Odin’s son, loved by all, the gods agreed to her demand on the condition that she would make her choice by looking at their feet. Skadi complied and picked the most beautiful feet she found, believing them to be Balder’s. To her unfortunate shock, the feet turned out to be Njord’s. The god of the sea, to Skadi’s dismay, had a weathered face from his time by the sea and smelled like salt.
Feeling duped Skadi became enraged again, and to appease her Odin took her father’s eyes and threw them up to the sky, and made them stars. While the gesture seemed to calm her down, it wasn’t enough. Skadi said that she would be appeased only if the gods managed to make her laugh. Loki being the culprit was forced to take up the task. Using a basket of fruits, rope, and a goat, Loki had to go through pain and humiliation, to get a giggle out of the giantess. After calming down, Skadi realized that Njord was not a bad choice after all. He was kind and a wealthy and accomplished god of the sea. So, she agreed to the alliance with him, and the score was settled between her and the gods.
There isn’t much known about Skadi’s childhood or family. What is known is that Skadi was Thjazi’s daughter, a shapeshifting frost giant. Skadi’s relationship with her father was a close one. Thjazi taught her everything she needed to know about combat and hunting. Her mother’s identity is however unknown. Thjazi is said to be the son of Ölvaldi, making him Skadi’s grandfather. Although she has no known siblings, her father had two brothers, Iði and Gangr, meaning they were Skadi’s uncles. Given the similarities between Ullr and Skadi, some speculate that the two could have been siblings, especially since Ullr’s father is not known and nor is Skadi’s mother. Other speculations mention that she may have had an aunt named Angerboda and two cousins named Gerd and Beli, but there is no proof of this.
As for marriage, Skadi is said to be the wife of Njord. Although, some sources say that they got divorced and she married Odin instead and had many children, whose names aren’t mentioned anywhere. By her marriage to Njord, however, would make her the stepmother to Freya and Freyr, Njord’s children with her sister-in-law, Njord’s sister and ex-wife, Nerthus.
Skadi and Njord
The relationship between Njord and Skadi isn’t clear, given that there is contradicting information about them. Some sources talk about them as still a married couple who live separately and others talk about them being divorced shortly after their union.
After Njord and Skadi left Asgard, they first went to live in Skadi’s hall in the mountains. Njord, however, couldn’t stand how immensely cold and desolate it was there. He hated the howling of the wolves in the night. After nine nights, they moved to Njord’s hall by sea. Here Skadi couldn’t stand how noisy and active the sea was. She also hated the screeching of the seagulls and sleeping in the sea bed. She missed her mountains and the snow. After nine nights, the two came to a compromise to live separately.
Njord continued to live in his hall and Skadi’s in hers. Some say they alternate days were in each other’s halls, while others say after one and a half months, they went their separate ways and Skadi later married Odin. There are some speculations that she fell in love with and married Ullr instead of Odin. There is however no proof to this claim.
Powers & Duties
Being the goddess of winter, Skadi was very powerful and had several duties. To begin with she ruled over the wilderness and winter. She was considered the goddess of hunters and skiers since she is always depicted with her ski shoes and her bow and arrow, probably hunting.
Speaking of her bow and arrow, she was highly skilled in archery which is why the bow was a weapon of choice. She is described as a fierce and courageous warrior.
Since she wasn’t originally a deity and only had the status of a goddess by marriage, she may not have the same qualities and powers as other Norse goddesses. But being a frost giant, it could be possible that she had supernatural strength. She is also not easily harmed and can live for a long time. Although it is not mentioned anywhere, it could be possible that Skadi could shapeshift as her father could.
Facts About Skadi
The following are some of the important facts to remember about Skadi:
- Skadi was both a giantess and goddess and probably the first or only one to exist with her status.
- She was the daughter of Thjazi who was killed by Loki so he could save Idun. Thjazi’s death is what resulted in Skadi getting the status of a goddess as compensation.
- Her status as a goddess is due to her marriage to Njord, who she selected for herself after looking at his feet. Although she was disappointed at first by his appearance, the couple separated because they could compromise and agree on where to live.
- Other than marriage, Loki had to humiliate himself to make Skadi laugh and Odin turned Thjazi’s eyes into stars as further compensation for her father’s death.
- Skadi is the goddess of winter, the wilderness, and hunting. She lives in the highest peaks of the mountain where the snow never melts.
- She has a wolf as her animal companion and she is associated with dogs and wild animals.
- She is said to have gotten married to Odin after separating from Njord. Some however believe that she fell in love with Ullr and married him instead.
- Skadi is known for her courage, persistence, and fierceness. She is the representation of a confident independent woman.
Even as the goddess of winter, Skadi represented the dark and fierce side of it. They say that if you would like to worship Skadi, you can leave red wine or milk by the door on a winter night as a way of inviting her. You can also use the first snowfall in her rituals or as an offering up to her. Another thing is by spending time by yourself in nature hunting or skiing, or hiking since these were some of her hobbies.