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.