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Sigyn: Lady of Oblation and Victory

About

Dagulf Loptson has been a devotee of Loki and the Northern Powers for over 20 years. He is a tattoo artist, with a focus on devotional tattoos for polytheists, and is the author of Playing With Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson through Asphodel Press.

Who is Sigyn?
As an interest in modern day Loki cultus has continued to rise, so too has an interest in Loki’s oft forgotten wife Sigyn. This isn’t entirely without reason, because there are ultimately only four major sources in which Sigyn is ever directly mentioned: Haustlöng, Lokasenna, Völuspá, and in Snorra Edda. She also seems to alluded to by an intriguing kenning in Þórsdrápa. Despite the lack of evidence regarding her, Sigyn has still managed to find a foothold within modern Heathenry, and has had a surprising amount to teach new devotees about duty, devotion, constancy, and sacrifice. In this article, I will examine the primary sources that exist regarding Sigyn, and will largely focus on my personal insights into the nature of this mysterious goddess and the role she could potentially play in reconstructive efforts.
Sources for Sigyn
The oldest existing written source for Sigyn is a passage quoted from the 9th century skaldic poem Haustlöng, recorded in Snorri’s Skáldskaparmál. Sigyn is mentioned in a kenning for Loki, Farmr Arma Sigvinjar, meaning “the burden of Sigyn’s arms”. “Arm burden” in turn is a kenning for a spouse. Though the reference is not direct, we can assume that it is also Sigyn who is being mentioned in the 10th century skaldic poem Þórsdrápa when Loki is called Farmr Arma Galdrs Hapts, meaning “the arm burden of the Galdr fetter”. “Fetter” in turn is a kenning for a deity according to Snorri in Skáldskaparmál[1]. Because of Sigyn’s connection to Loki from such an early poem, Rudolf Simek suggests that she may have belonged to a Germanic pantheon from earlier times who had perhaps diminished in importance by the Viking Age[2].

Sigyn also appears at the end of the Eddic poem Lokasenna in what has become her most iconic role as the devoted wife who shields her husband from an unending stream of venom:
puff-adder-1558232_640He was tied up with the guts of his son Nari. But Narfi, his other son, turned into a wolf. Skadi took a venomous snake and fastened it over Loki’s face. Venom dipped from it. Sigyn, Loki’s wife, watt her eand held a bowl under the venom. When the bowl was full, she carried off the venom; but in the meantime venom dripped on Loki. Then he had such violent spasms that the whole world shook as a result. These we now call earthquakes.[3]

 

Sigyn is first mentioned by Snorri Sturluson in Gylfaginning, echoing her description in Lokasenna:
Now Loki was captured without quarter and taken to a certain cave. Then they took three stone slabs and set them on edge and knocked a hole in each slab. Then Loki’s sons Vali and Nari or Narfi were fetched. The Æsir turned Vali into the form of a wolf and he tore his brother to pieces. Then the Æsir took his guts and bound Loki with them across the three stones – one under his shoulders, one under his loins, the third under the backs of his knees – and these bonds turned to iron. Then Skadi got a poisonous snake and fixed it up over him so that the poison would drip from the snake into his face. But his wife Sigyn stands next to him holding a basin under the drops of poison. And when the basin is full she goes and pours away the poison, but in the meantime the poison drips into his face. Then he jerks away so hard that the whole earth shakes. [4]

 

The only other mention she receives from Snorri is inclusion in a list of the Ásynjur in Skaldskaparmal.

The final mention of Sigyn appear in Voluspa, where she appears in a similar position to that found in Gylfaginning and Lokasenna:

 

  1. She saw a prisoner prostrate under Kettle-grove,

in the likeness of Loki, ever eager for harm;

there sits Sigyn, over her husband,

but she feels little glee; do you know yet, or what?[5]


           Aside from textual evidence, there is one possible piece of archeological evidence for Sigyn: The Gosforth Cross. This is an Anglo Saxon cross in the English county of Cumbria, which dates to the early 10th century. This cross is thought to contain carvings that depict the events of Ragnarök as described in Völuspá, including an image of what has been interpreted to be Sigyn holding a bowl over her bound husband.

