Trolltyggr: Working with the Giant Races
(Note: This article is based on the collected experiences of various tranceworkers, seidhworkers, and pathwalkers who have dealt closely with Jotunkind for some years, including myself. Neither I nor the people who I interviewed for this article have any investment in anyone else believing what we say; make your own decisions. There are several good articles and book-chapters around which compile much of what the lore can tell about Jotunkind, and this is meant to be something entirely different: collected personal experience.
The experiences that I have had with the Jotnar - dealing with them through journeying, tranceworking, pathwalking, any of the various ways of visiting the Nine Worlds - have been startlingly like those of the other people that I've spoken to about it, and even the ones that I've interviewed for this article. The similarities are astounding, and they create a clearer picture of what it is to interact with this nonhuman race. We hope this writing fills in the gaps left by the lore, as well as illustrating how things have changed in the Nine Worlds since it was written. We humans tend to assume that it is a static place, some Never-Never-Land that doesn't change, but it is just as much a dynamic place as our own world, even if it does run on different rules. Things are not what they were millennia ago, and our collective experiences support this as well. And for more information on the Giant-race, check out the Rokkr/Giant section on Northern Paganism, plus many of the shrines on that site.)
I. Forces of Nature
When I was formally and officially claimed by Hel - which meant that She told me who she was, after years of my serving her namelessly, and had me put her mark on me - She then began to send me around to learn from various folk. Some were gods, some were dead people. None of them were human. Of the gods, many were the deities of the Jotunfolk, traditionally referred to as the Jotnir, but modernly referred to by many who work with or are sworn to them as the Rokkr, or Shadow-gods. Most of them were related in some way to Hel, so she was just having me make the rounds of her family.
The dead folk that I was sent to work with were dead Jotunfolk, who apparently go to Helheim just as many human souls do, or they are recycled back into their worlds. Since then, I've also visited Jotunfolk in their own worlds - Jotunheim, Muspellheim, and Niflheim - and had interactions that were various levels of peaceful. For most people, this might not be the case, especially those who go dealing with Jotunkind without understanding their cultural rules.
In a way, I find that although the Jotun are beneficial to work with, particularly in this day and age, it is much, much more delicate to work with them in some ways. By this, I do not mean that they are delicate as entities, but that they must be approached with total awareness of the entire relationship. I find that they are a bit touchy, and caution must be used. This is important, and perhaps this is something that can be seen as one way in which some folk don't work well with them. Jotnar don't like to be ignored, they don't like being overlooked once you've started to work with them and they take an invested interest in you, and they claim a lot more responsibility on my part than any Aesir has. What do I mean by this? I have to do the work. I have to work with them, I have to do what they say, I have to keep active to keep them present. They also don't allow much laziness in my work, either. Another way they demand responsibility is they seem (at least for me) to require a lot more patience and awareness and politeness to the rest of the world- human, animal, plant, you name it.
The Jotunfolk, taken as an entire race, are more numerous in the Nine Worlds than any other type of being. Of the Nine Worlds, three of them - Jotunheim, Muspellheim, and Niflheim - are entirely ruled and populated by them. A fourth world, Helheim, admits the Dead of many races, but is ruled by Hela, a Jotun goddess. They are a power to be reckoned with.
There is a certain school of thought which sees the Jotnar as the Gods/spirits that were revered in northern Europe before the coming of the people who brought the Aesir and Vanir; possibly the pre-Indo-European folk. We know little about them; the tiny scraps we do know about come from the existence of their words in our language (they have left us the base for such words as wife, child, house, and slave, so we know that there was a good deal of intermingling), and what archaeological evidence we are able to turn up. We know that they had a Mesolithic-to-Neolithic culture, but not much more than that. (Some of the folk that I interviewed had independently had sudden inspiration upon seeing the museum exhibit or the book or TV show about Otzi the Iceman, and strongly felt that he was an example of this pre-Indo-European shamanic culture, and that it was known and taught by the Jotnar, under various names.) As can be seen by the Titans in ancient Greece, and the Fir Bolg of the Ireland, the old gods of the conquered people become the demons of the conqueror's gods. This theory has been put forth by Liljenroth, although I am still anxiously awaiting a good English translation of his work.
There's no question in my mind that it was the Jotnar who first befriended the people of northern Europe, before the Aesir or even the Vanir got around to dealing with them. Back when agriculture was spotty, when we were hunters and gatherers and herders who were just settling into villages and doing some planting - or not yet, even - that was when we learned from Them. Their involvement with us goes back that far, and they remember it, all right, even if we as a culture have forgotten. Their cultures are much more shamanic, one might say, and so are their practices...and so were ours, in those days.
-Ari, spirit-worker and spamadhr
But back to real and not theoretical life. In the past few years, rumors have come around about Norse/Germanic religionist people (besides myself and my friends) who work with, or are called by, the Jotunfolk....often to the dismay of the general Asatru populace, who tend to see most of the Jotnar as enemies by definition. However, as this phenomenon is growing, Norse/Germanic religionists as a whole need to come to terms with it.
The most important thing to keep in mind, and the one thing that we who work with the Jotnar would most like readers to come away with, is to understand that this is not a dualistic faith like Zoroastrianism, or Christianity. The Aesir are no angels, and the Jotnar are not demons of Satan. It's not that simple, or that black and white. To fully understand and live this faith is to get beyond dualistic good and evil. Whatever else it may be, the faith of my ancestors was based on keen observation of the nature of this world and the Otherworlds, and nothing in nature - in any world - is good or evil. While there may be tension between opposing forces, to rank one side as "good" and the other side as "evil" is a holdover from an idea that sprang from Zoroastrianism to Manichaeanism and finally into Christianity, and that world view is not reflective of the way our world (or any of the Nine Worlds) works.
We dare not forget the effect that Christianization had on the only surviving heathen lore, and that its first effect was the forcing of this dualistic world view onto the people. From their perspective, the Jotunfolk were especially easy to demonize, even more so than the Aesir or Vanir. Regardless of what our ancestors came to believe, the denizens of the Otherworlds don't see things that way. Individuals are judged, not entire races of beings. Thor may kill one giantess and have an affair with another one. Skadi aligns herself with the Aesir; Sigyn with the Rokkr. In real life - and for those of us who are tranceworkers or spirit-workers, the Nine Worlds are very real and not just archetypes or myths - things aren't black and white.
The three pantheons (and their assorted minor spirits) of the Norse/Germanic peoples are
engaged in a complicated dance. They war with each other, yet they marry each other. They
denounce each other and befriend each other. They battle over some territories and respect each
other's claim on others. They act, in other words, like neighboring tribes. Sometimes they act like
the Sharks and the Jets, or the Crips and the Bloods, or the Hatfields and McCoys, but those are
actually rare compared to the general peaceful coexistence. Those of us who work with them, and
are followers of the deities of the three different pantheons, must remember this...and must not
attempt to project the tales of those oversimplified battles and alliances onto each other.
II. The Ethnocentrism Dance
The Jotnar have some habits, as a species, that we humans find difficult to deal with, and we tend to demonize them for these things. It's hard to get beyond our own cultural imprinting and appreciate that these people are members of a different species from us. Some of their cultural practices - cannibalism, duels, sexual violence - may upset or horrify us if we see them through human eyes. What we need to remember is that they are not human, and cannot be held to human morality. They have their own moral code(s), which work for them; their nature is different and could not be best served by human rules. It is the ultimate in ethnocentricity to assume that we can judge them by our standards.
What I have seen is that the Jotnar are all different. They have distinct personalities, motives, and preferences. They are individuals, not some mindless screeching horde. They are not stupid; many of them are cunning and intelligent. Some are hostile to everyone but their own, some are benignly inclined toward others but not inclined to care much, and a few are actively interested in outsiders. Some will give their word and stick to it no matter what, while others are simply not to be trusted under any circumstances. Some are wise and fair, others cruel and vengeful, but most are somewhere in between. I don't believe they can all be painted (or tarred) with the same brush. In short, they remind me a lot of human beings in many respects.
However, I think the etins should be accorded caution, circumspection and respect, no matter whether you're well- or ill-disposed toward them personally (if nothing else, they can be viewed as worthy enemies by those so inclined). No one has to like or admire them, but they shouldn't be dismissed as insignificant. After all, I doubt Thor would've made it his business to fight them if they were all just a bunch of sniveling weaklings.
What the Jotunfolk are like varies widely - frost giants are not fire giants are not Jotunheim mountain-etins are not Iron Wood Clan etins. But they all have certain racial traits in common:
1) A wild, primal temper, and the ability to berserk easily. Some have excellent self-control, some don't. Their various cultures have boundaries for this racial tendency, which include strong rules around what is and is not an acceptable reason for challenging or killing someone.
2) Strong passions in general - high emotions, harsh violent lusts, wild ecstatic joys, loud crude humor, overkill vengeance. Their one mark is their intensity. They live life at high volume and deadly seriousness. There is no such thing as a boring repressed Jotun, or a flighty noncommittal Jotun. (Loki can pass as that last one, but he's faking it when he does it.) Even with the ones who have the mask of polite courtesy and iron self-control (like Utgard-Loki and Mordgud and Gerda and Skadi), you can sense that roiling volcano underneath.
