Njord: The Tumultuous Marriage of a Norse God of the Sea and a Goddess Giantess
Njord was the god Norse sailors and fisherman turned to in times of need. He was a sea god with powers over the wind and the fertility of land along the coast. But what this deity is best remembered for is the strange nature of his marriage to a giantess.
In Norse mythology, Njord (which is an anglicized version of the Old Norse ‘Njörðr’) is a member of the Vanir, a group of deities commonly associated with wealth, fertility, and commerce. Njord is particularly affiliated with the sea and was regarded by the Norse to oversee such nautical activities as fishing and sailing. Njord appears in several Norse myths, arguably the most famous of which being that of his marriage to the goddess and jötunn Skadi.
Njörðr and Skaði on the way to Njörðr's home Nóatún. (Public Domain)
Who was Njord?
Njord is a fairly mysterious god as not a lot is known about him. For instance, little is said in Norse mythology about the genealogy of this deity. We know that Njord is a member of the Vanir - gods who inhabit the Vanaheimr (meaning ‘Home of the Vanir’). The Vanir were believed to be in charge of such aspects of life as wealth, fertility, commerce, and nature; in contrast to the more war-like Æsir, the other major group of Norse gods.
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Njörðr from the philological book ‘Die Helden und Götter des Nordens, oder Das Buch der Sagen’ (1832). (Public Domain)
Additionally, it is known that Njord had two children, Freyr and Freyja, both of whom are worshiped as fertility deities. The mother of Freyr and Freyja are said to be an unnamed sister of Njord, speculated to be Nerthus, a Germanic fertility goddess first mentioned in Tacitus’ Germania.
Njörðr, Skaði, and Freyr as depicted in The Lovesickness of Frey (1908) by W. G. Collingwood. (Public Domain)
According to Norse mythology, a war broke out between the Vanir and the Æsir at some point of time. This conflict resulted from the torture of Gullveig, a member of the Vanir, by the Æsir. As reparation for this deed, the Vanir demanded either monetary compensation or to be given equal status as the Æsir.
The Æsir refused these demands and declared war instead. Despite being associated with warfare, the Æsir were defeated by the Vanir numerous times. In the end, the Æsir asked for peace and granted the Vanir equal status. One of the consequences of this peace settlement was the exchange of hostages between the Vanir and the Æsir. The Vanir were given the gods Hoenir and Mimir, whilst the Æsir received Njord and his two children. Therefore, it may be said that Njord is also an ‘honorary Æsir’.
Njord – Norse god of the seas. (M-Katar/Deviant Art)
Njord’s Marriage to a Giantess
The best-known tale about Njord, however, is that of his marriage to the goddess and jötunn, Skadi. In this myth, the father of Skadi, Thiazi, was killed by the Æsir. The goddess prepared for war and went to Asgard (the home of the Æsir) to avenge her slain father. Instead of fighting with Skadi, the Æsir agreed to compensate her loss. One of these was to allow her to marry any one of the gods there. The only condition, however, was that she must make her decision by only looking at the gods’ feet. Skadi chose the most beautiful pair of feet, thinking that they belonged to Baldr, who is said to be the most handsome Norse god.
Unfortunately for Skadi, the feet did not belong to Baldr, but to Njord. Things went from bad to worse for the newly-wedded couple. As Njord is a god of the sea, his abode was the sea, or more specifically, Nóatún (which means ‘Ship Enclosure’). Skadi, on the other hand, preferred the mountains, where she could ski and hunt wild animals.
Njörd's desire of the Sea. (Public Domain)
The pair tried to make their marriage work by agreeing to live in each other’s home for a part of the year. Unfortunately, Njord could not stand the cold and the howling of the wolves during his stay in Thrymheim (meaning ‘Thunder Home’), the abode of Skadi, whilst his wife found the motion of the sea and the noise of the harbor at Nóatún unbearable. In some accounts, Skadi eventually breaks up with Njord, and returns to Thrymheim.
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A drawing of Njord and Skadi. (helgath/Deviant Art)
Shrines and Temples to a Sea God
Despite there being few surviving stories about Njord, he was a popular deity who was widely worshipped by the Norse. This is perhaps not surprising, considering that the Norse were a seafaring people, thus making him a particularly important god. This is evident, for instance, in some written sources which state that many temples and shrines were erected for the worship of Njord.
An illustration of the Norse god Njörðr, from an Icelandic 17th century manuscript. (Public Domain)
Top image: ‘Njord god of the sea’. (Deriv.) Source: Emiroth/Deviant Art
By Wu Mingren
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