According to Snorri, Njord (ON Njorþr) is third of the Æsir, though not of their race, for he was reared in the land of the Vanir and given by them as a hostage to the Æsir.1 This agrees with other passages in Snorri and in the Poetic Edda, where Njord appears among the Æsir, e.g., at Ægir’s banquet. It is based on passages in Vafthrudnismal and Lokasenna. In the former Odin says:

“Tell me . . .
Whence Njord came among the Æsir’s sons?
O’er fanes and shrines he rules by hundreds,
Yet was not among the Æsir born.”

Vafthrudnir answers:

“In Vanaheim wise powers created him,
And to the gods a hostage gave.
At the Doom of the gods he will return
To the wise Vanir.”

In the latter Loki addresses Njord and tells him that he was sent eastward and given to the gods as a hostage.2 Hence he is “god of the Vanir,” “kinsman of the Vanir,” or simply “the Van.”3 His dwelling is in Noatun, “Ship-place” or “Haven.”

“There Njord built himself the high hall,
Where the faultless ruler of men
Sits in his high-timbered fane.”

Njord’s wife is Skadi, daughter of the giant Thjazi, but apparently before he came among the Æsir, he had two children


by his unnamed sister, Frey and Freyja. With this Loki taunted him at Ægir’s banquet:

“I will no longer keep secret what I heard,
With thy sister thou hadst a son
Hardly worse than thyself.”

Njord rules the course of the wind and stills the sea, storm, and fire. Men call on him in sea-faring and hunting. So rich and abundant in goods is he, that he can give plenty of lands or gear; hence men invoke him for such things. Thus he is “god of wealth-bestowal,” and, according to Vafthrudnismal he is rich in altars and shrines.6 Njord has thus two distinct divine attributes — he is a Sea-god and a god of wealth and prosperity, a Sea-god of riches.”7

His sister-wife was perhaps the goddess Nerthus of whom Tacitus speaks as worshipped by seven tribes in North-east Germany, and whose name exactly corresponds to that of Njord, from *nerthuz. Golther says: “the general German word nertu, “good will,” as a name denoting character, was extended to persons. *Nerthuz means the beneficent, friendly divinity, and may thus be used either of a god or a goddess.”8

Tacitus says of Nerthus: “The Reudingi, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suardones, Nuithones (tribes of the Ingaevones) unite in worshipping Nerthus, that is Mother Earth, and think that she mingles in the affairs of men and visits the nations. There is a sacred grove on an island in the ocean (probably Seeland), and in it stands a wagon covered with a cloth. The priest alone may touch it. He becomes aware of the presence of the goddess in the innermost place, and follows her with the greatest reverence as she is drawn about by cows. Then are there joyful days, places of festivity, wheresoever the goddess comes as a guest. They do not engage in wars nor take up arms. Weapons are closed. Peace and quiet alone are then named and loved, until the same priest restores to her temple the goddess, satisfied with the intercourse of mortals. Thereupon the vehicle


and its covering and, if it be credible, the goddess, are washed in a secret lake. Slaves do this service, and the lake immediately swallows them up.”9

All this suggests rites of fertility and a festival which would most naturally occur in spring. Nerthus is akin to Njord in functions, though different in sex. In spite of Tacitus’ assertion some, like Mannhardt, think that Nerthus was a male divinity; others, e.g., A. Kock, that Njord, a male god, had taken the place of a female.10 But it is quite possible that a pair of deities, regarded as brother and sister, and bearing similar names, were worshipped together, along with a third, their son Frey, part of whose ritual, as we shall see, resembled that of Nerthus. Another theory is that originally Njord was a goddess (Nerthus), not a god, and that Skadi, regarded as a female in the Eddas, was a god.11

From Seeland, where it was indigenous, this cult passed to Sweden and Norway, and there, apart from the witness of the Eddas, many places bear the name of Njord, showing that his cult was widespread. Thence the cult passed to Iceland. In literary sources, Njord and Frey are constantly mentioned together — “so help me Frey and Njord and Thor.” Together they dispense riches.12 Hence an old Icelandic phrase, “as rich as Njord.”

In an interesting myth Snorri makes Skadi the wife of Njord. The giant Thjazi had been slain by the Æsir, and in panoply of war his daughter Skadi went to Asgard to avenge him. The Æsir offered her atonement, viz., to choose a husband from their number, but to choose him by the feet only, for she would see no more than these in making her selection. Her choice fell on him whom she thought to be Balder, but the chosen one was Njord. In the bond of reconciliation it was also agreed that the gods must make her laugh, which she deemed impossible. Loki accomplished this, however, by an act which suggests cruelty and obscenity rather than humour.13

In Saxo’s account of the mythic Hadding an incident resembling


this method of choice occurs. A giant had taken in troth Ragnhild, daughter of Hakon, king of the Nitheri. Hadding overcame him, but was wounded. Ragnhild tended him, not knowing who he was, and, in order not to forget him, enclosed a ring in his wound. At a later time, her father gave her permission to choose a husband, and when the suitors were assembled, she felt their bodies and recognized Hadding by means of the ring.14

The identification motif in Saxo is a form of a folk-tale formula, but the naked foot incident of the Edda has been connected with marriage rites in which only the foot of the future spouse is seen, and with fertility rites in which bare feet play a part. Schröder thinks that Nerthus-Njord is to be explained as “dancer” (cf. Sanskrit nart, “to dance”), and that the priest and priestess who represented this pair of fertility deities carried out the ritual with bare feet.15

Skadi wished to dwell in her father’s abode in the mountains, Thrymheim, “Home of noise,” of which Grimnismal says that here Thjazi, the all-powerful Jötun, dwelt, but Skadi, bright bride of the gods, now inhabits the old dwelling of her father. Njord wished to dwell near the sea. They made a compact to dwell nine nights in Thrymheim and three at Noatun. When Njord came back from the mountains to Noatun he sang:

“I love not the mountains, I dwelt not long in them,
    Nine nights only;
Sweeter is to me the song of the swan
    Than the wild wolf’s howl.”

