Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Ámgerðr

Ámgerðr is a jötunn attested in Nafnaþulur under the section “Tröllkonur” or “Troll-Wives.” This is a feminine name derived from Old Norse Ámr and gerd. Ámr means “black,” “loathsome,” “reddish brown,” and/or “dark.” Gerd, as many are already familiar with, means “enclosure” or “protection.”

Thanks to the Nafnaþulur, we have lists of many jötnar (also sometimes called thurses, trolls, or etins) who we have no additional stories or even kennings for. We know that many stories of entities whose stories weren’t widespread, who weren’t widely popular, or who otherwise didn’t play a major role in the primary “canon” of what would come to be known as the Viking religion (despite the fact that Scandinavia wouldn’t have had a universal or monolithic religion) have been lost.

Because of this, I do err on the side of assuming that the names presented in the Nafnaþulur record all that is left of deities and spirits who may have had regional but not geographically wide-spread importance, who may have played smaller roles in forgotten myths, or whose minor roles may have been edited out of surviving myths for the sake of simplicity. It is known that the regional variation and nuance of beliefs throughout pre-Christian Scandinavia was not preserved in the written record as Christianity spread, so it seems safe to assume that the memory many, many spirits, deities, and other entities were similarly not recorded.

Fenja och Menja vid Grottekvarnen by Carl Larsson and Gunnar Forssell. Two enslaved jötunn maids from Song of Grótti.

However—because some of the names listed provide so little context, and the greater context for the Nafnaþulur is of a list of name for various things, including gods and giants, that can be used in poetry, there are some which, due to the etymological similarities to others, I will assume are more adjective than name, such as Ámr, which is listed among the names of giants but is functionally identical in meaning to others listed such as Alsvartr. So bear with me, it’s a bit of a bumpy ride.

As is the case with almost all of these entities, with Ámgerðr we’re working strictly with what the etymology can tell us. The clearest part of that etymology is the aspect of enclosure or protection—she was likely associated with closed in places, just as Gerdr is associated with walled gardens. It’s safe to say that Ámgerðr is additionally associated with darkness or blackness of some variety—this could be a description of her complexion or it could be a reference to the kind of enclosure she’s associated with. Because Ámr has connotation of loathsomeness or unpleasantness, this could refer either to a location or type of enclosed space or to the personality of the jötunn in question.

I’m disinclined to believe “loathsome” necessarily refers to a character quality of Ámgerðr for a couple of reasons. It’s easy to imagine an enclosed place to be “loathsome” in nature. A dark, dank cave comes to mind, as does any form of imprisonment. In addition to this, however, the sagas on occasion do describe people—though typically men—of dark complexion, and tend to describe them as being rather physically unattractive. It’s important to note here that this isn’t portrayed as defining of their character, as these same individuals may be described as attracting plenty of praise, status, and romantic and sexual attraction as a result of their social status or accomplishments. So while the Norse did have ethnocentric beauty standards, their conception of race doesn’t appear to have been used as a reflection on the character or quality of individuals.1

For these reasons I lean toward interpreting Ámr here to reflect on something of a physical nature rather than character. The following is entirely speculative and should not be taken as hard fact: Ámgerðr may have been seen as a woman who was kept in a dark and unpleasant enclosed space of some kind, or who preceded over an enclosed space. She may or may not have been envisioned as someone of darker complexion. Without projecting modern American concepts of race onto the situation, it may be possible to imagine Ámgerðr as being associated with slaves or thralls, living in unpleasant, cramped, and dark living conditions.2 The conception of the class of thralls by Heimdall under the name Rig is described in Rígsmál, and the child who in this story is the the first of the class of thralls is described as “swarthy” or “dark.” So, though slaves and thralls were not determined by the color of their skin, and plenty of slaves in Viking and pre-Viking eras were just as white as the people at the top of the social hierarchy, it may not be too far a stretch to consider that “dark” in Ámgerðr’s name could carry with it an old social stereotype along these lines as well.3

“Rig in Great-grandfather’s Cottage” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood. Rig laid between Great-grandfather and Great-grandmother in this story, and nine months later Great-grandmother gave birth to a strong boy they named Þræll, who would father the class of thralls, serfs, or slaves.

