In his formal list of the Asynjur, Snorri does not mention Idunn, but elsewhere he includes her among them.1 She was wife of Bragi and dwelt at Brunnakr’s brook. As goddess of immortality she is described by Kauffmann as keeping “the venerable father of singers young even in old age — a beautiful symbol of the undying freshness of poetry,” and by Gering as indicating the immortality of song.2 She guarded in her coffer the apples which the gods tasted when they began to grow old. Thus they grew young, and so it continued to the Doom of the gods. Gangleri, to whom this was told, said that the gods have entrusted much to Idunn’s care. Then he was told how once the gods’ ruin was nearly wrought, and this is the subject of the myth of Thjazi and Idunn. Idunn was called “keeper of the apples,” and they are “the elixir of the Æsir.”3 Hence also her name, from the prefix id, “again,” and the termination unn, common in female names. This gives the meaning “renewal,” “restoration of youth.” Idunn is a common woman’s name in Iceland.4

In Lokasenna Idunn besought Bragi at Ægir’s banquet not to speak ill of Loki. Loki accused her of hunting after men and of winding her white arms round the neck of her brother’s murderer. She replied that she would not speak opprobrious words of Loki, but would soothe Bragi, excited by beer, so that he and Loki would not fight in anger.5 Nothing else is known of the subjects of Loki’s accusation.

The myth of Thjazi is told by Snorri and by the poet Thjodolf of Hvin (tenth century) in the Haustlong. Odin, Loki,


and Hœnir had wandered over wastes and mountains, and found a herd of oxen, one of which they slew and roasted. Twice they scattered the fire and found that the meat was not cooked. Perplexed at this, they heard a voice from a tree saying that he who sat there had caused the fire to give no heat. A great eagle was the speaker, and he said that the ox would be cooked if they gave him a share. To this they agreed, but the eagle, the giant Thjazi in disguise, took a thigh and two forequarters of the ox. Loki snatched up a pole and struck him, but, as the eagle flew off with the pole sticking in his back, Loki, hanging on to the other end, was carried off and his feet dashed against rocks and trees, while his arms were nearly torn from their sockets. He cried out, but Thjazi would not free him until he promised to induce Idunn to come out of Asgard with her apples. He accepted these terms, and in due time lured Idunn from Asgard by telling her of apples more wonderful than her own, growing in a wood. When she went there, Thjazi as an eagle carried her off to his abode, Thrymheim. The Æsir soon began to grow old, and consulting together, recalled that Idunn had been seen leaving Asgard with Loki. He was now threatened with torture or death and promised to seek Idunn in Jötunheim. Borrowing Freyja’s bird-plumage, he flew off there and found that Thjazi had gone to sea, leaving Idunn alone. Loki changed her to a nut, and flew off with her, grasped in his claws.

Thjazi returned and gave chase, but when the Æsir saw the pursuit they collected bundles of wood-chips and made a fire with them. Thjazi was flying too swiftly to stop; his wings caught fire and the gods slew him. Of this death of Thjazi, Thor boasts in Harbardsljod, as if he were the sole slayer. Loki also maintained that he was first and last at the deadly fight when Thjazi was slain.6

This myth has been explained in terms of nature phenomena. Idunn is the luxuriant green of vegetation which falls as booty to the giant, the demon of autumn storms, but is brought back


by Loki, the warm air, in spring.7 But if the gods were believed to owe immortal youth to magical apples, then inevitably the Jötuns, their enemies, would seek to gain possession of these. As apples were unknown in Iceland and only known in Norway at a later time when grown in monastic gardens, the Idunn myth has been regarded as one formed by skalds out of biblical conceptions of the fruit of the Tree of Life, the myth of the Garden of the Hesperides, and Irish stories of magic apples.8 None of these sources, however, quite accounts for the myth, and it is quite likely that there is here a primitive conception, possibly worked upon by outside sources, of the immortal youth or strength of gods being dependent on certain magic foods, like Soma, nectar and ambrosia, or, in Irish myths, Manannan’s swine, Goibniu’s ale, or the apples of the Land of Youth.9


