Angrboda in Norse Mythology: Witch, Giantess, Seeress

Angrboda in Norse Mythology: Witch, Seer, Mother of Monsters

A seriously underrated yet powerful goddess is Angrboda in Norse mythology. Like her allies, Angrboda doesn’t get enough press in the Norse Eddas and Sagas, although she should, and she is seriously misunderstood. She is a giantess, a witch of the wood, a seeress, and a mother. She is called the Mother of Monsters, which we will explain here in detail. For all the darkness clouding her reputation, Angrboda seems to be a loving mother and lover at her core.

At the time the Eddas were recorded, during the Viking Age, Angrboda and her people were vilified. The Aesir, including Odin and Thor, were the favored gods among the Norse people. But today, we look at Angrboda’s story from another lens, and we can see why more and more Norse pagans are honoring her in their spiritual practice. Meet Angrboda in Norse mythology and learn how to work with her in your personal practice here.

Who is Angrboda in Norse Mythology?

Angrboda is a powerful deity, one who couples with Loki and gives birth to three of the “villains” or Universal destroyers in the myths: Fenrir the wolf, Hel the ruler of the dead, and Jörmungandr the serpent. She is born of the Jotunn, the race of Giants in Norse mythos, and she is also labeled as a witch, a hag, and a seeress. Angrboda lives in a place in Jotunheim, the Giants’ land, called the Iron Wood Járnviðr. (The myths say the Iron Wood is a place where troll women lived and reared Jotunn and wolf-children.) Her name, Angrboda, translates roughly to “anger” and “bode” as in “doesn’t bode well”. Other translations say her name means “Messenger of Fear” and “Bringer of Grief“. But, as with all villains, there is a backstory as to why she brings fear and grief onto the scene.

40. The giantess old | in Ironwood sat,
In the east, and bore | the brood of Fenrir;
Among these one | in monster’s guise
Was soon to steal | the sun from the sky.
~ Poetic Edda, Voluspo, Stanza 40 by Snorri Sturluson

First, after falling in love and bearing Loki’s children, she is left in the Iron Wood to birth and raise her children without Loki’s help. For Loki spends his time split amongst the people – frequently in the company of the Aesir, also called the Lightning Tribe, and sometimes in the company of giants, the Wolf Tribe. Loki is actually half Jotunn and also a blood brother to Odin. So he feels pulled in many directions, IMO. But back to Angrboda. This giantess becomes a mother, after laboring over three magical children. Each with their own power being unleashed upon the world…obviously bearing and rearing three powerful deities comes with its own challenges. If you are a parent of a child with disabilities and/or with extraordinary gifts, you can empathize with Angrboda’s situation.

Iron Wood in Jotunheim

A Mother’s Children are Kidnapped and Dispersed

Odin and the Aesir hear of the prophecy of the three monsters who will bring about the end of the world…Angrboda and Loki’s children. And of whom will bring about Odin’s end.

And so he seeks to capture the three children and prevent this destruction from happening. Following, Fenrir is kidnapped and given to the god Tyr to rear in the ways of the Aesir, hoping he could be raised “correctly”. Eventually, Fenrir is gagged and bound when the gods find they cannot trust him.

As a little girl, Hel is torn from her home and her mother and sent to the furthest, coldest place in Niflheim. And, unexpectedly, this is where she is welcomed by the ancestors and becomes ruler of the dead. And Jörmungandr, the serpent, is banished to the ocean that surrounds Midgard. Where he grows so huge that he encircles the earth and bites his own tail (think Ouroboros).

Angrboda’s Death at the Hands of the Aesir in Norse Mythology

Angrboda is the first witch to be burned. Centuries, thousands of years, before the Burning Times in which people were accused of witchcraft and then burnt at the stake. And who was it that burnt her to ash, not once but THREE times? Odin and the Aesir. Keeping in mind, when Angrboda is slain by the gods, she is in the form of Gullveig/Heid…other guises of hers.

I’ll be honest in telling you, the details of Angrboda’s death and how she came to be called Gullveig and Heid are muddy, at best. There are some loose strings that connect the three, yet it seems to be agreed upon that they are indeed all the same deity. In addition, there is scholarly speculation that Angrboda, aka Gullveig/Heid, is truly the goddess Freya. That these beings are a hypostasis of Freya. To which I reply with a “hmphh”…because of course it’s a woman/witch that causes the end of the world (Ragnarok).

Odin burns and kills Gullveig/Angrboda three times. And each time, she comes back to life. Some variations of the tale say that the third time, her heart remains and is preserved by Loki. Loki then returns it to Jotunheim, where he sets it upon a hearth and drips a bit of his own blood onto it. Then, Angrboda’s people of the Wolf Tribe, also add their blood. And proceed to perform a ritual that brings her back to life yet again. I discovered this version on a website called Northern Paganism, yet I can’t find the actual stanzas in the Eddas or in other tales to back it up. In other versions, Loki eats her heart and bears the three “monstrous” children.