 

Sigyn as the Goddess of Gladr and Victory
Though the brief mention of Sigyn in the surviving lore hardly paints her in a victorious guise, it is interesting to note that Sigyn’s name is derived from sigr (“victory”) and vina (“girl-friend”). Her potential kenning in Þórsdrápa, Galdr Hapt , also hints at a more influential goddess than what surviving lore has presented, as it means “galdr deity” or “galdr goddess”. As Snorri lists Sigyn among the Ásynjur, it seems most logical to me to place her lineage among the Æsir gods, though her parantage is never revealed. Due to her association with both Galdr and victory, it is my own theory that she is most likely the daughter of the god who rules both: Óðinn.

Óðinn’s kenning of Sigfoðr (father of victory) could be considered quite literal in this sense, and Völsunga saga demonstrates that many of Óðinn’s children and descendants were granted the title of sig in their names (Sigi, Signy, Sigmundr, and Sigurðr serve as examples). As Óðinn is the god most closely associated with the magical art of galdr, it doesn´t seem unreasonable that one of Óðinn’s children should be the patron or personification of this art; just as his son Bragi is considered either the patron or personification of poetry. If Sigyn is truly Óðinn’s daughter, her marriage to Loki could well be explained as a means to solidify Óðinn’s blood-brother´s ties to the Æsir clan, as marriage was (and still is) used to link clans together in many societies. This rationale also appears in the Völsunga saga, where Sigurðr becomes the blood-brother of Gunnar, in order to further solidify his marriage vows to Gunnar’s sister, Gudrun:

 

           Gunnar spoke: ‘We want to do everything to encourage you to stay here a long time. We will offer a position of authority and our sister’s hand, and no one else would receive those things even if he were to ask for them.’ Sigurd answered: ‘Be thanked for this honor. I shall accept.’

            They now swore a pact of brotherhood, as if they were brothers born of the same parents.[6]


These associations potentially begin to flesh out Sigyn’s character a bit more than the sources that have been left to us. She is a goddess who potentially is a bringer of victory, and perhaps through her patronage of Galdr: the art of speaking magical spells or incantations.

 

Sigyn as the Goddess of Sacrifice
None of the gods and goddesses are partners arbitrarily, and I think each partnership speaks to a symbolic, symbiotic relationship. Þórr is the bringer of the rain, who impregnates his wife Sif (possibly symbolic of the wheat field). Gerðr the frost giantess is wed by Freyr, the god of fertility, perhaps as an allusion to the frozen earth being warmed and made ready for planting and harvest. So what is the purpose behind Loki’s partnership to a goddess of victory and galdr? My answer to this question is one in which Loki must be understood as the god of cremation and sacrificial fire specifically. I have already written about Loki’s role as such in great detail, both in my book Playing With Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson, and in my articles A New Place for Loki: Part I and II at Polytheist.com. If you are unfamiliar with this understanding of Loki, I would suggest reading one of those sources alongside this one.
A partnership that closely resembles the one I think we can find between Loki and Sigyn is that between Agni, the Vedic god of sacrificial fire, and his wife Svāhā. Svāhā is word that means “oblation”, “well said”, and is also the name of a goddess. Svāhā is the goddess of libations, which are poured out over Agni’s flames to make offerings to the gods. Svāhā’s name is chanted by both priests and housewives who cook the daily food, as they throw oblations of ghee and rice into Agni’s flames as sacrifices to the gods.[7]

The logic behind yajna, or Vedic fire rituals of sacrifice, largely resemble the concept of “gift for gift” in modern Heathenry. Offerings are burned in Agni’s fire, which allows the essence of those offerings to ascend into the heavens and be received by the gods. In turn, the gods send their power back down to earth in order to answer the request made by the devotee making the sacrifice.

