Skadi, Goddess of Winter


Yule, and other Solstice celebrations of light, is over, and winter is setting in. Though we celebrated the rebirth of the Sun King, and the turning toward the light in December, the reality is that spring can seem a long way off in the gloomy days of January!

Nights are still dark and long. Branches are black against a frozen sky. Snowflakes swirl on bitter winds, and snow crunches crisply beneath winter boots. Noses, fingers and toes are red with cold. There is beauty in this, but hardship too.

For those of us who don’t enjoy it, January is strong meat! It takes a sturdy character to love winter’s rigorous beauty and hidden potential. That is when Skadi becomes my inspiration.

The Viking goddess of winter, Skadi is the embodiment of strength, courage and endurance. She embraces this period of storm, darkness, and challenge, and is never happier than when hunting or skiing in the snowy mountains. During this month of transition from celebration to patience and quiet waiting, therefore, it’s worth examining the myths that surround her, to find clues for our own winter work of transformation. For January, with all its less popular features, is also a time of reflection and new beginnings. Of things resting quietly below the Earth and in our souls.

The daughter of the giant Thiazi, Skadi was born into the heroic, mythical world of Asgard, the heavenly home of the fierce Norse gods and of slain heroes. (Richard Wagner’s famous operatic Ring Cycle tells some of their stories.) Tall, beautiful, and a formidable warrior and hunter, the goddess was a force to be reckoned with.  Determined to avenge the death of her father, who had been murdered by the gods for abducting Idunn, the beautiful goddess of youth, she stormed their citadel to exact either revenge or compensation for her loss. Before this onslaught of a ferocious one-woman army, the gods backed down.

Rather than fight her, Odin, the one-eyed king of the gods, offered her gold for her pain and suffering. But Skadi was already rich from the pillaging and plundering spoils of her father and grandfather. Instead, she demanded a husband from among the gods, and a good laugh as well. (She hadn’t laughed once since the death of her father.)

Odin agreed to her terms. But he too set conditions. Since none of the gods volunteered to marry this daunting goddess, she would have to choose her own mate. But she would have to choose by looking only at their feet! A curtain would hide the rest of their bodies from her.

Secretly in love with Baldur, son of Odin, and the god of light and beauty, Skadi chose the most attractive set of feet, believing them to be his. Unfortunately, she guessed wrong. Instead of the handsome Baldur, she picked the homely sea god, Njord. Loki, the Trickster, provided her laugh at great personal expense. But the laugh was really on Skadi. She didn’t get her heart’s desire. Still, she kept her word, and stoically went through with the marriage. It was doomed from the start.

Njord liked to live beside the sea; Skadi was happy only in the mountains with her beloved wolves. The mismatched couple compromised by taking turns. They lived for nine days each, first beside the water, and then in the mountains. But they were miserable. At the end of eighteen days, they separated for good, and Skadi returned to her snowy heights in Thrymhein. Happily, there she met Ulle, god of winter, archery and skis. He was also the god of justice and dueling. The soul mates thrived on a life of proud independence in the wild mountains. Little else is known about their life together.

There is a dark side to Skadi, as there is in the winter weather that she loves.

She is stormy and unpredictable, relentless in her pursuit of what she perceives as justice. She will stop at nothing to achieve her objectives. But she has passion and integrity, and the determination to live life in all its fullness, regardless of the harshness of her circumstances, or of the feelings of others about her.

She knows how to survive in a tough climate, how to provide for herself and her loved ones. She loves winter because it calls forth the best in her. It demands her strength and courage, not her weakness. It calls on her patience, and her understanding that there is a cycle of seasons in life, and that winter is an essential part of that cycle.

Winter is a special time. It symbolizes the dark times that have been visited upon the human race since the beginning of creation. Times very like the days we are experiencing right now, with a worldwide global recession, rising prices and unemployment, and political upheaval.

At times like this, we need to remember the lessons of Skadi. Beneath the apparent bleakness, life goes on. Within the dark womb of the Earth, new life is germinating and waiting to return. Out of darkness will come light. Out of seeming barrenness, new growth. Out of death, life. Winter will not last forever.

So cuddle up. Light your fire, and stay warm. Rejoice in the people that Spirit has sent you. Remember Skadi.  Emulate her wild, untamed spirit, and try to enjoy January’s unique beauty.

And when you must be out in the cold, remember that spring will come. New beginnings have already begun.