Frost Giants of Norse Mythology

Frost Giants of Norse Mythology

It is common to hear the Norse giants referred to as frost giants or ice giants.  The Prose Edda seems to refer to Jötnar as frost giants (hrimþursar) much of the time.  This is only part of the story, though. 

The association between giants and ice is understandable considering that the giants first arose from the meeting of fire and ice in the yawning void at the dawn of time and because the giants live beyond the realm of gods and mortals.  People living as close to nature as Vikings did usually associated intense cold with death and hardship.  The inhabited parts of the Viking world were hemmed by glaciers and frozen mountains.  Meanwhile, the Giants were said to live in Jotunheim or Utgard (which means a place outside or beyond the boundaries of the worlds of humans and gods).  One Eddic poem describes a hall in Utgard this way:

I saw a hall that stands far from the sun
On the beaches of corpses the doors face north
Drops of poison fall from the roof
The walls are encircled by serpents

(Voluspa, verse 37, Crawford’s 2015 translation)

Despite these associations with cold and ice, not all giants are “frost giants” as such.  One of the most feared giants of all is Surt, a massive being of fire that will bring great destruction to the world at Ragnarok.  The Poetic Edda mentions Thor killing “lava giants” as well as frost giants, and sometimes presents them in juxtaposition, as in the poem For Skirnis: “hear me, giants, hear me, frost-trolls, hear me, fire-trolls!”  In this same poem, some giants are presented as radiantly beautiful, while others are ghastly and horrifying.  Indeed, the Jötnar may be the most diverse of all the beings that haunt the Viking imagination.

Source: Sons of Vikings

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