3) Strong clan and tribal loyalties. Jotunfolk all live in tribal societies and generally feel a stronger kinship to their blood family than to whoever they might marry. One example of this is Gerda's insistence that Frey give up his magic sword as a bridal-gift to her family; besides the fact that an expensive bridal-gift shows the value of the bride, she also increased her family's power in this way.
4) Powers that are strongly linked to nature and the elements - wind, water, fire, snow, rock, trees, animals. Some curious researchers have asked me what the difference is between a Jotun and an elemental spirit. Although it's a tricky concept to tease apart, I have tried to make sense of the clear difference between them.
It's difficult for us as ordinary human beings, caught up in the bias of our own existence, to understand what it is to be fire, or ice, or some other natural phenomenon... difficult, but not impossible! Shamanic-types the world over have studied "becoming one with the natural world" as a way to gain knowledge and power. One of the things that Hela is having me do, as part of my shamanic training, is to "master" the elements. This does not mean being able to wave my oh-so-wizardly hands and call up storms and lightning. On the contrary; this means being familiar with them, understanding them inside and out, having had the experience of being as close to them as it's possible for a human to get. You meld with them and understand the essence of them. Working with Jotun nature is very helpful for this.
To explain the difference between a wight/elemental and a Jotun, I could use an example from the Finnish Kalevala, where the sorcery is all about learning the "true name" of something - like cold, or heat, or the sun, or fire, or whatever. The "true name" isn't a magic word, it's a magic feeling, a way of being, an intimate knowledge of that element. When you've made that intimate connection, something of it is in you, and you can work with it far easier than someone who's standing back and working with it from a safe distance.
To be in the presence of the elemental Jotuns is to see this up-close and in action. Take a fire-etin, for example. It is not that he is just fire, otherwise he'd just be, well, a fire like any other fire. It is not that he knows the true name of fire. It is that he embodies the true name of fire. It is not that he embodies the spirit of fire, it's that he embodies the true name of fire, that experience of being one with fire yet being oneself as well, separate. The fire that knows itself, in essence. An elemental has a much more limited understanding of itself as a conscious being. An etin is fully as conscious and complicated as a human (and perhaps more so), while having the experience of being a part of nature as an integrated part of themselves.
5) Jotunkind have an almost casual familiarity with shapeshifting. All of them can do it to one extent or another, all that I've spoken to about it have been doing it since birth, and the really adept ones whip their physical forms around like we change clothes. They consider it a cultural art form. Most of the time, you'll see them in their "force of nature" form, which means that you might walk right by one and not notice them. They have perfectly usable humanoid forms as well. In general, though, Jotnar vary wildly in size and shape, not just between subraces but between individuals in the same family. As an extremely physically homogenous race, we are often made uncomfortable by the multitudinous differentiation among Jotunfolk.
6) Their cultures vary, but all seem to be more bloodthirsty, more intense, more primal than humans. They have codes of honor, but those codes are much harsher - they have to be, or they'd all kill each other. (One seidhr-worker commented, "To use a terrible pop culture reference, they are much more like Klingons than humans.") Certain things are acceptable in their culture that are not so in ours - one example is cannibalism, which they do for both funerary and vengeance reasons. Just as I wonder if many Pagans who have visions of some utopian dark-age agricultural past are actually unconsciously tapping into Vanaheim, I wonder if some folk who have visions of the fantasy "barbarian" tribes are actually tapping into Jotunheim.
7) Jotnar are fighters, all of them. The natural forces that they are most in tune with are the most powerful of Nature's forces - the hurricane, the brush fire, the earthquake, the storm at sea. (While we, from our perspective, tend to assume that these are entirely negative and even evil, that's coming at it from our perspective. Nature would disagree. She might even say that these moments are when She is at Her most awesome, even if they are inconvenient for us.) They fight for territory, for tribal justice, and for sport. Some will even humor us and fight for sport with us. One tranceworker commented, "I've dealt with several of them in varying capacities. Several times, being the martial individual that I am I've challenged them to 'test my mettle.' This seemed to greatly amuse them. I have won and I have lost. I can honestly say that I've walked away from all of them on my own two feet. I think this is why it was so easy to "test my mettle" against them. They saw it as entertaining that the little human wanted to tussle."
They will also fight for dominance, to see where people are in the "pack order". This is especially true for the more animal-oriented Jotunfolk. On my first visit to the Iron Wood, I was surrounded by werefolk, and one of them jumped me. I shapeshifted to a fighting form and knocked him down, and he retreated. It was just a challenge, to see how I should be treated. Often, it seems, passing human tranceworkers will be challenged, either for this reason or because they are trespassing on someone else's territory and are being legitimately warned off. Instead of realizing what is happening, they may think that this is a life-or-death battle, and that this strange beast is challenging them out of nowhere for no reason except to eat them. They lash out instead of thinking, and things get worse from there.
8) Jotun sex is wild, rough, and violent, but not sexist; in general, male and female Jotunfolk tend to be equal in size and ferocity, with no sexual dimorphism. The idea of females submitting to or being overpowered by males is ridiculous to them. Jotun female nature is not any more frithful than Jotun male nature. They are much less prone to any sort of rigid gender role than any other race in the Nine Worlds, including humans. Ordinary sexual activity among the Jotunkind is as passionate as anything else that they do, and as violent, and is often accompanied by a great deal of wild shapeshifting during the act. The one time where there are active/passive partners is during Jotun sex magic, and strangely enough, it is the passive partner who is considered the primary magician, with the active partner as their assistant.
The marriage customs of Jotunfolk vary from place to place, but there are strong differences between their generally accepted customs and those of, for example, the Aesir. There is no taboo against nonheterosexual relations in any Jotun tribe that I have found; although heterosexuals tend to have a somewhat higher status in tribes where childbearing and siring is important, there is no penalty for engaging in any sort of relationship that does not cause trouble in the tribe. This is especially true in the Iron Wood where there are a high percentage of hermaphroditic or gender-ambiguous births. Many humans who work with Jotun find it surprising that even the largest and most "macho" male Jotun warrior, if he isn't interested in ever doing it with another large macho male warrior, probably has a friend who has done just that, and is likely just fine with the general concept even if it isn't his own preference.
Monogamy as a standard is very rare; one may take as many spouses as one can A) afford financially, and B) keep from fighting with each other. Multiple spouses don't generally live together unless they are related, such as a pair of sisters or brothers, which means that those with two or more spouses also have two or more households and need to wander between them. The much-whispered-about difficulties between Angrboda and Sigyn, Loki's two wives, have nothing to do with objections to polygamy, but more from Angrboda's resentment of his taking an Aesir wife instead of sticking to his own clan. (Angrboda herself offered her younger sister Glut to Loki as a gift, perhaps hoping that he would marry her as well and thus be doubly bound to her clan, but Loki abandoned Glut after one night, leaving her pregnant with twin daughters.)
Jotun marriage ceremonies will vary from formal religious ritual to simply stating one's intentions in front of the tribe, but what they all share is some form of blood-sharing. If there is no blood publicly exchanged between the two people in question, the wedding is not legitimate as far as the Jotnar are concerned. Even a finger-prick is essential, although generally both partners give their hands for a blade-cut that will make a scar. These scars are shown off in the same way as wedding rings might be to a human; if there is a breakup, both partners might disfigure the scar with many vertical lines across it. Sharing blood seems to be less about drama and gore, and more about kinship relations between tribes; it's how you make your partner ritually into part of your family by placing some of your family's blood into their body.
Whether of not a married couple will live together might also vary. The idea that partners ought to live forever under the same roof and spend every night in the same bed is foreign to Jotunkind; they might prefer to live with their own tribes or families, and simply get together in one place or the other for part or most of the time. Some might live with one spouse and visit another. Some permanent wanderers might have no home at all save that of their spouse, but be on the road much of the time. When you do find a couple living together long-term, it may be because they have small children to raise and are isolated from their tribes.
III. Jotun Ethnicities
Survival In The Ice-Storm: Frost-Thurses
The frost-thurses (or "rime-thurses", Old Norse hrimthursar) of Niflheim are the oldest and most feared of all etinkind; by that I mean that they are feared by nearly everything that isn't a deity, and by some of them as well. They are certainly feared by other Jotunfolk, some tribes of whom ban them from parts of the other two worlds (not that they could survive long in Muspellheim, anyway). They are the largest etins; their humanoid form is something like twelve to fifteen feet tall, and their other forms - generally pillars of whirling snow - are even huger. They can easily be seen in the distance of Niflheim, which gives travellers time to avoid them, but they move exceptionally fast in their snow-forms, so if you are in Niflheim and see one, go in the other direction as fast as possible. Hiding in caves and crevices too small for them to enter has been useful for some people.