I will remind you that all of this is my speculation based on my research and inferences. If any of this doesn’t feel correct to your own intuition, feel free to disregard it. At this point in our history, we don’t have Ámgerðr’s stories and lore, and no one person can claim to definitively know more about her than what little can be gleaned from her name.

That said, the ritual I’ve designed here rests on these inferences and my intuition. Please feel free to modify accordingly if your intuition tells you something different about Ámgerðr—these rituals are designed to be easily modified, and I encourage you to follow your intuition if it takes you in a different direction than mine.

As with all of these jötnar whose stories have been lost to us, I suggest a safe offering of mead, beer, wine, or liquor. If for any reason any of these aren’t available or safe for you personally, substitute simple buttered bread. This has a strong metaphorical resonance of nourishment and sustenance, and so makes another safe option for just about any entity. You can also easily jazz it up with extra add ons or “toppings” if you want.

Choose a space and time for your ritual, prepare your offering, and you’re ready to go. When the time comes for your ritual, clear and set the ritual space in whatever way best suits your needs and practice. Be sure to have a journal and pen or pencil, as well as your divination tool of choice, on hand. To begin the ritual, kneel over the offering, head bowed, and place your arms/hands in a position of reverence. Say:

“Hail Ámgerðr, Named Among Listings of Troll-Wives

Hail Ámgerðr, Whose Stories are Forgotten

Hail Ámgerðr, Whose Meaning is Lost to Time

Hail Ámgerðr, the Enclosed

Hail Ámgerðr, Red and Brown

Hail Ámgerðr, Lady of the Dark End of the Longhouse

Hail Ámgerðr, Lady of Enclosure

Hail Ámgerðr, Protector of Those In Small Dark Spaces

Hail Ámgerðr, Keeper of the Dark…”

“Ámgerðr, I call on you to receive my reverence, that these small and humble actions may uplift you. Ámgerðr, I call on you to receive this offering ______ which I bring to you to honor you. May it please you well, Ámgerðr of the Jötnar.”

A Viking longhouse. Image from YouVisit, which has a really interesting virtual tour of Viking longhouses.

As with previous rituals for forgotten jötnar, I suggest this ritual be used as a moment to try to connect directly with Ámgerðr and see if you can glean any personal gnosis. To do this, begin by stating: “All that remains to common memory of you, Ámgerðr, is your name. I wish to know more of you, Ámgerðr, and share what stories you may give me that your memory may be better honored. I implore you to share with me now, Ámgerðr. I am listening.”

Sit in receptive mindfulness as I’ve described in previous rituals, for at least five minutes. If you receive any impressions that seem other to your own mind, or any direct messages, take time to do a divination to ensure that what you were receiving was truly from Ámgerðr. If’/when you are confident that what you received was from Ámgerðr, take time to jot it in your journal while it’s still fresh in your mind.

As always, if you don’t receive anything or aren’t confident in what you did receive, don’t feel bad! Perhaps this isn’t the way to commune with spirits and entities for you—you may want to try inviting Ámgerðr to speak to you through dreams, or use your preferred divination tool as a means of communication itself. Keep practicing and exploring until you find something that works for you, and don’t hesitate to adapt these rituals accordingly!

When you’re done meditating, divining, and journaling, it’s time to wrap up the ritual. Bow to place your forehead and palms on the ground. Ground out any excess energy that may have been raised in the course of this ritual and as you’re doing so, thank Ámgerðr for attending the ritual and receiving your reverence and offerings, then bid her farewell.

Sit up, and begin clearing and closing the ritual space in whatever way suits your needs and your practice. As always, be sure to take some time after to hydrate and have some snacks!

The following is Unverified Personal Gnosis and should not be taken as hard fact, but rather with as many grains of salt as you feel comfortable with.

As I meditated, one of the first and clearest impressions I received was of Ámgerðr speaking of the reddish-brown color of some cattle, a fairly clear impression of “the russet of a red cow’s hide…” This was shortly followed by an emphatic, “I am real.” It had the feeling of wanting to be remembered and considered as others of the Norse Pantheon have been. At some point in the meditation, I had the impression of Ámgerðr speaking of having been forgotten as easily and swiftly as “the small people” of the world often are.

