Who is Angrboda?

What we know from myth, history, and inspiration

angrbodacardAngrboda (whose name means “foreboding”) is known as the Hag of the Iron Wood of Jotunheim. In mythological primary sources, she is generally only known through her marriage to Loki, and the fact that she is the mother of several of his children. She is almost always seen by those who work with her as a tall, muscular woman with reddish hair – “hair the color of dried blood”, as one seeker said - and is passionate, violent, bloodthirsty, and very wise about much old lore. In order to understand her (modernly insulting) title of Hag of the Iron Wood, you can compare the word Hag to the word Hagia, or wise woman. She is the leader of the Wolf Clan, and also the Chief of Chiefs of the Nine Clans of the Iron Wood by right of many battles won, and she is a fierce warrior-woman and werewolf-shapeshifter as well as wisewoman, priestess, magician, seer. As the single most important person in the Iron Wood, she is aware of everything that goes on inside of its borders. However, like most Iron Wood Clan folk, she does not generally leave her forest or interfere in outside activities in the rest of the Nine Worlds, or in our world.

The Mother of Wolves is very choosy about who she will work with. If she doesn’t like you for whatever reason, she will reject you. She has little patience with the weak of will - to her, weaklings get exposed at birth. However, if you are a strong and competent person who is having a rough time, she can be surprisingly sympathetic. She is a Mother Goddess in her own way, but her mothering is very wolflike - fiercely protective of her own, but not above growling and biting when then do something stupid. She has a soft spot for the deformed and bizarre who rise above the world that attempts to drag them down. She is skilled in the magic of the hunt, prophecy and divination, shapeshifting, and certain kinds of sex magic from a female perspective. She often wears men's clothing and is only seen in skirts on ceremonial occasions when she fulfils her role of Divine Priestess; as a war-leader of her people, she usually goes armed.

Although she is generally thought of as Loki's wife, in the hierarchy of the Iron Wood, Loki is Angrboda's consort, not the other way around. Loki spends part of his time living with her and the other part living with his other wife Sigyn. Since multiple marriage is not uncommon in the Iron Wood, Angrboda respects Sigyn as Loki’s second wife, but insists on her rank as the senior mate. Those of us who are in polyamorous relationships have found her to be a good source of advice and aid in both defending one’s boundaries and adapting to polyamory without insecurity.

snakeandwolfAngrboda's marriage to Loki produced three children - Hela, who became the goddess of Death; Jormundgand the Great Serpent who surrounds and protects all of Midgard; and Fenris the wolf-shaped God of Destruction who was chained. There are conflicting accounts in the primary sources about who the mother of Fenris's wolf-children Hati and Skoll might be. In some accounts she is an unnamed giantess of the Jarnvidur; in others, she is his own mother Angrboda. Whether this incestuous affair took place is unknown, and may always be a mystery.

(Illustration at top of page from The Giants' Tarot. Artwork by Nicole Cardiff.)