cross-posted from the CU Women’s Resource Center’s blog
Not a monster of the tooth and claw variety, the Norse goddess Skaði nonetheless can be counted among the monstrous. Skadi is the goddess associated with skiing, snowshoeing, winter, frost, and bow hunting. She is also a giantess. In Norse mythology, giants are the enemies of the Æsir, the deities of the Norse pantheon, and thus of humanity and the human realm. The majority of the myths involving Thor feature him slaying at least one giant, feats which were often referred to and bragged about in other stories. Giants were a monstrous figure often symbolizing the Other or the foreigner, encountered with even more frequency than normal by Thor and Loki in their travels to the east. Male giants were hideous, while their female counterparts could be attractive enough to get the attention of the male Æsir, such as Thor and Odin (sometimes consensually and sometimes not). However, a prolonged affair with a giantess was a mockable offense, as was being descended from a giant. Giants existed as the acceptable targets of Norse mythology, the monstrous foreign Other, either to be slain or slept with and sometimes both.
But not Skadi.
Skadi appears on the heels of the death of another giant, her father Thiazi. In the story “Skaldskaparmal,” Snorri Sturluson details how Skadi came to be adopted into the Norse pantheon. Loki is snatched away by the giant Thiazi, shape-shifted into an eagle, and is only released after he promises to bring Idunn and her apples to Thiazi. Idunn’s presence in Asgard, the home of the gods, was what granted the Æsir eternal youth, and after she is kidnapped they begin to age and become weak. Loki is then sent to fix his actions, and turns Idunn into a nut so that he, shape-shifted into a hawk can carry her back to Asgard. Thiazi, again as an eagle, pursues them, but has his wings burned by the Æsir as he flies over the walls to Asgard, and is killed when he falls to the ground.
Skadi then appears at the gates to Asgard, seeking vengeance for her father’s death. And she is a legitimate threat; one of the few women figures to take up arms in Norse mythology she “took helmet and mail-coat and all weapons of war and went to Asgard to avenge her father” (Skaldskaparmal 56-7). Terrifying in her fury and armor, a woman armed, a thing unheard of, she made her way to the very gates of Asgard, prepared not only to wage war by herself, but to be victorious. The Æsir in abject fear offer her compensation: she may pick a husband from any of them, and they must make her laugh. Skadi, knowing what she wants, goes straight for Baldr, the Norse god of beauty, at which point the Æsir change the rules, not wanting to let the most beautiful among them be married to a giantess. Instead, Skadi must pick her husband from behind a curtain, only able to see their feet. She picks the Æsir with the smoothest feet, thinking they must surely belong to Baldr, but they are actually the feet of Niord, god of the ocean, and have been worn smooth by the waves. Loki makes her laugh by tying his balls to a goat who then yanks him around. Odin, in a further act of recompense, takes Thiazi’s eyes and places them in the sky as stars, looking down upon his daughter.
Skadi and her husband are initially unable to decide where to live, as she loves the mountains and is the patron deity of skis and snowshoes, and he is the god of the sea, so after trying out both environments they decide to live apart, Skadi returning to her mountains and taking over her father’s hall.
In the story Lokasenna (Loki’s quarrel) Loki becomes outright hostile to the other Æsir, crashing a drinking party they’re holding to insult everyone present. When he gets to Skadi, he mentions his role in her father’s death, to which Skadi calmly and coldly replies:
“you know, if first and foremost you were at the killing
when you attacked Thiazi,
from my sanctuaries and plains shall always come
baneful advice to you.” (stanza 51)
Loki can only weakly respond that she was kinder to him when they were in bed together, and uncorroborated rumor mentioned only by him, and the same insult he uses against all the women at the party. Skadi produces dire insults and threats and Loki can only quiver and respond with the weakest and oldest insult there is.
Skadi is magnificently true to her word. After the Æsir capture Loki to make him pay for his role in the death of Baldr, he is chained inside a cave using the intestines of one of his own children. Skadi takes a snake and places it over his face, so that it drips poison down upon him.
Loki’s wife Sigyn tries to catch the poison in a bowl, but each time she goes to empty it, some of the poison drips down onto Loki’s face, and as he writhes in pain he becomes the source of earthquakes. Baneful, poisoned advice is what Skadi pays Loki back for her father’s death, and for his impudence in insulting her.
She went singing to her death, when Ragnarök came.