10 Norse Goddesses You Need to Know

We profile the ten most important Norse goddesses including fertility deities, Valkyrie warriors, and the mothers of monsters.

May 28, 2024By Jessica Suess, MPhil Ancient History, BA Hons History/Archaeology

norse goddesses pantheon


While more than two dozen Norse goddesses are named in the surviving sources for Viking mythology, they don’t receive anywhere near as much attention as their male counterparts. Most are only mentioned in passing.


Medieval authors assumed their Viking Age audience already knew who these goddesses were. When they are mentioned, it is usually as the companions of the male gods. As an example, while we are told the fates of many of the male gods at Ragnarök, the sources are silent on the role of the female goddesses in this final decisive conflict. So, what exactly do we know about the Norse goddesses and their role in Norse mythology and Viking belief?


1. Frigg: Consort of Odin and Matron of the Aesir

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Odin and Frigg, illustration by Lorenz Frølich, from Ældre Eddas Gudesange, translated by Karl Gjellerup, 1895, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


The name Frigg, or Frigga, means “beloved one” in Old Norse. She is the consort of Odin, the leader of the Aesir gods. Frigg is described by the 13th-century Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson as the most important Norse goddess alongside Freyja.


Frigg was associated with matronly duties of the household, motherhood, marriage, and the domestic arts. She was associated with spinning, and according to some stories, she wove the clothing of the gods. She also carried the mead horn at Odin’s feasts, an important diplomatic act.

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Frigg often appears in Norse myths at her husband’s side and she may have encouraged him to act on behalf of others. For example, she intervened with Odin on behalf of a barren king and queen who prayed fervently for children.


Her role could also be more playful. For example, she once made a wager with Odin that he would not be received with proper hospitality by a man called Geirrod, whom Odin had made a king in defiance of fate. To ensure she won the wager, Frigg sent one of her servants to warn the king of the arrival of a powerful magician who meant him harm. When Odin arrived in disguise, he was thrown in chains.


Frigg had three famous handmaidens called Fulla, Gna, and Hlin. Fulla attended to Frigg’s ashen box and footwear and was Frigg’s favorite. The queen of the gods told Fulla all her secrets. Gna was Frigg’s trusted messenger and Hlin was often sent to protect people on Frigg’s behalf, including Odin himself.


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Frigg garners her promises, illustration by C.E. Brock, from Annie Keary and Liza Keary, The Heroes of Asgard: Tales from Scandinavian Mythology, 1930, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


But Frigg’s most important role in Norse myth was as the mother of Balder, the most beloved of the gods. The queen of the gods was a powerful seeress, but she never told anyone what she saw. However, she seems to have had a worrying vision about her son.


Consequently, she traveled around the Norse cosmos and obtained oaths from all things in existence never to hurt or participate in hurting her son. This made him invincible. The gods amused themselves by throwing weapons at Balder and watching them bounce off harmlessly.


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Fulla on Her Way to Geirrod’s Court, woodcut by W.G. Collingwood, from Elder or Poetic Edda: Commonly Known as Sæmund’s Edda, translated by Olive Bray, 1908, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


Loki, jealous of Balder, disguised himself as an old woman and made his way into Frigg’s confidence. He got her to admit that she may have forgotten to secure her universal promise from the humble mistletoe plant. He used that information to trick Balder’s blind brother Hodr into throwing a mistletoe dart at Balder as part of the game of the gods. Balder died immediately.


While Frigg displayed immense anger towards Loki in the aftermath of her son’s death, the surviving texts do not reveal what role she may play in the events of Ragnarök. This is the last great war that will see Loki lead an army of giants and other malevolent beasts against the gods of Asgard.


2. Freyja: Vanir Goddess of Love and Beauty

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Freya, by John Bauer, 1913, Source: Uppsala Auktions, Sweden


Freyja was the goddess of love and beauty in Norse mythology. She was considered the most beautiful being in existence, which caused trouble for the gods on more than one occasion. For example, when the giant Thrym stole Thor’s hammer, he said that he would only return it in exchange for Freyja’s hand in marriage. The goddess refused, forcing Thor to go undercover as Freyja to steal the hammer back.


