Materfamilias: Thor’s Earth-Mother

THE ancestral legends of the Indo-European peoples, that vital mythological corpus which, for us, represents the very fixtures and fittings of our ethnic and cultural identity, have revealed an enormous amount about Thor’s father, Woden the Wanderer, but we know far less about the matriarchal origins of metahistory’s most famous Thunderer.

Thor’s mother is Jörð which, in Old Norse, means ‘earth’. In the Modern English-speaking world, she is known to us as both ‘Jord’ and ‘Jorth’ (Old English: eorðe). Elsewhere, she has also appeared under the names ‘Fjörgyn’ and ‘Hlóðyn’. This mysterious figure is barely mentioned in the prose and poetic Eddur, but she nonetheless retains great importance.

We know, of course, that Jörð is a female jötunn and thus a giantess. The Jötnar, from whom she descends, are often depicted as the ferociously oversized enemies of her hammer-wielding son and yet we should not assume that each and every jötunn is a grotesque monster helbent on the ultimate annihilation of the northern gods themselves. Indeed, the giants emanate from the pivotal figure of Ymir-Aurgelmir, himself nourished by the Primordial Cow, Audhumla, and three such products of this mystical bloodline – the brothers Woden, Vili and Vé – went on to create the earth. Jörð, therefore, was actually fashioned by Woden (her future consort) out of Ymir’s own flesh.

Whilst Woden had a number of different wives the most well-known of these is Frigg, with whom he fathered the god of wisdom and beauty, Baldr, and his blind brother Höðr. As a result of his relationship with the giantess, Grydur, Woden produced a son by the name of Vídar and went on to sire Vali with another giantess called Rinda. Woden’s most famous offspring, however, was the result of his divine union with Jörð.

Jörð appears in skaldic poetry in two ways: first, as the embodiment of the earth and, secondly, in the kennings that surround Snorri Sturluson’s (1179-1241) discussion of Thor and his adventures. A kenning is a form of circumlocution, or type of highly-figurative language that relies on the use of many words to describe something in a far more grandiose and extravagant manner. At the same time, the application of such language does not always shed light on Jörð herself and can often make her appear even more vague and obscure than she already is.

In the opening section of the Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, Jörð is mentioned in relation to her sexual congress with Woden and we are also informed that she is the daughter of Annar (not to be confused with the Völuspá dwarf of the same name) and Nótt (meaning ‘night’). These figures, respectively, are grandfather and grandmother to Thor himself. Jörð also has two step-brothers, Auðr (meaning ‘another’ and the result of Nótt’s relationship with Naglfari) and Dagr (meaning ‘day’ and the product of Nótt and Dellingr). At other times, depending on the manuscript in question, it is Jörð who is presented as mother of Dagr and wife of Dellingr. The godly coupling process, therefore, can be extremely complex at the best of times.

One thing we know for certain is that Jörð was the bitter love-rival of Woden’s wife, Frigg, and other jötunn concubines such as Rindr and Gunnlöd. The last of these is known for having exchanged three nights of passion with Woden in return for three sips of his sacred mead.

Thor, as Jarðar burr (“son of Jörð”), is thus a truly literal son of the earth and perhaps the excessive masculinity that he so often displays is a compensatory aspect to the overall relationship between mother and son. Meanwhile, Thor’s ‘cross-dressing’ escapades during the sham wedding with Loki at Jötunheimr – as described in the Þrymskviða – may well be a symbolic indication that his ‘earthly’ origins allow him to express his anima more effectively, a psychological dimension that C. G. Jung (1875-1961) describes as the feminine quality that lies within all men. This does not make Thor any less of a man, naturally, it simply offers us an insight into the balance between Jörð and the Thunder God himself. A balance, mark you, that is also expressed through the correspondence of sky god and earth goddess.

Hail Jörð, Mother of Thor!

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