To this Skadi replied:

“My sleep was troubled on the shore of the sea
    By the screaming of sea-birds.
Every morning the sea-mew wakens me
    Returning from the deep.”

These verses, quoted by Snorri, are from a lost Eddic poem. Skadi then went up to the mountains and dwelt in Thrymheim.


She goes on snow-shoes and shoots wild creatures with her bow and arrows. Hence she is called “goddess” or “lady of the snow-shoes.”16 Skadi’s departure from Njord is referred to by the skald Thord Sjareksson who speaks of her “grieving at the Van’s side.”17

Saxo relates a similar story of Hadding and Ragnhild, quoting in Latin verses which correspond to those cited by Snorri. After years spent in disuse of arms, Hadding reproached himself with dwelling in the hills and not following sea-faring. The cry of the wolves, the howl of beasts, keep him from sleep. The ridges and hills are dreary to one who loves the sea. Far better to ply the oar and revel in sea-fights than to dwell in rough lands, winding woodlands, and barren glades. Ragnhild sang of the shrill bird vexing her as she stayed by the sea, and the noise of the sea-mew keeping her from sleep. Safer and sweeter is the enjoyment of the woods. Hence it has been supposed that Hadding is identical with Njord, or his rebirth, but it is likely that Saxo merely transferred the Eddic poem to the story of Hadding.18

In spite of Skadi’s separation from Njord, as told by Snorri, she appears with him at Ægir’s banquet in Lokasenna and also in the Introduction to Skirnismal. In the former poem she tells Loki how he will be punished, i.e., by being bound by the gods on the rocks with bowels torn from his “ice-cold son.” Loki replies that he was first and last at the fight when her father was slain. Skadi says that even so from her dwellings and fields shall ever come forth cold counsels for him. Loki then reminds her that she spoke more mildly when she invited him to her bed. Snorri connects Skadi with the myth of Loki’s punishment. She fastened a venomous serpent above him, where he was bound, and its poison dropped on his face.19

The explanation given by some scholars of the nine nights’ stay in Thrymheim and three at Noatun, is that “nights “signifies “months,” and that the sea in the extreme North is open


only for three months for ship-faring. For the other nine it is sealed by ice and winter-storms.20

Snorri’s Heimskringla, following the Ynglinga-tal, gives a different version of this myth. Njord wedded a woman Skadi, but she would have nothing of him, and hence was wedded to Odin, and had to him many sons, one of whom was Sœming. A poem by Eyvind is cited in support of this, which says that Sœming was begotten by Odin on a giant-maiden when they dwelt in Mannheim. To Sœming Norway traced her line of kings, or more strictly speaking the rulers of Halogaland.21 The theory of alternating twin gods sharing one mate has been applied here, but Skadi is regarded as the god and Njord the goddess, shared by Odin and Skadi.22

Skadi has been held to be a representative of the Finns and Lapps who peopled the north of Norway. She may have been one of their goddesses, regarded as a giant’s daughter, because the inhospitable Northern region was akin to or identical with Jötunheim. How she came to be associated with Njord and Odin is far from clear. But a cult war may have been considered mythically as a war of Scandinavian and Finnish deities, ending in a pact and marriage. R. M. Meyer sees in the disputed residence incident of Skadi and Njord an ikonic myth, i.e., a myth based on the history of an image of Skadi which had been carried off to Noatun, and, after a war, shared a residence with Norsemen and Finns.23

The euhemeristic notices of Njord in the Ynglinga-saga confirm the Eddic account of him as a god of prosperity. He became ruler after Odin’s death. The Swedes call him lord and he took tribute of them. In his days there was peace, and hence the Swedes thought that he swayed the year’s plenty and men’s prosperity. He died in his bed and was marked for Odin ere he died.24

The cult of Njord was associated with that of Frey, for the two deities are mentioned together both in taking oaths and in drinking toasts at feasts. First came Odin’s toast for victory



The upper design is assumed to depict the Fenris-wolf and the gods. He is seen bound in the lower part of the design, with Tyr to the left, his hands bitten off. See p. 99. In the lower design two wolves are supposed to be attacking the sun (the figure with a face, above which is a sun-symbol). Below this is a representation of Hel-gate with reptiles and rivers (to right); the posts are made of bones of the dead. The interpretation is doubtful.


and power, second Njord’s, and third Frey’s for good seasons and peace.25 Egil speaks of Njord and Frey as wealth-givers, and prays that both gods may be angry with king Eirik.26 Little light, however, is thrown upon the personality of this god as a figure of popular worship and esteem, beyond the reference to his many shrines in Vafthrudnismal. We may suppose that this god of earth’s fruitfulness and of prosperity, when his cult passed among sea-farers and fishermen, became also a god of the riches of the sea.