The frost-thurses can be very problematic. Perhaps I should just change that to automatic-problem. They are the least friendly of giants, but they also will ignore you first, until you present a problem. They can smell intent pretty damned fast. They also don't take kindly to humans in their physical form, so be aware of that when you enter. If you find that you are more of a fire-blood type, then they may find you difficult in other ways. For me, I am frost-etin-blooded, so I don't find their basic disposition all that bad, but perhaps that is because I am a lot like them. I don't like people when I meet them for the first time, I hate going out to where people are unless I need something, and noise can set me off like nothing else. Actually, if you can think about an avalanche as an entity, you'll see what I mean here. An avalanche zone can be seen or not, but if you so much as make too loud a noise, step in the wrong spot, or don't take heed, it will come crashing down on you. As for offerings, they seem to like milk, tea (green tea and white tea especially), and work. Hard work. People often forget that the Norns are frost-thurse.
There is no reasoning with a frost-thurse if they decide that you don't belong in their territory, and often at that point, you become food as far as they are concerned. Their environment is harsh and cold, varying from frozen snowfields to tundra, so this attitude may have been honed by the general lack of food in the vicinity. It has also been theorized that their nature is the most "purely" Jotun, and that the more self-controlled and civilized etins are later, "tamer" variations, at least in comparison.
Frost-thurse blood gives a certain amount of coldness to the disposition. As Lyn notes, the Norns are supposedly of frost-thurse lineage, and they need to be cold-blooded to do what they do. Compassion for its own sake isn't something that Jotunfolk in general are strong on, but this goes even less for frost-thurses. On the other hand, no one can teach you about weather as well as they can, and they are excellent teachers for learning outdoor survival as well.
In terms of offerings, they are very fond of cake and bread (and other food items that they don't normally get), but they don't like caraway seed. It may be that they are allergic to it.
The non-Niflheim-dwelling descendants of frost-giants are the storm-giants, who may
live anywhere in the Nine Worlds. Thjazi is one example, as are Thrym and Kari. There is a good
deal of blurring as to what is a frost-thurse and what is a storm-giant or wind-giant; it seems that
even the Jotnar themselves don't draw those lines tightly, except that the permanent denizens of
Niflheim are always referred to as frost-giants; those who migrated out or were born elsewhere
may have any combination of names and powers.
Dancing On The Lava Beaches: Fire-Etins
The fire-etins of Muspellheim are slightly more civilized and easier to talk to. When I say "slightly", I mean that they build buildings out of (black volcanic) stone rather than simply hewing rough caves in mountainsides, they do some relatively complex handcrafting, and they might actually ask your business and wait for an unsatisfactory reply before eating you.
Fire giants are also much more social than frost-giants, if they like you. They dance wildly, laugh loudly - even while fighting - and fight as wildly as a raging fire. Their fire-forms can be pillars of flame, or shooting balls of sparks, or coal-glowing human shapes. In humanoid form, they are taller than most humans and often grimed with black ash, which burns off them as soon as they shapeshift. To see them clean, wait until just after they shift back to human. They generally wear little clothing when at home in Muspellheim; if anything, they wear loincloths made from fire-retardant lizard hide. They will put on Jotun clothing when leaving home.
The leader of the fire giants is Surt the Black, the oldest Jotnar still living. Surt is a lover of music and dancing, as is his mate Sinmora. One of the odd things about them is that you will almost never see them together, and when you (rarely) do, only one of them will speak to you. It is rumored that they are actually the same person, in different forms, but the fire-etins consider it rude to ask personal questions about their ancient ruler, and you won't get an answer anyway. Many folk have reported something androgynous about Surt's energy, though. In the Eddas, it is said that Surt was there guarding Muspellheim long before Ymir and Audumhla broke from the ice. As such, Surt is the oldest living being in the Nine Worlds, and may well be some kind of primal androgyne, although he does not make this a public issue.
Ari writes: "Fire giants love to be sung to, and they can get some pretty complex
background harmonies going. Actually, all Jotnar love to be sung to. Singing is one of the best
gifts you can give them, which means that musicians like me are generally expected to trot our
stuff out and perform for them whenever we show up."
Ocean's Depths: Sea Giants
The lord of the sea-etins, Aegir, is most closely allied with the Vanir. His home, Aegirheim, lies off the coast of the main island of Vanaheim. His name simply means "sea", although that of his wife, Ran, means "ravager" due to her habit of snatching people down to the depths of the ocean. Their nine daughters tend to take after their mother.
Sea giants seem to be more capricious and playful than the other varieties of etin. Aegir himself is very jovial - he is the brewer of the best booze in the Nine Worlds, which is imported all over and highly prized - and tends to be easygoing and enjoy partying. Still, when enraged, he can create huge storms that can drag down ships. His fingers are clawed, reminding us of that part of his nature. Ran is very much the flirtatious siren - of all the etins, female sea-giants are most likely to make eyes at humans, although to take them up on it can be disastrous - but she has been known to drag her victims down to the bottom of the ocean in her net, as have her daughters. She is the maker of all sea-storms in the northern oceans.
We tend to think of water as being the most gentle of the elements. The adjectives used to describe it symbolically all tend to center around things like "nurturing" and "healing" and "comforting". The truth is, though, that the largest single amount of water on the planet comes not in the form of warm hotsprings or gentle babbling brooks. It's ocean, and ocean is wild and ferocious and drowns people. It is also the source of life, something that is no conundrum to anyone who understands Jotun nature - and thus, through them, nature itself.
This can be seen in the nature of the Nine Sea-Undines. They are not the nurturing, welcoming waters; they are the sea that eats people. As in all things, when you confront the elements through Jotun nature, you start with the natural disasters. The sea-etins can bear you up and teach you all about the powers of water, or they can drown you.
Their names are a litany of the powers of the Ocean: Kolga the Cold One, and Duva the Hidden One are the eldest, twins in age and both reserved. Blodughadda, the Blood-Haired and bloodthirsty, is next in age. Then there is big-bellied Bara, and Bylgja of the Breaker; then another pair of twins - the terrible Hronn of the Whirlpool and the anguished, wailing Hevring. Then comes Unn, the Undine of the Tides; and Himinglava, the Fair-Weather Undine, is the youngest and most fickle of the lot.
-"Heimdall's Birth", Jotun legend
Besides Aegir's family, there are other Jotnar who could be considered water-giants. Jormondgand, the Midgard Serpent, clearly has some sort of water-giant throwback blood. Grendel and his mother, in Beowulf, are often thought of as water-giants due to their seaside dwelling; as is the fabled giant Wate from Kudrun, and the eight-handed giant of the waterfall in Norwegian legend.
Offerings to water-etins might be food or polished stones that they would not have access
to underwater; bread or cake or tree fruits, etc. Don't try to give Aegir beer; you couldn't make
anything that would rival his, and he seems vaguely offended by modern chemical-soaked beers.
The Nine Undines all like blood offerings; a drop put into the ocean or into salt water will do.
Calendrical Power: the Sky-Etins
We tend to forget that in the Norse cosmology, the entities that personify the Sun, Moon, Day and Night are also etins. They are not considered a genetic tribe of Jotnar unto themselves; they are fire-etins who have been set to do a particular job from which they almost never get a break. They have sacrificed themselves, as it were, to bring light and darkness to the Nine Worlds. As such, they are close-knit and are culturally a tribe unto themselves. They tend to be fairly close to the Aesir and get along with them well, with the exception of Hati and Skoll, who do not consider themselves part of the Sky-Etin clan, being Iron Wood to the core. When the Sky-Etins marry, it is usually to fire-etins, with the exception of ancient Nott, who has taken many lovers of many races.
The Gods of the Sun and Moon, Sunna and Mani, are the children of a giant named Mundilfari, the Turner of Time, and the collective group of sky-etins are sometimes known as the House of Mundilfari. Sunna is tall and golden and strong-willed, almost childlike and devil-may-care in her attitude; she is married to one of the sons of Surt, named Glow; he visits her periodically in her chariot and cares for their young daughter. Her herald is Daeg, or Day, who rides a red horse.
Mani, the Moon God, is quieter and more reflective; he has been known to wander off course in order to watch over people and is especially fond of the humans of Midgard. One of his major tales has him rescuing children and taking them to Asgard. He is unmarried, as far as we know, and his herald is Nott, or Night, who rides a black horse. She is the daughter of Norfi, the famous giant architect who designed Asgard, Thrymheim, and the hall of Utgard-Loki. She has had several children by various fathers, including Daeg, and Jord (the mother of Thor).
Hati and Skoll are werewolves, younger children of Angrboda and Loki, who have been
hired to show up and chase the Sun and Moon should they not be on time. They don't consider
themselves part of the House of Mundilfari crowd, and neither do the sky-etins like them much,
or consider them anything better than a necessary evil.
Bigger Than Life: Mountain Jotnar
The Jotnar of Jotunheim vary tribe to tribe, depending on the ecology of their area. Jotunheim is mountainous, and the giants who live on the peaks and rugged cliffs have been referred to as "berg risi". Some of the cliffs and mountains of Jotunheim "line up" with northern European mountains, enough that there is some moving between worlds. Most Jotunheim giants fall into the mountain-giant category, although since the mountain-giants are descended from both fire and frost giants, many will clearly show fire-giant or frost-giant bloodlines. In general, those with strong frost-giant blood tend to gravitate toward the northern mountain ranges, where it is still snowy most of the year. Thrym the Old, titular king of Jotunheim, is an example; he holds his court high in the snowiest mountains. Skadi also came from this area of Jotunheim originally.