While Freyja lived in Asgard among the Aesir gods, she was in fact from a different race of gods known as the Vanir. These were free-spirited fertility deities associated with good luck, a good harvest, and magic.


Near the beginning of time, the Aesir and the Vanir gods went to war. In the aftermath of the war, Freyja, her brother Freyr, and their father Njord were all sent to live in Asgard as part of a hostage exchange.


While the new Vanir gods were accepted quickly, Freyja and Freyr were married when they arrived in Asgard, as was the Vanir custom. But the Aesir considered this an abomination. The marriage was annulled, and Freyja was joined with the Aesir god Odr. He had a habit of leaving his wife to wander the world, leaving her in great distress. When her many tears touched the earth, they turned into gold, and when they touched water, they turned into amber.


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Small Viking Era silver Freyja figurine that appears to be pregnant, found in Sweden, 800-1100 CE, Source: The Swedish History Museum


As a Vanir goddess, Freyja was not only associated with fertility but also the practice of Seidr magic. It is said that Freyja taught the art of Seidr to all the Volva (Viking witches). She also taught it to Odin. This is not the only snippet of information that suggests Freyja may have rivaled Odin in power.


There is more evidence for the worship of Freyja in the Viking age than any other Norse goddess. Her influence was broad, as she was invoked by witches, midwives, and farmers. She was also a goddess of the dead. Her afterlife realm was called Folkvangr. Just as Odin chose the bravest fallen warriors to live in Valhalla, Freyja chose brave fallen warriors for her court. The sources even suggest that she may have had first choice.


Freyja had many distinctive attributes that made her recognizable in Norse art. She had a beautiful golden necklace called Brisingamen, which she procured from dwarven craftsmen in exchange for sexual favors.


Freyja had a falcon feather cloak that allowed her to fly. She often rode in a chariot drawn by two cats, and she also had a boar familiar called Hildisvini. She may have been numbered among the Valkyrie, the female warriors that assisted Odin. Therefore, the round shield may also be one of her attributes.


3. Sif: Thor’s Divine Consort

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Sif’s Golden Hair: How Loki Wrought Mischief in Asgard, illustration by Will Pogany, from The Children of Odin, by P. Colum, 1920, Source: Project Gutenberg


Sif was the wife of Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Her name means “related by marriage.” Very little is known about her except that she had bright golden hair that looked like the harvest. She was probably a fertility goddess associated with farms and fields.


Among the Sami people of Finland, Sif was known by the name Ravdna, which means rowan tree. The rowan tree was also sometimes called “savior of Thor” due to a story that the god once clung to the tree to save himself from drowning. This may be a reference to an old story about Thor and his wife that has been lost.


The only surviving significant story about Sif is about the time that Loki decided to remove her golden hair as a prank. When Thor discovered what had happened, he told Loki that he had better replace the hair with something just as fine or face the consequences.


As a result, Loki traveled to the realm of the dwarves, the master craftsmen of the Norse cosmos. He convinced them to make a golden headpiece for Sif that was enchanted to grow on her head like hair. He also commissioned some other gifts for the gods to win back their favor, including Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. All his presents seem to have satisfied the gods.


Another trope of Norse mythology seems to be that Sif was not faithful to her husband. On one occasion, Odin, in disguise as a ferryman called Hardbardr, taunts Thor, stating that Sif has another lover at home. At a great feast where Loki insults all the gods, he accuses Sif of having had an affair with him. Of course, Thor also had several extra-marital lovers.


Sif had one daughter with Thor, Thrudr, whose name means strength. Sif may also have been the mother of Ullr, the god of snow and winter, though Thor was not his father. This may suggest an association between Sif and the seasons of autumn and spring.


4. Idun: Keeper of the Apples of Youth

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The Abduction of Idun, illustration by Elmer Boyd Smith, from In the Days of Giants: A Book of Norse Tales, by A. Brown, 1930, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


Idun was the goddess of youth in Norse mythology. She was responsible for tending the orchards of Asgard and looking after the magical apples that granted the gods their eternal youth and strength. She keeps the fruit in a magical box called eski.