Snorri includes Gefjun among the Asynjur. She is a virgin and on her attend all who die maidens.10 At Ægir’s banquet she tried to stay the strife by saying that Loki is well known as a slanderer and hater of all persons. Loki bids her be silent: he cannot forget him who allured her to lust — the fair youth to whom she surrendered herself for the sake of a necklace. Odin then cried: “Mad thou art and raving, Loki, in rousing Gefjun’s wrath, for she knows the destinies of all as well as I.” Gefjun was called upon in the taking of oaths.11

Certain statements in these notices of Gefjun may show that she is like, if not identical with, Frigg and Freyja. She is mistress of dead maidens, and maidens, e.g., Thorgerd, go to Freyja after death. Her surrender of herself for the sake of a necklace recalls the Brisinga-men myth. Her prophetic knowledge, equal to Odin’s, makes her like Frigg who knows all fates of men. While these common factors may not establish identity, they show that goddesses worshipped in different localities tended to have the same traits or that similar myths were apt to be told of them. Gefjun’s name also resembles one


of the names of Freyja, viz., Gefn (cf. AS geofon, “sea,” but more probably the name means “giver”).

The same, or, as some think, a different Gefjun, is the subject of a story told by Snorri in the Edda and in his Heimskringla. In the Eddic account Gylfi, king of Sweden, gave a wandering woman named Gefjun, of the kin of the Æsir, as much land as four oxen could plough in a day and a night. This was in return for the pleasure which her skill had given him. She took four oxen out of Jötunheim (her sons by a giant), and yoked them to the plough. The land was now cut so deep that it was torn out and drawn by the oxen out to sea, where it remained in a sound. Gefjun gave it the name Selund (Seeland). The place once occupied by it in Sweden became water, which was now named Log (Lake Malar). The bays in that lake correspond to headlands in Seeland. Snorri then quotes a verse from the poet Bragi’s Shield-lay describing this act.12

In the Heimskringla this story is connected with the wandering of the Æsir over Denmark to South Sweden. Odin sent Gefjun over the sound to seek land, and there Gylfi gave her the gift. Now she went to Jötunheim, where she bore four sons to a giant, and turned them into oxen. Then follows the account of the formation of Seeland. Odin’s son Skjold married Gefjun, and they dwelt at Hleidra (Leire). Here also the Bragi stanza is quoted.13

This story is cosmogonic: it tells how an island was formed. In the original myth Seeland could hardly have been regarded as torn out of a part of Sweden at such a distance from it. This geographical inconsistency arose from the fact that Gylfi was regarded as king of Sweden. This piece of euhemerism dates from the thirteenth century. Gylfi may originally have been a god. Olrik, comparing the myth with traditional plough-rites at New Year surviving in Scandinavia and England, in which the plough is paraded, drawn by men masked as oxen under the lead of a woman (or a man masquerading as a woman), suggests that it was derived from such ritual. The rite was a fertility


charm, and Gefjun was a Danish goddess of fertility and agriculture.14 That Gefjun was a Danish goddess is shown by her connexion with Skjold, the eponymous ancestor of the Ski oldings or Danish kings. Ski old is “the god of the Skanians,” Skánunga god, and the Skanians were the people of Denmark or of part of it, the island Skaane. Possibly Gefjun is Nerthus or a form of Nerthus. Her name, if connected with gefa, “to give,” or with Gothic gabei, “riches,” would be in keeping with her attributes both as a giver of fertility or as a giver of land to Denmark. The name would then be found again in the Gabiæ or Alagabiæ of Romano-German inscriptions, “the Givers” or “All-givers.”15 If the myth is derived from the ritual, it is also linked to stories regarding the origin of islands or of land obtained by various stratagems with a plough or the hide of an ox.16

The association of an eponymous king, Skjold, with a goddess, has a parallel in Hyndluljod where Freyja is associated with Ottarr, connected with a royal house. Gefjun must once have been worshipped in Seeland.