I got the impression that she considered herself a goddess in particular of hard toiling and injured women and children, and with this the enslaved jötunn maids Menja and Fenjia from the Song of Grotti seemed to be gestured to as an example. “I started out among the rock and the earth,” she impressed upon me, “I began as the dark spaces below the earth. I arose with the people, as many of us did. I came to those [in darkness and enclosure] because they called to me. That is all.”

She had a very ancient and heavy but gentle presence, it reminded me of the weight of shadows at night. At one point she impressed upon me that “the smell of livestock and hay is sweet to me” and I had the strong feeling that barns would be ideal places for shrines to her.

1Grundy, Stephan S. “Reconstruction and Racism in Modern Heathenry.” Paganism and Its Discontents: Enduring Problems of Racialized Identity. Edited by Holi S. Emore and Jonathan M. Leader. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle UK. 2020. p. 135-151

2“Slaves and thralls in the Viking Age.” National Museum of Denmark. https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/power-and-aristocracy/slaves-and-thralls/

3Rígsþula. v. 6.

Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Alsvartr

Alsvartr is a male giant attested in Nafnaþulur whose name means “All Black.” There is a common theme in getting to know the jötnar this way—they are often associated with blackness, darkness, and ugliness. Alsvartr’s name in particular is believed to refer to the perceived dirtiness and ugliness of jötnar in medieval folklore.1

He certainly wouldn’t be the first jötunn primarily described as hideous, strange, or ugly. Tyr’s father, a jötunn named Hymir, is described as ”misshapen” in the Hymiskviða (The lay of Hymir) while in the same poem Tyr’s own grandmother is described as “very ugly” with “nine hundred heads.” Indeed, throughout the lore and the sagas, jötnar are described in a wide variety of ways. For every beautiful and clever jötunn maid, there is at least one (though probably several) jötunn described as hideous, twisted, and strange as a mark of their otherness.

1902 illustration by Elmer Boyd Smith

To this day the association with darkness as bad, ugly, or other persists. From the fear and derision of animals that aren’t cute or pretty, however important they may be to the functioning of a healthy ecosystem, to the fact that black dogs and cats are less likely to be adopted,2 to the way we treat other human beings based on skin color, the association of dark or black with bad has very real consequences. The global subjugation of people with darker skin, through colonialism, slavery, and more continues to plague our world. Colorism is a problem not only in white-majority locations, but also in places where darker complexion is the norm. This was well explained by actress Lupita Nyong’o, who has in the past talked about wanting to bleach her skin when she was younger. Calling colorism “the daughter of racism,” she described it saying, “I definitely grew up feeling uncomfortable with my skin colour because I felt like the world around me awarded lighter skin…We still ascribe to these notions of Eurocentric standards of beauty, that then affect how we see ourselves among ourselves.”3

Or, as associate professor of counseling at Arizona State University Alisia (Giac-Thao) Tran puts it: “Historically, a lot of communities have held ‘blackness’ as a bad thing and there are lots of connotations of [people who have darker skin tones] being ‘dirty’ or ‘less educated’ that people have culturally transmitted across time, within and outside of their groups.”4

I’m sure all of this sounds incredibly strange to be discussing in the context of revering the jötnar and getting to better know them. From where I’m sitting, it feels necessary to confront these aspects of society that have been normalized through the ages—especially where they present themselves in our lore and mythology. Especially where they are made manifest in the very names of the spirits and deities we work with.

Forest Troll by Theodor Kittelsen

For those who have felt excluded from the greater Heathen community because of their work with the jötnar, I believe this confrontation has the potential to be a powerful one. It feels prudent to note that in Heathenry, some of the language that has been used to undermine or dismiss those who openly work with the jötnar mirrors racist language of our everyday world.5 I’m not going to try to make the claim that racism of the everyday world in any way a direct parallel to derision shown to the jötnar or those who work with the jötnar, but the linguistic parallels are interesting. I can’t help but wonder if it reflects a pervasive, unconscious bias, especially in Heathen groups known for their fetishization of race.

So…what exactly does this have to do with Alsvartr, the mysterious giant who we remember only from a name which likely refers to the perceived hideousness of giantkin? Well, as I mentioned, the jötunn are described in some truly diverse and fantastic ways, though the more fantastic the description the more the reader is expected to identify the entity as “other.”