In the more southerly forests, the giants live in the deep forests, in treehouses or hollowed-out trees; wherever there are mountains (which is something like three-quarters of Jotunheim) they will aim for the highest pars, or live in caves dug into cliffs. Despite the idea of a cave being primitive and rough, these mountain (or tree, for that matter) homes are often quite comfortable and even luxurious.
However, mountain giants can and do build great fortresses out of stone. Some pride themselves on building the structure in such a way that it blends in entirely with the mountain, and the various towers and turrets simply mimic peaks and outcroppings, providing camouflage and bewildering the tourist. Thrym's fortress is one of these; on the other hand, the city of Utgard is an example of giant-building made to stand out and intimidate as a huge and obvious fortress that does not even attempt to blend into the landscape. The berg-risi of Jotunheim were famed as builders, which is why they were hired to build the main city of Asgard.
In terms of appearance, the giants of Jotunheim vary widely in size. Some - especially those who draw strongly from their home-mountains for power - can shapeshift into huge, slow-moving, incredibly strong forms. Others may be as small as humans. A few etin-brides might even be considered delicate - Laufey and her son Loki are two examples - but as there is no sexual dimorphism in their race, most etin-women of Jotunheim are tall, muscular, and large-boned, even if they are only of "normal" human size. (As the human race itself has grown significantly in height in the past centuries - just look at the size of our ancestors' clothing in museums - it is possible that the average Jotun in their humanoid form is no longer all that impressive to us in this way.)
The giants of Jotunheim also vary in coloring - some fair-haired or red-haired; some darker. Those who are not allied with rock or mountain in their spirit-forms are generally allied to other earthy things - Laufey is very much a tree-etin, for example, and Gerda is associated with garden plants and hedges. They weave clothing out of plant fibers and dye it bright colors; embroidery is a popular art form with them and it is a characteristic of Jotunheim clothing to be well covered with bands of bright embroidery. Soft, tanned leather dyed in bright colors is another popular clothing material.
Like the earthy land that they embrace, the giants of Jotunheim are said to have a great deal of stubbornness; when they plant their feet, there is nothing that will move them. Although they are the most "civilized" of their race - in other words, their lifestyles are higher on the technological ladder, they build cities and fortresses, and wear elaborate clothing - they are just as bloodthirsty and intense as Jotunkind anywhere. There are more laws and stricter codes among Jotunheim tribes regarding under what circumstances they may kill (and likely eat) each other, due to a higher population level, but it would not do to think that these giants are more "tame".
Offerings to them will vary depending on the individual. In general, try food from
agricultural sources that they might not have - grains from plains areas that would be rare for
them, or tropical fruits, or foreign herbs that are not found in Jotunheim (but might be found in
China, for example). Attractive handcrafted items are good too. And, of course, labor (skilled or
unskilled) is always a good thing.
Were-Spirits: The Iron Wood
The strangest subgroup of the Jotunheim etins must, of course, be the Iron Wood clans. To understand them, one must first understand the odd nature of the Iron Wood itself. The Jotunfolk call it the Heart Of Jotunheim, with the wider meaning that it is the heart of Jotun nature itself, its most sacred place.
There certainly seems to be something weird about the Iron Wood, something unheimlich, as the Germans would describe it; eerie, uncanny. It has been described as being somehow magically "radioactive". Some strong force emanates from it, and all the Jotnar born there are gods, or strangely deformed, or both. Hela was born there - her mother, Angrboda, is the Hag of the Iron Wood. (Hag should be read like its related word hagia, wisdom; she is the tribal wisewoman of the Nine Clans of the Iron Wood.) Angrboda's other children were born there as well, the great Serpent and the wolf-children, Hati, Skoll, and the terrible Fenris.
Many Iron Wood Clan Jotnar are lycanthropes of one form or another, and many stay in their animal form permanently, or at most shift to a half-animal form. Most are hairy or furred or pelted in some way, if they are not scaled or feathered. Some are twisted and deformed; some are androgynous or hermaphroditic. (In fact, it is said among other Jotnar that being ambiguously gendered in any way is a sign of Iron Wood Clan bloodlines; witness the sex-shifting Loki and the hermaphroditic Snake.) They are somewhat shorter than other Jotnar; about human height or a little less when in humanoid form. Another telling indication of Iron Wood Clan blood is that the flesh is "loose", as they call it; it means that they shapeshift so often and are so little tied to any one form that it is impossible to tell what their "original" form was, and indeed many forget it before they are out of childhood. Some are vampiric and drink blood, or life-force.
Iron Wood Jotnar are the most clannish of all; they rarely marry out of their nine clans, unless there is a shortage of babies, usually caused by too many deformities in the population. Other Jotun treat them with a strange reverence mixed with a little fear; we must remember that most of their Gods come out of the Iron Wood. Strangely enough, they are well-disposed toward any human who can deal with their hazing with goodwill and remain friendly. Hazing generally takes two forms. They may challenge you (which if you're dealing with lycanthropes is a matter of jumping you from the bushes) and expect you to take it for the pack-order rough-and-tumble that it is, either by submitting graciously or by putting up a good fight until they let go, at which point you make a friendly overture.
The other hazing method is to send their most ugly and deformed folk to get close to you, and then watch your reaction. What we humans need to keep in mind is that to an Iron Wood Clan Jotun, to be physically bizarre is not a bad thing. It is a badge of pride, a mark of their bloodlines, the same ones that brought forth Gods. If you flinch, or show any disgust or pity or distaste, you fail. If you respond with friendship, you pass the test and they can be quite friendly, if still a bit rough-and-tumble in their way of showing it.
In turn, however, once they accept you, it will be warts and all. If you yourself are deformed or disabled, physically or mentally, they will not see you as damaged or abnormal; you are just what you are, specific only to yourself. Since they have a higher-than-normal rate of ambiguously sexed births (and, correspondingly, the most relaxed and normalized attitude towards shapeshifting between genders), those with gender issues may find a haven here, especially if they are working towards shapeshifting their own bodies in some way.
Iron Wood Clan folk are superb hunters, and can teach the art of skillfully tracking prey, including on an astral level. There are nine clan/tribes in the Wood; their totems are Wolf (thus all the werewolves in the forest), Serpent, Hyena, Lightning, Ghost Deer, Cave Bear, River Knife, Blood-Alder, and Hound-Beetle. Each of the tribes has a chief - Farbauti, Loki's father, is chief of the Lightning tribe - and Angrboda, leader of the Wolf clan, is currently chief of chiefs, unchallenged since she beat out Farbauti for the position. There is a great deal of intermarrying in the Iron Wood - they are not monogamous by any means - and most Iron Wood Jotnar have the blood of many if not all of the Nine Clans in them.
IV. Divine Shadow: The Rokkr/Jotnir
(For more information about the Rokkr, check out their section on Northern Paganism.)
Many people will claim that there is no evidence in the lore than any human beings ever actually served or worshiped the Jotnir, the Gods of the Jotunfolk. While that may or may not be true, there are a growing number who do so today, which I suspect is due to reasons I'll go into later in this chapter. Some of the folk who work with them have given them the modern name of Rokkr, from the old word for "shadow", as a way to refer to them as a pantheon (and yes, some of the folk who work directly with many of these wights refer to themselves as "Rokkatru"). They include both major and minor figures, including Hela, Loki, Angrboda, Fenris, the Great Serpent, Surt the Lord of Muspellheim and his mate Sinmora, Mordgud the guardian of Hel's Gate, and Utgard-Loki the Lord of Utgard. Although she is an Aesir, Sigyn is usually included in this pantheon due to her loyalty to Loki. There are other notable Jotnar and part-Jotnar who I do not have the time and space to describe here, and haven't met personally.
Probably the most infamous Jotun of all is Loki. While I could write about him, I would rather have him spoken of by those who work directly with him. As the most famous (or infamous) Jotun in history, he requires a section all to himself.
Loki generally appears as a male, tall, good-looking and of moderate to slender build. He has often been seen as having green or blue eyes and hair ranging from blood-red to a sort of orange-blond. He tends to be somewhat androgynous-looking no matter how he's dressed, though it must be remembered that he is able to assume any form he wishes, particularly if he thinks it'll help him get what he wants. He is also very charismatic, a smooth talker and a good listener, intelligent and persuasive, and he usually gets the better of everyone else in debate, flyting or verbal conflict of any sort. He can be engagingly childlike and is often very funny, even at his own expense. There is much about Loki that is admirable, but the reasons he is so widely mistrusted are because he is so very charming and skilled at persuasion, and because the things he does and says are not always in keeping with others' notions of honor or right conduct.
