We have all heard of Loki, the famous trickster of Norse mythology. His actions are legendary, and he is an integral part of Norse universe when it comes to popular culture. His wife,he married Sigyn, however, is not so famous, but she should be, mainly because she is entirely different from everything that most of the other Gods stand for.
She is not violent, she is not vengeful, and her life goal is not to die in Ragnarok once it comes. Her only idea and her single driving thought is the wellbeing of her family. If we can say that Freya, for its love of Baldr (and we will talk about that here), is the ultimate mother of Norse mythology, we can also say that Sigyn is the ultimate wife.
Meaning of the Name Sigyn
When it comes to the etymology of Sigyn’s name (pronunciation is Sigyn, but g is read as in glove), it is probably derived from words sigr meaning victory and vina for which the best translation is girlfriend or female friend. So, when we have that construct, the most logical possibility is that her name means a victorious girlfriend, or, according to some sources, a friend of victory. That probably has some basis in that Sigyn is not the only wife or girlfriend of Loki.
The most famous of all members of Sigyn’s family is Loki. Loki is the son of giant Farbauti and Laufey. He is a very controversial figure in Norse mythology. We already know that Hel, along with Fenrir, the Wolf, and Jormungadr, were children of Loki and giantess Angrbroda. He is also mentioned as a mother of eight-legged horse Sleipnir.
Loki and his offsprings
How a mother, you may ask?
Well, as a lot of Norse Gods, Loki was a shapeshifter, but he was probably the most famous shapeshifter of them all. He could take a form of a salmon, a fly, an older woman, and, as a mother of Sleipnir, a form of a mare.
After all of that, Loki probably left Angrbroda in Jotunheim to live with giants, her kin, and left for Asgard to live there among the Aesir. When he went there, he took himself an Aesir wife, Sigyn. Now, when it comes to their relationship, it was not unusual at all for Aesir Gods to have romantic relationships with giants. After all, most Aesir Gods had giants for their lovers. As a husband and wife, they sired two children – Vali and Narfi, but we will talk about their fates later.
Loki and Sigyn
The story of Loki and Sigyn is one of the most extraordinary tales of Norse mythology. It shows the fracturing of the Gods among themselves and the beginning of the eternal struggle between Loki and Aesir Gods.
It all starts with the story of Baldr.
Baldr had a dream that he was going to die, and since dreams are considered visions, his mother Frigg, who could be Freya as well, made everything in the world swear not to hurt him. The only thing that was left out from that oath was mistletoe. That could’ve happened either by accident or, more probably, because mistletoe was considered very unimportant and harmless for such a pledge.
Loki knew about that oath and knew that mistletoe wasn’t included, so one day Loki made a spear of mistletoe and went to the place where Gods spent their pastime, which consisted of hurling objects at Baldr knowing that none of those objects could hurt him. Loki waited at the side and gave the spear to Baldr’s blind brother Hodr, who unknowingly threw the spear at Baldr, instantly killing him and since he did not die in combat, Baldr was sent to Hel.
Of course, the Gods could not let this pass since Baldr was extremely beloved among them. Everyone who was part of this and connected to Loki in any way was punished, even Hodr was killed, and he didn’t even know that he was going to kill his brother with Loki’s spear. The greatest punishment, however, was imposed upon Loki and his and Sigyn’s family.
The first one punished for Loki’s evildoing were their sons Vali and Narfi, even though it seems that they as well didn’t take any part in the actual crime. Gods were ruthless. They turned Vali into wolf and stripped him of his senses. Then, Vali, in his wolf form, killed Narfi. After this, Gods tore Narfi’s body apart and took out his intestines. They then turned those intestines into chains.
Loki’s punishment could be considered even crueler. Loki was taken in a cave deep under the earth and was chained there. At this point, you can probably already guess which chains were used to fasten Loki. Of course, they used his son’s entrails. After that, they put snake over his head so the snake could drip venom on his forehead and cause him immeasurable pain.
Sigyn, the protagonist of this story, was not punished herself. That could be connected to the fact that she was one of the Aesir, and perhaps that was the reason that gods were a little bit more lenient towards her (although, the same didn’t apply to Hodr’s defense). The other theory is that she wasn’t punished because she is a woman. We probably won’t know which of these theories is true.
The fact that she wasn’t punished didn’t prevent Sigyn from remaining faithful to Loki. She remained at his side while he was chained. All that time, she kept a bowl in which she collected the venom that was dripping from the snake’s teeth. From time to time, she had to leave his place to pour the content of the bowl. During that time, the venom would drip on Loki’s head. The poison was very powerful, and it made him tremble and scream in agony. Loki’s screaming and trembling are said to be the origin of earthquakes in the human world, Midgard.
Loki’s suffering, like any mythological story, is not endless. It is said to end with Ragnarok when Loki is going to destroy his chains and join the fight against Aesir, where he will meet his fate in the battle against God Heimdallr where they will kill each other.
The Significance of Sigyn in Norse paganism
There are many archaeological proofs that Sigyn was, in fact, respected among common folk during the Viking era. Because of her sacrifice shown through remaining by Loki’s side while he was suffering, she became the Goddess of fidelity, nurturing, and grieving.
Primarily, she was honored by women. If someone was praying to Sigyn, he or she was usually in deep sadness or was heartbroken. Also, people who lost their children paid respects to Sigyn to keep them safe in the afterworld. She would not be a God that you would pray for seeking justice but the God to whom you would pray to achieve inner peace. She was usually represented as either a young, innocent bride, a grieving mother, or a nurturing mother, and that were three main aspects regarding Sigyn’s personality.
Depending on which of those personalities would someone want to pray, they would use either a white altar (innocent bride), a black altar (grieving mother), or mix a little bit of lavender onto it (nurturing mother). When it comes to offering, it goes as same as altars. It depends on which Sigyn’s personality you pray to. If it is to the bride, the offering should be cake or some other sweet which should be made by the one making the offering. To the nurturing or grieving mother, one should offer fresh milk and bread.
As we already know, most Norse Gods are men or at least favor the abilities and ideas that are, in general, connected to men. They are always strong, often violent, and do not give in to some thoughts that show anything that could be even by chance connected to weakness and female principles. That is why it’s interesting to see a character such is Sigyn. Everything about her exudes general femininity - her avoidance of physical conflict, her care, her nurturing, and ultimately, her sacrifice for the good of her family.
As we have already seen, in any folktale in Norse mythology, legends ring with the truth. There is always a lesson to be taken from them, and sagas of Sigyn are no different, for there is much to learn from her loyalty and commitment.
Sigyn is a Goddess that can be prayed not to seek justice but to find inner peace. Sigyn’s deeds continuously remind us that even in moments of agony and great pain, it is vital to keep your dignity. We must never let sufferings affect our doings, no matter how hard it might be. Sigyn taught us how to stay loyal to a cause, to kin, to a loved one, and for her, we must never forget those who have been unjustly wronged.
After all, this saga can remind us that you don’t have to be a strong warrior to be Viking. Sometimes, it’s enough to be a fierce mother and wife. Skål!