One famous story from Norse mythology is the kidnapping of Idun. A giant called Thjazi turned into an eagle and caught Loki in his talons. Flying high up into the air, he would only release Loki if the trickster agreed to help Thjazi kidnap Idun.


Loki returned to Asgard, where he was welcomed due to a brotherhood pact he had made with Odin. He lured Idun away from her orchard and into the dark forest by claiming that he had found fruit even more beautiful than Idun’s. This enabled Thjazi to snatch her up and fly her off to Jotunheim.


A little bit of time seems to have passed before the gods realized that she was missing. But when they started to feel weak due to the absence of her fruit, they investigated. They learned that Loki was the last person seen with her, and he admitted what he had done under pressure. The gods demanded that Loki fix the problem.


Loki borrowed Freyja’s falcon feather coat to fly to Jotunheim where he found Idun. He shapeshifted her into a nut so that he could carry her back to Asgard. Of course, missing his treasure much sooner than the gods had, Thjazi changed into an eagle once more and followed Loki to Asgard.


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Ydun (Idun), by Herman Wilhelm Bissen, 1858, Source: Wikimedia Commons


The high-speed chase was a photo finish, but Loki made it back just ahead. The gods created a fire around the walls of Asgard that killed Thjazi as he tried to pass through.


Idun is also described in the surviving sources as the wife of Bragi, the divine bard of Valhalla. In another tantalizing snippet, at the feast where Loki insults all the gods, Loki accuses Idun of embracing the man who killed her brother. We can only guess at the full story.


5. Hel: Queen of the Underworld

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Niflheim, illustration by C.E. Brock showing Loki’s children, from The Heroes of Asgard: Tales from Scandinavian Mythology, by Annie Keary and Liza Keary, 1930, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


Hel is a giantess in Norse mythology, the daughter of the trickster giant Loki with the giantess Angrboda. While that makes her a giantess rather than a goddess, the Vikings treated the two more like warring clans than different kinds of supernatural beings. Interbreeding between the two was very common. Thor himself was the son of Odin with the giantess Jord.


Hel was born from what the gods considered a hideous union, along with her two brothers, the great wolf Fenrir and the serpent Jormungandr. Out of fear, the gods had all three children summoned to Asgard where their threat could be assessed. They then placed each somewhere they could cause the least harm.


In the case of Hel, she was hideous to look upon because she was half black and half white. This is interpreted as meaning that she was half dead and half living. As a result, Odin sent her to Niflheim to be the queen of the underworld there, known as Helheim in her honor


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Hermod Before Hela, by John Charles Dolman, from Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas, 1909, Source: The Internet Archive


In Old Norse culture, Helheim seems to have been considered a place of no return, and it was a less desirable afterlife than Valhalla. However, it was not considered a place for the wicked. Unfortunately, our only detailed account of Helheim comes from the 13th-century Christian Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson. He adapts Helheim to seem much more like the Christian Hel.


He says that within the fortified walls of Helheim, the goddess of death eats from a dish called “hunger” with a knife called “famine,” and sleeps in a bed called “sick bed.” This suggests that the dead can find no relief from their suffering in Helheim. No one can enter or leave Helheim without Hel’s permission, and she is assisted in guarding its walls by her great dog Garm.


Hel sometimes led the dead to the underworld. In the story of the Danish hero Hadding, he is led down to Helheim by a mysterious woman, presumed to be Hel. She takes him through a dark and misty land, and then a sunny and fertile land where crops grow year-round. They eventually come to a raging river that is flowing with water, and across the river, the dead are engaged in an eternal battle. Beyond all of this, are the walls of Helheim.


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Hermod´s Ride to Hel, illustration from Icelandic manuscript NKS 1867 4to, 1760, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


When Frigg’s son Balder was killed, he did not die in battle, so his soul was sent to Helheim rather than Valhalla. The gods sent Hermod to Helheim to treat with Hel for the return of Balder’s soul. They claimed that Balder was the most beloved of all beings and should be returned. Hel countered that if this was true, they should prove it. If the gods could convince all beings in existence to mourn for Balder, she would release him.


The gods managed to get almost all things in existence to mourn, but one old witch, assumed to be Loki in disguise, refused. So, Hel kept her prize. Odin seems to have been unable to retrieve his son, despite being the underworld god of Valhalla and despite having sent Hel to Helheim to oversee it in the first place.


Unlike Marvel’s Hela, Hel is not the leading character in Ragnarök but she does have a role to play in the prophesied end of the world. Her father Loki, who has been punished and imprisoned by the gods for his role in the death of Balder, will break his chains and lead a charge against the gods of Asgard. He will be joined by his sons Fenrir and Jormungandr, who will both escape their prisons.


Hel will also join the battle, sailing out of Helheim in a ship called Naglfar, which is made from the toenails and fingernails of the dead. She will lead an army of the unworthy dead to match the army of brave fallen warriors that Odin has gathered in Valhalla. We do not know Hel’s specific fate in the final battle, but her guard dog Garm will fight to the death with the god Tyr. Hel is probably nearby.


6. Angrboda: Mother of Monsters

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Skoll, illustration by Louis Moe, from Ragnarok: En Billeddigtning,1929, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


Angrboda is also a giantess, known as the mother of monsters since she is the mother of Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hel. Her name means “bringer of grief.” In the Prose Edda, she is also described as a witch who lives in the Ironwood, which is a forest that stands between Midgard, the world of men, and Jotunheim, the world of giants, making her a looming threat.


There she is the warrior chief of a wolf clan. She can shapeshift into a wolf and many of the members of her clan are also her children. The lesser wolves that live in Midgard (much smaller than the giant wolf Fenrir and his half-brothers) are said to be descendants of these wolves.


Along with Fenrir, the most fearsome of her wolf children is Moongarm. It is said that he will fill himself with the lifeblood of everything that dies and that when the end of days comes, he will swallow the heavenly bodies and spatter the sky with blood, contributing to the end of the world.


According to another telling, it is the wolves Skoll and Hati who chase the sun and the moon across the sky and will finally devour them at Ragnarök. They are described as the children of Fenrir. Therefore, Angrboda may be their grandmother.


7. Skadi: Goddess of Winter

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Skadi Hunting, illustration, from Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology, by Mary Foster and Mabel Cummings, 1901, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


The giantess Skadi is considered the goddess of winter and skiing. The name Skadi seems to have been derived from a region of Scandinavia in the far north where the sun rarely rises in winter. She is also sometimes called Ondurgud, which basically means “ski god.”


Skadi is the daughter of Thjazi, the giant who kidnapped Idun and was killed as he chased Loki back to Asgard. She was once an enemy of the gods but eventually joined their ranks.


When Skadi heard the news of her father’s death, she donned her armor, took up her weapons, and made her way to Asgard to seek vengeance. When she arrived, the gods preferred to negotiate with Skadi rather than fight.


The gods promised that Skadi could choose a husband from among the Aesir and that they would complete an impossible task and give her an impossible gift. The impossible task was to make Skadi laugh. Loki achieved this by tying a cord to the beard of a goat and his own privates and engaging in a tug-of-war match. The gift was that Odin took one of Thjazi’s eyes and placed it in the sky as a star.


When it came to her husband, the gods let Skadi choose, but she had to make her decision by looking only at the feet of the gods. Wanting to marry the handsome Balder, she chose the most attractive set of feet. But these belonged to Njord, the father of Freyr and Freyja. He was considered one of the least attractive of the gods. As the god of seafaring, fishing, and wealth, his skin was weathered, making him appear much older than the other gods.


Skadi Choosing Her Husband, illustration by Louis Huard, from The Heroes of Asgard: Tales from Scandinavian Mythology, by Annie Keary and Liza Keary, 1908, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


The marriage did not last long because the two could not find a way to cohabit. Njord was reluctant to live in Skadi’s cold mountainous home, and she did not feel comfortable by the docks. They spent nine days and nine nights in each location to decide which would be better but instead decided to live apart and dissolve the marriage. Skadi may later have been with Odin and is described in one source as giving him several sons.