Loki's fire-giant blood is very evident in his personality, which is sometimes extreme and not always consistent. He is quite temperamental and can act impulsively. He is a master at wielding insults that cut to the bone, if you happen to catch him in the wrong mood. He can utter tender words of devotion one minute and hurl cruel insults the next, yet be perfectly sincere about both. Despite his temper, Loki rarely holds grudges, but when he does, he's a vicious, spiteful enemy, able to patiently wait to serve up his revenge ice-cold. His behavior often seems unpredictable and illogical to others not accustomed to seeing things from his point of view. Nevertheless, he inspires fervent loyalty in many people, even while incurring violent dislike from others. At the same time, Loki's loyalty only goes as far as his friends; with others, he's not always terribly concerned about being nice or fair. If you're not already a friend of Loki's and you have business with him, be aware that he may gleefully treat you as a plaything (and he is rough on his toys), or at best, he might be sarcastic and careless about your feelings or your comfort.
Because his primary weapon is speech, Loki more than anybody else understands the real power of words, as skilled as he might be at finding loopholes in them. He is not easily fooled or outsmarted, and you attempt to match wits with Laufey's son at your own peril though if you do manage to get around him, he'll most likely have more respect for you rather than be angry. Loki adores pranks and jokes, though they may not seem so funny when you are the butt of them. He appreciates wit and clever speech in others, and while he'll most likely get the better of you in any challenge or agreement, he is not one to resist having a bit of fun in the meantime which is another reason Loki is so distrusted. He has a way of making people forget why they're there in the first place.
And further along those lines, Loki is an accomplished seducer, with the pleasing talent of making one feel as if there is no one else he desires more. He likes to flirt and may even make sexual advances toward you, and he is not picky about your gender, your preferences, or whether or not you're already attached. Loki is difficult to resist, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but to him it's all in good fun. He won't be offended if you decline, and he considers the game of courtship quite as much fun as its hoped-for conclusion. He especially likes it if you rise to the occasion and banter with him with the obvious attitude that you aren't about to be taken in by his charm, but are willing to play the game anyway.
Loki is quite interested in mortal folk; there are a number of heathens, neopagans and others who count themselves as his, and who say that it was he, not they, who made the first overtures of friendship. He seems to be the most gregarious of all the Jotnar, and perhaps of all the Aesir as well, as far as hanging around with human beings is concerned. Indeed, despite his reputation, Loki has allies in many places, most of whom are well aware of his character and inclined to treat him with varying degrees of wariness, no matter how long and well they have known him. Being a friend of Loki's can sometimes be aggravating, and even his closest companions may quarrel violently with him, but he generally tries to help his friends, and is capable of showing great kindness and care to them when he is moved to do so.
Loki is a sorcerer and has made it his business to learn magic from many different folk, sometimes without their knowledge. If you ask him nicely and give him some particularly delightful gift, he may instruct you in the finer points of shape-shifting, or teach you the ways of Jotun sorcery with its emphases on blood and other elemental magics. He might share the runelore he learned from Odin, or Freyja's seidr-craft. He is also knowledgeable about sex magic and may even offer to give you some (ahem) hands-on training with that, either through someone horsing him or directly. He can also help you with anything to do with word-magic, spoken, written or even sung. If you need it (and most people do) there is no better teacher than Loki to help you understand the importance of minding what you say and to whom. He will also teach you the value of keeping one's word no matter how difficult it might be which can be a painful lesson. He has a particular soft spot for shamans and spirit-workers, as such people live on the fringes of society and their life's work often entails the regular crossing and disturbance of boundaries, something Loki himself is very familiar with. Those who have been called to this line of work might find Loki a surprisingly sympathetic and helpful, if sometimes annoying ally.
Loki is not generally found in any one place in the Nine Worlds all the time, though he spends more time in Jotunheim than anywhere else. Trying to go to Asgard in search of Loki is not advisable (for a number of reasons) unless he specifically tells you to meet him there. There is some dissent as to whether or not Loki is still actually bound in his cavern; the experience of many Lokeans and spirit-workers suggests that if he is, it has not hampered his ability to move about the Nine Worlds as he wills, in some form or another. At any rate, since he is pretty hard to pin down, you'll need to ask him to come to you before you go out looking for him, unless, of course, you are bidden to meet him somewhere in particular.
Loki cannot be "invoked" and will not be summoned -- or at least, there are none in the mortal world who can rightfully order him around. Certain Asatruar should take note: politely asking for some of his time and attention is more likely to win a response than if you approach him with an attitude of hostility because he is the "enemy of the gods." This is a mistake for which you will pay, sooner or later. Although Loki was banished by the Aesir and suffered a terrible punishment which left its mark on him in more ways than merely physically, he did not lose all of his cunning, power and dangerousness, and this should be kept in mind when dealing with him.
True to his often contradictory nature, Loki appreciates forthrightness and honesty in others, and if you need something from him, he will help you more readily if you just ask instead of trying to manipulate or second-guess him. However, Loki will expect something from you in return, and you would do better to have a boon or gift ready to offer rather than let him set the terms. If you don't, Loki might amuse himself by demanding something merely ridiculous or trivial...or he may insist on a favor or a sacrifice which you will deeply regret. He'll always seek whatever advantages he can gain from any sort of agreement, so it's probably better to go into it with something to offer than to be at his mercy, so to speak.
As for what to give Loki, his favorite things seem to be strong liquor, small toys and candy. Fireworks or anything that makes a loud ruckus (or a mess) is also appreciated, especially if it's something childish and amusing such as a wind-up sparking toy. Loki also appreciates handmade items, such as carvings or artwork, needlework or foods made from scratch, particularly things like cakes and pies. He also likes well-composed poetry, songs or stories, written just for him and spoken or sung aloud. Like his daughter Hela, Loki has a good deal of consideration for people without much money; he will not demand anything you truly cannot afford, so if cheap beer is all you can get, he won't insist on 30 year old single-malt Scotch. (If you happen to be wealthy, on the other hand, he'll cheerfully insist that you get that expensive bottle for him, since after all, you can easily afford it...) He will seldom turn down anything outright, however, though he may not be particularly gracious about it.
-Elizabeth, spirit-worker and mortal-wife of Loki
Some folk who work with the Jotnar have been approached by Angrboda, the Hag of the Iron Wood of Jotunheim. She is almost always seen as a tall, muscular giantess with reddish hair - "hair the color of dried blood", as one seeker said - and is passionate, violent, bloodthirsty, and very wise about much old lore. She is known as the Hag of the Iron Wood; in order to understand this (modernly insulting) title, you can compare the word Hag to the word Hagia, or wise woman. She is the leader of the Wolf Clan, and also the Chief of Chiefs of the Nine Clans of the Iron Wood by right of force, and she is a fierce warrior-woman and werewolf-shapeshifter as well as wisewoman. As the single most important person in the Iron Wood, she is aware of everything that goes on inside of its borders. However, like most Iron Wood Clan folk, she does not generally leave her forest or interfere in outside Nine-Worlds activities.
The Mother of Wolves is very choosy about who she will work with. If she doesn't like
you for whatever reason, she will reject you, often violently. She has even less patience with
weaklings than most other Jotnar - to her, weaklings get exposed at birth. However, if you are a
strong and competent person who is having a rough time, she can be surprisingly sympathetic.
She is a Mother Goddess in her own way, but her mothering is very wolflike - fiercely protective
of her own, but not above growling and biting when then do something stupid. She has a soft
spot for the deformed and bizarre who rise above the world that attempts to drag them down. She
is skilled in the magic of the hunt, prophecy and divination, shapeshifting, and Jotun sex magic
from a female perspective. For an offering, start with blood.
Loki's sons by Angrboda were all werewolves. The eldest, Fenrir (often modernized to Fenris) eventually got to the point where he was a wild berserker, killing and eating everything in his path. The Gods got together and decided that he should be chained, and did so. To this day he is imprisoned underground on an island in Niflheim, although it is said that if Ragnarok comes he will break free. Both Angrboda and Loki seem to have mixed feelings on the subject; although they dislike the fact that Fenrir is chained, neither did anything to stop it; they both seem to understand that he was more of a hazard than even they could handle.
I have met and spoken with Fenrir, and I've wept for him. I am also aware of the very good reasons why he can't be let loose. It's hard to look at any magnificent chained creature, even when you know it would eat you in a heartbeat if you unchained it (which I couldn't if I wanted to). I honor my own ambivalences, as I honor the ambivalence of his existence. Not everything is easy, black and white, and anyone who tries to see him in either light has missed the point.
Fenris is, in many ways, the ultimate expression of Jotun nature without boundaries. He is
what he is. He would rather die than be other than what he is. He is scary. But it was valuable to
me to see him, to speak with him, to hear his wisdom - and yes, it is wisdom - about the dark
places in the soul. He is an expert on that.
Another of Loki and Angrboda's children is the Midgard Serpent. It is an enormous sea serpent, greeny-blue in color, and swims in a constant circle around Midgard. It was placed there by Odin, who used its living flesh as part of a warding-spell around the world of Midgard, which protects the fragile humans living there. Jormundgand is like no other creature in the Nine Worlds, including any other Jotun. It was created from the magic of the Iron Wood acting on the combined bloodlines of Loki and Angrboda, two of the most powerful Jotun the Iron Wood itself ever brought forth.
