According to Norse mythology, the giantess Angrboda was a love interest of the fire god Loki and was the mother of his three children: the wolf Fenrir, the giant serpent Jörmungand, and the ruler of the dead Hel.
For a character of such importance, there is surprisingly little information concerning Angrboda and her role in the Norse religion and cosmic order.
However, there is consistent evidence that Angrboda is one and the same with a number of other Norse mythological characters, especially Gulveig-Heid.
Meaning of the name Angrboda
The name of “Angrboda” has multiple different interpretations.
Some of the most common include “the grief bringer”, “harm-giver”, “she-who-offers-sorrow”.
The first component of the name “angr” is closely connected to the modern English word “anger”, but in Old Norse it means “sorrow” or “regret”.
The second component “boda” or “boða”, has multiple meanings.
The most common one is “offering” or “command”, however it can also be the feminine form of the word “boði”, which means fermented water, froth or foam.
Angrboda as a half-burnt heart produces Loki’s children
The Norse poem Hyndluljod contains an interesting passage that describes how Loki produced his three monstrous children by eating the burnt heart of a female:
43. A heart ate Loki,-- | in the embers it lay, And half-cooked found he | the woman's heart;-- With child from the woman | Loki soon was, And thence among men | came the monsters all. 44. The sea, storm-driven, | seeks heaven itself, O'er the earth it flows, | the air grows sterile; Then follow the snows | and the furious winds, For the gods are doomed, | and the end is death. 45. Then comes another, | a greater than all, Though never I dare | his name to speak; Few are they now | that farther can see Than the moment when Othin | shall meet the wolf [Fenrir].
The wolf mentioned in the last verse is Fenrir, Loki’s accursed child that is bound in magical chains only to be unleashed at Ragnarock, the Norse apocalypse.From these verses we see that an evil female being had been burnt, but that the flames were not able to destroy the seed of life in her nature.
Her heart had not been burnt through or changed to ashes. It was only half-burnt, and in this condition it had together with the other remains of the cremated woman been thrown away, for Loki finds and swallows the heart.
The Norse looked upon the heart as the seat of the life principle, of the soul of living beings.
A number of linguistic phrases are founded on the idea that goodness and evil, kindness and severity, courage and cowardice, joy and sorrow, are connected with the character of the heart ; sometimes we find the Norse word for heart, hjarta used entirely in the sense of soul, as in the expression hold ok hjarta, soul and body.
So long as the heart in a dead body had not gone into decay, it was believed that the principle of life dwelling therein still was able, under peculiar cireumstances, to operate on the limbs and exercise an influence on its environment, particularly if the dead person in life had been endowed with a will at once evil and powerful.
In such cases it was regarded as important to pierce the heart of the dead with a pointed spear.
The half-burnt heart, accordingly, contains the evil woman’s soul, and its influence upon Loki, after he has swallowed it, is most remarkable.
It reminds of the episode when Loki, having taken the form of a mare, mated with the giant horse Svadilfare and produced Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse ridden by Odin himself. In his intercourse with Svadilfare Loki had revealed his androgynous nature.
So he does it again now. The swallowed heart redeveloped the feminine in Loki.
It fertilised him with the evil purposes which the heart contained. Loki became the possessor of the evil woman, and became the father of the children from which the trolls and other monsters are found in the world.
First among the children is mentioned the wolf, which is called Fenrir, and which in Ragnarok shall cause the death of Odin the Allfather.
The woman possessing the half-burnt heart, who is the mother (or rather the father?) of the wolf, is called Angrboda.
Further on however, other Norse mythological say that Angerboda now dwells in the Ironwood where she become the mother and nourisher of Fenrir and his kin, including one that will swallow the sun.
This proves that the attempt to destroy Angrboda with fire was unsuccessful, even though at some point a half-burnt heart was all that remained of her, that Angrboda arose again in bodily form after this cremation.
Angrboda is the same as Gulveig-Heid
Many Norse mythologists have pointed out that Angrboda is the same as Gulveig, “the old one,” who in historical times and until Ragnarok dwells in the Ironwood, and “there raises Fenrir’s kinsmen” (Völuspa, 39), her own offispring, which at the close of this period are to leave from the Ironwood, and break into Midgard and color its citadels with blood(Voluspa, 30).
