Who is Forseti?
Forseti is the Norse god of justice, public judgment, mediation, and reconciliation. He is the son of Baldur, the god of Light, and his wife Nanna. He bears the axe as his symbol. His hall is Glitnir, the Hall of Justice, which is said to have golden pillars and a ceiling of silver, and radiated light for some distance. Folk of all kinds would come to Glitnir for mediation of their problems, and it was said that no one came away dissatisfied by Forseti’s judgments.
There is some evidence that the worship of Forseti came from Fosite, a Frisian god. Forseti’s name is something of a mystery – it may come from the word for “presiding” or “president”; it may come from “whirling stream” or “cataract” due to his worship by seagoing peoples, or it may come from “forbidding” or “ban”. Modern Icelandic bears a form of this name as the word for “president” today, a legacy of this God. (Another similarly constructed name, Veseti, means “person who is in charge of or presides over the ve” – the hallowed space.)
Supposedly, there was once a shrine to Forseti at a spring on an island between Denmark and Frisia, identified in one old source as Heligoland. In one legend, the Frankish king Charles Martel told the twelve Frisian law-speakers that they must conform to his laws or face death, slavery, or being set adrift in a rudderless boat on the ocean. They chose the latter, and prayed for help as they drifted. According to the story, a thirteenth man suddenly appeared on their boat with a golden axe over his shoulder. He steered the boat using his axe as a rudder and brought them to land, then split the land with his axe and a spring came forth. He identified himself as Fosite, taught them all new laws, and then vanished. The shrine was later defiled by St. Willebrord.
Forseti is one of the “younger” Gods of the Nordic pantheon, and it is telling that he is the son of one of the most famous murder victims in its history. Unlike other sons of Odin, or the older Gods, who embraced vengeance, Forseti turned to fair mediation in spite of his history of early pain. As a lawmaker and a lawspeaker, he embodies approaching wrongdoing as a complex, multilayered problem that requires humane solutions based on established laws rather than lashing out emotionally. Today, we need him more than ever in the battle against injustice.