How would you like it if your name meant “relation by marriage”? That is the unfortunate fate of the Norse goddess, Sif–her main importance is her relationship to others. Like some of the other Norse goddesses, there are few stories about her that survived. The only thing we do know is that she is a wife, a mother, and has golden hair.
Sif’s claim to fame is that she is married to the god Thor. We don’t know much about their marriage, other than that in one story Thor was protective of her, or, at least, of her hair. Not much to go by!
Sif is the mother of the god Ullr by a man other than Thor, although this man is unknown. Her son Ullr is best known as a skiller skier and archer whom no one can rival. Handsome and skilled–not a bad combination! Norse warriors called on Ullr when going into single combat.
In Norse culture, blood feuds were a common issue and they could last for generations. One way to ease the back-and-forth nature of killing that occurred during a blood feud was to have men meet each other in single combat, either an einvigi or a holmgang. An einvigi was an unregulated fight that typically ended in death, while the holmgang was a highly regulated and formal duel. A special place was marked out of the ground, ropes surrounded the dueling field, and duelers even had a second to give them fresh shields. Unlike the einvigi, a holmgang ended at the first blood drawn.
By far Sif’s most famous attribute is her golden hair, which was long and glorious. Of course, the trickster god Loki had to mess with it!
As a prank, Loki cut off Sif’s golden locks. To prove how inconsequential poor Sif is in the mythological stories, we do not know what her reaction was to this awful prank. All we have is what happened when Thor discovered that his wife’s hair had been shorn by Loki. Thor was furious. I’d like to think that Thor cared for his wife, and her distress over the loss of her hair was what made him so angry. Or perhaps he was concerned that his wife would be shamed for having short hair. In Norse culture, a woman’s hair was something she took pride in, and her husband might take pride in it as well. Slaves were forced to wear their hair short, so Sif’s shorn head would have been quite humiliating for her.
Thor grabbed the trickster Loki and threatened him. Loki swore he’d fix things and find a way to replace Sif’s golden tresses.
When a Norse god needs something made, he goes to the dwarves, and particularly the Sons of Ivaldi, who were famous and especially talented craftsmen.
With his trickster ways, Loki was able to convince the Sons of Ivaldi to create new locks for Sif made out of pure gold. But that was not the end of it. He also got them to create other magical items for the gods (which I wrote about in this blog about the dwarves). They crafted:
Draupnir–Odin’s magical ring
Gullinbursti–Frey’s golden boar
Once he retrieved the golden hair from the Sons of Ivaldi, Loki brought it to Thor and Sif. She wore the new hair made from pure gold with pride. And Loki got away with his life … this time.
Sif’s golden hair has been considered by many scholars to be a symbol for grain, and Sif herself an earth goddess. It fits. With her golden tresses that could symbolize sheaths of wheat, she seems very much like an earth goddess. And who better for an earth goddess to marry than the sky god Thor with his control of the rain and weather.
Earth and Sky–a divine marriage.
In the Scandinavian forest, the plant hair moss is sometimes called haddr Sifjar which means “Sif’s Hair.” Sif’s Hair is tall and yellow gold, just like in the myth. At least this goddess has been memorialized in a beautiful plant!
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The following two books are the translated source material.
In these books, Neil Gaiman tells the stories in his own words. He narrates the audiobook.