Skaði, The Norse ‘Giantess’ with a Godly Vendetta
In Norse mythology, Skaði (also anglicised as Skadi, Skade, or Skathi) is a giantess and goddess. She is most often associated with winter. Apart from that, Skaði is also connected with hunting, skiing and mountains. According to Norse belief, Skaði is the daughter of Thjazi, who was murdered by the Aesir. Additionally, Skaði is believed to be the wife of Njord, a Vanir. The death of Skaði’s father and her marriage to Njord are connected in a well-known Norse myth.
The Jötnar Race of Giants
Skaði was a jötunn, which is often translated into English as ‘giant’, though the more literal translation of this word is ‘devourer’. The jötnar (the plural form of jötunn) are believed to be a race of creatures who inhabited Jotunheim (meaning ‘the world of the jötnar ’), which is one of the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. For the Norse, the jötunn represent the forces of death, decay, destruction, and chaos. Although the jötunn are generally seen as malefic, this does not necessarily mean that they are evil. For instance, these destructive forces are necessary for the cycle of life, death and rebirth. This is seen, for instance, in the Norse creation myth, in which the cosmos was created from the corpse of the slain jötunn, Ymir.
Skadi Hunting in the Mountains (1901) by H. L. M.(Foster) Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology . ( Public Domain )
Skaði’s Vendetta with the Gods
Skaði’s name is said to mean either ‘damage’ or ‘shade’, which may suggest that she is a descendant of the frost giants. In addition, it is possible that she is believed to be the bringer of winter, cold, and death. Skaði’s father was a jötunn by the name of Thjazi, who, in one myth was killed by the Aesir (the principle pantheon in Norse religion, whose members include Odin and Thor). As a result of this, Skaði vowed to avenge her father, put on her battle gear, and prepared to assault the Aesir, who resided in the realm of Asgard.
Modern Artists portrait of Skadi (by Ameluria, Deviantart )
The gods, however, were not inclined to do battle with Skaði and, after a time, decided to appease her by offering two things as a sign of reconciliation and compensation for her loss. The first was that she could choose a husband from amongst the gods. The second was that the gods promised to make her laugh. This was due to the fact that the death of her father devastated Skaði, and the gods thought that she would never laugh again.
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Skadi's longing for the Mountains (1908) by W. G. Collingwood ( Public Domain )
An Ungodly Choice
There was a simple condition attached to the first offer given to Skaði. Although she was free to choose her husband from the assembled gods, she was only allowed to see their feet. Skaði had hoped to marry Baldur, the fairest of the Aesir. She assumed that the loveliest pair of feet would belong to him, and thus made her decision based on this. Unfortunately for the jötunn, the fairest pair of feet did not belong to Baldur, but to Njord, a Vanir (another group of Norse gods) associated with the sea. This was a terrible mismatch. For a time, Skaði would spend part of the year with her husband in his realm, whilst another part was spent in Jotunheim. Needless to say, each hated the other’s abode, and the ill-fated couple eventually separated. According to one myth, she would later have a child with Odin, Saeming, who became the first king of Norway. In another myth, Skaði would later marry Ullr, the winter god.
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Skade (1893) by Carl Fredrik von Saltza ( Public Domain )
Loki Fulfils the Promise
Whilst Skaði was probably disappointed by her choice of husband, the gods did manage to cheer her up a bit, and made her laugh, as per their promise. The task of making Skaði laugh was given to Loki, the trickster god. Loki tied an end of a cord to the beard of a goat, and the other around his testicles. Loki then made the goat run, causing the cord to tug at both ends. This would have resulted in excruciating pain for both parties, though Skaði must have been amused, as she is recorded to have laughed. As a bonus, Odin took Thjazi’s eyes, cast them into the sky, and turned them into stars.