Starting off marriage on the wrong foot

How Skadi joined the Aesir family by marrying a husband she did not want.

A maiden’s quest

An armored giantess stood at the gates of Asgard. “My name is Skadi, daughter of Thiassi! I am here to avenge the death of my father!”, she shouted. Her posture was one of determination. She had come for a fight and was not going to be turned away.

The Aesir looked at each other awkwardly, the looks in their eyes revealing how uneasy they felt with the appearance of this unknown giantess at their doorsteps. It was true that they had killed the giant Thiassi, but they considered his death to be a mere casualty of war. After all, Thiassi had started the conflict by kidnapping Idunn and stealing their apples of youth. They did not feel even an ounce of remorse for killing him.

Then there was his daughter, Skadi, which they now met for the first time. She had come in full armor to challenge the gods that slew her father, most likely knowing that she would not survive that battle. She wanted to die a glorious death and had come to face it without showing a trace of fear. The Aesir considered this to be an honorable quest and admired her for her bravery. This is why, instead of ganging up on her, they offered her their condolences and asked her how they could repay her.

Making a deal

Skadi was taken aback by this act of kindness. She had grown up in Jotunheim, a place where the hate for the Aesir was deeply rooted in society. She had certainly not expected that the gods would offer to pay reparations for the loss of her father. Understanding that dying at the hands of the gods herself was not going to bring her father back to the realm of the living, she weighed her options. The offer of the Aesir presented her with an opportunity to make them do whatever she pleased. It was too good an offer to turn down. She accepted.

“First, you will have to make sure that my father can still watch over me”, she demanded. The Aesir were confused: how could they achieve this with Thiassi being dead? Odin, who had given the demand some thought, came up with a suitable solution to the riddle. He took Thiassi’s eyes and added them to the sky as stars. Here, they would shine for eternity, watching over Skadi. The giantess was pleased, but not satisfied. She wanted more out of this arrangement.  

Marrying up in the world

Her second demand was that she would be married to one of the Aesir, a husband of her own choosing nonetheless. You see, Skadi had heard the stories of Baldr, the most beautiful god among the Aesir. She had fallen in love with him from afar. Odin briefly considered this request . In his wisdom, he had a fair notion that the giantess would pick Baldr if she were indeed to freely select a husband.

Yet Baldr was happily married to Nanna, and Odin did not want to spoil his son’s marriage. This is why he added a special condition to the agreement “You are free to choose a husband from all Aesir, but you will have to base your decision on the appearance of our feet”. If Skadi’s determination was shaken by this special clause, she did not show any signs of it. She accepted, sure that she would be able to recognize Baldr’s feet.

“My third demand is that you will make me laugh”, she said solemnly. “Ever since my father’s death, I have found myself unable to smile”. Odin gave her a look that was filled with understanding. The god of wisdom seldomly smiled himself, as this was the burden of his vast knowledge. He then looked at Loki with clear intent. The trickster god understood: it would be his task to make the giantess smile. Odin nodded at the giantess, “we accept your third demand as well”. He ordered his Valkyries to open the gate. He beckoned her to step forward. “First, let’s go get you that husband”.

My name is Njörd. I enjoy long walks at the beach.

Skadi was led to a large curtain and was blindfolded by Frigg. The Aesir lined up behind the curtain, their feet being the only parts of them that remained visible to the giantess. They shuffled around nervously. None of them were particularly looking forward to marrying Skadi. Most of them were married already and few of them coveted the thought of having a giantess for a wife. When Frigg removed Skadi’s blindfold, the maiden stepped forward decisively. “This is my chance to win Baldr’s hand”, she thought.

The giantess started to carefully inspect the feet before her. Some of the feet looked clean, some of the feet looked unwashed. Some of them showed scars, where others did not. She gasped as she saw a pair of feet that looked more beautiful than any of the others did. These were the cleanest feet, their skin looking pure and white. “These are surely Baldr’s feet”, she thought. She grabbed them and told the gods that she had made her decision. This is when Frigg lifted the curtain, revealing her new husband to be: the Vanir god Njörd.

Skadi was heart-broken. She cursed her naivety. “Njörd spends much of his time at the shoreline, my dear”, Frigg explained. “His feet are the cleanest and the whitest, as more oft as not they are in the ocean”.  This did not comfort Skadi in the slightest. “I could use that laugh now”, she said eyeing Loki, “but I am afraid that your task has just become more difficult”.

Dinner and a show

Indeed, the days passed and the gods tried their best to make the giantess laugh. Despite their efforts, they were unsuccessful. Her marriage had indeed not made the matter easier. This changed during one of the feasts in the halls of Odin. The food, drink, and music failed to make giantess smile. Then the hall’s doors opened and Loki came riding in on one of Thor’s goats, the leash of his curious mount bound to his manhood.

We are not sure whether this was an attempt to make Skadi laugh or if he was mocking Thor by pretending to be him. Regardless, the god of thunder angrily slammed his fist on the table and called his goat’s name with a booming voice. The animal immediately started running towards him, throwing Loki from his back and dragging the trickster across tables by his manhood. After this painful ride, the goat threw Loki straight into Skadi’s lap. The gods roared with laughter at this awkward scene and Skadi, still with Loki in her lap, could not help herself but join them.

All is well that ends well?

Having fulfilled Skadi’s demands, the giantess would now join the Aesir in Asgard. In later stories, she is mentioned as one of the gods, no longer referred to as an outsider. All is well that ends well? Unfortunately not.

The marriage between Skadi and Njörd would prove to be an unfortunate one. The two of them tried to make it work but were unsuccessful. Skadi hated the sea because the sound of the waves was keeping her awake. Njörd hated the mountains as the wolves were keeping him awake. In the end, they decided to live apart from one another. Njörd continued to live in his halls deep down in the ocean, Skadi moved back to her mountains where she could hike and ski all she wanted.