Welcome to part Two of our “Realms of the Norse” series. This week specifically we are going to be talking about Jotunheim. Last week we discussed Yggdrasill and how it ties all of the realms of the Norse together.
One of our colleagues (You know who you are) in the world of the Norse community has a daughter whose birthday is on 08/22. We asked her to pick her favorite realm of the Norse and this is the one she picked so this is the one we are going to cover this week. His daughter for the sake of anonymity shall be known as the Daughter Unknown, Happy Birthday!
Jotunheim Is only 1 of 9 known realms. As a side note, we will not be covering the realms of the Norse afterlife in this series. I will be doing a separate series similar to this one going into detail about each of the realms of the afterlife of the Norse in the future.
So let us start with the translation and literally the meaning of the word Jotunheim. When translated it literally means home of the giants. To pronounce it would look something like “yo-tun-hame”. Also the old Norse spelling Jötunheimr or Útgarðr. Based on the name alone it is inferred that is place is only for giants.
With that in mind, there are some out there that have the school of thought that all giants lived there. Others believe that there were only certain species of giants, specifically rock giants and frost giants. There is a belief that the fire giants live in the world of Muspelheim.
By all accounts in the Eddas Jotunheim is a very inhospitable and ugly place to live. There were thick dark forests and mountains that were barren and stark. Its thought to be surrounded by a river known as Iving, that never freezes over. This small and minor detail being the one thing keeping the giants from coming to Midgard and Asgard.
Mimir’s well of wisdom is in Jotunheim, beneath the Midgard root of the mighty ash tree Yggdrasil. If you recall the beginning of our “history” you will also note that The whole world was created from the corpse of the very first of the Jotun, named Ymir. And it was Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve, who killed Ymir, to create all that came after. So it might make sense as to why there has been an eternal feud between the Aesir and the Jotuns.
Jotunheim is also known to be the world fence or better known as Utgard. This was a germanic reference. This name refers to the boundaries of a community/property. As this is the case it is often associated with lands beyond law and order or the other social norms of a society. Making Jotunheim/Utgard the lands for which chaos lives.
Throughout the sagas and stories, we have seen the chaos that has ensued on Jotunheim on more than one occasion. One such example can be seen in the story of Loki and Thor when they find themselves struggling to distinguish between reality and dreams.
It is pretty common knowledge among the Norse that the Jotuns are sworn enemies of the Aesir. It was not uncommon for there to be fighting and funding between the Aesir and the Jotuns. However, there were also some occasions in which tales of love would unravel. In fact, there are a few instances I can think of off the top of my head were Odin, Thor, and if memory serves me correctly even Loki had a Giantess mistress at one point in time. Loki also came from Jotunheim, and he’d been accepted by the Aesir and even lived in Asgard amongst the Aesir.
While we as a race of humans saw Jotunheim as a world of chaos there was an oddly striking resemblance to our own. Think about this. We have numerous strongholds and are ruled over by chiefs and chieftains. The only real difference here was the scale at which things were built and done.
There are tales of several Jotun strongholds in our remaining surviving texts. Additionally, we have tales of the castle of Loki- or Utgard. As we know the castle was made from blocks of snow and ice and it was so large the top could not be seen. We are also aware of the giantess Menglad and her castle of Gastropnir. Then there was the castle of Thrymheim which was the home of Thiazi.
But the most known about and well-known giant was lord Thrym. The biggest thing he was known for was having stolen Thor’s hammer or Mjölnir. This was one of those instances where The dressed in drag to fool this giant to thinking he was the lovely Freya. The idea was that hed’ trick the giant into marrying him and bring Mjölnir out to bless the wedding and bam hed let the giant have it. As a side note we Loki was one of the instigators of Thor dressing in drag. When Thor’s hammer had been brought our Thor stole Mjölnir back and killed every giant in the hall.