It’s a sunny, crisp winter day. The ground is laden with fresh snow. Between two sprawling yew trees a God appears, traveling on skis carved with runes. He is dressed in fur-trimmed hunting clothes, possibly Finnish in design. He is radiant and beautiful. He carries a quiver on his back and a hunting knife on his hip. As he draws back his bow, rows of thick arm-rings catch the sun and glint a burnished gold.
Who is this unknown ski-wearing hunting God? This is Ullr. Though similar in some respects to Skadi and the Finnish hunting God Taipo, Ullr is his own entity, and old and powerful god in the Norse pantheon.
First, the Lore; then on to modern day Ullr worship.
Though not as well known to modern Heathens as many of the other Norse deities, Ullr is well represented in the archaeology and mythology of the Scandinavian lands. He shows up in many of the major works of Old Norse literature as well as in many place names and in archaeological finds. He appears to have been a very important god back in the day.
Unfortunately, Ullr does not play an active role in any of the extant myths, so aside from a few mentions in the Lore, we have only what Snorri Sturluson tells us and what archaeology has uncovered. Snorri summarizes much of what we know about Ullr in the Gylfaginning (Prose Edda):
Ull is the name of one, son of Sif, stepson of Thor. He is such a good archer and skier that no one can compete with him. He is also beautiful in appearance and has a warrior’s accomplishments. He is a good one to pray to in single combat. (Faulkes translation)
As with all of the other Gods, Ullr has his own hall. Ullr’s hall is called Ýdalir (the Yew Dales). This may be due to his association with archery, as yew wood was prized for making bows.
Ullr also shows up in the Gesta Danorum (”Deeds of the Danes”, written by Saxo Grammaticus). In this work he is known as “Ollerus”, a magic-worker—not unlike Odin, whom he replaces as King of the Gods for a period of time. In this work, he travels using a magical bone marked with spells, rather than a boat. (Perhaps this is a reference to the skis he uses.)
One of the archeological artifacts attributed to Ullr due to Snorri’s description is the Böksta Runestone from Uppland, Sweden. This stone portrays a figured on skis with a bow; archaeologists assume that he is a representation of Ullr.
Several places in the lore also connect Ullr with oath-rings. In the Atlakviða, one of the epic poems in the Poetic Edda (about Attila the Hun, of all things), the oath-ring is called “Ullr’s ring”. Archaeologists have also dug up a site called Lille Ullevi (“Ullr’s little shine”). The place-name rang true, and they uncovered a temple dedicated to Ullr with over 6o rings found at the site that had been left as offerings.
What’s In A Name?
As far as scholars have been able to tell, Ullr’s name comes from the reconstructed proto-Germanic word *Wulþuz, which means something like “glorious, bright, shining”. This echoes Snorri’s description of him; in the old Norse mindset, anything beautiful—a woman’s arms; gold; a person’s face—was described as being bright or shining.
Ullr ‘s name is used in several kennings throughout the Lore. “Ullr’s Ship” is another way of saying “shield”, and “Ullr almsíma” (Ullr of bowstring) and “Ullr brands” (Ullr of the sword) both are meant to mean “warrior”. An oath ring is called “Ullr’s ring”. Another artifact, the Thorsberg chape (a bronze piece that would have been attached to a sword scabbard, from Germany), has an inscription that reads “Owlþuþewaz niwajmariz”. This is a personal name that translates roughly to “servant of Ullr/the glorious one”—another connection between Ullr and warriors.
His name also shows up in surviving place names across both Sweden and Norway. For example, Ullevi (“Ullr’s sanctuary”) in Västergötland, Sweden and Ullern (Ullarvin) (“Ullr’s meadow”) near Oslo, Norway. A scholar of Icelandic literature, Turville-Petra, points out that Ullr-related place names sometimes appear near place names referencing the gods as a whole, for example names “Ullarfoss” (Ullr’s waterfall) near “Goðafoss” (the gods’ waterfall) in Iceland. ) Granted, however, as his name means “shining”, “Ull” could also just be used as an adjective describing these locations.)
Ullr In The Modern World
Knowing the lore and history of a God is only half of the work, however. How do we honor Him in the modern day?
Ullr is clearly a god of hunters and archers. Before you go out on a hunt, make an offering to him for success. Like Skadi, he may also be able to help you survive wilderness treks. Ullr is a god of single combat. His power would lend itself well to anyone who duels, such as martial artists, fencers, SCA fighters, or MMA contestants. He might even be able to help out those who are facing unusually strenuous and important challenges in other areas of life, as well.
Jagermeister, which translates to “master hunter”, is a popular offering for him. Other appropriate alcoholic offerings could be vodka, akavit, and peppermint schnapps. If you are a hunter, offer up a portion of whatever it is that you have killed. Time spent out in the wild, enjoying your favorite winter sport, is also an offering to Him, and will likely help you feel closer to Him.
Ullr is just as much as god of skiers. Oddly enough, Ullr has gained a huge popularity in the last few decades—and not with Heathens. The Winter Sports community has claimed Him as one of their own, honoring Him as the God of Skiing, and, by extension, the God of all Winter Sports. This coming winter will be Breckenridge, Colorado’s 55th Ullrfest. He is honored at this festival so as to bring more snow for all of the sports as well as for individuals’ success in the competitions. This festival also apparently honors drinking, which is perfect for Viking deities and skiers. (Apparently, during the celebrations, bottles of alcohol and broken ski equipment are burned as an offering to the god.)
On a pop culture level, Ullr has also been immortalized in a New Zealand TV comedy called The Almighty Johnsons, in which Norse gods have traveled to New Zealand and are reincarnated in human form. Ullr is hosted by the oldest of the four brothers in the show, with Odin, Bragi, and Höðr being the hosted by the other three brothers. (Mike Johnson, the character who hosts Ullr, gains a version of Ullr’s powers–he is to always find his quarry and win any game or sport he tries.) Though some might see the show as being disrespectful, I find it a great way to spread the knowledge of our Gods and help them get the attention they deserve. (It’s also a hilarious show, especially if you are familiar with the Lore. Highly recommended.)
On a personal level, I come at my relationship with Ullr through my work with Freyr. As Freyr goes down into the mound at winter, who replaces Him? When you can’t farm, you go out and hunt. A god of the forest, kingship, prosperity–Ullr can be all of these, but in a “winter” way. Ullr is Thor’s stepson, so he is counted as one of the Aesir, but as the location of the many Ullr’s place-names is physically near several of Freyr’s place-names, there may be a Vanir connection as well. I’m not really an outdoor sports type of person (particularly in winter) or involved in any physically competitive activities, but I have found that if try to connect to Ullr as I would to Freyr–sensing the abundance in Him, His connection with the natural world, and a sense of leadership–I can find Him much easier.
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http://viking.archeurope.info/index.php?page=lilla-ullevi . “Lilla Ullevi“. An entry on the Ullr Shrine archaeological site.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ullr. “Ullr”. A great academic -centric entry for basic info on Ullr.
“Other Gods”. Our Troth, Vol 1: The Lore, ed. Kveldulf Gundarsson (2006). pp. 285-289. A great entry on the lore and UPG for Ullr.
http://www.koshabq.org/2011/11/24/approaching-ullr/. “Approaching Ullr”. A great, extensive Heathen-authored article on Ullr.
http://ydalir.ca/norsegods/ullr/. “Ullr”. Another great Heathen-authored article on Ullr.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorsberg_chape. “Thorsberg Chape”.
http://www.gobreck.com/ullr-fest. Official website for the Breckenridge Ullrfest.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1752076/?ref_=ttfc_ql. “The Almighty Johnsons”.