In Norse mythology, a dís ("lady", plural dísir) is a ghost, spirit or deity associated with fate who can be either benevolent or antagonistic towards mortals. Dísir may act as protective spirits of Norse clans. Their original function was possibly that of fertility goddesses who were the object of both private and official worship called dísablót, and their veneration may derive from the worship of the spirits of the dead. The dísir, like the valkyries, norns, and vættir, are almost always referred to collectively. The North Germanic dísir and West Germanic Idisi are believed by some scholars to be related due to linguistic and mythological similarities, but the direct evidence of Anglo-Saxon and Continental German mythology is limited. The dísir play roles in Norse texts that resemble those of fylgjur, valkyries, and norns, so that some have suggested that dísir is a broad term including the other beings.
Etymology and meaning
Scholars have associated the dísir with the West Germanic Idisi, seeing the initial i- as having been lost early in Old or Proto-Norse. Jacob Grimm points out that dís Skjöldunga in the Eddic Helgakviða Hundingsbana II (v. 52) is exactly parallel to ides Scildinga "Scylding queen" in Beowulf (l. 1168).He also suggests that Iðunn may be a reflex of the original form of the word. However, except for the Second Merseburg Charm, in which they work battle-magic, idis only occurs with the meaning "lady," sometimes "maiden." The words are not assumed to be directly related by some scholars, although the resemblance evidently led to influence on Old Norse poetic usage.The basic meaning of the word dís is "goddess".It is now usually derived from the Indo-European root *dhēi-, "to suck, suckle" and a form dhīśana.
Other scholars group all female spirits and deities associated with battle under the class of idis, dis, valkyrie and other names such as sigewif (victory-women, associated by the Anglo-Saxons with a swarm of bees) and find the commonalities both linguistically and in surviving myths and magic charms sufficient cause to group together all variations on this theme from various Germanic cultures. Stories from these other cultures survive from earlier dates than the Eddas and it is difficult to conclusively construct a clear pre-Christian mythology without conjecture. However, the Germanic languages appear to have had a northward rather than southward progression from the initial contact with the speakers of Indo-European languages near Denmark or Jutland H. Davidson notes a similar northward progression of mythology where elements of Proto-Germanic concepts have morphed or been combined by the time of the recording of the Icelandic sagas.
According to Rudolf Simek, Old Norse dís appears commonly as simply a term for 'woman,' just as Old High German itis, Old Saxon idis, and Anglo-Saxon ides, and may have also been used to denote a type of goddess. According to Simek, "several of the Eddic sources might lead us to conclude that the disir were valkyrie-like guardians of the dead, and indeed in Guðrúnarkviða I 19 the valkyries are even called Herjans disir 'Odin's disir'. The disir are explicitly called dead women in Atlamál 28 and a secondary belief that the disir were the souls of dead women (see fylgjur) also underlies the landdísir of Icelandic folklore." Simek says that "as the function of the matrons was also extremely varied – fertility goddess, personal guardians, but also warrior-goddesses – the belief in the dísir, like the belief in the valkyries, norns, and matrons, may be considered to be different manifestations of a belief in a number of female (half-?) goddesses."