Sunday, 1 March 2015

Jarnsaxa, Mother of Heimdall and Magni

Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology classifies Jarnsaxa as a giantess as does John Lindow in his Handbook of Norse Mythology whilst GardenStone lists Her in his Gods of the Germanic Peoples From Roman times to the Viking Age Volume 1, thus inferring Her divine status. However we nead to consider that the two terms are not necessarily mutually exclusive as the Aesir themselves are at least of giant heritage and the giants themselves were in fact an earlier pantheon of Gods. This is demonstrated also in classical mythology. 

Jarnsaxa means the 'one with the iron knife'. She is mentioned once in the Elder Edda and four times in the Younger Edda:

"Gialp bore him, Greip bore him, Eistla bore him and Eyrgiafa; Ulfrun and Angeyia, Imd and Atla and Iarnsaxa." (Song of Hyndla 37:4, Larrington translation)

Thus Jarnsaxa or Iarnsaxa was one of the nine mothers of Heimdall. We are told that these women are giants but elsewhere in the Younger Edda that they are also sisters. Significantly not only was Jarnsaxa one of the nine mothers of Heimdall but She was also the mother of Thunor's son Magni:

"Then Magni, son of Thor and Iarnsaxa, arrived." (Skaldskaparmal 17, Faulkes translation)

In Skaldskaparmal 75 there is a Iarnsaxa referred to as a 'troll's wife' but we don't know if this is the same person. Iarnsaxa also appears to be a kenning for 'courage':

"Every difficulty increases Iarnsaxa's wind [courage] in Olaf's father, so that praise is due. (Skaldskaparmal 53, Faulkes)

Her name is also a kenning for 'wolf':

"He reddened with gore the chops of the dark-looking steed of Iarnsaxa [wolf]." (Skaldskaparmal 60, Faulkes)

She is directly referred to in Skaldskaparmal 21 as being the 'rival of Sif':

"How shall Sif be referred to? By calling her wife of Thor, mother of Ull, the fair-haired deity, rival of Iarnsaxa, mother of Thrud."  (Faulkes)

So as a rival or co-wife of Thunor, the mother of the deities Heimdall and Magni She was certainly a powerful deity although not one of the better known ones. Simek states that Jarnsaxa was "used as a name for the goddess Sif" in Skaldskaparmal 21 but as I have demonstrated this is clearly wrong. It is the term 'rival of Sif' that can be used as a kenning for Sif but not the name itself! 

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