In Rökkr kozmology, the giantess Angrboda appears with a complexity that rivals even that of her daughter, Hela. Like Hela, she appears as mother, maiden, and crone, and also shares with her many of the same symbols.
Angrboda is best remembered in the Norse sagas for her role as the Hag of Ironwood, the giantess with whom Loki would sometimes reside. She gave birth to Hela, Iormungand, and Fenrir, and later even bore the lupine children of Fenrir: Hati and Skoll. In this respect, Angrboda, although described as a hag or crone, appears in the role of a mother goddess. She is the mother of almost the entire Rökkr pantheon, as well as a matrilineal line of semi-divine heroes, and the goddess of the aurora borealis, Gerda.
This maternal aspect is presaged by a manifestation of Angrboda that sits outside the human-shaped trio that appears in the Norse epics. This appearance of Angrboda is at the creation of the kozmos, where she is prefigured in the primeval cow, Audhumla. This is the cow (with a name that means both "void darkness" and "nourisher") who fed the androgynous giant Ymir with her milk, and created the next race of beings, by licking their forebear from a block of ice. This kozmic cow, Audhumla-Angrboda, corresponds to other mother goddess who appear as cows: the Egyptian Hathor-Sekhmet, the Greeks cow-eyed Hera, and the Hindu kozmic cow goddess, Prithivi.
The connection between Angrboda and Audhumla is confirmed not only by the similarity on names, but by runic numerology. Both names (with the values of 95 and 86 respectively) reduce down to 14, the number of involution, of spirit entering matter. This reduces further to 5, the number of universal creation, the very act that Angrboda and Audhumla embody.
Angrboda’s maternal role is also expressed in her name, in the “An” prefix. This prefix occurs across the world in association with the mother goddess; most notably in Sanskrit, where Ana means mother. In Mesopotamia, she was Anat (Anata, Anath, Anit, and Anta), the four-fold dark goddess of the Ugaritic people, who was simultaneously mother, maiden, warrior, and whore. In ancient Egypt, the symbol for life was the ankh, which can be interpreted as the triune river flowing from the vulva of the goddess; while Anuket (embracer) was a water goddess who was later merged with Nephthys. In Ireland, the prefix occurs in the goddess Anna or Anu, after whom two breast-shaped mountains in western Ireland are called the papas of Anu. The alchemical concept of Anima Mundi, the soul of the world, is another example of this prefix, while it even appears in Christian mythology, where the mother of the Virgin Mary is Saint Anne.
The maternal side of Angrboda is evidenced by a veritable brood of children, and by her appearance as the source of two important Rökkr lines. The first is, of course, her familiar Rökkr children: Hela, Iormungand, Fenrir, Skoll, Hati, Manigarm, Gerda, and the giant Beli (the father of three sons, all called Grep). But one of the lesser known, or at least acknowledged, line of Angrboda’s children are the Volsungs. When Angrboda was acting as Ljod, the messenger of Freyja, she was sent to Rerir, grandfather of Sigmund, who with his queen was without child. She brought an apple for the queen, who soon conceived, but the child was not born until he was seven years old; a gestation quirk often found in werewolf folklore. He bore the name Volsung and became a great and just ruler, taking Ljod-Angrboda as his wife. With Volsung, Ljod-Angrboda had three children, the twins Sigmund and Signy, and another son. The twins became the central characters of the Volsung Cycle, in which Angrboda's nature is clearly inherited by them and the successive Volsung generations. By his sister Signy, Sigmund had a son, Sinjotle, with whom he had a number of adventures and displayed the Rökkr gift of transformation, both turning into werewolves. It is often ignored that Angrboda generated one of the greatest hero dynasties in Norse mythology. Her Volsung lineage includes her grandsons Helgi Hundingsbane (also known as Sunlit Hill, Sharp Sword and Land of Rings), Hamund, and the great hero Sigurd, lover of the Valkyrie Brynhilde (Burning Hel), on whom Wagner's immense operatic cycle The Ring Of The Nibelung is centred. It is interesting to note that Sigurd's lover, Brynhilde, would often assume the form of her grandmother-in-law's totem bird, the crow, and travel by the name Krake (crow); the Rökkr predilections for shape-shifting having been passed on through the mystical marriage of Sigurd and Brynhilde.
The expansive nature of Angrboda is exemplified by her element, Ice. It is ice that has carved and created much of this world, over the aeons that it imperceptibly moves. A vivid reflection of this is found in the Irish creatrix-hag-winter goddess, Cailleach Beara, who was responsible for the carving of mountains and hills, and the creation and moving of monoliths. Like Angrboda, the Cailleach is thrice-born in her sisters, Cailleach Borus and Cailleach Corca Duibhn, and can eternally renew her youth.
