Before I begin, I will briefly summarize the relevant parts of this story, which forms a small part of a greater work, The Gylfaginning.
One day, Thor, his adopted brother Loki and their two servants ðjalfi and Roskva were travelling Eastward on a quest, likely hunting trolls, starting fights with giants or something of the like. Whilst passing through Jöttunheim, land of the giants, they encounter a friendly giant, Skrymir. They speak with Skrymir and begin to journey Eastward with him, the giant carrying their belongings. Skrymir tells the companions he is returning to Utgarð, his home.
When the company makes camp for the night, sleeping in Skrymir’s glove which is big enough for the four of them, Thor is angered by the loud snoring of Skrymir and attempts to rouse him three times.
|ðjalfi,Roskva, Thor and Loki trailing behind
the giant Skrymir, also known as Utgarð Loki
Skrymir then gets angry and schemes to establish challenges for the company when they arrive at Utgarð to get back at them, and particularly at Thor.
When they arrive at Utgarð, which is a large castle, Skrymir sits down on a throne among the other Jötunn (giants). Weary, the four other travellers ask Skrymir the giant if he will allow them to stay, to which he replies that the companions may stay if they can each perform an impressive feat for him,
Loki, always the first to pipe up, says he can eat faster than anyone else. Skrymir then pairs Loki against the giant Halogi, and Loki loses.
ðjalfi, the servant boy, says he can run faster than anyone else. Skrymir challenges him to a race against a small man from the castle name Hugi and ðjalfi loses.
Thor, last of all, says he will wrestle against anyone and win. Skrymir calls for his chamber maid, an old woman named Elli, to fight against Thor. Thor, embarrassed and demoralized, loses.
Despite losing, Skrymir considers them to have put on a good show and presents them with a place to stay for the night, treating them well.
In the morning, Skrymir bids the travelers farewell and says to them that “it would be best if a contest of this sort were never held again.” Skrymir then reveals his real name to be Utgarða Loki.
What is it all about then?
On the face of it, the story is simply an interesting fairytale, a few funny scenarios and some jokes to entertain children and childish adults. But if we delve a bit further into the Old Norse, we find a much deeper meaning to the story.
First things first, it is important to understand what the giants, the Jötunn, represent in Norse mythology. The Jötunn all have names synonymous to the destructive forces of nature, such as “flame”, “frost”, “old age”, and so on. The gods and goddesses on the other hand, all have names synonymous to the forces of nature which contribute towards creation, “mother earth”, “sky father”, “sun”, “moon”, and so on. The gods and goddesses in mythology are continuously in conflict with one another, symbolizing the endless battle between the seasons of Summer and Winter.
Among other things, in Norse religion the god Thorr represents the physical life force, his hair is red to symbolize he is active in the root chakra at the base of the spine, where all energy is said to flow from. This is why many Norse pagans both prior to Christianization and now, such as myself, wear the hammer of Thorr, Mjolnir, around our necks, covering our heart chakra. The striking of Mjolnir is the thunder that makes the beating of our hearts.
Thorr, the life force of the body, battles against the old lady, Elli, and loses. In Old Norse, Elli means “old age”. It is inevitable that anyone who tries to fight against old age will be brought down in the end, even the mighty Thorr.
Loki loses in an eating competition against Halogi, meaning “High flames”, for nothing can eat faster than fire.
ðjalfi, the servant of Thorr and Loki, (ðjalfi deriving from ðewa Alfar, meaning “Servant Elf”) loses in a sprint against the giant Hugi. Hugi is Old Norse for “thought”, and nothing travels faster than thought.
Finally, the last thing I wanted to touch upon is the significance of Skrýmir revealing that his real name is “Utgarða Loki”. What does this mean? The word Loki, just like the name of Thorr’s adopted brother, derives from the same root word as the English word “lock”. A lock places a trap on a particular object, impinging its movement, and if my memory serves me correctly the Old Norse word for “spider web” is also Loki. Since the primary role of Loki in Norse mythology is as a trickster figure that tries to trap and confuse other characters, terming him “Loki” is a fitting title which reflects his personality. Skrymir revealing himself as Utgarða Loki, “Loki of the Outyards”, is in my view a way of him saying that he, like Loki, is also a trickster disguised as a friendly host, and it is his job to challenge the travelers.
The story is rather a cautionary tale to men and immortals alike, fight against the forces of nature and you will always lose. Try to stay young forever, you will embarrass yourself; try to eat fast, the high flame of heart burn will strike!
This is an important belief in paganism, nature should always be put first, it has to be put first. There is no other choice. Fight against nature and eventually nature will come back to fight against you and hit you twice as hard. We are increasingly consuming more than ever before, trying to live longer but more empty lives, we are building higher, chopping down trees, fighting against death, a natural, necessary and beneficial process and what for? Where will it end?
That is a question for you to answer yourself from your own intuition.
I hope you have found this article useful and learnt something. There are always more layers to be uncovered so if I have missed something please do get in touch.
Health and happiness! Heill og saell!