Our lady of the mountains gets around. She really does. I live in the mountains in Alaska, and that means I am treated every year to a magnificent display of Skaði’s influence. And today we received our first snowfall.
It seems then, an appropriate time to reflect on Skaði as a goddess.
Skaði is not Æsir or Vanir, but rather a Jötun, or Giant for the uninitiated; in other words, she was not always a goddess.
She first came to Asgard when actions of the gods had resulted in the death of her father, Thiazi. Skaði came seeking vengeance; a life for a life. But Odin and the others convinced her no such vengeance was necessary, and offered compensation in their own manner. Skaði was offered a marriage to one of the ranks of the Gods, but she added a condition of her own, and one she thought was impossible. She told the gods they must make her laugh, first.
A good day to have Loki in the house then.
Loki, the god of mischief, found making the angry Jötun maid laugh to be all in a day’s work, and she agreed to the gods’ compensation.
Skaði was free to marry any god, but she must choose her husband by his feet alone. Noticing a particularly graceful pair, Skaði believed they must belong to Baldr, and chose her husband. However, she was mistaken, and her husband was revealed to be the god Njörd.
Their marriage was not a happy one. Skaði, a Jötun, wanted to live in the mountain hall of her father, Thrymheim. Njörd wanted to live in Nóatún, his seaside palace. They agreed to spend 9 days in each home to see if they could agree on something as basic as where they would live.
After nine nights in Thrymheim, Njörd said
Hateful for me are the mountains,
I was not long there,
Only nine nights.
The howling of the wolves
Sounded ugly to me
After the song of the swans.
After nine nights in Nóatún, Skaði responded thus:
Sleep I could not
On the sea beds
For the screeching of the bird.
That gull wakes me
When from the wide sea
He comes each morning.
Over such a basic difference, there could be no reconciliation, and Skaði divorced Njörd and sought a new husband, which in some sources is said to be Odin, and others the skiing god, Ullr. Skaði returned home to her father’s mountain hall, and all was well.
Now that you know her story, it’s time I talked a bit about her effect on my life. The first is obvious. I live in the mountains of Alaska. Trust me, I know Skaði VERY WELL. 6 months of winter ensures it. But Skaði’s story teaches less obvious things besides her natural dwelling. Let’s consider Skaði’s origins for a moment. She’s not a goddess from the get go. She’s a Jötun, from a tribe/culture/country that doesn’t exactly have a very gentlemanly history with Asgard. She came as the enemy, demanding blood for blood. The gods could have simply killed her, or sent her home. They didn’t have to speak to her at all, and they would have been completely justified in doing so.
But they chose to talk instead. They sorted it out with logic and reason (and a well timed joke from Loki).
Lesson 1: the direct approach isn’t always the best answer to a situation. Sometimes taking a longer or more difficult road may lead to a more favorable outcome for everyone. There is such thing as a win-win situation, even if it’s more difficult than grade school mediators would have you think.
Then Skaði made a mistake, and a potentially costly one in the form of a marriage to a man she didn’t love or have common ground with. But she had the wisdom to evaluate this early on, before things came to a head. By keeping a cool head, expressing her lack of common ground, and breaking things off early, Skaði corrected a what would have been a potentially fatal mistake for either her or Njörd (especially when one considers how violent gods and giants can be).
Lesson 2: It’s okay to speak up if doing so will help you avoid pitfalls later, especially in a codependent dynamic.
After her divorce from Njörd, Skaði was not punished by the gods. She was not called an indecisive Jötun-wench or anything of the sort. She was not coerced into remarrying Njörd. Rather, the gods went: Okay, obviously that one didn’t work out. No harm, no foul. Let’s see if we can find you someone better that you’d be happier with.
And on her second try, Skaði succeeded. She found a new husband, and no matter the account, whether it’s Odin or Ullr, both stories agree Skaði wound up considerably happier, and became the goddess of the mountains, winter, and everyone’s favorite wintertime sport, Skiing.
Lesson 3 could be a bog-standard “if at first you don’t succeed” drivel, but I’ll forgo that as we get all we need of that in school these days. No, I want to draw attention to the fact that a Jötun, an enemy of the gods, is raised up by those same gods and becomes a goddess herself, and a well regarded one at that. Jötuns and gods alike respect and like her. Someone from a totally different societal strata that is not well thought of rises through the ranks to become one of the top dogs. Skaði is, in a way, a Norse underdog story. And she didn’t do it by cheating or back stabbing; she managed it by staying honorable, being confident, and sticking to her guns the whole way. She never compromised herself or her beliefs, and still won out in the end, even if it was a different victory than she initially wanted.
The lessons from Skaði’s story gives her a markedly positive influence in my life, and so as I watch the snows fall outside my window, I ask you to consider this winter how Skaði may have touched your life.
Hail, and gods bless.