Misconceptions and Angrboda at Her Core

Angrboda is one of the misunderstood, vilified deities in Norse mythology. And, what do you know, she is a lover of Loki’s…another misunderstood Norse god. I see Angrboda and many other vilified deitis in this way – history (and therefore mythology) is always written by the more powerful. The victors. In the case of Norse mythology, we have essentially one main source to reference – a man named Snorri Sturluson.

Sturluson, while THE trusted source on all things Norse mythology, was indeed living in a post-Christianized Iceland. And, while he may have had leanings towards the ways of his ancestors, we have to consider what his upbringing might have looked like. For instance, DID he hear Christian tales of the end of the world (Revelations), stories about Satan and the Christian version of Hell, and how Eve brought sin into the world? Even if he didn’t lean towards these beliefs, might these have at least influenced how he recorded the Norse myths? Or had the Norse myths potentially been distorted in the centuries prior to Sturluson’s birth? We really can’t know for sure, because we didn’t live then.

That being said, what was left out of Sturluson’s Eddas and Sagas in regards to the “villains”? Might Angrboda, Loki, Hel, and Fenrir have once been heroic deities to a particular tribe? We might not ever know. But we can look at these deities through a modern lens and flip the script a little, so to speak. What if Angrboda, Loki, and the Jotunn were once the good guys and the Aesir the bad? Who were the domineering gods and the gods misplaced and demonized? I’m not saying this is the way of it, I’m just saying it’s something to consider.

I see Angrboda as a mother and a wise woman at her core. She becomes Angrboda, the bringer of sorrow, after her lover leaves her, her children are ripped from her, and she is terrorized by the Aesir. Angrboda is literally burnt three times by the Aesir, in hopes of being rid of the woman who birthed three “monsters”. Could it be that these monsters had no intentions of causing destruction in the first place? But once their mother was captured and they were kidnapped, it set the whole future into stone? Not to mention, it’s widely believed that Angrboda, the despised “witch” of Iron Wood, is actually Freya…the beloved Lady of the Vanir!

Gullveig’s Death at the hands of Aesir

What does Angrboda look like?

Angrboda is called the “Hag of the Iron Wood”, so she very well could look like an old hag at any give time. However, she might also appear as a beautiful, capable woman with long red hair. The color of blood. Or so the modern interpretations go. Some modern sources also claim she is muscular in physique and tall due to her Jotunn blood. But beware! She is a shapeshifter and truly can take any form she chooses. The burnt witch of the wood might also appear in an ashen dress and veil.

Ways to Work With Angrboda in Your Practice

Working with the Jotunn in Norse paganism is similar to working with the Titans of the Greek pantheon….it happens but many frown upon it. I’m not a purist. And I believe we can learn something from every deity and every myth, if we are open-hearted enough. So, if Angrboda calls to you, take heed and listen.

1. Study the Myths

First things first. Study the Eddas and Sagas to get a good grip on who Angrboda is and the people she arose from – the Norse peoples. Keep a record of notes and keep a space in your grimoire for Angrboda and her other guises – Gullveig/Heid and Freya. Compare myths and versions of myths, as well.

2. Build an Altar for Angrboda

Crafting an altar for Angrboda is customary when working with pagan deities. Choose a flat surface, i.e. a bookshelf, corner of a kitchen counter, tray on a nightstand, etc. Cleanse the area to prepare the way then fill it with items that represent Angrboda before invoking her into the space. Items that represent witchcraft, giants, and animals like the wolf and snake are traditional. A cup and bowl for offerings, as well as incense and incense burner.

3. Read The Witch’s Heart

Pick up a copy of The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. It’s a reimagining of the story of Angrboda (Gullveig/Heid) and Loki. I highly recommend this book for fantasy readers PLUS anyone who’s interested in working with Angrboda or even if you’re a devotee of Freya or Loki.

4. Give Offerings to Angrboda

Provide regular offerings to show Angrboda that you enjoy working with her in your spiritual space. Give things like wine, water, divination tools, bread, mead, beer, etc. Consider also dedicating certain witchcraft rituals in her honor.

5. Past Lives and Rebirth Rituals

As Angrboda was killed thrice and thrice reborn, she is a deity who has much knowledge on past lives and reincarnation. She can also aid you in crafting and performing rebirth rituals, after a time of darkness in your life. Including after a harsh breakup or divorce. Or if you’ve been left by your lover.

6. Seidr and Prophesying

As Angrboda is a witch and volva in the Voluspa, we assume she practices seidr, which is a form of Norse/Icelandic magic. Study and practice Seidr, including prophesying just as the witch in the Voluspa does.

7. Motherhood and Protecting One’s Children

If you are a mother and you feel your children need extra protection, you may call on Angrboda to lend her fierce energy. She understands how it feels to have her children ripped away from her and will aid any mother in keeping theirs safe.

Angrboda in Norse Mythology: Mother of Hel, Fenrir and Jormungand

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