Shrine photos by Ilana Hamilton of Blackthorn Photography
Skaði is the frost giantess and huntress of the frozen Northern lands Who stole my heart, helped me through a devastating divorce, inspired my devotional dance project, and brought me into Her service in 2004.
Sacred spaces for Skaði at the Hermitage
In the photo collage above are the two dedicated spaces I maintain for Her year-round at the Hermitage. One is a wall shrine, arranged inside a four-shelf bookcase, located inside my Black Tent Temple space. This is where I most frequently make offerings, pray, meditate, and kneel in worship. I perform monthly offertory services for Her at this shrine.
The other is a combined shrine, meditation corner, and lectio divina (sacred reading) spot, with books of folk tales in Swedish, a matching set of prayer beads and dream-incubation bracelet, a small cairn, and lovely framed original art by Chris of Bifrost and Beyond. The spruce tree right outside the window makes the location feel especially appropriate, and I often burn spruce resin incense there.
I also maintain a devotional board for Her on Pinterest, a retrospective tour of shrines I’ve built for Her (detailed descriptions of the items on the shrines can be found on my archived website here), and a tribute to Cold Winter Beauty in Her honor.
Skaði and Njörðr
The story of the marriage of Skaði and Njörðr has long been an inspiration to me (and to others as well – there’s even a dark ambient track named after it). Skaði’s determination to be true to Her will and Her own wild nature – even if it must come at the cost of Her marriage – helped me learn to tap into hidden wellsprings of strength as I grieved the loss of my own marriage over the course of several years following an unwanted divorce in 2007 that burned my previous life to the ground.
Here’s a bit from the story I wrote about my devotional dance project for Her:
“Skaði, a goddess of shadow Who knows the terrain of grief and broken-heartedness intimately, taught me how to find the courage to go on, even in the wake of suicidal depression, social anxiety, rejection, betrayal, and grief. She accepted my bitter, white-hot rage and my intense desire for vengeance upon my duplicitous, cheating ex; She, after all, is the One who placed a venomous snake over Loki in the myths, so She knows this emotional terrain well. She guided me as I waded through the bleakness in the wake of profound loss. Skaði taught me a lot about how — and when — to let go, and She showed me that if I could learn to embrace the darkness of my grief and pain deeply, I could tap into wellsprings of strength and flows of creativity I didn’t even know I had, and even find precious gifts in the midst of the wreckage.
“Skaði showed me that one of my callings in life would be to serve as a companion for others in times of endarkenment — in other words, to use my art (and all of my work, for that matter) to promote respect for the sacredness and wisdom to be found in darkness, both literal and figurative. Our culture doesn’t really “get” darkness as something that can be empowering — we tend to associate it with evil, so we sweep it under the rug or look the other way, rather than listen mindfully and embrace what it has to teach us.”
My Swedish pilgrmage quest: Place-names associated with Skaði in Sweden
As I learn to read Swedish better and continue to prepare for a future pilgrimage to Sweden, I plan to do some in-depth research into place-names of labyrinths, groves, cairns, and cult sites in Sweden that may have links to Skaði. She is mentioned as Skädja, and according to John Kraft, examples of place-names linked to Her include Skadevi, Skädharg, and Skärike (Skädja‘s cairn). Much of this may be speculative; nonetheless, I hope to model my future shrines for Her in ways that take into consideration the ways She was probably honored in pagan Sweden. According to John Kraft’s book Hednagudar och hövdingadömen – det gamla Skandinavien (Heathen Gods and Chiefdoms in Ancient Scandinavia), “The oldest place names are probably those containing a possible goddess Skädja (Skadevi, Skädharg, etc).”
Interestingly, the longest piece I’ve found about theophoric place names online – an article by Edward Smith – does not mention any place names associated with Skaði. (To be fair, though, he does say that the piece is “intended to spur the interested lay reader to further research.”)
My life is Hers: On dating
“I remember being struck by the independence of this Goddess. She called off Her marriage arrangement because it wasn’t meeting Her needs. Finally, a heathen Goddess to whom I could relate.”
That’s one of the things I love about Her as well. Skaði is the One Who guided me through my devastating divorce – something She did very well, as you might expect from Someone who went through a divine divorce.
After my divorce and a subsequent series of breakups that left me reeling, I finally made a vow to Skaði in which I surrendered my love life into Her hands. In practice, this means I no longer date unless it passes muster with Her. And I decided long ago that parenthood was not for me, as I have never wanted children. So if She ever decides She wants me to be partnered or married again, She will have to find me another hermit and non-parent who’s just as devoted to their own spiritual practice as I am to mine, and arrange for our paths to cross. Otherwise, I will continue to embrace solitude.
