Themes in Norse Mythological Art
Loki's Other Half:
The Mother of Three Monsters

Angrboda/Aurboda/Gullveig/Heid/ Hyrrokin
Hrimnir's Daughter/Gymir's Wife

"Thrice Burnt and Thrice Reborn, Often, Not Seldom, Yet She Still Lives"

Völuspá 8          

Tefldu í túni, teitir váru,
var þeim vettergis vant ór gulli,
uns þrjár kvámu þursa meyjar
ámáttkar mjök ór Jötunheimum.

Happily they (the gods)  played Tafl in the court,

they lacked nothing made of gold;

until three thurs maidens came,

dangerously strong, out of Jotunheim.    

The three giantesses who spoil the Golden Age are often identified as the three Norns, but Urd and her sisters would never be referred to as  ámáttkar þursar, a designation reserved for the most dangerous foes of the gods. There is, however, another possibility also named in Völuspá, a central figure in the poem known as Gullveig-Heid in stanzas 21-22, and, in exile, the "Old One in the Ironwood" in stanzas 40-41. These powerful female figures have never been adequately explained. As Gullveig, she is a jotun at the center of a dispute between the Aesir and Vanir, but Snorri doesn't mention her in either his Edda or Heimskringla's Ynglingasaga. The Fornaldarsaga, Völsungasaga preserves a record concerning a giantess, skilled in witchcraft, who was admitted to Asgard as a maid-servant of Frigg.  The poem Fjölsvinnsmál st. 38, has the giantess Aurboda as a goddess at Menglad-Freyja's feet. In Saxo's Danish History, Book VII, the hero Otharus (Odr) rescues the princess Syritha (Sýr, a name of Freyja), held by giants. In the story, a maidservant, which some say was a giant in disguise, betrayed the girl to the monsters. Otharus frees her from Jotunheim, allowing Voluspa 25 to ask "Who gave Odr's girl to the jotuns?"   A comparison of these sources reveals the nature of this giantess among the Asynjur.

Völsungasaga (ch. 2) relates that the giant Hrímnir's daughter first dwelt in Asgard as the maid-servant of Frigg, and then on earth. When a king and queen, who had long been without children, beseeched the gods for an heir, Frigg heard their prayers and sent to them the daughter of the giant Hrímnir, a giantess named Hljod who had been adopted in Asgard as Odin's "wish-maid." Assuming the shape of a crow, Hrimnir's daughter took an apple with her, and once delivered, it was not long before the Queen's wish would come to pass; but she would die in childbirth of a son named Volsung. Apparently the apple was poisoned. 

Hyndluljóð states that Hrímnir's daughter is named Heið, and mentions no sister of hers, but, on the other hand, a brother Hrossþjófr "Horse-thief" (Heiðr og Hrossþjófr Hrímnis kindar - Hyndl. 30).  According to Volsungasaga, during her sojourn on earth, Hrimnir's daughter became the wife of a king, and with him became the mother and grandmother of were-wolves, who infested the woods and murdered men. The circumstance that the giantess in Volusngasaga first dwelt in Asgard and thereupon in Midgard, indicates that she is a parallel figure to Gullveig-Heid in Völuspá (see below), and thier identity is confirmed by the statement that she is a daughter of the giant Hrímnir. 

Similarly, we discover a giant handmaiden among the circle around Menglad-Freyja. Of this we are assured by the poem Fjölsvinnsmál, where, it is related that when Svipdag came to the gates of Asgard, he sees Menglad-Freyja, who was destined to be his wife, sitting on a hill surrounded by maidens whose very names, Eir, Björt, Blíðr, and Fríð, tell us that they are goddesses. Eir is the Asynja of the healing art (Prose Edda, i. 114). Björt, Blid, and Frid are the dises of splendor, benevolence, and beauty. They are mighty beings, and can give aid in distress to all who worship them (Fjölsvinnsmál 40). But in the midst of this circle of dises, Svipdag also sees Aurboða (Fjölsvinnsmál 38).

Of the one as of the other, it is related that she was a volva of the giant-race, who nevertheless dwelt for some time in Asgard, and was employed by Frigg or Freyja in the service of fertility.

Menglad and her Maidens
Among whom is Aurboda, Fjösvinsmál 38
1865 Ludwig Pietsch

Hyndluljóð informs us that Menglad-Freyja's servant Aurboda, is the mother of her brother's wife.

Freyr átti Gerði,
hon var Gymis dóttir,
jötna ættar, ok Aurboðu;

Freyr married Gerd,
she was the daughter of Gymir
and Aurboda, the kin of jötuns.