But for those of us who work with the jötnar, this othering often appeals to our own sense of being other. We’ve been excluded from Heathen spaces, many of us are queer, disabled, people of color, speak English as a second language, are mentally ill, or some combination thereof. In American and English society, all of these things mark one as “other” and often come with some degree of stigma and social bias.

Alsvartr, and other jötnar who are similarly described as hideous, monstrous, or bad for their physical presentations rather than their character, are ones who can remind us of the little appreciated beauty of the other. They can also remind us that, at their root, the jötnar are spirits of the natural world—which can often be strange and frightening, but which also can remind us of the incredible strength to be found in diversity. This is true in a corporate world, even6—but nature reminds us that survival often means the ability to adapt. Diversity is the key to effective adaptation, both genetically7 and intellectually/creatively.8

Given all of this, I believe Alsvartr is a wonderful jötunn to honor with regards to remembering the beauty and vitality of the other, and the necessity of the other in a world which suffers from homogeneity.

Troll Trouble by John Bauer

For the purpose of this ritual, because of the connotation of Alsvartr’s name, I want to focus on the unseen beauty of the other—though this and the intrinsic value of the other are likely to be ongoing themes in later rituals. For now, I want to take the assumption that Alsvartr’s very name and thus, very meaning, is a reflection of dirtiness and ugliness, and I want to turn that on its head.

As to offerings, there’s always the safe and traditional fare to choose from: alcohol, food offerings, candies (I went with dark chocolate). If you have the income to do so, it may be worth considering donating to an organization that serves and uplifts othered populations in Alsvartr’s name and honor. That could be an organization fighting racism, queerphobia, ableism, or otherwise supporting and uplifting people affected by those issues. If you choose to go this route for an offering, find a cause that speaks to you.

When you have your offering selected, a time and place picked out for your ritual, and you’re ready to begin, prepare your ritual space in whatever way best suits your needs and practices. When this is done, kneel over the offering and bow your head, placing your hands/arms in a position of reverence and say:

“Hail Alsvartr, Named Among Listings of Giants

Hail Alsvartr, Whose Stories are Forgotten

Hail Alsvartr, Whose Meaning is Lost to Time

Hail Alsvartr, Mysterious Dark One

Hail Alsvartr, Called Hideous and Monster

Hail Alsvartr, Keeper of Dark Things

Hail Alsvartr, Holder of Dark Spaces

Hail Alsvartr, of Unseen Beauty

Hail Alsvartr, Of Besmirched Giantkin…

“Alsvartr, I call on you to receive my reverence, that these small and humble actions may uplift you. Alsvarts, I call on you to receive this offering ______ which I bring to you to honor you. May it please you well, Alsvartr of the Jötnar.”

In this ritual, before moving on to asking Alsvartr to share some information about him, say: “I offer you my gratitude, Alsvartr, for serving to remind me of the beauty and vitality of the other. Thank you for reminding me that beauty cannot be held and kept in a box, for it is too great, too powerful, and too strange to be contained. Thank you for reminding me of the my power to recognize unseen beauty, and for reminding me of the power inherent in unseen beauty.”

The Sea Troll by Theodor Kittelsen

Close your eyes and reflect on darkness, whatever that may mean to you. What beauty can be found in darkness? This might be the beauty of a deep, dark cave where life thrives regardless of the lack of light, and evolves in astounding and fantastic new ways. It could be the dangerous beauty of the forest at night, and all the vital aspects of life that happen there outside of our range of vision. Maybe its the blackness of the night sky that allows us to see the stars. Maybe it’s the fertility and richness of black soil that gives life to microbes and plants and sustains ecosystems. It could even be darkness of sorrow and grief, which are painful but part of a full range of living, vibrant human emotions and which can, sometimes, offer a great deal of learning and growth.

Speak these reflections aloud to Alsvartr—it doesn’t have been neat, tidy, or pretty. It can be a messy stream of consciousness monologue that you trip and stumble through, so long as its from the heart and meaningful to you. By extension, it will be meaningful to Alsvartr to whom you’re offering these sentiments.