The vow stands, to this day.
Musical and dance devotions
Hagalaz Runedance, Wake Skadi
“Skadi is the goddess of the hunt and winter. She is a Jotun, a giant, and may well represent the primal woman, the woman of the snowy mountains, the lone huntress, clad in furs, who runs with the wolves…Skadi represents a passionate fighter…”
~ Andréa Nebel
I first heard this track from Andréa Nebel in 2004, and immediately I knew that one day I would choreograph a special devotional dance piece to it, in honor of Skaði. “Dress me in your white shawl…” was the line from this track that inspired me to purchase my very first belly dance costume piece – a fringed white burnout velvet hip scarf. To this day, I use this shawl only for prayer and devotional dance for Skaði.
Lamia Vox – Follow the Fallen Stars
In the Northern myths, Skaði’s father Þjazi’s eyes became stars when they were thrown up into the sky by Óðinn, after Þjazi was killed. The dance I do to this track is dedicated to my dearly departed father, who died unexpectedly of heart failure in 1991, at the age of 62. Skaði certainly understands the magnitude of this loss. Many years after this loss, I came to feel that my father’s eyes were watching over me…and as a result, a dance piece took shape, for which this track eventually became the perfect accompaniment.
This beautiful music speaks to me of the urgent need to find our way ‘back’ to the Earth-respecting, death-honoring spiritual ways of our pre-Christian ancestral roots. It serves as a timely reminder that we can follow the fallen stars as we do this: we can learn the Old Ways directly from the Earth. After all, we are quite literally made of star substances, as is the Earth. The deities and spirits reside in the soils beneath our feet, just as They do in the skies above, and we forget this to our own peril.
Skaði’s shrine room at Many Gods West 2015: a meditation
When I built a shrine room for Her at the first Many Gods West conference in 2015, I spoke to a friend who had spent lengthy meditation time in Her shrine room, and described the following communication with Her. I took notes and reproduced it as best I can. Here is a close approximation of it:
“I asked Her to warm me up, and then thought that She was the wrong One to ask. But She corrected me, and said that just because She lives in the cold North doesn’t mean that She Herself is cold. If you remain true to yourself regardless of external circumstances, then you remain flexible and whole, not brittle.”
“Then I asked Her about how to be a good warrior – how to stop fighting myself, and direct my aggression outward to my enemies instead. She said:
“There are no enemies. I am a huntress, and the relationship I have with my prey is one of love.”
A relationship of love between huntress and prey.
I sense in my bones the truth of this, and I find it beautiful and comforting, but I do not understand it. Perhaps I will never understand it.
In any case, I suspect I will be pondering it for many years to come.
Praising You, Skaði, is magnificent!
A retrospective of selected shrines I’ve built for Skaði, 2007-2017
Altar for Skaði by Ingrid Kincaid
(with dark ambient music playlist provided by yours truly.)
Words about Her from others:
Want to learn more about Her? A new book called Njord and Skadi: A Myth Explored by Sheena McGrath has recently been released, and the author has some helpful references on her blog: Skadi: The Sources (where to read Her stories in the mythic corpus) and Thrymheim and Skadi.
“Although place-names show that she was widely worshipped in elder days…she is not called on as often now – partially because there is little known about her, partially because her beauty is harsh, and many folk find her less easy to love than Frigg or Freyja. Those who do love her, however, see the starkest beauty of the Northlands in her high and rocky fells, her shining ice and dark crags; to some, the sound of her howling wolves and howling wind is the fairest of all songs, and her ski-tracks through the snow the brightest of all paths against the winter’s long night.”
~ Our Troth, Volume One
“Goddesses like Freyja or Iðunn and Gods like Freyr reflect the warm, lively beauty of spring flowers or a garden in the peak of harvest season, whereas Skaði is the cold, harsh beauty of jagged ice and majestic mountain peaks.”
“I always think of Skadi as embodying both the beauty and harshness of a winter storm, ripping the life from all in its path yet leaving a cover of soft snow and glimmering ice in its wake.”
“Skadi belongs to the wilderness, associated with rocks, wolves, winter and hunting, symbols of the Underworld.”
~ Maria Kvilhaug, Lady of the Labyrinth
“Skadhi comes from Utgard – the wilderness – and though she can function in a civilized environment, her wildness is never entirely lost. She is a good guide when we ourselves are attempting to reclaim our own wild natures and to go outside our limits and boundaries, whether they are imposed by others or come from within…Skadhi can be a powerful protector when we confront the monsters that lurk in the unconscious, and when we gather the courage to follow her example and live our own lives in our own way.”
~ Diana Paxson