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Skadi is a Norse deities that aren’t overly active in many myths and legends but are nevertheless central to the overall Norse mythos. She’s most famous as a goddess of mountains, snow, skiing, and hunting, but she’s also known as the likely origin of the geographical term Scandinavia.
Who is Skadi?
Skadi is a famous giantess in Norse mythology who was worshipped as a goddess and was even goddess-by-marriage after one point. She was a daughter of the giant Þjazi or Thiazi, and her own name Skaði, in Old Norse, translates to either harm or shadow. The relationship between Skadi’s name and the term Scandinavia isn’t certain but most scholars agree that Scandinavia likely meant Skaði’s Island.
An Evil Giantess or a Benevolent Goddess?
Most giants in Norse mythology are viewed as evil beings or spirits who war against the gods and torment the people. In fact, Ragnarok itself, the final battle in Norse mythology, is a clash between the Asgardian gods and the giants led by Loki.
Skadi, however, like very few other giants, is not perceived as “evil”. She’s depicted as harsh and uncompromising in most myths but she isn’t shown to be malicious. She also appears not to have taken part in Ragnarok, neither on the side of the giants nor on that of the gods. As a result, it’s unclear where, how and if she died.
In fact, most Norse people in Scandinavia worshipped her more than they would most gods, likely because she ruled over the mountains they lived in.
Also unlike most other giants, Skadi was made an honorary goddess at one point after marrying the god of the sea, Njord.
An Orphaned Daughter
One of the key myths in Skadi’s story is that of The Kidnapping of Idun. In it, Skadi’s father, the giant Thiazi, forces Loki to kidnap the goddess of youth and renewal Idun and to bring her to him, Thiazi. Loki does so but that angers the gods of Asgard as Idun holds the key to their immortality.
In turn, the gods force Loki to retrieve Idun from Thiazi so the trickster god is forced to once again kidnap Idun. Thiazi gives chase to the god of mischief by transforming himself into an eagle. As the chase neared Asgard’s walls, however, the gods erected a giant wall of flames into the sky and killed Thiazi.
While this concluded the main part of The Kidnapping of Idun’s story, it’s actually where Skadi gets involved. Angered that the gods murdered her father she goes to Asgard to seek retribution.
After a bit of arguing she tells the gods that she would leave if they tempered her fury by making her laugh. Loki, both as the main cause for Thiazi’s death and as the resident cutup in Asgard, offers to make Skadi laugh. He does so by tying a rope to the beard of a goat and to his own testicles and playing tug of war with the animal.
Eventually, after a lot of struggle and pain from both parties, Loki fell into Skadi’s lap and made her laugh. Her mood slightly brightened, Skadi got up to leave Asgard but not before she made another request – to marry the Norse god of the sun.
Skadi’s Unhappy Marriage to Njord
As an extra condition for Skadi’s forgiveness of the gods of Asgard for killing her father, she demanded to marry Baldur, the god of the sun. The only issue was that she accidentally mistook Njord, the god of the sea, for Baldr and so she pointed to Njord instead.
While Njord is a beloved deity in Norse mythology as a god of both the sea and wealth, Baldr was legendary as the most beautiful, brave, and beloved deity in all of Asgard. So, while Njord wasn’t a “bad” choice by any stretch of the imagination, Skadi was still very disappointed with her mistake.
After the marriage, the two tried to live together high in the Norwegian mountains but Njord couldn’t take to the harsh and desolate climate there. Then, they tried living in Njord’s seaside home Nóatún, “The Place of Ships”, but Skadi missed the mountains too much. Eventually, the two separated.
Skadi’s Much Happier Marriage to Odin
According to a single source, chapter 8 of the Heimskringla book Ynglinga Saga, after leaving Njord, Skadi married none other than the Allfather Odin. Not only that, but the two are said to have been very happy together and to have had many sons together. The exact stanza reads like this:
and sons many
gat with Óthin
Skadi is also described as a jötunn – an ancient Norse mythological being often mistaken with giants – as well as “fair maiden”.
Of all the “many sons” Skadi gave Odin, only one is given a name – Sæmingr, a mythological king of Norway. Other sources list Yngvi-Freyr as Sæmingr’s parent together with Odin which is even more confusing as Yngvi-Freyr is another name for the male god Freyr. It’s hypothesized that Yngvi-Freyr may have meant Freyr’s twin sister Freyja but there’s no way to support that.
Either way, Skadi’s marriage with Odin isn’t talked about in other sources so it’s viewed as something of a “side story” in Norse mythology. Even without it, however, Skadi would still have her “honorary goddess” title thanks to her marriage with Njord.
Torturing Loki with a Serpent’s Venom
Another myth that shows Skadi as a being on the side of the gods of Asgard is the Lokasenna. In it, after Baldr was accidentally killed by his twin brother thanks to some meddling from Loki, Skadi plays a rather gruesome role in torturing the trickster god.
After the murder of Balrd, Vali, one of Odin’s sons and a half-brother of Baldr, kills Baldr’s twin as well as Loki’s son Narfi and then binds Loki with Narfi’s entrails. As an additional part of Loki’s torture, Skadi places a venomous snake above Loki’s head and drips its venom onto his face. The venom burns Loki so badly that he writhes in tremendous fury, so much so that the earth shakes. That’s where the Norse people believed earthquakes came from.
While Skadi’s role in the Lokasenna is rather minor, it does show her as definitively siding with the gods of Asgard against Loki who was later to lead other giants against them in Ragnarok.
Symbols and Symbolism of Skadi
As a goddess of the mountains, snow, skiing, and hunting, Skadi was actively worshipped for centuries in Scandinavia. Her skis, bows and snoeshoes are her most popular attributes.
Whether goddess or giantess, the people believed that they relied on her mercy and tried to win her favor so that harsh winters in the tall Norwegian mountains could be just a tad more forgiving.
Like the mountains she represented, however, Skadi was harsh, easily angered, and difficult to satisfy. Njord and Loki could also attest to that.
Importance of Skadi in modern culture
Even though she was a very popular deity/being in Norse mythology, Skadi isn’t that popular in modern pop-culture. She has inspired many paintings and sculptures over the centuries but she’s rarely mentioned nowadays.
One of the few prominent mentions of Skadi is in the famous PC MOBA video game Smite. Another is Skathi, one of Saturn’s moons, named after the Norse goddess.
Facts About Skadi
Skadi is the goddess of hunting and mountains.
Skadi is associated with wolves.
Skadi’s symbols include the bow and arrow, skis and snowshoes.
Skadi means shadow or harm in Old Norse.
Although the myths about Skadi are scant, she remains an important goddess of Norse mythology. She features in some of the most prominent myths and lives on in the name of the region where she was worshipped – Scandinavia.