Who is Skadi?

What we know from myth, history, and inspiration



Skadi is one of the most famous frost-giantesses in Jotun history, if only because she gained a place with the Aesir. Aside from that, it seems that she had her own cult in ancient times - in one saga, she refers to her shrines and worshippers. She is very much a goddess of the cold, snowy regions, a huntress with bow and arrows and sled pulled by white wolves. Some speak of her as the inspiration for the Russian Frost Maiden, and the Snow Queen of Hans Christian Andersen. She was apparently revered in ancient times by hunters who would ask her aid.

Skadi was the daughter of Thjassi, the frost-thurse who captured Iduna and was killed by the Aesir during Loki's rescue of her. Thjassi, the son of Olvalde, also somehow owned land in Asgard, due to complicated circumstances. As far as some of us can inquire, apparently Thjassi married an Aesir woman for a brief time, although he never came to Asgard; she apparently came to live with him in his cliff-fortress in northeastern Jotunheim, and died there after a short time of the cold. Although Thjassi technically inherited her Asgard estate, he never visited it because of the Aesir-Jotnar animosity; perhaps he knew that the Aesir would look badly upon his allowing his Aesir wife to die. When he was killed, his grown daughter Skadi (apparently no relation to the lost Aesir wife, but the child of a former marriage) claimed the estate, and also claimed weregild for her father's death.

She marched to the gates of Asgard in full panoply and fully armed, and demanded that she be given not only weregild and her father's inheritance, but also a husband. She hoped to win the beautiful Baldur, but Odin blindfolded her and made her choose from all the unmarried men in Asgard by feeling their feet. She chose the one with the finest feet, but it was Njord, the Vanir sea-king. He was good-looking and kind enough, so they married, but found after a while that they could not live together. Both Skadi's homeland - Thrymheim in Jotunheim - and her inherited package in Asgard were in the mountains, where she preferred to be, but Njord, could not bring himself to dwell long away form the sea. His home in Asgard, Noatun, and his Vanaheim home on the other side of the ocean, on the other hand, made Skadi uncomfortable; she complained about the noise of the sea-birds and the constant sound of the tide. The two separated amicably after a time, but by then Skadi had a place in the council of Asgard - the first Jotun to gain one.

It seems that shortly after this, she had an ill-fated affair with Loki. Some sources claim that Odin sent Loki to her in order to cement her bonds with Asgard; others merely suggest that the opportunistic Loki saw a chance to take advantage of the depressed Skadi. Apparently she had fallen into sadness, and Loki decided to cheer her up by making a spectacle of himself. He tied his testicles to a goat, and let the goat pull him around screaming and staggering, much to the amusement of the onlookers. At some point the rope snapped, and he fell headlong into Skadi's lap, and she laughed, finally. This rite is echoed in legends of sacrificial rites to the cold, implacable death goddess, where a man is castrated and flung bleeding into her lap, with the idea that only blood, not semen, can fertilize a death goddess. It may be that Loki was deliberately mimicking this rite as a way of offering himself to Skadi.

At any rate, she seems to have taken him more seriously than he took her, for they had an affair that did not last, and it filled her with a rage against him so bitter that when he was caught and bound after Baldur's death, Skadi placed a poisonous serpent over his head, to drip venom onto him until he was released. One senses not only the wrath of a woman scorned, but that of a priestess/goddess who was cheated. If Loki's courtship actions were an allusion to a traditional consort's sacrifice to a Goddess, and Skadi took that offering seriously, then Loki's casual discarding of her when he had had enough was more than callousness; it was outright sacrilege and the dishonoring of a ritual marriage. This may be why she felt that she had every right to make him suffer for centuries. Indeed, one could say that Loki's mistake with Skadi was the worst that he ever made.


Artwork by Gryphons-Aerie, model Shyble.