Women had a large degree of freedom during the Viking Age, especially when compared to their European contemporaries. So it comes as no surprise that the sagas and legends feature some powerful females. There are a lot to choose from. Which of them top the list when it comes to power? Here are my choices:
When Baldr died, the Norse gods needed to launch his ship Hringhorni to use it as a funeral pyre. There was just one problem – Hringhorni was the largest ship in the Nine Worlds and no one was able to make it budge. So the gods sent to Jotunheim, the land of the giants. They summoned one particular giantess called Hyrrokin (her names means Smoke-Withered or Fire-Stained.) Hyrrokin knew how to make an entrance. She arrived riding on top of a wolf, using a bridle made out of twisted snakes! The wolf was so tough that it took four beserkers to hold it down.
Was Hyrrokin able to move the ship? She walked over to it and gave it a single push. The movement was so intense that “fire sparkled from the rollers, and the earth shook all around.” That is one strong woman!
When Thor, Loki and Thjálfi visited the hall of the giant Utgard-Loki. The giant sets each of his visitors a challenge. Thor ends up with three challenges (He is Thor, after all.) For his third challenge he announces that he will wrestle any one in the hall. Utgard-Loki says that since Thor is kind of small he can wrestle one of the nurses – Elli. An old woman shuffles up and the wrestling match begins. As hard as Thor struggles, he can not move the giantess Elli. Thor tries and tries but not only can he not defeat the woman, she drives him back until Thor has one knee down on the ground.
Afterwards it is revealed that Elli is the personification of Old Age. Utgard-Loki marvels that Thor did so well because everyone eventually falls to Old Age. Just look at the story of Idunn. goddess of youth. When she was kidnapped and taken away from Asgard the gods went into a panic as they began to turn withered and gray. Old age frightens even the gods, earning Elli her place on this list.
When warriors die in battle they are brought to their heavenly reward, but not all of them go to Valhalla. Half of the warriors go to Folkvang the hall of the goddess Freyja. What makes this goddess so powerful that even Odin shares with her? Her anger once made the halls of the gods shake. She is associated with love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, magic, war, and death. That is a pretty potent combination. The Prose Edda says that she is ranked second only to one other goddess – Frigg, but I Frigg seems to get more of her power from being the wife of Odin while Freyja earned my ranking all by herself
The Eddas refer to a race of Norns but the three most famous are Urdr (fate), Verdandi (happening or present) and Skuld (future). How do the sagas describe these three? We are told in Voluspa they are “Huge of might” and “mighty in wisdom.” The Norns are the weavers of Fate and even the gods are under their power and influence. One of the reasons why Odin travels so much is that he knows the fate which awaits the gods at Ragnarok. While he knows he can not escape that fate he travels and seeks knowledge to ease some of it’s consequences.
The Norns’ importance to Norse mythology is also represented by their role in taking care of the literal center of the universe – Yggdrasil, the World Tree that runs through each of the Nine Worlds. Each morning they draw water from the Well of Fate and create a soothing poultice that they apply to the bark of the World Tree to keep it healthy. They might not be able to lift massive ships or crack skulls in a fight but it is said that no one can fight the fate that Urdr, Verdandi and Skuld have woven for them.
There is not many people that scare the gods. There are not many that the gods have to ask for what they want instead of just taking it. Hela, the goddess of death, is at the top of both those lists. The gods of Norse mythology can and do die. Hela has power over them all. As one of the three children of Loki and a giantess, she inspired so much fear and concern among the gods that she was cast into Nifleheim where she created great mansions to house the dead.
Brave warriors also fear Hela because her realm is filled with those who have died of sickness or in bed. If they are in her realm it is because they have died a “straw death” and were not worthy to earn a place in the heavens. During Ragnarok Hela will send her legions of the dead to fight against the gods
I’ve only touched briefly on each of these powerful women. I hope I’ve piqued your interest enough to get you out there and reading more on your own. Be sure and drop me a comment if you have any other powerful females from Norse mythology that you feel deserve a mention.
I am giving away the e-book edition of Trial By Ordeal, the first book in the Valda & the Valkyries series.
If you’re looking for a heart-warming story about a plucky heroine – this is it. If you’re looking for a light-hearted romp with the characters and creatures of Norse mythology – this is it. If you’re looking for an adventurous tale loved by boys and girls of all ages – this is it.
And for a short time it is my gift to you. Click here!
Yes, I put a young girl through Hel and wrote a book about it. 🙂 The Kindle edition is finally up on Amazon (You can buy it here) and a print version will be following shortly. Here’s the cover copy:
The young Dwarven girl Valda is finally and truly a Valkyrie. She has earned her place as a servant of the Norse gods. She is finally free to travel beyond her ancient mountain home. That’s when Odin sends her on a mission that brings her straight back to her ancient mountain home.
There she discovers Draugr, the zombies of the Norse world, are threatening the city. Her search for the person behind this threat takes her all the way to Hel, the land of the dead. She can at least be grateful that Loki isn’t the one behind this deadly plot. Then she learns that the Trickster is the only one who can help her stop the undead threat. How can she find her biggest enemy and convince him to help her?
This adventure has our spunky Dwarven Valkyrie going through figurative Hel as she receives one of the worst punishments a Dwarf can suffer. Then she journeys to the literal Norse land of the Dead and meets it’s queen – Hela.
This book is part of the Valda & the Valkyrie series, an ongoing story that takes you on a wild ride, galloping through the people and places of Norse mythology, while throwing in plenty of twists and turns that stay true to the spirit of the sagas. The series is suitable for readers of all ages who are looking for a light-hearted, adventurous story.
Hi folks, it is that time of year again when the days reach their shortest length and the wheel starts turning again to bring us back towards the light of summer. Winter has been cold this year but I haven’t had to deal with anything as brutal as the 15 degrees below zero F that my friend John woke up to in Maine.
I did a piece of art for the Norse Mythology blog’s Midwinter Art Contest. Now that the contest is over and Yule is actually here I wanted to share the piece with you all. I can see my work and my style as an artist developing. I once had a producer friend of mine comment that what she liked about my work was that it morphed to fit whatever style was needed for the project. That’s good for a graphic designer but not so good for an artist who wants to develop their own visual voice and style.