Norse Mythology’s Anti-Gods: The Giants

Giants were considered mortal adversaries of the gods in ancient Viking mythology. Although this heavenly animosity has been propagated in various movies and pop cultural themes, many modern Viking enthusiasts are still unfamiliar with the giants. The stories we heard as children about giants, such as “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Gruffalo,” and “The Hobbit,” taught us that giants were terrifying and merciless, and that they could be easily deceived by a cunning hero. Rather than being “creatures,” giants in Nordic mythology are divine beings, descended from the same ancestors as the gods themselves. Certain of the time, they are not foolish, but in some circumstances they are even more intelligent than the gods. The fact that not all “giants” in Viking mythology are very tall may come as a shock to people unfamiliar with the tradition.


In Norse mythology, the giants are the “founding fathers” of the Norse race. All of the most well-known gods (such as Odin and Thor) can trace their ancestry back to the giants. Giants were given the names Jötunn (plural) or Jötnar (single) (plural). When the word “Jötunn” was first used, it meant “devourer,” which is how it got its name.

Also known as “strong and dangerous,” “piercing,” or “thorn,” they were also known as ursar (pronounced thurss). For centuries, the Jötnar (giants) have been depicted in runic poetry using the rune Thurisaz ().

Ymir (pronounced EE-mir), the first giant, was born out of the primordial chaos when the worlds of fire and ice joined together in a great hiss. This chaos was represented by his progeny, the Jötnar, who were the spirits of destruction.

Ymir, whose cow Auumbla licked the ice for three days to free Buri, was the ancestor of both the gods Aesir and Vanir, who sprang from the same race of giants. However, Buri was not the only ancestor of both gods. As a result of the gods’ design and nature, the giants became the universal order’s positive or creative side. The gods and the giants aren’t necessarily good or bad in the Viking tradition, but rather they’re in opposition and in balance. A formal dualism isn’t being argued here, but rather that the Norse understood their universe through their stories of the battle between the gods and jötnar, between creation and destruction, which they viewed as an analogy for their own existence.

The distinction between giants and gods can be difficult to see at times. Loki, for example, is frequently referred to as the Norse deity of death and gloom. Odin’s blood brother Loki was a god, but he was adopted into the Aesir tribe of gods and is only ambiguously named a god in primary sources. Neither he nor any of his offspring are demigods, yet they are all giants or otherworldly creatures. Skadi, the ski-borne nature goddess, and Jör, a “Mother Earth” figure, both appear in the Eddas as being of Jötunn descent. Later on, they are given the title of “goddesses,” yet in Asgard, they are frequently left out of lists or meetings dedicated to the goddesses.

Odin’s trickster brother, Loki

According to some researchers, the Vikings’ interactions with the cultures around them can be compared to this god-giant relationship. It doesn’t matter if this is accurate or not; the legend makes it obvious that the gods and giants are not two distinct races, but rather opposed and contending powers. Individual members of these “warring tribes” can be deduced to have a cosmic nature by their names, qualities, and deeds.


By the conclusion of the Viking Age, the hybrid Normans and other Viking descendants controlled northern Europe. Cultural memory and Christianized Latin leanings influenced their thinking. The Old Norse legends of their ancestors were translated into Old French by the Normans. To describe Jötunn in this language, the closest term available was “geant,” which was derived from the Latin “gigans,” which alluded to the Greek and Roman Titans. The Titans share many similarities with Jötnar, despite the fact that their mythology is quite distinct from that of the Greco-Romans. However, the Jötnar have been dragged along with the wider European cultural milieu, and “giants” like Chronos and Atlas have come to share space (through the centuries) with the “giants” of Grimm’s tales. As a result, the original meaning of their name was overshadowed by its later connotations.

There are great and not so great giants in the world.

Indeed, some Jötnar were enormous, such as Ymir, who was so big that the gods used his corpse to build our entire universe. Thor spent the night in one of his gloves because a giant named Skrymir was so large that he told him that when he arrived at Utgard, he would encounter even larger giants.

Although Odin, Thor, Freyja, and Tyr were among the largest of the giants, there were many others who were smaller than these four. Giants are common ancestors among the gods. The gods frequently took giants as lovers, wives, or husbands. Thrymir and other giants attempted to court, marry, or even kidnap Freyja numerous times. meanwhile, Freyr was enamored with the giantess Gerr, the brother of Freyja. He even renounced his magical sword in order to compel her to become his wife.

As the gods occasionally do, there have been instances of giants mingling with human beings. Human heroes such as the Volsungs had a female Jötun in their genealogy, according to legend. There is no indication of an odd scale in several of Jötnar’s tales. In other cases, a deity or giant would have no problem changing their size or shape. Despite the fact that Jötnar might grow to enormous proportions, its size was not a crucial attribute of Jötnar. If you like this story don’t hesitate do go to this nordic mytholgy shop.

The Ice Giants:

As a general rule, the term “frost giant” or “ice giant” is used to describe Norse giants. It appears that the Edda in prose frequently refers to Jötnar as “hrimursar,” or “frost giants,” when describing them. But there’s more to the story than this.

