The Earth Goddess Jörð, bronze sculpture by Icelander Ásmundur Sveinsson completed in 1936, in Rottneros Park, Sweden. Jörð is the earth personified, a consort of Odin and mother of Thor.
To say that Jörð is earth personified has multiple meanings, and those meanings shed light on how Thor and the ancient gods were understood in the Old Way.
In the first case Jörð is the personification of earth because the name Jörð (pronounced “yurth” originally, but commonly as “Yord”, especially when transliterated as “Jord”) comes from the same roots as the name we have for the ground beneath our feet and which we call our planet today. “Earth” and the goddess Jörð turn out to be basically the same word, and today is in fact the Icelandic word that translates to “Earth”; nearly identical words for “Earth” are in Faroese, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian; even the English word “earth” comes from the Old English eorðe. Here she is the earth personified because the word they use for Thor’s mother is literally the word used for earth itself.
This naming gains another meaning when we remember that while the Germanic peoples developed a great many stories starring the gods as central figures, in their daily lives, these people did not see their gods as adventurers or superheroes. Thor was not an actual physical person who wandered around Asgard or Manhattan pining after Natalie Portman. Thor was the storm and the forces of nature that brought rain to crops, guided sailors safely to their destinations, and protected humanity from the threatening forces of nature represented by giants. And so, too, Jörð, would be more akin to what we think of today as “Mother Nature” – all the forces in the universe that work together to create, sustain, end, and evolve life, and are often indifferent to it. Giving this force a name and treating her as a character in a story aids in conceptualizing colossal forces that affect the lives of all of us. She is the personified Earth by taking all the concepts and physical forces she represents and uniting them into one character in a story.
But even properly named, Jord is hardly a character at all in the Norse mythology. In fact, she is only mentioned in her relationships to others, mostly Thor, never actually doing anything or saying anything in any story. And Jord’s attestation is even more complicated by other names she is given in the mythological record: Fjörgyn, Hlóðyn, Fold, and Grund. We have good reason to believe that Fjörgyn is a synonym for Jörð also referring to earth itself, and the other names have been used in similar contexts to mean “earth”. It’s also worth mentioning that she is identified as a giantess in one story, though giants are not so much very large creatures as they are those forces in nature which we fear.
But this seeming confusion in name (certainly common in Norse poetry which frequently employs kennings, or synonym phrases), rather than making the identity of Thor’s mother more ambiguous or diminishing her role in nature, actually emphasizes her identity as Jörð, the mother Earth. Thor is the storm, who is part of the cycle of life and who tries – and sometimes fails – to hold off the forces of death and destruction. He is unavoidably a child of all the forces of nature, and but one aspect of all those processes which are so vital to human existence. By giving Jörð her many earth-cognate names, her role as all-encompassing nature itself is further emphasized; by connecting her to Thor explicitly, even in the few places where that happens, the two are intertwined in their roles in the story of life itself, with all the majesty, terror, and grandeur that implies.