Hel´s and Thor´s Family Relations

 

Hel and ThorI am pretty sure some of you are going to be surprised by this chart I made, showing the lineages of Loki, his children – and Thor´s own maternal lineage. But this chart is based directly on the Norse sources we have, and Snorri based his genealogy on the much older skaldic poetry in which gods and giants are often referred to as the son or daughter of this, and the sibling of that, and these are consistent.

We should never imagine that the family relations of gods and giants are going to be “logical” in the sense of adhering to ordinary human genealogy, and if we look at it, we see that the sharp distinction between gods and giants has never really been there – that distinction is a much younger legacy we carry with us that was simply not there when people still had a pagan mindset.

The idea that there was a fight between “good” on one side and “evil” on the other side is an idea we have inherited from Christianity. The fight between the powers in Norse, Pagan  mythology is a lot more subtle and a lot less clear-cut: Whereas it is true that the giants often represented a threat to the gods, to men and to the divine order, they were not “evil” as such, or completely different from the gods. The gods married giantesses – Gerd and Skadi are two grand examples of that. The gods even descended from giants and giantesses. Loki was a Jötunn but also of the Aesir. And even Odin himself sought out the giants and the giantesses when he needed to learn more about the world, and about wisdom.

Here follows the text on which this chart is made:

Gylfaginning, Chapter 33:

About Loki Laufeyson

“Among the Aesir is counted the one whom some call the Slanderer among the Gods, and he is the origin of all treason, and a shame to gods and men. His name is Loki or Loftr[1], the son of Fárbauti[2] the Jötunn[3]. His mother is called Laufey or Nál.[4] His brothers are Býleistr[5] and Helblindi.[6] Loki is beautiful and fair to look at, but evil of character and fickle in his behavior. More than other men he had that quality called cunning, sly tricks for every purpose. Often he led the Aesir into great trouble, and often he solved these troubles with his cunning advice.

His wife is Sígyn[7], and their son is Nári or Narfi.[8]

Gylfaginning chapter 34: “Loki also had more children. Angrbóða[9] was the name of a giantess in the Giant World.[10] By her, Loki had three children. One was the Fenris-wolf.[11] Another was Jörmungandr,[12] that is the Middle World Serpent.[13] The third is Hel.[14]

When the gods knew that these siblings were being brought up in the Giant World, and they considered the prophecies, that these siblings may cause misfortune; on the mother´s side they had a very bad legacy, and it was even worse on the father´s side, then All-Father (Odin) sent the Aesir on their way to claim the children and lead them to him.

And when they came to him, he threw the serpent out into the deep ocean that surrounds all lands, and the serpent grew so that it lies in the middle of the sea around all lands and bites its own tail. He threw Hel into Misty World[15] and gave her the power to rule nine worlds, so that she could lead away all those who were sent to her, the ones who die from illness and old age. She has great estates and halls there, and around them there is a fearsome high fence and an enormous gate. Her hall is called Dampened By Rain, her table Hunger, her knife Starvation, her slave Slow Walk, and her slave girl Slow Walk, her doorstep is called Falling Danger, her bed Sickly, her bedcovers Shining Accident.[16]

She is blue (black, dark) on one side, but has an ordinary complexion on the other side, so that she is easily recognized, somber and scary as she is.”

Divine family relations are often complicated, and often defy our assumptions about gods and giants. In the text above, we hear that Loki´s first son by his wife, Sígyn, was Narfi.

Narfi, meaning “Corpse”, is also mentioned elsewhere as the father of Night and the grandfather of Earth – and, since Earth is the mother of Thor, the Norse thundergod, and besides the mother of all human lineages as well, Loki´s son is actually Thor´s great grandfather. In Gylfaginning 10, we read:

“Nörfi or Narfi was that giant called who built in the Giant World. He had a daughter whose name was Night. She was black and dark as her lineage. She was married to the man who is called Naglfari (Nail Traveller). Their son was Abundance. After that she was married to the one called Ánarr (Ancestor). Their daughter was Earth. Finally she was married to Dellingr (Shining/Famous One), and he was of divine lineage. Their son was Day.”

******

Footnotes below.

Old Norse Text:

 

33. Frá Loka Laufeyjarsyni.

Sá er enn talðr með ásum, er sumir kalla rógbera ásanna ok frumkveða flærðanna ok vömm allra goða ok manna. Sá er nefndr Loki eða Loftr, sonr Fárbauta jötuns. Móðir hans heitir Laufey eða Nál. Bræðr hans eru þeir Býleistr ok Helblindi. Loki er fríðr ok fagr sýnum, illr í skaplyndi, mjök fjölbreytinn at háttum. Hann hafði þá speki um fram aðra menn, er slægð heitir, ok vélar til allra hluta. Hann kom ásum jafnan í fullt vandræði, ok oft leysti hann þá með vélræðum. Kona hans heitir Sigyn, sonr þeira Nari eða Narfi.

34. Frá börnum Loka ok bundinn Fenrisúlfr.

Enn átti Loki fleiri börn. Angrboða hét gýgr í Jötunheimum. Við henni gat Loki þrjú börn. Eitt var Fenrisúlfr, annat Jörmungandr, þat er Miðgarðsormr, þriðja er Hel. En er goðin vissu til, at þessi þrjú systkin fæddust upp í Jötunheimum, ok goðin rökðu til spádóma, at af systkinum þessum myndi þeim mikit mein ok óhapp standa, ok þótti öllum mikils ills af væni, fyrst af móðerni ok enn verra af faðerni, þá sendi Alföðr til goðin at taka börnin ok færa sér. Ok er þau kómu til hans, þá kastaði hann orminum í inn djúpa sæ, er liggr um öll lönd, ok óx sá ormr svá, at hann liggr í miðju hafinu of öll lönd ok bítr í sporð sér.
Hel kastaði hann í Niflheim ok gaf henni vald yfir níu heimum, at hon skyldi skipta öllum vistum með þeim, er til hennar váru sendir, en þat eru sóttdauðir menn ok ellidauðir. Hon á þar mikla bólstaði, ok eru garðar hennar forkunnarhávir ok grindr stórar. Éljúðnir heitir salr hennar, Hungr diskr hennar, Sultr knífr hennar, Ganglati þrællinn, Ganglöt ambátt, Fallandaforað þresköldr hennar, er inn gengr, Kör sæing, Blíkjandaböl ársali hennar. Hon er blá hálf, en hálf með hörundarlit. Því er hon auðkennd ok heldr gnúpleit ok grimmlig.

10. Tilkváma Dags ok Nætr.

Nörfi eða Narfi hét jötunn, er byggði í Jötunheimum. Hann átti dóttur, er Nótt hét. Hon var svört ok dökk, sem hon átti ætt til. Hon var gift þeim manni, er Naglfari hét. Þeira sonr hét Auðr. Því næst var hon gift þeim, er Ánarr hét. Jörð hét þeira dóttir. Síðast átti hana Dellingr, ok var hann ása ættar. Var þeira sonr Dagr. Var hann ljóss ok fagr eftir faðerni sínu. Þá tók Alföðr Nótt ok Dag, son hennar, ok gaf þeim tvá hesta ok tvær kerrur ok sendi þau upp á himin, at þau skulu ríða á hverjum tveim dægrum umhverfis jörðina. Ríðr Nótt fyrri þeim hesti, er kallaðr er Hrímfaxi, ok at morgni hverjum döggvir hann jörðina af méldropum sínum. Sá hestr, er Dagr á, heitir Skinfaxi, ok lýsir allt loft ok jörðina af faxi hans.”

[1] Nobody has ever been able to agree on the meaning of the name Loki. It may possibly be related to the Norse verb for “to close” something; loka. His other name, however, Loftr/Loptr means «Lofty, High, Airy», from ON lopt – “air”.

[2] Fárbauti means “The Dangerous Hitter”, perhaps in the sense of lightening.
[3] Jötunn literally means «devourer» but is usually translated as «giant».

[4] Laufey literally translates as “Leaf Island”, possibly a metaphor for Earth. Her other name, Nál, means “needle” as in something piercing, narrow and sharp.

[5] Býleistr (or Byleiptr, Byleiftr) translates as “Wind Lightning” (from bylr=wind and leiptr=lightning).

[6] Helblindi means «Death Blind» or «Death Blinder», perhaps an allusion to immortality, and is also one of the names for the god Odin.

[7] Sígyn: “Victory Woman»

[8] Nári: from nár=corpse. Narfi is an alternate form of the same, and is in other sources identified with Nörr, a giant who is said to be the father of Night: “Nörfi or Narfi was that giant called who built in the Giant World. He had a daughter whose name was Night. She was black and dark as her lineage. She was married to the man who is called Naglfari (Nail Traveller). Their son was Abundance. After that she was married to the one called Ánarr (Ancestor). Their daughter was Earth. Finally she was married to Dellingr (Shining/Famous One), and he was of divine lineage. Their son was Day.” (Gylfaginning 10, Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson). In another passage, Odin was the one who fathered Earth on Night.

[9] Angrbóða=”Bids Anger”

[10] “Giantess”=gýgr. “Giant World”=Jötunheimr

[11] Fenrisulfr/Fenrir=Greed

[12] Jörmungandr= Great Magic

[13] “Middle World Serpent”=Miðgarðsormr

[14] Hel= Hidden = Death

[15] «Misty World»=Níflheimr, the icy dark world from which Odin´s own father and grandfather emerged at the beginning of the universe.

[16] Éljúðnir heitir salr hennar, Hungr diskr hennar, Sultr knífr hennar, Ganglati þrællinn, Ganglöt ambátt, Fallandaforað þresköldr hennar, er inn gengr, Kör sæing, Blíkjandaböl ársali hennar
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