Sif was Thor’s wife, and he is often known merely as “Sif’s husband.”17 She was famous for her golden hair, and was called “the fair-haired goddess.”18 The myth told about her hair will be given in Chapter XXVI. Sif poured mead for Loki at Ægir’s feast, wishing him “Hail!” and saying that he knew her to be blameless among the deities. To this Loki replied that he knew one who had possessed her, viz., himself.19 In Harbardsljod Harbard taunts Thor by saying that Sif has a lover at home, and that he should put forth his strength on him rather than on Harbard.20 Perhaps this lover was Loki. When Hrungnir came to Asgard in giant-fury, he threatened to carry off Sif and Freyja.21 Sif was mother of Thrud by Thor, and of Ull by some other father.22



Saga is named by Snorri as the second goddess after Frigg. She dwells at “a great abode,” Sokkvabekk, “Sinking stream,” a waterfall, and here where cool waves wash her abode, Odin and she drink joyfully each day out of golden vessels.23 Some scholars regard Saga as a mere reflexion of Frigg. Her name has no connexion with the Icelandic Sagas, but means “she who sees and knows all things,” as Odin does, and her dwelling — a water-world — resembles Frigg’s Fensalir, also near the waters. As the liquor drunk is presumably a draught of wisdom, and as Saga dwells in or beside a waterfall, she may be a Water-spirit, a female counterpart of Mimir. With such elfins, no less than in wells and streams, secret knowledge was supposed to reside. Unfortunately the myth which told of Odin’s connexion with her is not now extant.24 In Helgakvitha Hundingsbana a cape called after her is mentioned, Sagunes.25


Snorri says that Sol and Bil are reckoned among the Asynjur. Sol is the sun, regarded as female, and, in another passage, Snorri tells how she and her brother the moon are children of Mundilfari, both of them so fair and comely that he called them Sol and Mane. Sol was married to the man Glen. The gods were so angry at Mundilfari’s insolence in giving them these names, that they set Sol and Mane in the sky, making Sol drive the horses that draw the chariot of the Sun, while Mane steers the course of the moon, and determines its waxing and waning.26

Snorri thus distinguishes between the actual sun and moon and those worshipful beings who direct their courses. In Vafthrudnismal Mundilfari is spoken of, and his children Sol and Mane are said to journey daily round the Heaven to measure time for men.27 Here they are rather the actual sun and moon.


In the Merseburg charm Sunna, the sun, is named as sister of Sinthgunt. The sex of the sun agrees with popular German folk-lore regarding it.28

Snorri also says that Mane raised the two children of Vidfinn, “Wood-dweller,” from the earth as they came from the well Byrgir. Their names were Bil and Hjuki. On their shoulders they were carrying the basket Sægr on the pole Simul. These two follow the moon, as one can see from the earth. As Swedish folk-lore still speaks of the spots on the moon as two people carrying a basket on a pole, this may be taken as the meaning of the myth. There may be some reference to the “Man in the Moon” myth, and even the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill has been supposed to have a link with Bil and Hjuki.29 Why Bil is called a goddess is unknown, but in Oddrunargratr the phrase linnvenges bil, in the sense of “goddess of gold,” is used as a kenning for “woman.”30


Fulla is said to be a maid who has loose tresses and a band of gold about her head. She bears Frigg’s coffer, and has charge over her foot-gear, and is acquainted with her secret plans. Hence Frigg is “Mistress of Fulla”; a kenning for gold is “the snood of Fulla,” with reference to her golden fillet. After his death, Balder’s wife Nanna sent Fulla a golden ring from Hel.31

As has been seen, the Introduction to Grimnismal tells how Frigg sent Fulla with a message to Geirrod about Odin. The Merseburg charm tells how Vol, sister of Frija (Frigg) tried to charm the horse’s foot. Vol is Fulla, and she was thus known in Germany and regarded as Frigg’s sister. In the Balder story she takes rank with Frigg, since they are the only goddesses to whom Nanna sends gifts from Hel.

