On the “handmaidens,” my distate for the term, and Sif

In order to go into more detail about my relationship with Sif, which is blossoming and which I intend to do on this blog, I first have to share something about Frigga’s “Handmaidens.”

First of all, I believe there is no foundation in the lore to call them handmaidens whatsoever. They are simply listed as goddesses in a list that includes Freyja right in the middle, but doesn’t include other notable goddesses such as Idunna and Sif. If the twelve lesser-known goddesses were considered some kind of group of Frigga’s handmaidens, it seems to me that they would have been listed as such in the Gylfaginning. Why stick Freyja right in the middle? I happen to believe that this grouping is just a modern way of dismissing the individuality of these goddesses. How many places online are they only mentioned as “Frigga’s Handmaidens,” their individuality forgotten? Conversely, how many places are they talked about as if going through each one and meeting her in trance (sometimes one per month for a year) is some way to explore femininity in heathenry as some kind of exercise in getting in touch with your femininity? In any case, they are treated as a group, always, for no reason that I can ascertain. As Lofnbard says, “This is in fact purely a modern convention of Norse Paganism and Heathenry, framing them as minor Goddesses because they are almost ignored in the lore.”

Furthermore, I cannot figure out where anyone has found evidence that all of these goddesses are necessarily tied to Frigga. Sure, Fulla and Gefjion have cases to be made, but what about the rest? I would love to be proved wrong on this if anyone can find me a lore reference that shows that most of these goddesses have a closer relationship with Frigga than with anyone else in particular. Where does this come from?

Alright, so back to Sif. What does Sif have to do with the “handmaidens”?

Once upon a time, after reading the list of goddesses in Gylfaginning, or perhaps after reading Alice Karlsdottir’s book on the “handmaidens”, I decided to dedicate an altar to Sjofn, who seemed like a goddess I would get along with very well, given that she is the goddess who turns the mind to love. Her name means affection. So, I made her an altar. For whatever reason, I had the sense that she liked tea, so I put a pretty teacup on her altar where I made offerings of tea. I also had this strange notion that she liked Baroque things more than the older, simpler Germanic ones. She seemed to like how golden they were, and how beautifully made. One night, while trying to learn more about her, it came into my head that I should learn about her through her husband. “Husband? You have a husband?” “Of course I do, silly,” was the sort of answer, and then my mind fell immediately on Thor.

Of course the idea that Thor and Sjofn had any kind of marriage was ridiculous, so I put it out of my mind a bit. Then a few people I talked to also mentioned that they have found Sif likes tea and baroque things and polite society and everything, and it seemed perhaps a bit less far-fetched. So I went back to the primary sources and dug and dug, and found that Sif is not included in the list of goddesses where Sjofn’s name is found. So couldn’t Sjofn could be another name for Sif? It’s very common to say that all of the lesser-known goddesses are by-names of Frigga, but why not Sif? Sif’s name means relation, Sjofn’s means affection. Could these not be the same goddess? Sif is a peace-keeper among the family, which seems to me to be just one method of turning the mind to love.

And so I consider Sif and Sjofn to be one and the same and treat them as such. My altar to Sif includes hearts and tea and my worship of Sjofn references Thor. I honor her by keeping the peace in my family, by looking for the positives in the loss of my long hair, and by turning my mind to love.

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7 thoughts on “On the “handmaidens,” my distate for the term, and Sif

  1. Interesting! I’m glad to hear my blog was of use to you, and if you’ve checked out Sjofn’s shrine page, you’ll see I also have gnosis of tea parties at the top of the list for her offerings. We now have some corroborated personal gnosis! Yay for CPG! 😀

    In support of your gnosis, I’d like to mention the little known Nafnathulur. If you count the Norns and Eir (who is listed among the Valkyries rather than the Asynjur) there are 33 goddesses listed there. The list is quite complete, but Sif is oddly absent from it. It’s a most glaring omission, so either Snorri was drunk, or Sif is listed under another name.

    As you know, I think of the Ladies as Frigga’s Court: Twelve Ladies under Queen Frigga, just as Odin has twelve gods, with Freya as foreign royalty not under her direct command. The two separate courts seem to be implied by Snorri. Their domains don’t often overlap, as can be seen from their absence in the god stories.

    The reason I see them as unmarried is a matter of divided loyalty. If Odin says X and Frigga says Y, who would Sjofn follow? While I have a different story for Sjofn, I do find the idea of her as Sif intriguing and will ponder it. I don’t feel the need to have one story or the other be the “winner.” There are multiple stories of Aphrodite’s birth, they all have value, and none needs to be declared true while the others are made false. Paradox is part of polytheism, and I welcome any further gnosis and stories you might share on Sif/Sjofn. Cause I love her and she needs more stories. Also, she definitely needs more tea and crumpets. 😉

    • Yay for CPG!

