Hlidskjalf is a name most people haven’t heard about unless they have delved deep into Norse mythology. The special throne of the Allfather god Odin, Hlidskjalf is indeed rarely mentioned in the recorded Norse myths that have survived to this day but it is a major aspect of what gives Odin his power and authority. Here’s a detailed look at Hlidskjalf – the high seat of the Allfather Odin.
What is Hlidskjalf?
Hlidskjalf isn’t just a throne nor a magic seat of some kind. The name literally translates as the opening at the pinnacle – Hlid (opening) and skjalf (pinnacle, high place, steep slope).
This doesn’t sound descriptive but one look at the several Norse myths that mention Hlidskjalf, shows us that it is indeed a throne but one that’s elevated on a very high slope located inside Valaskjalf.
Essentially, Hlidskjalf is a throne that’s elevated so absurdly high that it not only gives Odin more perceived authority but also grants him the ability to see everyone and everything that’s happening in any of the nine Norse realms. This basically makes Hlidskjalf as much a throne as it is a lookout tower.
In the Gylfaginning story (The Fooling of Gylfe) in Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, Hlidskjalf is described as such:
Another great abode is there, which is named Valaskjálf; Odin possesses that dwelling; the gods made it and thatched it with sheer silver, and in this hall is the Hlidskjálf, the high-seat so-called. Whenever Allfather sits in that seat, he surveys all lands.
Hlidskjalf and The Contest of The Spouses
You’d think a wise deity would use omniscience for something significant but one of the most well-known myths regarding Hlidskjalf comes from Grímnismál, a poem in Poetic Edda. In it, Odin and his wife Frigg both use the all-seeing throne to spy on two men they had fostered when they were younger.
The men were Agnar and Geirröth, fostered by Frigg and Odin respectively. The reason the celestial couple began spying on them was to see who had become a better man and as such – which of the deities had done a better job fostering them.
As usual, Odin had a hard time resisting the chance to bolster his own ego, so he used Hlidskjalf to see where Geirröth was, then he disguised himself as the traveler Grimnir and paid the young man a visit to see in person whether he had turned into a great man.
Frigg had warned Geirröth that a strange and untrustworthy traveler would visit him, so the man ambushed Grimnir and started torturing him. In between the torture, Grimnir/Odin began telling Geirröth’s son various tales to entertain the child and distract himself from the torture. Those tales are what’s described in the Grímnismál.
Hlidskjalf and Freyr’s Love
Odin and his wife aren’t the only ones that used Hlidskjalf as a few other gods also occasionally snuck into Valaskjalf to look at the world from Odin’s seat. Skírnismál, a story in the Poetic Edda describes one such instance when the Vanir god Freyr, son of Njord, uses Hlidskjalf to look around the nine realms.
While Freyr doesn’t seem to have looked for anything in particular, as he was glancing over Jotunheim, the realm of the jötnar or giants, Freyr’s sight fell on Gerdr – a jötunn woman with irresistible beauty.
Freyr immediately fell in love with the giantess and sought her out in Jotunheim. In the effort to win her hand in marriage, he even promised to throw away his magical sword that could fight on its own. And Freyr did indeed succeed and win the beautiful Gerdr over with the two going on to live happily together in Vanaheim.
Although they won’t quite live “happily ever after”, because, having thrown away his magic sword, Freyr is left having to fight with a pair of antlers during Ragnarok and will get killed by the fire jötunn Surtr.
Hlidskjalf and Baldur’s Murderer
One instance when Odin manages to use Hlidskjalf more successfully and productively is during the events immediately after the murder of his first-born son – the sun god Baldur.
The fair and widely beloved god is killed during a feast and presumably by accident at the hands of his own brother, the blind god Hödr. What becomes clear, however, is that Hödr was tricked into throwing a dart at Baldur by none other than their mischievous uncle, the trickster god Loki.
So, having realized the true culprit behind Baldur’s death, Odin uses Hlidskjalf to seek out the retreating Loki and bring him to justice.
Symbolism of Hlidskjalf
The symbolism of Hlidskjalf is as clear as the sight this celestial seat grants its users – Hlidskjalf exists to give Odin sight and knowledge, the things he craves above all else.
The Allfather of Norse mythology is known for always seeking wisdom and insight about the world and Hlidskjalf is one of the several great tools he has to achieve that goal.
This does make it peculiar why the all-seeing throne isn’t mentioned or used more often in Norse mythology.
Importance of Hlidskjalf in Modern Culture
Unfortunately, Hlidskjalf isn’t mentioned in modern pop culture very often. There are a couple of mentions of it in a few Marvel comics regarding Thor, but even there the divine seat isn’t really shown and it is yet to make an appearance in the MCU.
Is this lack of references due to modern writers not knowing how to incorporate a throne that grants omniscience into their stories? Or is it that they just haven’t heard about Hlidskjalf themselves? We don’t know.
Hlidskjalf may not play a significant role in most of Norse mythology, but its presence is a large part of what makes Odin the Allfather. The Hlidskjalf seat gives Odin the thing he is known for wanting the most – knowledge. Through this celestial throne, the elder god of Norse mythology can see everything and know everything that happens across the nine realms.