Ullr (Or Ull) was son of Thor’s wife Sif by an unknown father, and stepson of Thor, called “Ullr’s glorious step-sire and his kinsman”.
He is fair of face and has all the accomplishments of a warrior, therefore men do well to call on him in single combat. He is so excellent a bowman and snow-shoe runner that none may vie with him. Hence he is called Snow-shoe-god, Bow-god, Hunting-god, and Shield-god.
His ring is mentioned in Atlakvitha (Norse mythological heroic poem) as that on which oaths were taken, probably a ring attached to or laid on an altar-stone, and the custom of swearing on such a ring is mentioned in Sagas.
Odin singles out Ullr by name along with the gods when he is bound between two fires, as recounted in Grimnismal (a Norse heroic poem):
Ullr’s favour and that of all gods
Has he, who first in the fire will reach;
The dwelling can be seen by the sons of the gods,
If one takes the kettle from its hook.
Odin here refers to the torments he is suffering between the fires. Let some one draw away the kettle from its hook and the gods will be able to look down through the roof-opening which served as a chimney, and see his perilous position.
Ullr dwells in Ydalir or “yew-dales”, an appropriate place for a god of the bow, since bows were made of yew.
In the Prose Edda, one of the sources of Norse mythology, there is a passage which tells of the steeds of the gods, says that Ullr had many horses.
Ullr’s name means the lordly, the majestic, and is the equivalent of Gothic wulþuz, meaning glory.
The few notices regarding him suggest his former importance, waning before that of other gods.
The cult of Ullr, and his origin as a Finnish god
Many place-names, especially in Sweden, contain his name, and show that his cult was widespread.
As Snow-shoe-god Ullr’s original sphere would be the more northerly parts of Scandinavia, unless he is to be regarded as ruling more particularly in winter.
He has been regarded as a Finnish god, or a god worshipped in the region where Finns and Scandinavians mingled. Skadi, who may have been a Finnish goddess, is also characterized by her snow-shoes.
Ullr would thus be her male counterpart. The shield, according to the skalds, was “the ship of Ullr” that on which he travelled – a reference to a lost myth, though “skjold” (shield), may be an error for “skid”, meaning snow-shoe, the snow-shoes on which he journeyed over the snow-fields.
An interesting comment on this skaldic tale, which may point to its orgin in folklore and custom, is found in what Plutarch says of the Cimbri (ancient Germanic tribe), when opposing the Romans in the Alps.
The Cimbri climbed to the tops of the hills and, placing their broad shields under their bodies, let themselves slide down the slopes – a primitive kind of toboggan. Ollerus in Saxo, the equivalent of Ullr, used a bone marked with runes to travel overseas, and quickly passed over the waters. This seems to mingle the travelling on skates made of bone with the skaldic conception of the shield as a ship.
UIlr took Odin’s place when he went into exile and bore his name, as Saxo relates. This points to his high place, as does also the phrase “Ullr and all the gods” in the poem Grimnismal, where he is Singled out by name as if of great importance.
That he, as the glorious god, was a form of Tiuz, ousted by Odin, is doubtful. More likely he was a native Scandinavian, possibly Finnish, god, whose place and cult were taken over by Odin – a fact indicated in Saxo’s story of Odin and Ollerus.
Ullr’s connection to the god Frey
Recent research in Scandinavian place-names has caused some scholars to see in Ullr and Frey a pair of alternating divine brothers, gods of fertility. They are believed to have been worshipped on two hills near Leira in Sjaellend, the place where a nine-yearly sacrifice formerly took place.
These hills are the Hyldehög and Frijszhög, and their popular names as recorded three centuries ago, point to the belief that Ullr and Frey were buried there. These twin gods were associated in a fertility cult with goddesses, and the cult seems to have contained the representation of a ritual marriage.
On a rock called Ullaber (? Ullarberg) near Ullensvang, within recent times a gathering was held on Midsummer Day and a girl was dressed up as a bride. The close connection in one stanza of Grimnismal between Ullr’s abode, Ydalir, and Frey’s, Alfheim (home of the Light elves), whereas those of other deities have each one stanza allotted to them, has also led to the supposition of a connexion between Ullr and Frey.