Of all the Jotnar that I've dealt with, the Big Snake is the one that I think is most easy to misunderstand. It is an incredibly alien creature. Touching its nature is very strange. It is hermaphroditic, although it tends to "feel" to the person contacting it like whatever their gender is. It doesn't speak in words, or any kind of a language that we would consider a language, but it does speak, somehow. I can't explain that - it boggles my mind to try - but the one time when I shared a body with the Snake (which seems to have no name; as it is unique, it doesn't feel like it needs one, it is simply "I") it felt as though all the verbal parts of my brain were being shoved aside and disconnected. It took an hour before I could properly speak, after that.
Those of us who work with Loki's family tend to doubt that the Snake claims anyone, not
the way that Loki or Hela (or Odin or Thor, for that matter) do. I think it will attempt
communication with specific people, and they may mistake that. If they say that the Snake talked
to them in words, or in human thought-concepts, that's generally when I doubt them. However, it
is possible that the human mind "translated" the concepts into words without realizing that this is
what was happening.
Hel, or Hela, the Goddess of the Underworld, is the eldest child of Angrboda and Loki. She is also the Goddess of Death in the cosmology of the Nine Worlds. It is said that there was another Hel once, back when there was only Muspellheim and Niflheim, and an underworld just for Jotnar called Jormundgrund. Little is known of her save that her name was the same as the current Hel's, which suggests that it is less a name than a title; it is not known whether she died or merely retired. It is also said that her consort was Mimir, who later left to live with the Aesir until the fateful war with the Vanir.
When Hela was born to Angrboda and Loki, her shapeshifting form was one of half-rotted corpse, and that was the sign that she was meant to inherit the Land of the Dead. She renamed it Helheim, and recreated it to the form that it is today. Since then, she has dutifully tended to her Dead, about she feels fiercely protective. She looks down on necromancy and other forms of magic used to "bother the Dead", although she will allow seidhr-workers and others who respect her boundaries to enter a special area close to Hel's Gate, and speak with what Dead wish to come to them.
She usually appears in her half-rotted or half-skeletal form, divided down the middle vertically. Her hair is usually pale and long on her living side. Sometimes she has appeared living above the waist and rotting below it; sometimes as a pale white woman who merely smells of rot. Part of her insistence on keeping these forms rather than a "normal", unrotted form is to force the understanding of Death onto people. She does not hold with any kind of denial around Death; she requires that it be seen and respected as the natural process that it is, and not euphemized or buried or prettied up. She is fond of holding out her skeletal hand for those who work with her to take, and the best thing one can do under such circumstances is to kiss it. It is said that she only holds her living hand out to the Dead.
Hela is implacable and cannot be bargained with. That does not mean that she is evil or
malicious; there is absolutely no malice in her. She is entirely about dire necessity. She can show
a great deal of impersonal/transpersonal love for people, but she is very cold and objective; she
sees far in the future and works with that kind of vision, which can seem unfair and
uncompassionate to we humans who live day to day. If you need help in extremity, and she feels
that it is appropriate, she will give it. If she feels that giving you aid would interfere in your
orlog, no plea in any world will change her mind. She will not aid anyone in going against the
natural order, even a deity; one remembers how even Frigga did not win against her when it came
to Baldur's death.
Utgard, the capital city of Jotunheim, is ruled by Utgard-Loki, a sorcerer and warlord, and
probably the most influential man in Jotunheim. I have been to Utgard twice, journeying, and I
have spoken with Utgard-Loki once. I found him intelligent, canny, ruthless, sharp as a razor, a
leader worthy of respect, but one who is much more concerned with the welfare of his people
than the welfare or life of any given human whatsoever...as a good ruler of his people ought to
be. He was also concerned with the growing numbers of strangers - "utlanders" - straying
foolishly into his country, a telling comment for those of us who journey. The Nine Worlds must
not be considered our personal Disneyland; it belongs to someone else, and we ought only to
intrude with the greatest politeness.
Mordgud is the "maiden etin" who guards the main gate of Helheim. "Maiden etin", translated into Jotun terms, seems to refer to an unmarried female warrior, more the Amazon than the blushing human maid. While Mordgud is a tall, muscular etin-woman who generally appears in shiny black armor (and sometimes as a vaguely threatening dark cloaked shape), she is more than just a thug at the door.
I have spoken with Mordgud a few times now. As I work for Hela, I have the equivalent of the "employee ID" (tattooed on my arm, actually) and the tall Amazon-like giantess in the black shiny armor has sat and passed the time with me, chatting, as one employee to another. Although she can be fierce, she actually has an open, friendly nature; she just makes sure that no one gets in or out who shouldn't.
Although her job is very much like Heimdall's - in a way, she is his "opposite number"-
she is more than just a security guard. Mordgud has seen as great deal of death, and has
shepherded many people from the realm of the living to the realm of the Dead, and she has deep
knowledge and wisdom of such transitions. She is a psychopomp in her own right, and can be
called on by those who feel stuck in their own dead places. She may not lead you out, if the time
isn't right, but she might point out the way for you.
Mengloth, who has been written about in the saga Svipdagsmal, is the healing goddess of the Jotnar, as Eir is the healing goddess of the Aesir. (In fact, although Eir is actually listed as one of the "maidens" who surround Mengloth, I suspect that this is either a different Eir, or that they simply get together and learn from each other periodically.) She lives on Mount Lyfjaberg in Jotunheim, and is married to Svipdag, a human hero.
Ari writes to us, "I've worked with Mengloth on her mountain, in the castle of Gastropnir. I was told that I needed to be a healer, but when I prayed to Eir - the obvious choice - she sent me off on this quest up a mountain in Jotunheim to visit 'a friend of hers' instead. I ended up on Mengloth's mountain, learning healing the Jotun way. She is famed everywhere for her healing abilities - she has very much the same standing among her people that Eir does with hers, and they consider each other equal colleagues, and trade clients that they are having difficulty with. The Jotun healing system is very complex and shamanic; it isn't crude, barbaric hacking about like I thought it would be. They are very wise and learned, in their own way. "
Ari also points out that: "It was in reading the lore about Mengloth, and watching various intellectuals who had never met her argue over whether she was a Goddess or 'merely' a Jotun, that I came to the realization that none of us mortals are qualified to draw that line when it comes to powerful wights. Deity or simply powerful wight? How can we have the temerity and arrogance to decide that? I think that the people who are making those arbitrary judgments are people who haven't met very many wights, or perhaps any at all. For myself, I treat anything that is significantly bigger, older, and wiser than I'll ever be as a deity, and give them the appropriate respect. It's only correct to do so."
Mengloth can be prayed to for healing, and she is supposedly especially good with
women's problems. She is very particular who she takes on as a student; usually she prefers that
someone be referred by another deity that she trusts, such as Eir, Hela, Surt/Sinmora, etc. Her
name means "Necklace-Glad" and she loves gifts of jewelry, especially unusual pieces that she
wouldn't be able to get from the mines of Jotunheim or Svartalfheim.
When anyone in the Nine Worlds has questions about bloodlines, especially for magical purposes, it is Hynda that they consult. She usually appears as a tiny (for a giant) wizened woman with silver hair many feet longer than her height, who spends most of her time sleeping (or in trance) in a well-guarded cave. She is the Hag (wisewoman) of the Northern Mountains, and is much loved by her guards, who make sure that she is not bothered while in trance. She is consulted for questions about blood-curses, having children, genetic problems, or anything else that requires an ability to see into bloodlines far away. She is especially good for consultations about humans with problems from nonhuman blood, but you will have to go to her; she doesn't come to anyone who calls.
V. Jotunkind and the Aesir
As with all things to do with the Jotnar, there are no absolutes. Some Jotnar marry into Aesir and Vanir lines, and ally with them. Others oppose them implacably. Most are somewhere in the middle. The ones who consider most of the Aesir honorable enemies - and remember that the emphasis is on "honorable" - will sometimes extend that opposition to followers of the Aesir. While the lore calls them "enemies of mankind", from what I've seen, they only count as enemies those humans who are committed to the side of the Aesir. They have nothing against humans who do not have primary allegiance to the Aesir. (For that matter, there is very little lore about the Jotnar actually harming humans at all.) They have much less of a beef with the Vanir, and more frequently marry into their ranks.
It's a difficult situation. On the one hand, insults have erupted in religious groups from Asatruar who closely serve their deities, and who feel that an enemy of their Gods must be their enemy as well, sight unseen. I understand the pressure involved. The Aesir do see the Jotunfolk, for the most part, not only as lesser creatures but as a dangerous force to be restrained. There is a strong undercurrent of....do I dare call it racism? Yes, I do dare....among them. Heimdall has said flatly to myself and to other tranceworkers, including Asatru spae-workers, that he sees humans with Jotun blood as being unworthy to ever enter Asgard. Odin has gone back and forth on the subject, canny old man that he is.
