Skaði (“Ska-dee” or “Ska-thee”) is counted among the Aesir but was born a giant. She is associated with hunting, skiing, and winter itself, a fitting station for a giant/god. She came to the Aesir by way of her marriage to Njord, god of the sea, but their marriage was brief and they have lived apart since the beginning of that marriage. While disputed, it’s possible her name shares an origin with the word Scandinavia, and so the people of those lands feel a special kinship with her.
How did a giant become a goddess? Would you guess that Loki was involved?
Skaði’s story begins at the end of a tale we’ve told before, that of Iðunn, who brings the Aesir eternal youth. Skaði is the daughter of Thjazi, the giant who kidnapped Iðunn in that story. But at the end of that story, Thjazi is killed, perhaps somewhat recklessly, and Skaði is left without a father.
She does not take the loss of her father lightly. Whatever their reasons, the Aesir killed her father and there is only one acceptable response: vengeance. As Snorri relates, Skaði “took helm and coat of mail and all weapons of war and proceeded to Ásgard to avenge her father.” Even though she was one and they were many, she would fight the good fight in her father’s name.
But the Aesir saw no reason for this battle. Clearly Skaði would be far better alive, as an ally, than killed in combat.
To avoid battle, three conditions had to be met:
- Skaði must marry one of the Aesir, and she must choose her husband by his feet alone;
- The Aesir had to make the grieving, vengeful Skaði laugh;
- Thjazi’s memory had to be honored by placing his eyes in the sky as new shining stars.
Skaði undertook the first task in the hopes of finding the feet of the bold, beautiful Balder. She chose the fairest feet she found, but rather than Odin’s beloved son, she discovered the Vanir-god Njord attached to them. Njord was the lord of Noatun by the sea and ruled over all the oceans; Skaði was from Thrymheim, a land of high, frozen mountains quite different from the coast. But the deal was struck.
The gods’ task was perhaps more difficult, but no tales of the foolish follies of Heimdall or Tyr attempting to entertain Skaði survive. But we know what did make her laugh: Loki.
To accomplish this, Loki tied a cord to the beard of a goat. He tied the other end of that cord to his own testicles. And then they played tug of war, each screeching and yelping in pain until finally, Loki fell over in Skaði’s lap, in too much pain to continue.
She couldn’t help laughing at the pure silliness of the spectacle.
To complete their reconciliation, Odin turned Thjazi’s eyes into stars and cast them into the night sky so that every night Skaði could look upon her father, and so that he could look on his daughter.
Skaði’s marriage to Njord went well for nine days in Thrymheim, or so it seemed, but as they made the journey to Noatun, he remarked how badly the climate in such a cold, rocky, remote place suited his humor. And so when Skaði arrived in Noatun, she, too, noticed that the fresh sea air and the warm sun held no pleasure for her.
So Skaði returned to her ancestral home in Thrymheim, but was always counted among the Aesir, participating in the Thing, the assembly of the gods, and even sitting with her husband at a famous banquet, but always feeling closest to her first love: the mountains, the winter, and the snow.
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A couple of quick notes.
First, whether the association with Scandinavia is accurate or not, Skadi is much loved by Scandinavians for reasons that should be obvious: she is associated with things that are unavoidably Scandinavian. And her personality in this tale represents values very consistent with the worldview prevalent in Norse culture, to fight for your family, even against insurmountable odds. This story’s origin most likely has more to do with the passing down of values than with the teaching of Skadi’s position in the Germanic pantheon as Njord’s wife or as Freyr’s mother.
Skadi also shares an important link with Loki: it seems the two are the only giants adopted into the tribe of the Aesir. It’s also noteworthy that while many other giant women are the mothers of gods or the consorts of gods, Skadi is the only giant woman I’ve encountered so far who actually marries one of the gods and whose status transforms as a result.
I think that also says something about Skadi’s function as a goddess. The giants are the personification of destructive forces; the gods are the personification of the forces of order and creation. As a giant and a goddess, or a giant who became a goddess, Skadi’s role as a goddess of mountains and winter and hunting shows the ambivalence Norse society had towards these concepts, the danger inherent to living in the mountains, trying to survive the long winter, or going hunting in a land filled with dangerous predators and harsh conditions. Skadi could be your friend or your enemy, even more so than a rash, impulsive god like Thor.