Placing Loki and Sigyn in this context dramatically changes the familiar image of a woman holding a bowl over her husband: the fire god. In fact, the description of a blót in Saga Hákonar góða (if we accept that this account is trustworthy) tells us that sacrificial oblations were hallowed by holding them in a bowl over a fire and speaking blessings over them:
There should be fires in the midst of the temple floor and thereover should hang kettles; they should carry bowls to the fire and he who was making the offering and was chief should bless the bowl and all the flesh, but he should first bless Odin’s bowl (which should be drunk for the king’s victory and power) and afterwards the bowls of Niord and Frey for good seasons and peace.[8]
In this context, perhaps we can imagine Sigyn holding her bowl over Loki as the goddess of galdr, who chants the right spells or prayers to the gods as she holds offerings over the sacred fire, thus winning victory for the devotee who mimics her actions through the act of sacrifice. Likewise, the guts of Loki’s son being used to bind him could represent the offal that was offered to the gods during sacrifice, thus binding the sacred fire to one specific place. It could be that the three rocks that were said to bind Loki as being representative of the hörgr, or sacrificial altar constructed of stones as described in Hyndluljóð:

  1. He made me a high altar of heaped-up stones:

The gathered rocks have turned to glass,

And he reddened them anew with fresh cattle-blood;

Óttar has always had faith in goddesses.[9]
If this interpretation is correct, perhaps it was only after the Christian conversion that Sigyn and Loki were retranslated into figures that were bound in a torturous way: perhaps a symbolic binding and suppression of the sacred act of fire sacrifice.
Sigyn’s ability to effect and determine the future through the power of her incantations ties Sigyn to the concept of fate, much like many of the Northern Goddesses. Sigyn’s connection to fate and her ability to affect it will be discussed further in the next section.

 

Sigyn as a Goddess of Fate
In The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Germanic Culture, one of the better known books regarding the Germanic concept of fate and time, Bauschatz makes a case for the Anglo Saxon ritual of sumble and the myth of Beowulf as containing symbolic elements representative of the Well of Úrðr. Úrðr can be thought of as the well containing all past events, which have a direct effect on the formation of the future (much like the Vedic idea of Karma). Many of the reoccurring symbols he ties to Úrðr are vessels (such as bowls or drinking horns, or enclosed spaces symbolic of the well itself), weaving (as the Norns were connected to the act of weaving), and serpents or dragons (as found in the well of Hvergelmir, which Bauschatz equates with the well of Úrðr, along with Mimir´s Well). These elements of Úrðr also appear in the story of Loki’s binding as presented in Lokasenna and Gylfaginning: ropes made from Loki and Sigyn’s dead son are used to bind Loki in a cave to three stones, adding the element of binding or weaving. This is performed in a cave, itself a possible symbolic vessel to indicate the Well of Úrðr. A woman of power also accompanies this image, perhaps as an embodiment of destiny. She holds up a bowl, also symbolic of Úðr´s Well, which catches the venom of a snake: perhaps mirroring the serpents that were said to fill Hvergelmir:
It is interesting to note that she seems to be placed in the iconic role of a goddess of destiny holding a vessel that could be thought to represent Úrðabrunnir. This could alude to her role in the final destiny of the gods at Ragnarök. I also think it could point to the power that Sigyn as a goddess of oblation and victory has to effect one’s destiny if they mimic her act of sacred offering.

Because Sigyn is related to ideas of victory (and potentially the achievement of future victory through galdr and ritual), it is the personal UPG of Michelle Burgess, a modern devotee of Sigyn that Sigyn’s unnamed mother is one of the Norns and specifically Skuld. According to Snorri, Skuld is the youngest of the Nornir who accompanies the Valkyries to the battlefield to either determine victory or doom for the assembled warriors. Her name is thought to mean, “should be”, or “debt”: potentially a fitting mother for a goddess who is able to affect one’s future victories. Again, there is no existing evidence to support this, and this conclusion has largely been reached through a combination of symbolic association and personal, devotional practice.