Next take time to reflect on your own otherness, but specifically the aspects of your otherness that are beautiful—however you may define beauty. What makes you other? What gifts do you receive from this otherness that you wouldn’t otherwise receive? What does this otherness allow you specifically to offer to those around you that you might not otherwise be able to offer? How has this otherness colored your experiences, and what beautiful things have you experienced as a result of this otherness that you might not have otherwise? For me, this was a reflection on my mental illnesses, my bisexuality, being a member of a minority within a minority religion, even just being the black sheep of the family. For some it may be hard to find blessings in your otherness, but if you can speak them out loud and take time to appreciate and feel gratitude for those blessings. Speak all of this out loud to Alsvartr.

When you have no more to say, take a deep breath in. Take a deep enough breath that you feel your diaphragm stretch to accommodate it. Then, breathe out through your mouth—a deep, cleansing exhale. Squeeze up your diaphragm to clear out as much stale air as you can, then take in a normal breath.

Having cleared your mind, say: “All that remains to common memory of you, Alsvartr, is your name. I wish to know more of you, Alsvartr, and share what stories you may give me that your memory may be better honored. I implore you to share with me now, Alsvartr. I am listening.”

Sit in receptive mindfulness as I’ve described in previous rituals, for at least five minutes. If you receive any impressions that seem other to your own mind, or any direct messages, take time to do a divination to ensure that what you were receiving was truly from Alsvartr. If’/when you are confident that what you received was from Alsvartr, take time to jot it in your journal while it’s still fresh in your mind.

As always, if you don’t receive anything or aren’t confident in what you did receive, don’t feel bad! Keep practicing, experimenting, and exploring until you find something that works for you, and don’t hesitate to adapt these rituals accordingly!

When you’re done meditating, divining, and journaling, bow to place your forehead and palms on the ground. Ground out any excess energy that may have been raised in the course of this ritual and as you’re doing so, thank Alsvartr for attending the ritual and receiving your reverence and offerings, then bid her farewell.

Sit up, and begin clearing and closing the ritual space in whatever way suits your needs and your practice. As always, be sure to take some time after to hydrate, have some snacks, and journal about your experience with the ritual.

The Farm Troll by John Bauer

The following is UPG and as such should be taken with however many grains of salt you’d prefer:

During my ritual, I felt a great impression of quiet, unassuming love. When I asked Alsvartr to share with me, I received vague impressions, but they added up to an image of a large, lumbering, quiet, and gentle entity I might compare to the beings in Shadow of the Collosus (they always gave me big jötunn energy anyway). I saw Alsvartr as jet black, large, with a sort of smooth roundness that reminded me of weathered boulders. I got the impression of him being a “small” god of dark places, like caves, or perhaps that these were the kinds of places he likes to occupy. There was also an impression of familial ties, perhaps as being related to Nött or even a son of Nött (but remember, this isn’t evidenced in the texts, these are just my impressions from the ritual). There was no impression of partners or consorts, or of children, though. In some ways I was getting a bit of an ace/aro vibe from him. I did get the impression that the old stories about trolls turning to stone in daylight was important to him, and wondered at possible connections.

1Rudolf Simek: Dictionary of Northern Mythology (1993)

2Nakano, Craig. “Black dog bias?” 6 December 2008.

3“Lupita Nyong’o: Colourism is the daughter of racism.” BBC. 8 October 2019.

4Brishti, Basu. “The people fighting ‘light skin’ bias.” BBC Future. 18 August 2020.

5Nikitins, Tahni. “The Demonization of the Jötnar.” Huginn’s Heathen Hof. 4 September 2017.

6Clarke, Lauren. “8 Amazing Benefits of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace.” 6Q Blog.

7Lynch, Abigail J. “Why is Genetic Diversity Important?” USGS. 26 April 2016.

8Nwachukwu, Tony and Mark Robinson. “The role of diversity in building adaptive resilience.” Arts Council, England. May 2011.

Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Hyndla

As part of the greater project that is this blog, I have begun doing my best to catalogue the jötnar in order to provide a comprehensive list with information on them gleaned from historical sources and community verified personal gnosis, as is applicable. As I’m still working on this, my current spiritual journey/the time and isolation of the pandemic has taken me in yet another direction: writing and conducting a minor ritual of honor and reverence for each of the named jötnar. I figured this is a good place to share those rituals.

