View Full Version : Thor and the Six Goddesses

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005, 02:57 AM
No less than six goddesses are associated with Thor in the Eddic myths (1). His mother is Jord (the Earth Mother), his foster mother is Hlora, his step mother is Frigg, his wife is Sif, his mistress is the giantess Jarnsaxa and his daughter is Thrud (one of the valkyries). Barlaams Saga gives him a further nine daughters who act as norns.

The importance of Thor's relationship with Jord comes across strongly in skaldic poetry where he is repeatedly titled 'Earth's Son'. The Earth Mother is also known from Anglo-Saxon sources in the famous 'Erce, Erce, Erce, Eorthan Modor' poem, but insufficient material survives to show if she was connected to the thunder god in Anglo-Saxon England.

This close association between a thundergod and an Earth mother has parallels in other mythologies across Europe to the Middle East. Zeus and Hera follow this pattern of earth and sky joined in marriage, the Greek myths also explain that they are brother and sister. The Finnish deities Ukko and Rauni and also represent the married union of thundergod and Earth goddess. This arrangement is also seen in the Vanir cult where the sky god Frey is coupled with Freyja the goddesses of fertility. Again these deities are brother and sister.

Many different cultures across the world have a basic religious instinct to combine a feminine Earth and a male sky to explain life and fertility. Thor is an ancient deity and his origins go back before the Norse religion as we know it came into being. Jord is a survival of this earlier age. She is probably his original consort, now faded into obscurity with the increased importance of Frigg and Freyja. Thor's wife Sif is a puzzling character. Despite the importance of Thor's cult in Iceland where the myths were recorded she is given very little status as a goddess compared to the domineering figures of Frigg and Freyja. She is mentioned in the well known myth of the making of Thor's hammer but she appears as a wife rather than a goddess of any importance. The myth makes it clear that it is Thor's anger that gets results, not his wife's humiliation.

The cutting of Sif's hair has been given several meanings. Firstly that her golden hair represents the corn harvest which is cut and grows anew. This interpretation gives Sif the role of harvest or fertility goddess (Uhland 1836). The second is that Loki cut Sif's hair to announce that she had made Thor a cuckold by sleeping with him (6) as he declares in Lokasenna (2). Both these interpretations call for a lot of reading between the lines!

Sif's name means sib or relative, which is normally explained as meaning 'the wife of Thor', a further pointer to the goddess's low importance. But when this marriage is compared to the Indo-European tradition of the incestuous earth sky / marriage, this name takes on a whole new meaning. If Thor was originally married to an earth goddess, could Sif and Jord be the same deity? This would explain Sif's unusual name because Thor would be married to his mother, his sib, a situation very common in the earliest Middle Eastern mythologies. This also adds weight to the 'harvest goddess' theory as the early Middle Eastern fertility goddesses were depicted with crops growing from their hair.

Further evidence for Thor being married to an Earth Goddess exists in Lapp mythology where the married deities of thunder and Earth have borrowed Norse names - Hora Galles, from 'Thor karl' (Old Man Thor) and Ravdna, from 'raun' (rowan tree) (7). Ravdna is a fertility goddess and the red berries of the rowan were held sacred to her. The rowan is also sacred to Thor, so Ravdna, Sif and Jord may all be strongly connected.

If this idea still sounds far fetched consider the situation of Frey and Freya who are clearly meant to be lovers, and the Norse fabrication of respectable partners for this incestuous pair represented by Gerd and Odur. Like Sif these were minor deities and probably never worshipped. The Norse had developed a strong dislike of sexual deviancy and would not even allow it among their gods, hence the myths had to be 'cleaned up'.

There are several references in the myths to Sif being less than faithful to her husband. As already stated Loki claims to have seduced her in the poem Lokasenna (2). As many of the insults in this poem are backed up by other mythological material it is likely that this taunt was also meant to based on truth. Sif is also named as the mother of the mysterious god of hunting, Ull, and Thor is not his father.

Thor's lack of fidelity is clear from the reference to his lover, the giantess Jarnsaxa. Snorri names Jarnsaxa as the mother of Thor's son Magni and one of his kennings for Sif is 'rival of Jarnsaxa'. Thor's active interest in the fairer sex is also made clear in Gautreks Saga and the Tale of Queen Eagle Beak (8).

The relationship between Thor and Frigg, his stepmother is never explained in the Eddas. However they appear to share parents. One of Jord's names is Fjorgyn and Frigg's father is given as Fjorgynn, a male form of the same name. The existence of a god called Fjorgynn is dubious (3), this reference is far more likely to refer to Jord, thus making Thor and Frigg brother and sister. Frigg has many aspects of an Earth Goddess herself and it may be no co-incidence that she is considered the daughter of the primeval Earth goddess. Another point linking Thor and Frigg is the fact that they would have been the two main deities of many of the Icelandic settlers. As neither Sif nor Jord had any significant cult following in the late Viking period Frigg appears to have replaced the Earth goddess in the cult of Thor (4).

Snorri names Hlora and Vingnir as the step-parents of Thor, but gives no explanation for his statement (1). This information appears to have been invented by Snorri to explain two of Thor's nicknames, Hlorridi and Vingnir (3). There have been some amazing modern embellishments made to Snorri's brief statement which should be completely disregarded.

Another goddess who may have a connection with Thor is Freyja. The two are thrown together in the Lay of Thrymr where Thor has to disguise himself as Freyja to recover his hammer. This tale is very late - composed well after the conversion and cannot be a very reliable account of the relationship between Thor and Freyja from the pagan perspective. We do have one clue though, Snorri lists among his kennings for Thor 'old friend of Freyja' suggesting a certain amount of intimacy. Again Freyja would have been frequently worshipped beside Thor to replace the obscure goddess in his own cult. Thor's womanising in several of the myths and Freyja's blatant promiscuity would allow a devotee of both deities to consider them lovers.

Thor's daughter Thrud (power) appears in Snorri's list of valkyries and appears to be a personification of her father's strength. Thrud's name appears occasionally in kennings for Thor with a emphasis on a loving family (1). Like the nine daughters of Thor mentioned in Barlaams Saga, Thrud may also be one of the norns, helping shape the fate of Thor's worshippers (5).

Overall Thor's position in relation to the various Norse goddesses betrays the long and complex history of his cult. Jord's position as Earth goddess seems to date from a period before the cults of Thor, Odin and the Vanir were combined into the Norse religion. It is due only to Thor's importance in the religion that her name has survived at all. Frigg and Freyja were adopted as Thor's 'wives' by his late Viking worshippers aided by the fact that Thor is never directly named as Frigg's son.

1). Edda. Snorri Sturluson. Trans. by A. Faulkes. Everyman 1987.

2). The Poetic Edda. Trans. by L.M. Hollander. Univ. of Texas Press 1987.

3). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Rudolf Simek. D S Brewer. 1993.

4). Frigg and Thor. Thorskegga Thorn. Lina volume 2 issue 4. 1996.

5). Thor and Fate in Gautrek's Saga. Thorskegga Thorn. Thunder issue 1 1996.

6). Teutonic Religion. Kveldulf Gundarson.

7). Myth & Religion of the North. Turville-Petre. London. 1964.

8). Seven Viking Romances. Trans. by Palsson and Edwards. Penguin Classics 1985.

Source (http://www.thorshof.org/thunder2.htm)