It should come as no surprise that the Norse people had a deity they called the snowshoe goddess. This goddess, Skadi (SKAH-thee), is a Jotun who married into the family of the Aesir gods, and she is associated with winter.
Skadi is known for loving the high snowy mountains, and she is most often depicted on skis with a bow or spear in her hand as she hunts. She loves her mountain hall of Thrymheim (Thunder Home).
Her name means ‘harm’ or ‘scathe’, the latter from which we derive our English word, and as her name implies, she is no pushover. Her name is also connected to the name of Scandinavia, although scholars do not know if the name of the land derived from her or the other way around.
Skadi has a complicated relationship with the Aesir gods. She is the daughter of Thjazi, the jotunn who stole Idunn and the apples of immortality. When he chased after Loki and Idunn all the way to the walls of Asgard, the Aesir were waiting for him and killed him.
In the Norse world, the killing of a loved one did not go unchallenged.
Skadi Seeks Revenge on the Aesir
Skadi wanted revenge for her father’s death so she “put on her helmet and coat of mail and, taking all her weapons of war, set out for Asgard to avenge her father.”* The gods did not want to spill blood in Asgard, so although she was far outnumbered and the Aesir had the god Thor on their side, the gods determined to reconcile with her instead. They offered that she could marry one of them but could only choose by looking at their feet. Being a smart woman, she made the reasonable choice and picked the one with the cleanest, most attractive feet, with the assumption it was the beautiful god Balder.
Unfortunately, it was not. The lovely feet belonged to the sea god Njord. Being a sea god has its benefits of having clean feet! If he was not as beautiful as Balder, at least Njord was very rich.
Loki, a Goat, and a Rope
Before she left Asgard with her new husband, she had one more condition for the Aesir. They had to make her laugh.
This is where it gets weird.
To make Skadi laugh, Loki fetched a rope and a billy goat. He tied one end of the rope to the goat’s beard and one to his own testicles. They proceeded to have a tug-of-war! Because if you want to make a vengeful jotun laugh, this is apparently the way to do it. They tugged and tugged, squealing in pain until Loki fell into Skadi’s lap.
She laughed. And all was well.
Odin, in a rare bit of decency, threw her father, Thjazi’s eyes into the sky where they became two stars. Obviously, Skadi was attached to her father, so I can imagine her on a dark night looking up into the sky to see the stars that are her father’s eyes, and feeling a sense of communion with him.
Skadi Marries Njord
Skadi and Njord did not have a happy marriage. He was a sea god and she was a jotun of the snow and mountains. They gave it a try, though. Njord lived in his hall by the sea, Nóatún, which means a ship enclosure, and Skadi lived in Thrymheim, which had been her father’s before the Aesir killed him. Thrymheim was located in the high mountains and in the deep forest where wild animals, like wolves, prowled.
They agreed to live in Thrymheim for nine nights and Nóatún for three nights. After the nine nights were over, Njord had had enough of the cold, snowy stronghold where wolves howled:
“Hateful to me are the mountains,
I was not long there,
Only nine nights.
The howling of wolves
Sounded ugly to me
After the song of swans.”
Next they tried Nóatún, Njord’s hall by the sea. This time Skadi was the unhappy partner:
“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.”
Howling wolves. Freezing cold. Screeching gulls. Crashing waves. It seemed they could not agree on a marital abode. In an unusual display of reason and lack of animosity for the Norse gods, Skadi and Njord decided to live separately, he in his place by the sea and she in her mountain fortress. They never lived together again.
Skadi did become incorporated into the family of the Aesir, even treating Njord’s children, Freyr and Freya, as if they were her own.
Skadi and Loki Do Not Get Along
In the Lokasenna, a poem in which Loki behaves particularly badly, killing one of the servants and then insulting all of the gods and goddesses in attendance, he says to Skadi, “you had kinder words for me/when you were begging me/to join you in your bed.”** Skadi was not the only goddess to be on the receiving end of Loki’s slut-shaming; he did it to all the other female goddesses at the feast.
Skadi gets revenge, though, by taking part in Loki’s punishment after he kills Balder. After instigating that terrible deed, Loki flees. Odin and the other gods catch him. Their punishment is gruesome; they bind him with the entrails of his own son!
Skadi is the one who dangles a serpent over Loki’s head that drips poison onto his face. No one, not even the god Loki, shames Skadi, the bow-hunting, wolf-hunting jotun, and gets away with it.
*Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda. Jesse Byock translator. (Penguin Classics, 2005).
**Jackson Crawford, The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. (Hackett Publishing, 2015).