The Norse poem Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar mentions a vala (Norse seer priestess), who was the direct cause of a war between the two Norse group of gods: the Aesir and Vanir.
The vala was Gulveig-Heid of the myth, and the war started when the Aesir burned Gulveig three times, only for her to regenerate each time.
When the Aesir and Vanir made peace, they decided to allow Gulveig to live on until the end of times, on the condition that she now show her face again in either Midgard or Asgard.
Thus, Gulveig was banished to the distant Ironwood where she would await Ragnarok.
It is also said in Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar , that Gulveig gave birth to wolves, and that these wolves were “fenrisulfar“.
Of Angrboda we already know that she is the mother of the real Fenris-wolf, and that she, in the Ironwood, produces other wolves which are called by Fenrir’s name (Fenris kindir).
Thus the identity of Gulveig-Heid and Angrboda is very likely to be one and the same, since both the one and the other is called the mother of the Fenris family.At this point, the shared identity of Angrboda and Gulveig-Heid is proven by three points:
- Unsuccessful burning of an evil woman.
- Her regeneration after the cremation.
- The same woman as mother of the Fenrir race.
These points apply equally to Gulveig-Heid and to Angerboda “the old one in the Ironwood”. Thus the myth about Angerboda is identical with the myth about Gulveig-Heid, since both were burned but regenerated, only to later on become the mother of Fenrir and his kin, and to raise these in Ironwood.
The evil nature of Angrboda
Angrboda’s activity in antiquity as the founder of the diabolical magic art, as one who awakens man’s evil passions and produces strife in Asgard itself, is complented with her activity as the mother and nourisher of that class of monstrous beings that personify witchcraft, thirst for blood, and hatred of the gods.
The activity of the evil principle has, in the great epic of the Norse mythology, formed a continuity spanning all ages, and this continuous thread of evil is twisted from the treacherous deeds of Angrboda and Loki, the feminine and the masculine representatives of the evil principle.
Both appear at the dawn of mankind: Loki has already at the beginning of time secured access to Odin Allfather, and Angrboda as Gulveig deceives the sons of men already in the time of Heimdal’s son Borgar.
Loki entices Idun from the secure grounds of Asgard, and trencherously delivers her to the powers of frost; Angrboda (as Gulveig), plays Freyja into the hands of the giants.
Loki plans enmity between the gods and the forces of nature, which until then had been friendly, and which have their personal representatives in Ivalde’s sons; Angrboda causes the war between the Aesir and Vanir.
The interference of both is interrupted at the close of the mythic age, when Loki is chained, and Angrboda is sent in exile in the Ironwood.
Before this they have for a time been blended, so to speak, into a single being, in which the feminine combined with the masculine, and the masculine elleminated, bear to the world the enemies of the gods andof creation.
Both finally act their parts in the destruction of the world. Before that crisis comes, Angrboda will foster and raise the host of “sons of world-ruin” which Loki is to lead to battle, and a magic sword which she has kept in the Ironwood is given to Surtr, in whose hand it is to be the death of Frey, the lord of harvests.
Angrboda dwells in Ironwood, where she guards the Flamesword that will kill Frey and destroy Midgard in Ragnarok
When Angrboda arrived in Ironwood, she conceiled a magical flaming sword.
This sword, along with Angrboda’s remarkable herd of creatures, were guarded by a giant named Egther, which means sword guardian.
He is described in Norse mythological poems as sitting on a mound, playing a harp and is happy about the end of the times that are about to come upon the gods and their creation.
When Ragnarok approaches, Egther will be visited by a red cock named Fjalarr, which is in truth the fire giant Suttungr, the one who possesed the mead of poetry before it was stolen by Odin.
Suttungr will then wield the flaming sword until the arrival of Ragnarock, which he will then use to bring an end to the Gods and their creation.
- The Mythology of All Races – Eddic by John Arnott MacCulloch, Louis Herbert Gray
- The Norsemen Myths and Legends by Guerber Helene Adeline
- Asgard and the Norse heroes by Katharine Boult
- Old Norse stories by Sarah Powers Bradish
- Teutonic Mythology by Viktor Rydberg & Anders Rasmus Bjorn
- Teutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm