Who is Sigyn?

by Galina Krasskova

Loki and Sigyn by RackhamSigyn is mentioned a mere handful of times in the surviving lore. References to Her may be found in the Voluspa, the Lokasenna, the Gylfaginning, and the Skaldskaparmal and Þórsdrápa. What we actually learn from these references is regrettably little:

  • Sigyn is Loki’s wife.
  • šShe is listed amongst the Asynjur, the Goddesses of the Aesir.
  • šShe is the mother, by Loki, of Narvi and Vali. When Loki was bound in the cave as punishment for His role in Baldur’s death, Vali was turned into a wolf. He then killed His brother by tearing Him apart. Narvi’s intestines were used as part of the binding securing Loki.
  • šSigyn, ostensibly having witnessed all of this, stayed by Loki during His punishment, holding a bowl over His face to catch the poison that dripped from a serpent the Goddess Skadhi had secured above His head. For this reason, Loki is sometimes referred to as the “Burden of Sigyn’s Arms.’
  • šSigyn’s name means “victory woman”.

Nothing else survives that may point to the ways in which Her nature and roles were conceived of by pre-Christian Heathens. Nothing survives of Her worship. This may be viewed as a great loss, or it may be viewed as a great opportunity for we have the chance to start anew, going directly to this Goddess to learn how She wants to be honored today.

In my own experience of Sigyn, and that of the handful of Sigyn’s people that I know, She seems to often reveal Herself in one of two ways: either as a delightfully child-like young girl or, conversely, as a wife, implacable, resilient, post the ordeal of the cave, burdened by the overwhelming grief of the loss of Her children. Either way, Her presence is compelling and immense. She is the only Goddess I have ever encountered who evokes in me a feeling of protectiveness. Perhaps this is simply because when Loki first “introduced” me to Her, it was in Her child aspect that She came. I have written about Her before, both in Exploring the Northern Tradition and Feeding the Flame, the latter of which is a devotional to Loki and His family. It is not my desire to repeat myself unduly here. Suffice it to say, that Sigyn is a complex Goddess with a great deal to teach, and while She may very often choose to reveal Herself in the ways noted above, one should not think that She is in any way limited to those two roles. It is up to every devotee to discover Her for themselves, to pave the road through devotion by which She can touch their hearts.

Gosford Cross with Loki and SigynTaken from lore, Sigyn has one primary mystery: She endured. She consciously chose to honor the commitments of Her heart and to endure in the face of unprecedented loss, grief, and misery. Loki’s ordeal in the cave, perhaps the defining moment of His mythos, was also Her ordeal in the cave. The difference is that She consciously chose to endure it. Over the years, I have encountered many discussions in various online Heathen and Asatru forums in which Sigyn was dismissed as little more than the epitome of the abused wife. Moderns all too often seem to read into Her story passivity, victim-hood, and a regrettable lack of agency. I truly do not know whether this is because She demonstrated these arguably most Heathen of virtues in defense of Loki, who is a very controversial figure in the modern community, because we know nothing else of Her story via the lore, or because She isn’t depicted as bold, brash, or sexually independent (like Freya). I would hate to think that Her strength, Her loyalty, Her constancy are all too often overlooked perhaps because these things are exercised primarily in the enclosure of Her domestic sphere.

It seems to me as though Sigyn’s world was defined by love: love of Her husband, love of Her children, love of Her family as a whole. Given that Loki’s other wife is Angurboda, the mighty chieftainess of the Ironwood, are we really to believe that He would choose a doormat as a mate? It makes far more sense to me (and, granted, this comes in part from my personal experience of Sigyn) to wonder at the quiet strength that must have provided a soothing haven to this most quixotic and fiery of Gods. It is a mistake to view Her gentleness as weakness. Because She is never seen external to Her home and family does not mean that She is powerless. What it means is that She created inangard, the sacred enclosure of the home, for a God who was otherwise rootless. She rooted Him, balanced Him, accepted Him, and above all loved Him. It was Her choice to do this. Herein lies the conundrum of modernity: when we accept that women have free agency, we must also acknowledge that sometimes that agency will be exercised consciously and freely in ways we might disagree with. I cannot help but speculate on whether or not Sigyn is so easily dismissed because She was, essentially, the quintessential Hausfrau, and this is a role that in today’s world, is also all too often devalued.