      That’s so interesting that Sif is also absent from Nafnathulur. Did he perhaps not think of Sif as a goddess at all? I tried to find the Nafnathulur, but I wasn’t able to find a complete version. Do you have a source where I could find it?

      Yes, I can understand the idea of all the goddesses being “under” Frigga, since she’s the Queen and all, I just think the term “handmaidens” to modern ears sounds like they’re just servants, which I don’t think is true more than the extent that average people would be servants of their King or Queen. I also tend to find it a little sexist that people are constantly referring to these goddesses as Frigga’s servants while almost never referring to the fact that the gods are servants of Odin. But alas, we all have our little pet peeves, don’t we? I certainly don’t begrudge you focusing on a different aspect of the god(desse)s relationships to one another than I do.

      I think divided loyalty is likely to happen frequently in Asgard, with so many strong-minded gods with complicated relationships. I also think if she’s unmarried and married to Thor, that’s a totally acceptable paradox. Polytheism is confusing. It’s also possible that they were the same in one geographical area or time and totally separate in another.

      Tea and crumpets!

  2. I couldn’t find a single English source still online for the Nafnathulur so I posted what I had, for your benefit and anyone else who may need it: http://lofnbard.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/nafnathulur-english/

    Part of my interest in the unmarried Ladies of Asgard is to find any queer goddesses. It seems unlikely they’d all be perfectly heterosexual, but at the same time any variance would certainly have been erased by monks. I’ve explored Fulla’s relationship to Frigga at length in Fulla’s shrine page on my blog, looking at how suggestive her text is if you think about it and know something of old folk traditions. Lofn (as goddess of forbidden loves) is another obvious candidate for being queer, and my UPG is of her being in a relationship with Sjofn. Alice Karlsdottir’s trance experience indicated that Sjofn was in charge of “close friendships between women”, which is exactly what I’d expect a straight woman to get from a queer goddess: We get what we can relate to and is meaningful to us. For instance, we know Freya’s fond of all forms of love and sexuality, that she’s slept with her brother, yet I’ve *never* seen anyone even allude to anything beyond heterosexuality concerning her (aside from ergi men doing seithr). Maybe that’s outside her domain, I’ve never managed close relations with her so I don’t know.

    That aside, I also believe Lofn and Sjofn are both Ljoss-Alfar, and was wondering if you’d had any indications of that in relating to Sif as Sjofn. The stories I got start in their youth and only extend to shortly after their arrival in Asgard. Their preceding adventure really strained their relationship, so it’s not inconceivable that Sjofn might marry Thor and have a child (Thrud) with him. We might both be right, and get different parts due to our personal bias. I can’t really relate to hetero couples so those are harder for me to get. I’m also less interested in writing about about them. 😉

    Discussing UPG is a lot like the story of blind men describing an elephant. “It’s like a tree trunk!” (the leg). “It’s a long thin whip!” (the tail). “It’s a wall!” (the flank). “It’s like a boneless arm with a hole at the end!” (the trunk). Hopefully we can together assemble a better picture of the whole.

    • Yes, I was thinking yesterday of what you had said and thought that there was no reason we couldn’t both be right. Sif’s ancestry is unknown, so I had always assumed she married into Asgard. I had it kind of in the back of my head she came from Jotunheim, but not for any real reason whatsoever. It seems just as likely she came from the Ljoss-Alfar. I have no relationship whatsoever with the alfar, so it’s not something I would be likely to pick up on my own. And besides that, I very rarely get stories from the gods. They don’t tell me their histories or anything. I’m a dancer, not a writer, so I get different kinds of things-impressions of places and feelings, occasionally advice, but nothing with the kind of detail of the stories you write.

      As for a relationship with Lofn, I had a friend who once told me that in much of history, females having a sexual relationship with one another was often alluded to as a “close friendship” and was kept behind closed doors but also considered just something ladies sometimes did with each other. So it’s not inconceivable to me that Sif also has a relationship with Lofn in addition to/before Thor, and that they keep each other’s company while he’s away giant hunting.I do seem to recall Alice Karlsdottir saying she saw Sjofn as brunette and fairly plain-looking, but adding on that she’s Sif, she’s clearly beautiful and golden-haired. My relationship with Sif has more to do with family in general and hair than with Thor, but still, I hail him on her behalf. I definitely know what you mean about Freyja, it’s my relationship with her that seems very relevant to my marriage. She’s pretty straight. I have never thought that Sif’s relationship to Thor was a passionate love affair, just that they suit one another well–she calms down his storminess, so there is also no reason why her passion couldn’t be reserved for Lofn. Maybe her marriage to Thor kept the peace somehow…

      I do think you have something with Sjofn and Lofn, though. I’m extremely heterosexual, and I tried briefly to have a relationship with Lofn because I sensed a connection with Sjofn, but didn’t get anywhere with her really, mainly because my relationship with my husband is condoned by society, so she didn’t find me interesting. Which makes sense. But then if Sjofn is bisexual, it would also help her see other people’s points of view and turn the minds to love because she would have experienced both types of relationships, walked a mile in everyone’s shoes and all that.