 

Sigyn and Loki in the Kettle Grove
To add a further layer to the complex symbolism taking place in Loki’s binding, we can’t forget the specific place where Loki has been bound, which according to Vóluspá is in the “kettle grove”. The kettle grove has been thought to be a kenning for a hot spring. If we accept that Loki is the embodiment of sacrificial fire and perhaps even chthonic fire, he could be thought of as the fire that is bound under the earth that creates the hot springs. Sigyn’s own connection to the hot springs could be revealed by the type of vessel she uses to catch the stream of venom. In both Lokasenna and Gylfaginning, the world used to describe her vessel is mundlaug, which translates to “wash basin” and is composed of the words munnr (“mouth) and laug (“bath” or “hotspring”). When I was in Iceland, I had a chance to visit Laugadalur: the hot spring that was traditionally used by the women of the area to wash their clothing in the hot water. Perhaps Sigyn’s role of tending her husband the fire in the kettle grove has been equated to the washerwomen who visited the hot springs to do their cleaning.
However, it is possible that there is yet another layer of symbolism encoded in the kettle grove. In Saga Hákonar góða, Snorri tells us that the in blót, sacrifices were boiled in kettles, and bowls of this oblation were held over fires while blessings were spoken over them. The kettle groves could be an allusion to a hot spring, or perhaps the “kettle grove” in question refers to the place of sacrifice where literal kettles were used to cook the sacrificial animals for the community feast. In either case, the modern Loki or Sigyn devotee might begin to consider the hot springs as places of sacred significance to these two deities, whether in a literal sense or as symbols for the places of sacrifice where kettles were hung.

 

Sigyn’s lessons for us today
Today, many people are rediscovering Sigyn as a goddess who has lessons to teach about loyalty, endurance, and sacred duty. Whether you choose to take the story of Sigyn’s sacrifice at face value or as symbolic of an older ritual action, she has much to teach about duty and devotion. As a devotee of Loki, I realized rather recently that Sigyn herself is the embodiment of the ultimate devotee of Loki. I have much to learn from her example.

It is my opinion that Sigyn and Loki are also urging modern devotees to take up the lost art of fire oblation and sacrifice. This is a practice that we know the ancient Germanic people practiced, but exactly how it was practiced is still largely a mystery. The art of sacrifice by fire is the spiritual technology through which the power of a burnt offering can be transmitted to the gods so it can be returned to us on Midgard in the form of victory towards our goals. Much can be learned about this art from the story of Loki and Sigyn, which may possess many important hints about how this art was (and still could be) performed.

 


Further Sources:

Sigyn: Lady of the Staying Power by Galina Krasskova

Honoring Sigyn: Revised and Expanded by Galina Krasskova

The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture by Paul C. Bauschatz

Playing With Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson by Dagulf Loptson

A New Place for Loki: Part I by Dagulf Loptson
(http://polytheist.com/orgrandr-lokean/2014/09/17/a-new-place-for-loki-part-i/)

A New Place for Loki: Part II by Dagulf Loptson
(http://polytheist.com/orgrandr-lokean/2014/09/23/a-new-place-for-loki-part-ii/)

 

Bibliography

 Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. Tr. Smith, A.H. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1990

The Saga of the Volsungs. Tr. Byock, Jesse L. Penguin Classics, 1999

The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. Tr. Orchard, Andy. Penguin Classics, 2011

Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S Brewer, Cambridge, 2007 

Storl, Wolf-Dieter. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT, 2004

 

[1] Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Tr. Faulkes, Anthony. 88

[2] Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 284

[3] Orchard, Andy. The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. 96

[4] Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Tr. Faulkes, Anthony. 52

[5] Orchard, Andy. The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. 10

[6] The Saga of the Volsungs. Tr. Byock, Jesse L. (Penguin Classics, 1999) 79

[7] Storl, Wolf-Dieter. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. 155-156

[8] Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. 87

[9] Orchard, Andy. The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. 251

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