The Tale of Otharus (Odr) and Syritha (Syr = Freyja) in Book 7 of Saxo's Danish History suggests that Freyja was once betrayed to the giants by just such a maid servant:
"Then one Ottar, the son of Ebb, kindled with confidence in the greatness either of his own achievements, or of his courtesy and eloquent address, stubbornly and ardently desired to woo the maiden (Syritha, Freyja). And though he strove with all the force of his wit to soften her gaze, no device whatever could move her downcast eyes; and, marvelling at her persistence in her indomitable rigour, he departed.

"A giant desired the same thing, but, finding himself equally foiled, he suborned a woman; and she, pretending friendship for the girl, served her for a while as her handmaid, and at last enticed her far from her father's house, by cunningly going out of the way; then the giant rushed upon her and bore her off into the closest fastnesses of a ledge on the mountain. Others think that he disguised himself as a woman, treacherously continued his devices so as to draw the girl away from her own house, and in the end carried her off.

"When Ottar heard of this, he ransacked the recesses of the mountain in search of the maiden, found her, slew the giant, and bore her off."
Thrice Burnt, Thrice Reborn

The Death of Gullveig
1920 Willie Pogany
Völuspá 21-22:
Þat man hon
folkvíg  fyrst í heimi,
er Gullveigu 
geirum studdu 
ok í höll Hárs 
hana brenndu - 
þrysvar brenndu 
þrysvar borna, 
opt, ósjaldan - 
þó hon enn lifir. 
She remembers
the world’s first war,
when Gullveig
was pierced with spears
in the High One’s hall
she was burnt.
Thrice burnt,
thrice born,
often, not seldom,
yet she still lives.    
  Heiði hana hétu 
hvars til húsa kom, 
völu vel spá, 
vitti hon ganda. 
Seið hon kunni, 
seið hon leikin, 
æ var hon angan
illrar þjóðar. 
Heid they called her
Wherever she visited,
a far-sighted seeress,
she conjured with wands,
in magic she was versed,
in magic she was deft,
always cherished
by evil people.

Völuspá 21-22: The Aesir Burn Gullveig
1885 Lorenz Frølich (and below)


Völuspá 24: Odin Declares War on the Vanir

Gullveig's acts in antiquity as the founder of the diabolical magic art, as one who awakens man's evil passions and produces strife in Asgard causing conflict between the Aesir and Vanir. Ynglingasaga (ch. 4) relates a tradition that Freyja kendi fyrst med Ásum seið, that Freyja was the first to practice sorcery in Asgard. There is no doubt that the statement is correct. For we have seen that Gullveig-Heid, the sorceress and spreader of sorcery in antiquity, succeeded in getting admission to Asgard, and that Aurboda is particularly mentioned as belonging to the circle of serving dises who attend Freyja. As this giantess was so zealous in spreading her evil arts among the inhabitants of Midgard, it would be strange if the myth did not make her, after she had gained Freyja's confidence, try to betray her into practicing the same arts.

Doubtless Völuspá and Saxo have reference to Gullveig-Heid-Aurboda when they say that Freyja, through some treacherous person among her attendants, was delivered into the hands of the giants. In his historical account relating how Freyja (Syritha) was robbed from Asgard and came to the giants but was afterwards saved from their power, Saxo says that a woman, who was secretly allied with a giant, had succeeded in ingratiating herself in her favor, and for some time performed the duties of a maid-servant at her home; but this she did in order to cunningly entice her away from her safe home to a place where the giant lay in ambush and carried her away to the recesses of his mountain country.  Thus Saxo informs us that it was a woman among Freyja's attendants who betrayed her, and that this woman was allied with the giant world, which is hostile to the gods, while she held a trusted servant's place with the goddess. Aurboda is the only woman connected with the giants in regard to whom our mythic records inform us that she occupied such a position with Freyja; and as Aurboda's character and part, played in the epic of the myth, correspond with such an act of treason, there is no reason for assuming the mere possibility that the betrayer of Freyja may have been some one else who is neither mentioned nor known. With this, it is important to compare Völuspá 25-26, which not only mention the fact that Freyja came into the power of the giants through treachery, but also informs us how the treason was punished.

Why have the Vanir objected to the killing of Gullveig-Heid? Should this clan of gods, celebrated in song as benevolent, useful, and pure, be kindly disposed toward the evil and corrupting arts of witchcraft? This cannot have been the meaning of the myth. The explanation of the fact is that Frey, on account of a passion of which he is the victim (probably through Aurboda's sorcery), was driven to marry the giant maid Gerd, whose kin in that way became friends of the Vanir. Frey is obliged to demand satisfaction for a murder perpetrated on a kinswoman of his wife. The kinship of blood demands its sacred right, and according to Germanic ideas of law, the Vanir must act as they do regardless of the moral character of his mother-in-law.

