Given that many Nordic countries rank amongst the most gender equal in the world, it should be no surprise that their forbears worshipped fierce goddesses. 

Whilst some ancient societies associated female forms of divinity with love, childbearing, or homely affairs, this was not the case for Skaði, the Norse goddess most associated with winter, the mountains, skiing, and hunting. 

In fact, scholars today believe that her etymology – believed to be derived from an Old German word meaning "shadowy" - reflects her potential personification of the Scandinavian lands. 

Given that she is associated with the most Scandinavian of things – mountains, skiing, and winter – it would be hard to argue otherwise.

Unlike other depictions of goddesses, Skaði was certainly not the retiring type, often depicted as a fierce hunter, dressed in fur and carrying her beloved bow and arrow. 

She was also associated with skiing, which provides another possible etymology of her name, which was a must considering she was said to reside in the heavily snow-covered peaks of the Scandinavian Alps. 

In fact, in some of the Norse sagas, she was said to be an almost Prometheus-like figure, gifting we mere mortals the knowledge of how to ski. 

Norse mythology

It is also no surprise that she features heavily in Norse literature and sagas. 

Two of the most famous attestations of her, however, were compiled long after the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100 CE) in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda leaving us with skaldic poetry as the only contemporary literary source. 

According to these rich literary traditions, Skaði was said to be the daughter of giant (Jötunn) Thjazi, making her one too, who was killed by the gods for stealing the apple of immortality from the god, Idunn. 

Seeking revenge, she managed to journey to Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods, on a mission for justice. Now, dear reader, the Norse Gods are reasonable, right? 

Seeking revenge, Skaði managed to journey to Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods. Illustration: The Viking Herald

How would they decide to compensate a grieving and angry daughter for the murder of her father? Perhaps reflecting the patriarchal nature of Viking society, Skaði was compensated by being allowed to choose a husband amongst the Gods...yet with a catch: she could only choose based upon the appearance of their feet. 

Now I know the Norse Gods are different to you and me, dear reader, but that takes a foot fetish to the whole next level. 

Skaði eventually makes her choice – choosing Njord, the God of the Sea, making their marriage extremely short-lived as she preferred the chill of a snowy mountain slope and he, the chill of the ocean. 

Opposites may attract, but according to the Vikings, it probably doesn't make for a long-lasting marriage.

Revenge, justice, and the great outdoors...?

Aside from her favorite mode of transport, Skaði was also associated with darker themes and motifs. 

Her quest to avenge her father's wrongful (in her eyes...to be fair, he was a jötunn and the Norse gods had a, shall we say, complicated relationship with these giant beings) death saw her veneration as a goddess of justice, revenge, and the dark arts. 

She was said to have the power to curse her enemies and bring misfortune and bad luck to those who crossed her.

Skaði also foreshadows the importance of the Scandinavian love of nature, what a famous 19th-century playwright termed friluftsliv (but meaning something in English like "a love for the great outdoors" or "being one with nature"). 

She helps highlight the importance of natural landscapes and harsh climatic conditions to Viking societies. 

Skaði also has a spiritual connection with mountains, and coupled with her ability to survive brutal Scandinavian winters, these are still very important parts of the Scandinavian psyche today. 

Furthermore, her love of skiing, hunting, and frilutsliv also reflects the importance of these in past and present Scandinavian societies. 

Her name also lives in many ski resorts that are dotted the length and breadth of the Scandinavian peninsula today. Many probably have had the privilege of being visited by Scandinavian Olympic skiers for either training or recreation. 

Even a millennium after her veneration peaked, Skaði reflects the importance, to Scandinavians then and now, of overcoming and improvising in harsh climatic conditions whilst connecting with some of the most beautiful winter landscapes in the world. 

For that, she deserves a gold medal.

For more on the Scandinavian concept of friluftsliv, head to the BBC for an article on it here.

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