The name Fulla means “fulness,” “abundance,” and the Dame Habonde or Abundia of medieval folk-belief may be a reminiscence of Fulla, who perhaps distributed Frigg’s gifts out of her coffer. If Frigg was an Earth-goddess, Fulla or “fulness”



The lower part of the plate shows the remains of an Icelandic temple, with walls of turf, eight feet thick. Near them are two rows of foundations for wooden pillars. The building is oblong, but divided by a low stone cross-wall, separating the gods’ abode, in which was an altar, from the hall. Images stood on this wall. Along the floor on the hall hearths existed, with pits in which meat was cooked in hot ashes. Those who partook of the feast sat on long benches along the hall, between the pillars. The upper part of the plate shows the remains of a hearth and pit.


would be an appropriate companion for her. She is perhaps no more than a form of Frigg.


Other goddesses associated with Frigg are Lofn, Hlin, and Gna. Lofn is kind to those who call on her, willingly hears prayer, and is mild. She has the permission of Odin and Frigg to bring together in marriage those to whom it had been forbidden before or who had found difficulties in the way. From her name, such permission is called lof. Akin to her, though not mentioned in connexion with Frigg, is Sjofn, who is zealous in turning the thoughts of men and women to love. From her name love is called sjofni. Min is set to guard men whom Frigg wishes to preserve from danger. Gna is sent by Frigg into different lands on her affairs, and rides the horse which can run through air and sea, called Hofvarpnir, “Hoof-tosser.” Snorri, from whom this account of these goddesses is taken, then cites lines from a lost Eddic poem which recounted a myth of Gna, riding forth on an errand for Frigg. Some of the Vanir once saw her riding through the air, and one of them said:

“Who flies there? Who travels there?
    Who glides through the air?”

Gna replied:

“I do not fly, though I do travel,
    Gliding through the air
On Hoof-tosser’s back, on the swift Gardrofa
    Begotten by Hamskerpir.”

Things high in air are said “to raise themselves” (gnœfa), after Gna’s name. Apart from this notice by Snorri, nothing is known of Gna, except that her name is used as a kenning for “woman.”32

Some of these goddesses may be merely forms of Frigg herself. In Voluspa a new grief is said to come to Min when Odin goes to fight with the Fenris-wolf. Min is here a name of Frigg and means “Protector.”33


Other goddesses are named by Snorri. Eir is the best physician. One of the servants of Menglod in Svipdagsmal has the same name, and Menglod had some connexion with the healing art. She sat on the hill Lyfjaberg, “Hill of healing,” and “it will long be a joy to the sick and suffering. Each woman who climbs it, however long she has been sick, will grow well.” There is doubtless some reference here to folk-custom, and to local goddesses of healing. Eir is “the one who cares for” (ON eira, “to care for,” “to save”). Her name is used in the sense of “goddess “in kennings for “woman.”34

Var listens to oaths and complaints made between men and women: hence such compacts are called varar. She takes vengeance on those who break them, and she is wise and desirous of knowledge, nothing can remain hidden from her. Var is mentioned in Thrymskvitha, when Thrym says at his marriage with the supposititious Freyja: “In the name of Var consecrate our union.” Var has thus to do with the marriage-bond, and marriage was one of Frigg’s concerns.35

Syn, “Denial,” guards the doors in the hall and shuts them before those who should not enter. She is appointed as guardian in law-suits where men would deny something: hence the saying that Syn is present when one denies anything.36

Snotra, “Prudent,” is wise and decorous of manner: hence after her name prudent persons are called snotr.37


The giantess-goddess Skadi may have been of Finnish origin, but she was included among the Asynjur. On the borderland of Finns and Scandinavians, viz., in Halogaland, we find a cult of two sister-goddesses, Thorgerd Hölgabrud and Irpa, who are never included among the Asynjur. Snorri says that Thorgerd’s father was Hölgi, king of Halogaland, which was named


after him. Sacrifice was made to both father and daughter. A cairn was raised over Hölgi, consisting of a layer of gold and silver (sacrificial money) and a layer of earth and stones. Hölgi was the eponymous king of the region said to be named after him.38

According to Saxo, Helgo, king of Halogaland, was in love with Thora, daughter of Cuso, king of the Finns. Being a stammerer he induced Hotherus to plead his cause with her, and he was so successful that she became Helgi’s wife.39 Saxo’s Thora is Thorgerd, who was really Hölga’s (Helgi’s) wife, not his daughter, hence Hölgabrud, “Hölgi’s bride.”