However, some of my best friends are wives of Odin, or followers of Aesir gods. And we are sensible human beings who have absolutely no need to have any kind of feud between us, just because our bosses have issues. In fact, I think that this is a way in which we can teach Them something. (I know, the very idea that we could, over time, change and teach the Gods will make some people's eyes spin around in their head. But I think there's something to that! And I intend to live as if this, at least, this example, is a gift that I can give.) I will serve my Lady while not carrying on the feud that some of her people are involved in, and I encourage Asatru folk to do the same. After all, if I, with all my Jotun-blooded handicaps, can do it, surely so can they?
In some ways, the Aesir are proponents of forcing order on chaotic Nature, which two
thousand years ago was necessary for the survival of the species. They are the force of
civilization. However, the pendulum in our world has now swung so far in the other direction
that our imposed "order" has thrown things out of balance and is now causing harm. We have a
greater problem from pollution than from most actions of nature these days. I agree that there is a
balance to be had here. However, we humans need to remember that our place is in the middle of
that balance, always - after all, the one of the Nine Worlds that we are closest to is Midgard - and
not at one end or the other.
Not all etins are enemies of the Aesir; some have joined forces with them. Skadi, one of the most famous of the Jotuns as far as Asatru folk are concerned, is best summed up by one of the folks who serves her: "I began working with her first. I was living in Rhode Island at the time, and desperately seeking a mountain goddess. I found Skadi, or rather, she found me. I would meditate on her, and as a reward I was given snow. Not blizzards, just slight snow dustings as if to say 'hullo'. She taught me a lot about sacrifice, about offerings, about loyalty, and even, to some extent, about betrayal. Her land, Thrymheim, is a very, very sacred and beautiful place.
She is very linked with the stars, and parts of them belong to her. She can teach a lot about star lore, about astrology, about how to use the stars to the world's benefit. She knows a lot about maps, and is an amazing travel companion. She cares for her own, and she protects them fiercely. Under her watch, little harm can be done to me....She has a kind of peace about her, but it is cold. It is the same peace that is found in the dead of winter under gray sky with the sun in late day. She is brutal, and has her purpose, and cares little of much else. From her navigation on land, communication with forests and animals as well as some forms of astrology and witchcraft can be learned. She knows much about winter and ice. Her tasks are demanding, they are slow, and they are not always clear. The road she offers is long, round about, and often not what you think they may be. Those things, however, are for those who she chooses. She hasn't time for people traipsing about in her lands wanting her help. She will deal with those she accepts, and will not take on seekers who aren't going to be good for her. A good way to put this is this: People who go to her to take her knowledge of the stars and not offer anything in return are likely to get their stars, but get burned by them in the process. Her way of teaching can be difficult if you don't pay your way through. So a lot of people who think the gods are there to give to them without anything in return should just avoid her. She isn't a 'loving' god in that respect. She has things to do, and if you can't help her in them, she hasn't the time for you. And if you steal from her, you had better hope you can never be found by her.
Her relationship to Loki is not all dark and angry. Yes, there is much anger, but she gained from the loss of her father. Thiazi's eyes will always watch her, and those that belong to her. She knows that he was to die, no matter what, that nothing could have stopped that. She understands the politics of the matter, and is and willing to always be angry over that, but she also is very much aware of what Loki gave her - a chance to let there be a Jotun presence in Asgard. Her footing there secured a lot for her people, both in Skandinavia and in Jotunheim. Yes, she is an etin-bride, but she won her own after that. She divorced and kept her honor and her place. Not all etin-brides fared the same. At least she, unlike some, kept her familial home and her Jotun identity.
I once read a great article on the relationship between Loki and Skadi, and how it so very much seemed to be reminiscent of fertility rites. It is a good possibility that Loki in some way was placating a religious need, allowing sacrifices of young men and of ritual castration to be given to her after her entrance into a new pantheon without question.
Another etin who has allied himself entirely with the Aesir is Tyr. In fact, he is so thoroughly enmeshed with them that we forget that (by some accounts) he is the son of a fire-giant and a frost-thurse. Lyn writes again: "Tyr! What a difficult Jotun from a Rokkatru perspective. I've learned a lot about doing what had to be done from Tyr. I think that he is more of a priest than others know. I think that he was/is a priest for the Aesir, teaching them about the time before they wrote themselves into legend. I think it was aligning himself with the new, denying the old, that cost him his hand. I look at Fenris being bound as a changing of the guard, the last loose strings that need to be taken care of. As guardian of those strings, it was Tyr's job to put them in the closet. He still can be seen in the setting sun, and is the dying light over the land. He is the sunbeam that is the single ray on the way out."
In many ways, Tyr is a way for those who are unfamiliar with the Jotun to understand the
Norse word "trolltryggr", which means "faithful as a giant". We think of trolls as nasty ugly
creatures, due to centuries of human folklore and decades of fantasy novels, but when a Jotun
says that they are going to do something or be a certain way, they are dedicated loyally to that in
its entirety, sometimes beyond all reason. We humans, especially in this sound-bite age of
convenience, could learn something from this.
Mimir is one of the oldest giants; it is said in Jotnar legend that he was originally the consort of the original Hel. He and his brother Hoenir went to ally with the Aesir, and were accepted by Odin. When the war with the Vanir was concluded in an exchange of hostages, Odin sent the two of them rather than any of the Aesir. (One wonders whether this was an honor or a scapegoat position, given what happened.) When they could not get any useful wisdom out of them (for what reason we aren't sure), the Vanir chopped off Mimir's head and sent it back to the Aesir in Hoenir's hands.
Odin brought the head back to life by throwing it into the well that fed the second
aboveground root of the World Tree, and there Mimir stays, a literal floating head and permanent
oracle. These days, those who've worked with him report that he's old and tired and bitter and
very much wants to die and go on, but Odin's spells hold him in place. He tends to be bad-tempered
with those who come to see him, and visiting him should be down with great care and
respect; the waters around him float with (nonliving) severed heads of those who have been rude
to him, in his estimation.
VI. Ancient Teachings
I find that a lot of Seidhworkers (particularly Hrafnar/Harner-type Seidhworkers) are learning to get along with the Jotun. They are frequently working with landwights, which of course leads them to Jotun, which always seems to surprise them that they didn't find Freyja at the end of the string they pulled on! Not to mention that they didn't stop to think that the Norns are giantesses.... As I traveled about I met a lot of different Jotun. I met with Rock, and Wind, and Forest, and so many. The forest Jotun teach how to see in all directions at once, the weather giants teach a lot about thinking patterns, the rock giants are great for protection and healing...That was when I began to understand that the Jotun are very active in Seidhr. In Seidhr, whatever style you choose, you are dealing with dead things and ancient things. Well, let's face it, sooner or later you gotta deal with Jotun to do that. The Jotun, the Alfar, all of these are so connected, but so many Asatru people are afraid.
For most folk in the various northern-tradition religions, the main question will be, "Why should I bother to deal with the Jotnar at all? What can they teach me that the Aesir or Vanir can't?" Leaving aside the fact that everyone has something to teach that no one else can, there's certainly no reason why any particular person ought to work specifically with trolls and giants, especially if they make you uncomfortable and they are not speaking to you personally. For the same reasons, there's no reason why I should work with the Aesir particularly closely. However, I have been known to talk to them on occasion, when I needed something - especially when I needed to learn something. Similarly, some of my friends and acquaintances who follow the Aesir or Vanir have been known to consult Jotunfolk when they required teaching in a particular area.
One of those areas is shapeshifting. Although the Gods and the Alfar can shapeshift, to an extent - Odin is reasonably good at it, as is Freya - no one is quite so accomplished at it as a Jotun. It's part of their nature. Shapeshifting - for us in our more material bodies, that means changing the shape of our hame at will - can be a powerful learning experience. In a very real way, you can't really understand what you are until you have gone by way of what you are not. That's why such a large part of the shaman's path is shapeshifting, and/or gender changing, and/or body modification, and/or playing with neurochemistry. It's deliberately putting yourself into the deep knowing of what you are not, and by this you learn more about what you are, although that's not the main point, it's only a side effect and a preliminary teaching (something that the core shamans often miss). Of course, becoming what you are not has this tendency to change what you are, starting the whole process over again.
I guess what I'm saying here is that one of the major things I've learned is that you learn a lot more by sitting still and opening the door and letting the things that want to talk to you come, and those that don't, let them be. The other big thing is to approach each entity with an open mind, regardless of your pantheon/party alignments. Gods, Jotun, heck, anything and anybody are very different when you approach them and let them define themselves. Let a giant be who they see themselves as, and you'll get a lot more than if you look at them as some chaotic-evil-rock-thing. Trees can teach us to see in all directions. Rocks can teach us patience. Soil can teach us growth. Water can teach us so much as well.