      It’s fun trying to piece things all together. 🙂

  3. I think it’s important that we have dancers, writers, drummers, cooks. We need a variety of people as no one can do everything. You can get stuff I can’t and vice versa. I sing, but I don’t dance much. I really think you and Gefjon would get along, she loves dancing, and I really wish someone would work on sacred dances for our gods. The spiral dance and its grapevine step… ugh… I can’t stand them anymore. I want some real dances with actual moves and actual steps. I’ve taken a few semesters of belly dance, and that’s essentially what I saw in Gefjon’s story when she seduced King Gylfi into giving her as much land as she could plough in a day and night. There was a lot more stomping, however, because she has ankle bells rather than waist bells. I’ve worked more on drumming with Gerda: she knows the rhythms of earth and land. I’m not much of a drummer, much more a word person, but I’m doing my best!

    I myself see Lofn with dark brown hair, and Sjofn with light brown or blonde. Getting clear visuals isn’t easy, though I did try to draw Sjofn and posted my result on Facebook. And yes, they could be lovers on the side. I don’t know these sorts things until the story’s written. I think it’s funny you say she calms down his storminess. In the story I have, Lofn is the risk taker, the impulsive one always taking a chance, leading with optimistic leaps of faith and gambling everything. She is, however, not the best at risk assessment, to put it lightly. Sjofn is the cool level-headed one in the couple. At their worst, Lofn is callous in disregarding consequences to others while achieving her goals, while Sjofn becomes cold, detached, rational and uncaring. Thus Lofn understands and helps those who’ve lost their heart in trying to achieve their obsession, while Sjofn understands those who’ve frozen their hearts to not feel pain and betrayal.

    I never got a sense of Sjofn being exclusively into women. She falls in love with people, not genders, so is ideal to help with all sorts of relationships as you say. With Lofn isn’t not that she can’t be sexually attracted to men, it’s that she doesn’t feel romantically attracted to them. It’s just sex, not love. Frigga is bi, she is the All-Mother and thus All-Loving. Gna prefers men, but she’s on the road a lot and hey, company is company. She takes what loving she can get, knowing she likely won’t be passing that way again. Fulla is the only one of all the goddesses I know who seems repulsed by the idea of sex with men, the only true lesbian as such.

    I told my girlfriend tonight a bit about our conversation, relaying your sense that Sjofn is married to a guy. Her answer: “Yeah, but I bet it’s a girly guy.” I laughed! “It’s Thor, not so girly. Then again he *does* crossdress in the myths.” “See!” she answered. LOL!

    Now if you want to get Lofn’s interest, try inviting her to a games night. She loves games! She’s not necessarily good at them, but she does enjoy them a lot. It goes without saying that any sort of bedroom games are also appropriate, but one of the items I’ve dedicated to her is a set of RPG gaming dice. If it feels like it’s breaking some rule, she’ll like it. I normally cook from scratch with fresh ingredients for spirit suppers to the Ladies, but Lofn wanted me to break that rule and get fast food for hers: poutine (fries, gravy, cheese curds) and cola. And then we played Go Fish with one of us sitting in her seat to play for her. It was quite funny, because the woman in her seat acted very unlike herself and couldn’t quite remember how to play this game she knew well.

    • Hmm…you have an interesting point about there being a lack of interesting dances. Perhaps I will choreograph some and post some tutorial videos one of these days. I have a little gestural dance I often do while using Sigrdrifa’s prayer. I do think I would like Gefjion, but I haven’t ever tried to contact her specifically. I’ll have to do that.

      LOL! Thor as a girly man. Somehow that brings to mind images of Arnold Swarzenegger saying “girly man.” Hilarious.

      Poutine is yummy! They have a “redneck” poutine at a restaurant by my place–it’s got Tater tots instead of fries and cheese wiz instead of curds. I don’t see any reason that some gods wouldn’t like yummy modern foods. There are definitely earth deities who would hate that, but not all the gods are earth gods. I think I read somewhere that Loki likes Mountain Dew, which also makes sense to me. (Plus! If Lofn is the goddess of forbidden love, then that very well might cover some people’s relationship with junk food–calling it a “guilty pleasure” and always talking about how they shouldn’t eat it, but they love it anyway. Funny.)

  4. Pingback: On Thor and Sif and Lofn | Flame in Bloom

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