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As the god of justice and law, Forseti was worshipped and referred to frequently in day-to-day life. However, Forseti is one of the most enigmatic of the pantheon of Norse gods. Although he’s considered one of the twelve main gods of Norse mythology, he’s one of the least mentioned deities, with very few references to him in the surviving Nordic myths.
Who is Forseti?
Forseti, or Fosite, was the son of Baldur and Nanna. His name translates to “presiding one” or “president” and he lived in Asgard, together with most other gods, in his celestial courthouse called Glitnir. In his golden hall of justice, Forseti would act as a divine judge and his word would be honored by men and gods alike.
Another curious tidbit about Forseti’s Germanic name Fosite is that it’s linguistically similar to the Greek god Poseidon. Scholars believe that the ancient Germanic tribes who first created Forseti may have heard of Poseidon when trading amber with Greek sailors. So, while Poseidon and Forseti are not really similar in any way, the Germanic people may have invented this “god of justice and fairness” inspired by the Greeks.
Forseti and King Charles Martel
One of the few legends about Forseti known today is a late 7th century tale involving the king Charles the Great. In it, the king was forcibly bringing Christianity to the Germanic tribes in central Europe.
According to the legend, the king once met with twelve dignitaries from a Frisian tribe. The dignitaries were called “Law-Speakers” and they declined the king’s offer to accept Christ.
After the Law-Speakers’ decline, Charles the Great offered them a few choices – they could either accept Christ, or choose from being executed, enslaved, or cast out to sea in a boat with no oars. The Law-Speakers chose the last option and the king followed his word and threw them in the sea.
As the twelve men rocked around uncontrollably in the stormy sea they prayed to the Norse god until a 13th man suddenly appeared among them. He was bearing a golden axe and used it to paddle the boat to dry land. There, he slammed his axe into the ground and created a fresh-water spring. The man said his name was Fosite and gave the twelve men a new code of laws and legal negotiation skills which they could use to set up a new tribe. Then, Fosite vanished.
Later, Christian scribes adopted that tale and replaced Forseti with Saint Willebrord, ignoring the irony that in the original tale Forseti saved the Law-Speakers from none other but the Christians themselves.
However, scholars question this tale and there is no conclusive evidence that the man in the story is Forseti.
Forseti or Týr?
Forseti is sometimes used interchangeably with Týr, the Norse god of war and peace negotiations. However, the two are distinctly different. While Týr was also used as a god of justice during peace treaties, he was exclusively associated with “war-time justice”.
Forseti, on the other hand, was a god of law and justice at all times. He was credited for creating the laws and rules in Germanic and Norse societies and his name was almost synonymous with “law”.
Symbols and Symbolism of Forseti
Aside from a symbol of law and justice, Forseti isn’t associated with much else. He’s not a vengeful god like Vidar or a warring god like Týr. Even though he wields a large, often depicted as two-headed, golden axe, Forseti was a peaceful and calm deity. His axe wasn’t a symbol of strength or power but of authority.
Importance of Forseti in Modern Culture
Unfortunately, Forseti’s limited presence in written legends and texts also means he has a limited presence in modern culture. He’s not referenced or talked about as much as other Norse gods like Thor or Odin. There is one German neofolk band called Forseti but not many other pop-culture references.
Aside from that, his importance to the Germanic and Scandinavian cultures seems to mostly be in their respect for law and justice.
Due to the scant accounts of Forseti, not much is known about this Norse deity. While it appears the he was highly respected and seen as a symbol of law and justice, Forseti remains one of the most obscure of the Norse gods.