"Sif" by John Charles Dollman (1909)
“Sif” by John Charles Dollman (1909)

Sif is a Norse goddess who is mentioned somewhat often in Old Norse literature, but only in passing references. Virtually the only thing we know about her is that she is the wife of the storm-god Thor. Her name seems to mean “relation by marriage,” so even here we find nothing of a personality or function – just a familial association.[1]

There are two references to Sif that say anything more than this. She is said to be the mother of the similarly obscure god Ullr, whose unknown father is apparently someone other than Thor.[2]

She also plays a role in the tale of The Creation of Thor’s Hammer, although here, too, her role is completely passive. Here it’s said that Sif had magnificent golden hair, which the wily trickster Loki cut off one day when he found himself in an especially mischievous mood. Thor, enraged, threatened to kill Loki, but Loki convinced the thunder god to spare his life on the condition that he find an even fairer head of hair for Sif. Thor consented, and off Loki went to procure Sif’s new hair.[3]

This reference to Sif’s golden hair, as paltry as it is, is nevertheless the most meaningful detail we know about her. Many scholars have suggested that this is a symbol of a field of flowing grain ripe for the harvest.[4] When viewed from the standpoint of comparative religion, as well as what we know about Thor, this would seem to be a sound intuition.

One of the most common themes in the mythology of the Indo-European peoples such as the Norse and other Germanic peoples, as well as the Celts, Slavs, Balts, Greeks, Romans, Indians (of India), and many others, is the idea of the sexual union of a sky god and an earth goddess. Historians of religion call this a hieros gamos or hierogamy, which means “divine marriage.” The hieros gamos maintains the cosmic order and brings fertility and prosperity to the earth as it – or she – is fertilized by the rain and sun from the sky.

One of Thor’s foremost roles in ancient Germanic religion was that of a bringer of agricultural abundance. As the eleventh-century German historian Adam of Bremen notes, “Thor, they say, presides over the air, which governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops.”[5]

Thus, it would make sense for Sif to be a goddess of the fertility of the earth, a role also occupied to varying degrees by other Norse goddesses such as Freya, Gefjun, Fjorgyn, and Jord. Sif’s being especially associated with the vegetation on the surface of the earth, which is suggested by the nature of her hair, is also corroborated by the fact that a species of moss (Polytrichum aureum) was called haddr Sifjar (“Sif’s hair”) in Old Norse.[6]

Despite how little we know about her, then, Sif seems to belong to one of the most archaic, and most exalted, roles of divinity in the mythology, religion, and worldview of the pre-Christian Norse and other Germanic peoples.

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[1] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 283.

[2] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning, chapter 17, and Skáldskaparmál, chapter 22.

[3] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Skáldskaparmál, chapter 43.

[4] Ellis-Davidson, Hilda Roderick. 1964. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. p. 84.

[5] Adam of Bremen. c. 1080. History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. Translated by Francis Joseph Tschan. p. 207.

[6] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 283.

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