Aurboda is Frey's mother-in-law, consequently his close relation; and it must have been on behalf of a near relation that Frey and Njörd demanded satisfaction from the Aesir when the Aesir slew Gullveig-Heid.  We must consider that nearly all mythic characters are polyonomous, and that the Germanic mythology particularly, is burdened with a highly-developed polyonomy. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to regard them as otherwise than identical.  Thus, when the gods capture and burn Gullveig for spreading witchcraft among mankind and giving Freyja to the giants, the Vanir object and demand weregild.


The Poetic Edda, Hyndluljóð 38:

 Ól ulf Loki
við Angrboðu,
en Sleipni gat
við Svaðilfara;
eitt þótti skass
allra feiknast,
þat var bróður
frá Býleists komit.  

Loki át hjarta
lindi brenndu,
fann hann halfsviðinn
hugstein konu;
Loki begat the wolf
with Angrboda,
but Sleipnir he begat
with Svadilfari:
one monster seemed
of all most deadly,
which from Byleist's
brother sprang.

Loki ate the heart
a little burnt,
he found half-scorched
the woman's life-stone.
Loki ate the Witch's Heart
1920 Willie Pogany

From the account, we see that an evil female being (ill kona) had been burnt, but that the flames were not able to destroy the seed of life in her nature. Her heart had not been burnt through or changed to ashes. It was only half-burnt (hálfsviðinn hugsteinn), and in this condition it had been thrown away together with the other remains of the cremated woman, for Loki finds and swallows the heart.

The half-burnt heart contained the evil woman's soul, and its influence upon Loki, after he swallowed it, was most remarkable. Once before he bore Sleipnir with the giant horse Svaðilfari, the witch's heart redeveloped the feminine in him (Loki lindi af brendu hjarta). It fertilized him with the evil purposes which the heart contained. Loki became the "father" of the children from which all trolls (flagð) came into the world. First among the children is mentioned the wolf, which is named Fenrir, and which shall cause the death of the All-Father in Ragnarok. Njörd's words about Loki, in Lokasenna 33 point to this event: áss ragr er hefir börn of borið.
The woman possessing the half-burnt heart, who is the mother or rather the father of the wolf, is called Angurboða (ól úlf Loki við Angurboðu).  N. M. Petersen and other mythologists have rightly seen that she is the same as "the old one in the Ironwood" and "there fosters Fenrir's kinsmen" (Völuspá 40), her own offspring, which at the end of this age are to issue from the Ironwood, and break into Midgard and dye its citadels with blood (Völuspá 41).   

As Gullveig was burnt and reborn three times, Loki appears to have found and eaten the half-burnt heart each time, bearing a monster each time.   

Snorri's Edda, Gylfaginning 34: Yet more children had Loki. Angrboda was the name of a certain giantess in Jötunheim, with whom Loki begat three children: one was Fenris-Wolf, the second Jörmungandr--that is the Midgard Serpent,--the third is Hel. But when the gods learned that this kindred was fed in Jötunheim, and when the gods perceived by prophecy that from this kindred great misfortune should befall them; and since it seemed to all that there was great prospect of ill —(first from the mother's blood, and yet worse from the father's)— then Allfather sent gods thither to take the children and bring them to him. When they came to him, straightway he cast the serpent into the deep sea, where he lies about all the land; and this serpent grew so greatly that he lies in the midst of the ocean encompassing all the land, and bites upon his own tail. Hel he cast into Niflheim, and gave to her power over nine worlds, to apportion all abodes among those that were sent to her: that is, men dead of sickness or of old age. ... The Wolf the Æsir brought up at home, and Týr alone dared go to him to give him meat."

Loki's Offspring
1905 Carl Emil Doepler Jr.

Three Monsters
1920 Willie Pogany

Loki's Children
1885 Lorenz Frølich

Loki and Angrboda
1885 Lorenz Frølich
The Poetic Edda, Vegtamskviða:


"Ert-at-tu völva
né vís kona,
heldr ertu
þriggja þursa móðir."

19. "Thou art no Volva,
nor wise woman,
rather art thou
the mother of three Thursar!"



"Heim ríð þú, Óðinn,
ok ver hróðigr,
svá komir manna
meir aftr á vit,
er lauss Loki líðr
ór böndum
ok ragna rök
rjúfendr koma."

"Ride home Odin!
and be exulted,
never more shall man
again visit me,
until Loki is loose
from his bonds
and Ragnarök
all-destroying comes."
Breeding Fenrir's Kin There

Hyndla and Freyja
1894 Lorenz Frølich

Scenes from Völuspá:
The Old One in the Ironwood
breeding Fenrir's kin and Her Herder

Völuspá 40-41:

Austr sat in aldna í Járnviði
ok fæddi þar Fenris kindir;
verðr af þeim öllum einna nokkurr
tungls tjúgari í trölls hami.  