Because giants were born from a confluence of fire and ice in the gaping vacuum at the dawn of time, and because they reside beyond the world of gods and humans, the relationship between giants and ice makes sense. The extreme cold was often associated with mortality and hardship for those who lived so closely to nature as the Vikings did. Glaciers and ice mountains encircled the Viking world’s habitable areas to the north. Jotunheim or Utgard, on the other hand, were rumored to be home to giants (meaning a place outside or beyond the boundaries of the worlds of humans and gods). A poem in the Eddic language depicts a hall at Utgard as follows:

Far from the sun, I noticed an enormous building.

The doors face north on the beaches of rotting corpses.’

Poisonous raindrops fall from the ceiling.

Snakes encircling the fortifications.

“(Voluspa, Verse 37, Crawford Translation 2015)

To be clear, not all gigantic beings are inherently “frozen giants,” despite their common connotations. Most dreaded is Surt, an enormously powerful fire god who would unleash a devastation on the world at Ragnarok. A passage in the Poetic Edda describes Thor slaying “lava giants” in addition to “ice giants,” and sometimes juxtaposes these two types of giants, as in the poem For Skirnis: “hear me, giants! While some of the giants depicted in this poem are depicted as lovely and bright, others are depicted as terrifying and dreadful. Indeed, the Jötnar is possibly the most diversified of all the monsters that haunted the Vikings’ imaginations..


Trolls are frequently mentioned in Viking literature, and the term appears to be used interchangeably with giants. It’s not uncommon to see the term “troll” used to describe a wide range of other things, as well. Because of its similarity to Norse mythology and Beowulf’s Anglo-Saxon roots, both Grendel and Hrolf Kraki’s flying dragon are referred to as “trolls” in various places. Traditional lore refers to wicked witches as Troll-Wives, rather than the revered (but still feared) seers and witches of Viking civilization. Trolls are represented as monsters who live in caves or behind waterfalls in certain sagas. A “troll” is a generic name for a variety of monsters and bad entities.

Walking through the woods and coming face to face with a troll

Modern people have a strong desire to categorize everything in their worldview, but the Vikings did not. The terms are consequently utilized in a much more fluid fashion. The term “troll” ultimately refers to the awful, cruel essence of a thing, not the “species” of the thing itself. Thus, while some giants are trolls, not all trolls are giants.


At the dawn of time, Odin and his two brothers killed the giant Ymir and created the world from his body. As usual, the motivations of a god are difficult to determine. Did Odin simply need Ymir’s death for the sake of creation? Or did the Alfather think that if Ymir continued to sire giants, all order in the universe would become impossible? Either way, when the three gods tore the giant to pieces, a vast flood of blood erupted. This blood became the blood of all the oceans of the world, and the torrent swept away all the giants – except for one family who escaped in a wooden ark. This giant was called Bergelmir, and all the other giants that followed were descended from him.

Odin and his brothers created the earth from Ymir’s corpse, his teeth and broken bones forming the stones and mountains, the great dome of his skull forming the sky, and even his thoughts forming the clouds – thin and wispy or dark and covering. They called this world Midgard (Middle-earth), and surrounded it with a mighty barrier made of Ymir’s lashes. They also created their own kingdom,. Asgard and Midgard (as well as several others of the nine worlds) became “innangard”, a place of protection where the gods ruled. Beyond this, as we have mentioned, were the places where the giants ruled – Jotunheim, Hel, and the other kingdoms that formed “utangard” or, as Utgard and utangard might be translated, “beyond the enclosure.

Chased into the darkness of Utgard, the Jötnar remembered a time when they ruled. Either out of a need for revenge or because – as Eddic’s poem says – they were truly “born of venom and therefore fierce and cruel”, the giants dream of a time when they will conquer Asgard and Midgard.

The time for them to unite and march against the gods will come in Ragnarok. In the meantime, many giants are trying their luck by plundering the territory of the gods. The bravest of them sometimes appear in Asgard, with a challenge or a ruse for the Aesir gods, or they come to terrify us mortals in Midgard. When the Vikings and other Nordic/Germanic peoples took shelter from the howling storms, they knew that it was Odin who led the gods in “the wild hunt” against the giants. When they saw the flash of thunder and lightning, they knew that Thor was striking the giants with his mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

Sometimes the gods and the giants live in an uneasy peace. Not only did the gods and giants often form marriages, liaisons and alliances, but there were even times when the giants were able to show some sympathy with the gods. For example, when the most beloved god, Baldr, died because of Loki’s betrayal, even the giants wept. But the peace never lasted long. Whether it was because the giants made incursions into Asgard, or because Odin or Thor ventured into Jotunheim on their adventures, the hostility between the giants and the gods was always maintained.

This enmity and this long-standing struggle will become a reality in Ragnarok (see article on this subject) (see article on this subject). There, the gods and the giants will destroy each other. Like the opposing forces of creation and chaos that they seem to be, they will cancel each other out, and oblivion will resume before the universe is – perhaps – born again.

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