Several years ago, a Christian friend, a priest, observing the less than pleasant dynamic that so often characterizes Heathen community discussions and debate turned to me and asked, apologetically, “Where is love in your faith? Where is compassion?” At the time, I merely responded that it is in the lessons the Gods teach us directly, not the lore, unless it be hidden within the dictates on hospitality. As I myself have grown in my faith (hopefully) and as I have grown closer to Sigyn (definitely), I’ve discovered the answer to my friend’s question: Sigyn. Sigyn embodies and teaches everything we could ever hope to learn about love, compassion and many other virtues as well. Where is love in our religion? It rests with Sigyn. Where is compassion? In Her heart. Perhaps by casting Her and by extension Her family out of our devotions, we’re turning a blind eye to those things as well.

Sigyn’s story is also one of victory: victory over wrenching circumstances, over pain, loss, despair, and anguish. She chooses to endure and by doing so, She triumphs. As Fuensanta Arismendi, an ardent Sigyn’s woman once said: Sigyn’s strength is in Her heart. Her heart is invincible.

Despite the fact that there is a dearth of information in the lore on Sigyn, She has a small collection of sacred by names, or heiti. Known heiti for Her, taken both from lore and modern practice include:

  • Wife of Loki
  • Incantation-Fetter (Þórsdrápa) [1]
  • Lady of the Staying Power
  • Lady of Unyielding Gentleness
  • Lady of the Unconquerable Heart
  • Mother of Narvi and Vali
  • North Star
  • Victory Woman

Every time I hear the kenning for Loki “Burden of Sigyn’s arms,” it brings to mind Michelangelo’s pietá, not the one in Rome but the one in the Uffizi in Florence which shows Mary, Joseph, and the Magdalene holding a Christ made doubly heavy by the burden of a dead body and by the burden of grief. Here Michelangelo caught something essential about the nature of grief: it has a terrible weight. Shakespeare said in King John, where he has a queen sit down on the floor next to the throne having lost a son, “…for my grief is so great that none but the huge firm earth can bear it.” That to me, is Sigyn. She bears the unbearable. There’s no glamour in Her ordeal.

With ordeals like Odin’s, it’s nine days and then it’s over. It’s the plucking of an eye and then it’s over. I mean no disrespect, but Sigyn didn’t know when or even if Her ordeal would ever be over. Not to mention no mother ever gets over the ordeal of losing a child, something Odin also understood.  But there is no glamour: you do what’s right, and you do it again and again and again, and that’s very unpopular. There’s no glamour, no sweeping gestures, and no one to sing your praises. The heart is a terrible thing.

                                 -Fuensanta Arismendi

Finally, as both a Goddess and a woman, Sigyn has immense dignity. This is something that is rarely touched upon even by those who honor Her regularly: She has an enormous amount of dignity. She never complains. She never explains. She never blames. She never shows off or emphasizes the pain and difficulty of what She does. She never seeks attention. She just does what needs to be done and allows Her deeds to speak for themselves. There is something remarkably noble in Her attitude. She simply does not stoop to complain. There’s tremendous dignity in that. 

Of all the Nine Worlds, Helheim was unjustly the richer because it held Her son.         - Fuensanta Arismendi

Mourning mother


[1] This is a particularly fascinating by-name in what it implies: that She has the ability to bind and ward off magical incantations. Among possible interpretations, this could be seen in Her act of warding Loki from the magical binding and torture inflicted on Him by the Aesir, or it could be a reference to Her ability to make sacred the holy inangard of the home. As Loki’s devotee Mordant Carnival noted,

Then there's that tantalizing kenning for Sigyn: "galdrs hapt" or "Incantation-fetter" (according to Faulkes' translation of the Þórsdrápa, where we find the Loki-kenning "farmr arma galdrs hapts."  Some have suggested that "galdrs hapts" refers to Gullveig, but since Loki is nowhere else kenned as Gullveig's lover Sigyn is the more rational choice).

Why is She being referred to as Incantation-Fetter? This, to me, implies some story that hasn't come down to us, perhaps one in which Sigyn displays the ability to thwart magical charms. (I can't help thinking of the Runatál section of Hávamál, which makes reference to charms both for binding one's enemies and for freeing oneself from fetters.)

As a side note, the name Narvi crops up elsewhere in lore. It's given as the name of a Jotun, the father of Nótt (Night). It is unclear whether They’re the same individual; perhaps there were two Narvis? If they were, though, that would make Sigyn the grandmother of Night, a very potent role.”