Nevertheless, Skadi is sometimes depicted at Njord’s side. For example, she is with her husband when he learns that his son Freyr has fallen in love with the giantess Gerd. She is also described as accompanying her husband to the feast that followed the death of Balder.


Skadi seems to have been fully accepted among the gods. When they captured Loki following the death of Balder to punish him, the gods chained him to a rock and hung a poisonous serpent over his head. According to one version of the story, it was Skadi who procured and placed the snake.


8. Gefjon: Plougher of Fertility

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Gefjon Plowing with her Sons, illustration by G. Munthe, 1899, from Kongesagaer, by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Gustav Storm, Source: Wikimedia Commons


Gefjun may have one of the most memorable stories from Norse mythology. King Gylfi the king of Sweden was approached by what appeared to be a vagrant woman who asked him for land. As a jest, he said that she could have as much land as she could plow with four oxen in a single day and night.


The woman was Gefjon in disguise, and she turned her four half-giant sons into oxen to help her. She was able to cut so deep into the land that she severed it from Sweden and created an island, that she called Zealand, now part of Denmark.


Gefjun was clearly considered an important goddess and she is often listed among the attendees at Aesir feasts. She also seems to have been a seeress. In the story where Loki berates all the gods at a feast, Odin warns Loki not to insult Gefjon because she sees the destinies of all.


This may suggest that Gefjon was also considered a Norn, one of the Norse fates. While the three most important Norns lived at the base of Yggdrasil and spun the fate of all things, many other female goddesses, giants, and elves are described as having some power over fate. They may have been considered lesser Norns.


9. Sigyn: The Loyal Wife

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Loki and Sigyn are depicted alongside other images of Ragnarök on the Gosforth Cross, England, 10th century, Source: Newcastle University, United Kingdom


Sigyn is an Aesir goddess best known for being the wife of the trickster Loki. Her name means “victorious girlfriend.” This suggests that she was a goddess of victory in battle, much like Nike in Greek mythology and Victoria in the Roman pantheon.


Sigyn is best known for sticking by her husband when the gods punished him for his role in the death of Balder. But she seems to have had a good reason to do so.


When the gods were ready to punish Loki, they also summoned his and Sigyn’s two sons, Vali and Narfi. Vali was turned into a wolf before his parents’ eyes and lost his mind. He tore his own brother apart before running off. The gods then used Narfi’s entrails to tie Loki to a rock.


The gods also hung a serpent over Loki’s head to painfully drip toxic venom onto his skin. Sigyn tries to save Loki from the worst of this by sitting by his side and catching the venom in a bowl. But every so often she must leave to empty the bowl and Loki must suffer. His body convulses in so much pain that it sends earthquakes throughout the universe.


10. Eir: The Healing Valkyrie

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Viking age figurine of a Valkyrie found at Harby in Denmark, Source: Pinterest


The Norse goddess Eir, whose name means protection or mercy, was counted among the Valkyrie. But Eir stands out among this group of female warriors, who assisted Odin in collecting the souls of the worthy dead and taking them to Valhalla. She is also described as a physician and the best of healers.


This suggests that she may have had a slightly different role to the other Valkyrie. It is possible that she was believed to return some warriors for health, at Odin’s behest, so that they could continue to battle.


The presence of Eir could have explained miraculous battlefield recoveries and reduced the shame of men carried off the battlefield and cared for during their recovery process. They were spared from Valhalla, for now, because they still had a purpose to serve.

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By Jessica SuessMPhil Ancient History, BA Hons History/ArchaeologyJessica holds a BA Hons in History and Archaeology from the University of Queensland and an MPhil in Ancient History from the University of Oxford where she researched the worship of the Roman emperors. She worked for Oxford University Museums for 10 years before relocating to Brazil. She is mad about the Romans, the Egyptians, the Vikings, the history of esoteric religions, and folk magic and gets excited about the latest archaeological finds.