Northern European Goddesses

The Akkan, Ladies of Birth Allwise, Swan Maiden The Askefruer, Ash Nymphs
Berchta, Mistress of Destiny Borghild, Lady of Mists Eastre, Lady of Spring
Freya, Passionate Queen Gunnlud, Mistress of Poetry Hild, Mistress of Battle
Holda, Host of the Dead Idun, Mistress of Apples Nanna, Pure One
Norns, Spinners of Fate Rana Nedia, Lady of Green Hills Valkyries, Fierce Warriors

Northern Europe (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and parts of Germany) is most famous as the home of the Vikings. The Vikings are among the world's great adventurers and explorers. They lived in a fortunate era, when the climate of Northern Europe was warmer than usual; food was plentiful, more people could devote their time to things other than agriculture, and the population exploded. Driven by a sense of curiousity, a quest for fame, and a scarcity of land at home, the Norse set out in their long boats to explore the world. Between the eighth and eleventh centuries of the common era, they discovered and colonized Iceland and Greenland; colonized Britain, Normandy (from Northman/Norman), and Russia; raided the cities and villages of Spain, Morocco and Italy; traded with Persia, India and Byzantium; served as mercenraies in the army of the Byzantine Emporer; and were the first Europeans (it is believed) to land in North America. There, they established short-lived colonies which have been recently excavated. They were brutal, but no more so than others of their era, and their trading and exploration were vital to the development of the Medieval and later Renaissance economies.

While the Vikings are the most famous residents of Northern Europe, the Finns and Saami make their home there, too. Contrary to popular belief, the Finnish people are not related to the Slavic Norse; they are a distinct ethnic and linguistic group, related instead to the Hungarians and some peoples of Siberia. The Saami, too, are different. Traditionally, the Saami are reindeer herders, who criss-cross the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish borders in seasonal search of pasture and shelter. In modern times, though, many Saami have settled down to life in the city; anthropologists fear that traditional Saami culture is on the verge of extinction, evolving into something new.  

Northern Europe is also the Land of the Midnight Sun. It is a beautiful land of ice plains, green hills, roaring rivers and fjords. Water--in its many forms as ocean, river, rain, snow, ice and mist-- appears often in Scandinavian mythology, reflecting its constant presence and vital importance in the lives of the people. Reindeer and bears also appear often the northern mythology, reflecting their importance as sources of food and fame. Two other common elements in northern mythology are fate and the end of the world: the ancient Norse in particular believed that every person had a destiny unique to him or her. They also believed that the final battle of Ragnarok, between the Gods and Goddesses, and the Frost Giants, would destroy creation. Though generally considered a patriarchal culture by historians, women and Goddesses played an important role in the society and religion. They were Goddesses of immortality and love, spring and war, destiny and death.

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The Akkan, Ladies of Birth

The Akkan are a quadrinity of Saami Goddesses Who oversee conception, birth and destiny. They are Madderakka, Sarakka, Juksakka and Ugsakka.

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Allwise, Swan Maiden

Her name means "All-white." She and Her two sisters, Swanwhite and Olrun, are the Swan Maidens. The story of Their marriage to three mortal men, told below, is the basis of the ballet, "Swan Lake."

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The Askefruer, Ash Nymphs

The Askefruer, or "Ash Maidens," are a northern variation on a common mythological theme: spirits, often depicted as human women, inhabiting trees. The ash tree was particularly important to ancient northerners: the World Tree, the axis about which the world revolved, was the ash tree Yggdrasill. See Honored High Mistress (Creation chapter), Sago Woman (Descent of the Gods chapter), Nymphae (Graeco-Roman Goddesses) and Yakshi (Hindu Goddesses).

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Berchta, Mistress of Destiny

She is the "White Lady" who spins destiny. She is also known as Holda and Baba Yaga (Eastern Europe Goddesses); in fairy tales, She has come to be called Mother Holle, while Hans Christian Anderson calls Her the Snow Queen.

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Borghild, Lady of Mists

She is the personification of the evening mist, or perhaps the moon, Who kills the light of day. She is the wife of Sigmund. Her myth became part of the dynastic struggles of the Germanic classic, the VOLSUNG SAGA.

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Eastre, Lady of Spring

From Her name, which means "Radiant Dawn," comes our word Easter. At Her spring festival, She is celebrated with singing, dancing, parades, flowers, ringing bells and colored eggs. The rabbit is Her sacred animal.

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Freya, Passionate Queen

Freya, or Freyja, is a descendent of the ancient Great Mother or Earth Mother. She is one of the Vanir, a pantheon of native fertility and peace Deities Who were driven into exile by the arrival of the Aesir (see Descent of the Gods chapter). To ensure peace, Freya and Her brother, Frey, agreed to live with the Aesir. She is often confused with the similar Goddess, Frigga.

FREYA ON BOAR ©JBL

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Gunnlud, Mistress of Poetry

She is the Norse Goddess Who guards the mead of poetry, Odrerir. She is also known as Gunnlauth and Gonlod.

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Hild, Mistress of Battle

Hild is the Chief of the Valkyries (profiled below). At the side of Her lover, She makes war against Her father. The battle will continue until Ragnarok, the end of creation.

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Holda, Host of the Dead

Holda was worshipped by the Thuringians, Hessians and Suevi of modern Germany. She oversees the sky, lakes and streams. She leads the Host of the Dead through the mountains, whose screams are the wild wind.

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Idun, Lady of the Apples

Idun is one of many Tree Goddesses Who populate world mythology. In Norse mythology, She is the guardian of the golden apples, which keep the Gods and Goddesses eternally young and healthy. As this story illustrates, without Idun, the Deities will grow old and die.

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Nanna, Pure One

She is the wife of Balder, the Dying God of Norse mythology. She is the essence of purity, flowering blossoms and vegetation. The following story relates the depth of Her devotion to Her husband.

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Norns, Spinners of Fate

The Norns are the Northern European variation on a common mythological theme: the Goddesses of Fate. They are usually three in number. They sit at the foot of Yggdrasill, spinning the fate of all beings, Divine and mortal.

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Rana Nedia, Lady of Green Hills

She is the Spring Goddess of the Saami. She makes the hills green for the reindeer.

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Valkyries, Fierce Warriors

The Valkyries are a common image in opera and the sports world. To the Norse, they are beautiful warriors Who choose the slain of the battlefield and escort them to Valhalla, where they await Ragnarok. Norse mythology contains many tales of Valkyries falling in love with mortal men.

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