Due to some of the other things I’m doing in my spiritual life right now, I’m writing rituals for some of the jötnar sooner than I might have otherwise. Once I have completed the rituals necessary for my current trajectory, I will move to writing and publishing these rituals in alphabetical order.

Without further ado, the first of these rituals was written for Hyndla.

Freyja gesturing to Hyndla (1895) by Lorenz Frølich

Attested in Hyndluljóð (The Song of Hyndla). She is a keeper of knowledge of ancestral lines. Freyja attempts to flatter her, calling her “sister.” She seems uninterested in helping Freyja and her chosen, Ottar, chastising her for lying about the identity of the boar (Ottar) and then refusing to give Ottar “the memory-beer” Freyja requests until she is coerced by Freyja summoning a ring of fire around her. Even then, she stipulates that the draught given is laced with venom that will bring Ottar an ill-fate.

Based on this, it is very advisable to approach Hyndla with humility and the utmost honesty. Be clear on what your intentions and motivations are with yourself before you go to Hyndla, so that you may be as honest and direct with her as is possible to be.

Prepare for the ritual by reflecting on your intentions and purpose, and the motivations behind them. Write this all out on a piece of paper, and fold it up nice and tight. Prepare an offering as well—I am fond of offering drink, or a share of a meal. Hyndla has wolves, and through this association meat is likely a safe offering. Mead or beer is often a safe offering for the gods of the north. Staples that would have represented vital resources in the days of our ancestors, such as butter, bread, and milk are always good offerings as well.

Determine whether you will set up a ritual altar or simply lay your offerings on the ground/floor/earth, and prepare accordingly. This can be as elaborate as you want, or as simple as an offering bowl placed upon the earth—though I do suggest considering finding a stone to utilize as a ritual altar, symbolizing her home “in the rock and the cave.”

Once you have your reflections written down and folded and your offering selected and a place picked out to conduct the ritual, cast your circle if this is an element of your practice, and as you see fit. (I call on Jord for Earth, Ran and Aegir for Water, Surt for Fire, and Hræsvelgr for Wind/Air.) Place the folded paper in the bottom of a bowl and place the offering on top of it (if your offering is a liquid of any kind, you may pour it directly onto the paper).

“Freyja awakes Hyndla” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood.

Kneel before your altar/offering. Prick your finger or otherwise extract a drop of blood or a hair to add to the offering (either of which both symbolizes your bloodlines and offers a tangible sample of your genetic heritage). As you are pricking or plucking, (when you are done, lift your arms or hands into a gesture of reverence) begin to chant:

“Hail Hyndla who lives in the rock and the cave

Hail Hyndla, Keeper of the Memory-Beer

Hail Hyndla, Völva of the Mountains and the North

Hail Hyndla, Rider of Wolves

Hail Hyndla, Guardian of Knowledge of the Ancestors

Hail Hyndla, Keeper of Bloodlines

Hail Hyndla, Overseer of Family Groves

Hail Hyndla, Accuser of Freyja and of Ottar

Hail Hyndla, Who Sees the Webs the Nornir Weave.

“In awe and reverence Hyndla, I bring to you this offering of ________. I hope in this way to honor you.

“I come to you with this intent and purpose, Hyndla, not only to honor you but to find my way to my ancestors that I might [state your purpose/intention/motivation].

“I ask that you be with me Hyndla, as I undertake these endeavors. I ask [state your petition or petitions].” Place your hands on either side of the bowl with the offering and paper in it, and bow over or to the offering. “Please accept these humble offerings I gladly and in gratitude give.

“Thank you, Hyndla, for hearing my call.

Thank you, Hyndla, for receiving my offerings.

Thank you, Hyndla, and may you be ever honored.

With gratitude and reverence I leave this offering to you, and bid you farewell.

Hail Hyndla!”

Place your hands and forehead to the altar or to the ground and let any excess energy that may have built up in you through the ritual flow out of you and into the altar/earth as an closing offering.

If it is appropriate to your practice, close your circle. If you have a particular way of disposing of offerings, do so. If not, I recommend leaving it in a safe place (where pets or other animals won’t get into it and potentially make themselves ill) for at least a full day before burying it in a similarly safe place. Bury the folded paper with it as well.

When you’re all done, have a snack, hydrate, journal about the ritual, and take a little rest.