The jarls of Halogaland seem to have regarded Thorgerd and Irpa as their guardians. Nothing is known of Irpa’s origin. Jarl Hakon of Lather, in the later part of the tenth century, was devoted to their cult. In some of the Sagas we hear of temples of these goddesses, their images standing on each side of Thor, wearing gold rings.40

Hakon took Sigmund Brestisson to a secluded temple in the forest, full of images, among these one of Thorgerd, before which he prostrated himself. He then told Sigmund that he would sacrifice to her, and the sign of her favour would be that her ring would be loose on her finger, and the ring would bring good fortune to Sigmund. At first the goddess seemed to withhold the ring, but when Hakon again prostrated himself, she released it.41

The Jomsvikings-saga tells how Hakon sought Thorgerd’s and Irpa’s help during the naval battle with the Jomsvikings. At first Thorgerd was deaf to his prayers and offerings, but when he sacrificed his son to her, the goddess came to his aid. From the North there came thunder, lightning, and hail, and Thorgerd was seen with Hakon’s people by the second-sighted. From each of her fingers seemed to fly an arrow, and each arrow killed a man. This was told to Sigwald, who said that they were not fighting men but evil trolls. As the storm diminished Hakon again appealed to the sisters, reminding them of his


sacrifice, and now the hail grew worse, and Thorgerd and Irpa were seen with his ships. Sigwald fled, because he could do nothing against such demons.42

A late Saga, that of Thorleifs Jarlaskald, tells how Hakon removed a spear which had belonged to Hörgi (Hölgi) from the temple of the goddesses. He desired to be revenged on Thorleif and asked help from them. A human figure was carved, and by means of their magic and that of the jarl, the heart of a dead man was inserted in it. By magic also the figure was made to walk and speak. It was despatched to Iceland, armed with the spear, and Thorleif was slain.43

In the story of Olaf Tryggvason the temple was destroyed by him and Thorgerd’s image stripped of its gold and silver adornments and vestments, and afterwards destroyed with that of Frey. In the Njals-saga there is another account of a destruction of the temple. Hrapp went into it and saw a life-size image of Thorgerd with a great gold ring on her arm and a wimple on her head. These he took from her, as well as a second ring from the image of Thor in his wagon, and a third from the image of Irpa. Then he dragged the images forth and set fire to the temple. When Hakon found the images stripped of their gear, he knew what had happened, but said that the gods did not always avenge everything on the spot. “The man who has done this will no doubt be driven away out of Valhall, and never come in thither.”44

These goddesses were revered as guardians, and their cult was prominent towards the close of the pagan period. They were probably of the class of female supernatural beings called Disir, of whom more will be said later. Their aid was given through magic and through their power over the forces of nature. Whether they were actually Finnish goddesses accepted in parts of Scandinavia, or whether, because of their magic, they came to be so regarded, is differently answered by different students. In Christian times an evil reputation attached to Thorgerd and she was called Thorgerd Hölgatroll.45


There is some connexion between Thorgerd, the bride of Hölgi, Saxo’s Helgi and Thora, and Helgi and the Valkyrie Svava in Helgakvitha Hjorvardssonar. In this poem Helgi is silent and forgets names, just as Saxo’s Helgi stammered and was ashamed to be heard speaking. Svava guards Helgi and is betrothed to him. The horses of Svava and her fellow Valkyries drop hail and dew on woods and dales: she and they have power over nature just as Thorgerd had. In this poem, however, the wooing by another is transferred to Helgi’s father Hjorvard, and Atli woos Sigrlin on his behalf.46 As we shall see Valkyries were included among the Disir.