That is one way to figure out how to give them good offerings. Work with them for a bit. The amount of plain-out work they demand- like scrubbing, sewing, general house work and gardening, most people don't have the patience to do these sorts of things, especially in a world other than ours. Most people, I think, would be outraged if their deity told them to clean something for them. They would take it as degrading rather than the lesson it really is. Nor would they understand the whole 'pay as you go' idea. You have to work for them to get them to work for you. I think it is so funny how so many people want to return to a tribal lifestyle but cannot figure out the barter system. Yeah, many entities like a touch of beer, wine, ale, mead, alcohol, etc... but let's face it. What do you want more? Someone to bring you a bottle of wine when you visit, or someone who brings you a bottle of wine, cooks your meal and cleans your kitchen before they leave? This may be that I grew up in a household where it was expected to clean up the relatives home we were visiting before we left. If you don't like doing the dishes, there is always firewood to be cut.
What I am saying is that you need to look at this as though you are a guest in their home- which you are. We aren't entitled visitation rights to the other worlds. In fact, tourists get killed where I usually go. But I will say that there are a lot of people out there doing a lot of crappy things in these worlds. They get what is coming to them. So treat the thurses like they are respected relatives that you are visiting. Kiss Aunty-Ice-Beard when she bends down to you and her breath smells like rancid rotting rat, give Uncle Avalanche a quiet afternoon for his nap, help around the home with what needs to be done - they don't have time for moochers and free-loaders - be respectful and bring them a gift you made for them.
VII. Jotun Blood And Bone
Why are they attempting to communicate with humans? I can't speak for all of them, but of the ones where I'm absolutely sure that the individuals are really talking to Jotun, I find certain things that we all have in common. We all have Jotun-like personality traits, more so than in the rest of the population, and those traits were present in our family history as well. In many cases, we struggled with them for much of our lives. According to the etins, we share blood with them, however thinly.
How nonhuman blood gets into a human bloodline is a long and complicated situation. To make it short, suffice it to say that when a deity or wight or other powerful creature borrows (as in god-possession or spirit-possession) the body of a human being, whether the human is conscious of it or not, and that human being conceives or sires a child during that time, the embryo's genetics shift to mimic some of the nature of the possessing spirit. Some people may find this unbelievable, but I believe it, and find merit to the idea, and it has consistency in my experience of the situation. Until I come across evidence to disprove it, I will go with it. (Besides, the one time I met Odin, I asked him about it, and he was silent for a moment and then acknowledged that it was true. So did Heimdall, the one time I met him; in fact, he said that he would prefer never to let any humans with Jotun bloodlines into Asgard, but it wasn't his decision.)
According to my own boss, bringing Jotun bloodlines into humanity has been a long,
slow process that is finally starting to peak. Apparently some of the Rokkr deities, particularly
Hela and Loki, felt that the Jotunfolk ought to be more invested in humans. This may be because
of Hela, who deals with human souls on an everyday basis, as well as Jotun souls (and a very few
Alfar/faery ones). There is some evidence that Hela may also be recycling Jotun souls into human
bodies, but I can't comment on that for certain. However it goes, some time back they started a
full-scale breeding program, to get more Jotun blood into humankind, and thus have Jotunkind
recognize humankind as valuable "brotherkind", so to speak.
So as far as I can tell, they are approaching those of who smell like family. It does seem as if they treat us honorably, at least according to their codes. They are not always as nice to those who don't have those bloodlines. A few of them may also be approaching other humans for less savory reasons - likely feeding off their energy, because many of them can do that; it's a common Jotun gift. (And a not uncommon gift among humans with Jotun bloodlines.) I'm not pretending that they are nice. Nice is the last thing that they are. They are dangerous, but then so is Thor if you piss him off. (Actually, he's half Jotun, and it shows. And according to Loki he's terribly ashamed of that fact, and every time he kills an etin-woman, he's actually killing his mother, but then Loki says a lot of stuff.)
The question of "why should anyone deal with the Jotnar if they approach you" then gets reframed as "what do you do when they, not the Aesir or Vanir, are the only ones who approach you"? And the answer is, you deal with them. If it's their door you're sent to, that's for a reason. Ask the Nornir; they know, although whether they'll give you a straight answer is debatable. Godhis, gythjas, and seidhworkers need to remember this when someone with Jotun blood shows up at their door. Give them the list of cautions and etiquette, and let them go their way.
It does seem that if you have enough Jotun blood, or certain types - it has not yet been established whether it's quantity or quality - the Aesir will simply not deal with you. It's like you have "reserved for something else" written all over you astrally. Before I had even heard of the heathen community, I was talking to all sorts of pagan gods. The ones who responded were useful or noncommittal or supportive, but clear that I was reserved. However, I could never get any of the Norse Gods on the phone, so to speak....except for Hela, who owned me. Then, when she revealed herself and her name (all that time from the age of four on she's just been the Death Goddess, and I played a Rumpelstiltskin-like game to figure her out - "Are you Kali? Are you Hecate?") I started getting visits from Loki, etc. I never touched the Aesir until I was sent there directly on an errand. It was like I didn't exist for them. Now they acknowledge me, but only as Hela's servant.
So I can well understand the chagrin of someone where Frigga won't return her calls, but here's Mordgud appearing in her dreams. And would such folks have a place in a religion called Asatru, if this was chosen for them before they were even born? It's a hard question.
I've noticed, also, that folks with Jotun blood tend to have certain personality traits. One, not surprisingly, is anger management difficulties. Those of us with Jotun blood so often have an internal Fenris-part, so to speak, that has nowhere to be and go in this world, this time, this space. It's hard for us to deal with that part, and dealing with Him, the ultimate expression of that, was useful and healing. So is learning to be around folk who have that in themselves, but have had to bind themselves to social codes that clearly state when and where their rages, their passions, their hungers are acceptable.
Most people don't understand what it's like to go around boiling all the time, or to be very
cold and yet strongly passionate, and have that be an integral part of your nature from birth rather
than having it stem from some damage. They tend to give bad advice about how to handle it,
ranging from "Just don't be that way," to "Heal yourself and it will go away," or "I refuse to
believe that this is really just the way you are," or "If that's really what you're like inside, you are
dangerous and ought to be locked up." This is unhelpful at best and can be downright damaging
at worst. Talking to the Jotnar can help you understand how to live with this kind of nature, even
if you do not live in a society where there is any place for it.
One note of hope: If you are close to someone who is strongly connected to Jotunfolk, and perhaps has the personality characteristics that suggest Jotun blood, an excellent deity to call on for aid in understanding is Frey, the fertility-god of the Vanir. Frey fell madly in love with Gerda, who is a cold, reserved etin-woman from a bloodthirsty family, and was willing to give up his sword to her family and thus be evermore defenseless in order to win her. Frey is a god of Light who loves and appreciates Darkness; he loves it and is drawn to it, in Gerda's nature as well as that of others. According to some partners of Rokkatru folk, Frey can be extremely helpful in coming to not only an understanding, but a (perhaps even erotic) appreciation of their nature.
"You and I are more alike than you think," Frey said to me. "I know about sacrifice. Ha! Yes, I know about sacrifice." And I saw him as the pure golden god who is cut down at his height, approaching death not with a grim acceptance or dutiful obligation but a big smile and that ever-present erection, celebrating even this aspect of life. And more... "I also know what it is like to love one of that blood. There could be no Asa bride for me. No, I needed someone dark, someone wild. And I too know what it is to willingly be completely defenseless for that love." I recalled the irony of this gorgeous god desperately courting a fierce giantess who scorned his beautiful home and people, accepting only when he gave his sole weapon as a bride-price, and my defenselessness against my own lover with his murky twisted Jotun bloodlines.
-Joshua, spirit-worker's partner
As the marriage between Frey and Gerda was condemned by the Aesir and the Alfar, it
has become traditional among many northern-tradition folk to call upon them at weddings that
are not quite socially acceptable (as opposed to Frigga, the Aesir goddess of marriage, who is in
charge of more acceptable unions). These might include weddings between two very different
people (the sort where everyone says, "That'll never work!"), people of different traditions, or the
wedding of an Asatru/Vanatru with a Rokkatru. Because Frey has since ancient times been fond
of nonheterosexual folk, and since the Jotnar have no taboo against nonheterosexual relations or
polyamory, Frey and Gerda have also been honored for the weddings of people of various
Any time that ordinary mortals deal with wights of any sort, the so-called "fairy-tale rules" apply. In other words, don't be stupid, don't be selfish, don't think that this experience is all about you, and make an effort to step out of your own issues and see the motives of the beings that you are dealing with...not just for courtesy, but for your own safety.
Dealing with Jotunfolk can get you astrally killed and eaten, at worst. It can also get you a great deal of knowledge, wisdom, experience, and protection. If someone says that they're dealing with Jotuns, I'd tell them to be very careful. First, they should make sure that they understand the Jotun rules - of hospitality, of tribal loyalty, of privacy. Second, that they understand the realities of Jotun culture and will not bring human ethnocentrism and disgust to their dealings with them. Third, that they understand that unless the Jotuns say that they're blood kin, they will never truly be on an even footing with them, and should treat them like the nice doggie who's part wolf and one day might just up and bite your face off for no apparent reason - with respect, distance, and care.