Fyllisk fjörvi feigra manna,
rýðr ragna sjöt rauðum dreyra;
svört verða sólskin um sumur eftir,
veðr öll válynd. Vituð ér enn - eða hvat?
East in the Ironwood sat the Old One
and breeding Fenrir's kin there;
of them all one shall become the
moon's pitchfork in troll guise.

He gorges on lives of death-doomed men,
Reddens the skies with gore; The summer sun darkens, wild storms arise-
Do you seek to know yet more?

Gylfaginning 12:

"A witch dwells to the east of Midgard, in the forest called Ironwood: in that wood dwell the troll-women, who are known as Ironwood-Women. The old witch bears many giants for sons, and all in the shape of wolves; and from this source are these wolves sprung. The saying runs thus: from this race shall come one that shall be mightiest of all, he that is named Moon-Hound; he shall be filled with the flesh of all those men that die, and he shall swallow the moon, and sprinkle with blood the heavens and all the lair; thereof-shall the sun lose her shining, and the winds in that day shall be unquiet and roar on every side. "

In the Ironwood, the giantess Angrboða (cp. Aurboða) dwells together with a giant, who is gýgjar hirðir, the giantess' guardian and watcher.  He has charge of her monsterous herds, and also guards a sword brought to the Ironwood. This vocation has given him the epithet Eggþér, which means sword-guardian. Saxo speaks of him as Egtherus, an ally of Finns, skilled in magic, and a chief of Bjarmians, equally skilful in magic (Book 5).  In Völuspá's description of the approach of Ragnarok, Egther, Angrboda's shepherd, is represented as sitting on a mound - like Aurboda's shepherd in Skírnismál - and playing a harp, happy over that which is to happen. That the giant who is hostile to the gods, and who is the guardian of the strange herds, does not play an idyl on the strings of his harp does not need to be stated.


Snorri's Edda, Gylfaginning 49: "The Æsir took the body of Baldr and brought it to the sea. Hringhorni is the name of Baldr's ship: it was greatest of all ships; the gods wanted to launch it and make Baldr's pyre thereon, but the ship would not stir. Then word was sent to Jötunheim and in response, came a giantess named Hyrrokkin (Fire-smoked). She rode up on a wolf with a serpent for a bridle, and leapt off the steed. Odin called four berserks to subdue it; but they were not able to tame the steed until they had felled it.  Hyrrokkin went to the prow of the ship and thrust it out on the first push, with such force that fire burst from the rollers and all lands trembled. Thor grew angry and clutched his hammer, and straightaway would have broken her head, had the gods not prayed for peace for her."

A strophe by Thorbjorn Disarskald, preserved in the Prose Edda, states that Hyrrokin was one of the giantesses slain by Thor. But the very appellation Hyrrokin, which must be an epithet of a giantess known by some other more common name, indicates that some effort worthy of being remembered in the myth had been made to burn her, but that the effort resulted in her being smoked rather than burnt; for the epithet Hyrrokin means the "fire-smoked." For those familiar with the contents of the myth, this epithet was regarded as plain enough to indicate who was meant. If it is not, therefore, to be looked upon as a misleading epithet, it must refer to Gullveig, thrice burnt in vain. All that we learn about Hyrrokin confirms her identity with Aurboda. In the symbolic-allegorical work of art, which decorated a hall at Hjardarholt toward the close of the tenth century, the storm which from the land side carried Baldur's ship out on the sea is represented by the giantess Hyrrokin. Gymir's wife, Aurboða, appears in the same capacity of storm-giantess carrying sailors out upon the ocean, in a poem by Refr (Skáldskaparmál 25, 61):

Færir björn, þar er bára
brestr, undinna festa,
opt í Ægis kjapta
úrsvöl Gymis völva

"Gymir's primeval-cold volva
often carries the ship into Ægir's jaws."

In the physical interpretation of the myth, Aurboda's husband Gymir represents the east wind coming from the Ironwood. From the other side of the Baltic, Gymir sings his song (Ynglingatal 25); and the same gale belongs to Aurboda, for Aegir, into whose jaws she drives the ships, is the great open western ocean. That Aurboda represents the gale from the east finds its natural explanation in her identity with Angurboda "the old," who dwells in the Ironwood in the uttermost east, Austr býr in aldna í Járnviði (Völuspá 40).

Runestone dr 284
The Hunnestad Monument 3
 Lund, Sweden

The Giantess Hyrrokin    
1837 William Kaulbach

The Giantess Hyrrokin      
1865 Ludwig Pietsch

The Giantess Hyrrokin  
1882 Kate Greenaway

Hyrokinn Arrives at Baldur's Funeral

1894 Lorenz Frølich

Hyrrokin Launches Baldur's Pyre
1905 Carl Emil Doepler Jr.

1911 John Bauer

The Giantess Hyrrokin Launches Baldur's Pyre
1930 Katherine Pyle

Loki and His Children
2013 Howard David Johnson