By Jackson Crawford, University of Colorado, Boulder
The social difference between the families of the gods themselves is most noticeable in the way that the Vanir men take their wives from the lower-status anti-gods. In fact, the stories of the Vanir god Njorth marrying, are the most important stories we know about him from the Eddas. Now, here’s the story of how the Vanir god Njorth had to get his wife from the homes of the anti-gods.
The Meeting with the Eagle
Once Odin, Loki, and the very obscure god Honir were wandering in a high mountainous region where food was scarce. But at length the three gods came into a pleasant valley where a herd of cattle was eating, and they killed one of the steers and started cooking the meat. And yet no matter how long the three gods tried to cook the meat, the meat remained raw. They suspected magic.
Now a voice spoke up from the tree above these three gods, and they heard an eagle there speaking. The eagle told them that he was the one who was keeping the meat from cooking. “But if you’ll give me my fill of the meat,” said the eagle, “I’ll let it cook.” The three traveling gods agreed to the bird’s terms, but as soon as the meat was cooked, the eagle ate all four limbs of the ox.
Loki was upset and swung a stick at the eagle, but the stick stuck to the eagle and the bird flew straight up, extremely high into the sky, with Loki dangling below, hanging on to the stick for dear life. Loki felt like his arms were going to pop off at the shoulder as he felt himself turning round and round.
He watched the turning of the world below him and begged the eagle to let him down. And finally the eagle said he’d let Loki down to the ground if Loki could persuade the goddess Ithunn to go outside the walls of Asgard, the gods’ enclosure. The eagle and Loki agreed to terms, and then the eagle let Loki down, and nothing more was said until Loki and Odin had returned to Asgard.
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Sticking to the Agreement
But at the agreed-upon time, Loki told Ithunn that he had some apples he wanted her to come look at outside the walls of the gods’ enclosure. And he told her to bring her own apples to compare them. Ithunn, who holds the magic apples that make the gods forever young, is somehow tempted by the promise of better apples in a place where she’s uniquely vulnerable.
As soon as Loki got Ithunn outside the walls, the eagle swooped down and took her, along with her apples, away to Jotunheimar, the home of the anti-gods. Without Ithunn and her apples to keep them young, the gods quickly became old and gray. They gathered together in an assembly and each asked the other who had last seen Ithunn and where. And it quickly came up that she had last been seen leaving the safety of the enclosure with none other than Loki.
Loki was captured now, and brought before the assembled gods, and the gods threatened him with torment and death if he didn’t somehow contrive to bring Ithunn back. And he promised to do so, if Freyja would lend him her falcon skin so he could make the journey by air. Freyja willingly loaned the falcon skin to Loki.
Bringing Ithunn Back
Now Loki put on the falcon skin and turned into a falcon. This time, Loki flew north over the encircling outer ocean, and among the homes of the anti-gods he found the home of Thjazi, the anti-god who had taken the form of the eagle.
Now when Loki saw Thjazi’s house, he also saw that Thjazi was away at sea, fishing. Taking advantage of his absence, Loki flew down to the house where Ithunn was imprisoned and turned her into a nut. Loki then took off, flying away with her in his talons. But Thjazi noticed Ithunn was gone, so he put on his own eagle skin and took off in pursuit right away.
Thjazi came close to catching up to Loki, but as Loki flew over the walls to the gods’ enclosure, the other gods set fire to a pile of kindling and wood they had assembled next to the wall. In this way, the gods burned up the pursuing Thjazi.
Choosing the Husband
But Thjazi left a living daughter, Skathi. Now this daughter Skathi put on her armor and took up weapons and came to the homes of the gods demanding reparation for her murdered father. The gods agreed that they owed Skathi something for her father Thjazi, and so they offered her two things in exchange for her father’s life: They would allow her to choose a husband from among the gods, and they would make her laugh.
First, she went to choose her husband, but the gods stipulated that she must choose him by his feet alone. Anyway, the male gods lined up behind a curtain with only their bare feet showing. Skathi chose the one with the cleanest pair of feet. But her choice had gone to the feet of Njorth.
Well now the gods had to fulfill their promise to make Skathi laugh, and Loki was assigned to this job. She laughed, and so her father’s death was repaid.
Common Questions about How Njorth Got His Wife from the Anti-gods
Thjazi was an anti-god who made a secret agreement with Loki to get Ithunn out of the gods’ enclosure so that he could steal her. Finding out what was going on, the other gods made Loki retake Ithunn from Thjazi, who was eventually killed.
Skathi was Thjazi’s daughter. When the gods murdered her father for stealing Ithunn from the gods’ enclosure, she sought reparation. In exchange for her father’s life, the gods got her married to one of the Vanir gods called Njorth.
Without seeing the face, Skathi had to choose his husband by his feet. The gods lined up behind a curtain and she chose the one with the cleanest feet, who turned up to be Njorth.