Jotunheim | Norse Mythology


Jötunheim (or Jötunheimr or Jötunheimar), where the giant Þrymr reigns, is, in Norse mythology, the territory that Odin left to the ice giants at Creation. With Utgard as its fortress, it is one of the nine worlds supported by the cosmic tree Yggdrasil.

According to F.-X. Dillman in his notes on the Edda of Snorri, the oldest mythological texts locate this world to the east of Midgard, while the more recent prose texts locate it to the north. To the east lies the Iron Forest, Járnviðr, home of the wolf-like giants.

Etymology of Jotunheim

"Jötunheim" (v. isl. Jǫtunheimr) is the singular name for the "kingdom of the giants" or the "land of the giants," the plural being "Jötunheimar." It is composed of "Jötun", which designates the giants and "heimr", the kingdom.

The form "Jötunheimar" is used in François-Xavier Dillman's translation of the Edda, for example, whereas the singular form, "Jötunheim", is more commonly used in the Völuspa.

Jotunheim in the Edda

Already in chapter 1 of the Gylfaginning, the Jötunheimar are mentioned as the place where a wanderer, who had been offered by king Gylfi as much land as four oxen could plow in one day and one night, went to fetch the said oxen.

For she was not a beggar, but belonged in fact to the Aesir race, and her name was Gefjon. These oxen, which were in fact her sons conceived with a giant (in some versions, during this episode and for this specific purpose), turned over so much earth that they tore off a piece and deposited it in a strait. This would be the island of Seeland.

In chapter 14, Snorri reports the organization of the world by the gods, guided by Odin.

They built different famous places, like Idavoll, Gladsheim or Vingólf, and then built forges. They made hammers and anvils with which they forged other everyday utensils with pure gold, because they had plenty of it.

That is why this age is called "the golden age". It lasted until it was corrupted by the arrival of the Jötunheimar women. If their nature is not specified by Snorri Sturluson, it is in stanza 8 of the Völuspa.

Notable Giants from Jotunheim

Some giants are known through stories or marriages with the Aesir live in Jötunheimar. Here is a non-exhaustive list.

  • Narfi or Norfi, Loki's own son and father of Nótt, personification of the night, is an ice giant. His daughter is "black and dark like the race from which she comes. The Codex Upsialensis, the oldest preserved source of Snorri's Edda, also specifies that Narfi was the first giant to inhabit the Jötunheimar.
  • Thjazi, the one who kidnapped Idunn to steal her apples of youth, lives in Jötunheimar, and as Loki was an accomplice in this kidnapping, it is up to him to ride to this realm of giants to recover her. This episode will lead to the death of Thjazi and other events.
  • Hyrrokkin is a giantess that the gods go to get for Baldr's burial, because they don't have the strength to launch his funeral boat on the water. She rides a wolf and has a poisonous snake for a bridle. When she arrives, she throws the boat with so much force that the logs that roll it on the ground burst into flames and the whole earth shakes. Thor would have killed her with his hammer if the Aesir had not all asked for her pardon.
  • Angrboda, Loki's mistress and mother of the three monstrous children, the wolf Fenrir, the Midgard snake Jörmungand and the goddess of the dead Hel, is also from the Jötunheimar.
  • Hrungnir is a giant that Odin challenges to a horse race, one day when Odin had ridden to the land of the giants. For the rest of the story, see the article dedicated to Hrungnir.