The vast progeny of Angrboda is a mythic memory of her manifestation as that creative Feminine force that underlies the creation, and the continuance of the Norse kozmos. It is typified by Angrboda's element of Ice, and first appears in the opening moment of Kozmic creation. The vast vaginal void of Ginnungugap, out of which the kozmos emerged, is the womb of the Feminine, rimmed by the vulva of the Dark Goddess; an image repeated in Hindu kozmology by Kali's primordial womb of Chaos. This imagery is most aptly represented in the lewd Sheila-na-gyg carvings found throughout the British Isles and Ireland, in which an ugly female figure, smiling licentiously, holds her vagina wide open with both hands. The derivation of the name is given variously as "hag" or "giant" (the word "gyg" being the Norse name for "giantess", according to goddess scholar Dorothy Myers), both of which apply suitably to Angrboda, as both giantess and hag.
Another important British trace of Angrboda is in the low-lying Dane Hills of Lecheister, where she appears as the hag known as Black Annis; who has also borne the names of Blue Annis, Black Anna, Black Anny, Black Agnes, and Cat Anna. Her dwelling was a cave (called Black Anna's, or Black Annis's Bower), she is said to have clawed out of the sandstone rock using nothing but her long, and very sharp, nails. At the mouth of the cave grew an oak tree in which Black Annis would hide, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children. These she carried off into her cave, sucked them dry of blood, and ate their flesh, before draping the flayed skins of her victims out to dry on the oak's branches. She wore a skirt sewn from the skins of her human prey. In a warning similar to that about Frau Holde-Hela in Germany, children were told that if they were naughty, or out after dark, to ‘watch out or Annis'll get you'. Like Angrboda and Hela, Black Annis was said to have the face of the death goddess, being hideous and blue, just as Angrboda and Hela appear with pied faces; while Hela Herself appears with a blue face.
While the derivation of the name is not certain, the identification of these Leicester hills as the Dane Hills reveals the reason why Black Annis can be identified with the Scandinavian Angrboda. This connection has been identified by other writers, who have shown that, in Denmark, this same figure was Angrboda, Anna of the Angles, and was also known by the name Yngona. The name Yngona references the Ingwaz rune, which is the runic equivalent of the vaginal vesica pisces design.
As Black Annis, Angrboda is shown much the same way as she is in the Norse myths: the mother who is also a killer. The gruesome reputation given to Black Annis can be better understood by seeing it as a vision of the Neolithic death goddess. Just as Hela renews the souls of children in Her garden at the centre of the world, so Black Annis does also; with her oak tree imitating the World Tree which stretches from hel to heaven. Her long nails and sharp teeth are reminiscent of the death goddess in her bird forms such as raven and vulture, who execrates the body following death.
THE THRICE-BORN ONE
As the mother, then, Angrboda proper is known by that name in the Norse epics. But she also appears as the maiden and crone under the names Gulveig and Hyrrokin respectively. This division into three main aspects may be explained by an important event in the story that is told of Gulveig.
Under the name of Gulveig-Hodur, Angrboda came to Asgard in her maiden form, and became the maid of Freyja, whilst spying for the Jotuns. She became so trusted by Freyja that she assumed the role of the messenger of the Vanir goddess, often travelling through the nine worlds in the form of a crow, as Ljod or Gna, the love messenger of the Asynia. But when Angrboda finally achieved her aim of luring Freyja away from Asgard, the Aesir gods reacted adversely, and blamed her further for the sense of witchcraft that seemed to permeate their air. Thor, ever ready to assail the Dark Goddess, went forth and sought her out, finally bringing her before the Aesir. A large pyre was built, and Angrboda-Gulveig was thrown onto the fire, where the gods held her, spitted on spears, until they thought she must have been consumed. But like a phoenix, she stepped out of the smouldering pyre, unsinged and radiant. The Æsir gods again tried to burn her, to no avail, and then a third time, with as little success.
The third time, Loki took the heart of Angrboda, which was momentarily scorched, and swallowed it, partaking of his lover; and, according to the Lesser Voluspa, he gained the ability to give birth. Unsuccessful in their three-fold attempt to kill her, the Aesir gods gave Angrboda the additional name of Heid, meaning glistening, or glowing. Heid is also one of the names of Hela, and is the name given to Angrboda when she appears as the volva who relates the details of the Voluspa to Odin.
Because Angrboda-Gulveig was the mother of Gerda, Frey's wife, she was afforded the protection of the Vanir gods, and thus the Aesir's attack on her was seen as an attack on the Vanir. The Aesir refused to pay the Vanir the recompensive wergild, required by families of murder victims in the northern justice system, and so the first war between the two families of gods began. Angrboda had achieved one of her goals, the enmity between the gods.
Freyja Aswynn has suggested that the three-fold burning of Gulveig gave birth to the three focal Norns, Urda, Verdandi, and Skuld, who, she claims, come to the fore soon after. But although this is archetypically true, in that the Norns were derived from a singular dark goddess of Wyrd (like Gulveig), to associate their birth explicitly with this myth does the disservice of suggesting that the Norns did not exist prior. Other myths clearly state that the Three Norns were weaving Wyrd from the dawn of time, and predating the arrival of the Æsir and Vanir by decades. If anything, wyrdic legends that depict the derivation of the Norns are reminders of when the goddess of Wyrd was the all-powerful goddess of life, death, and regeneration. It is more appropriate to see this three-fold burning as a reference to her three main forms: the mother Angrboda, the maiden Gulveig, and the crone Hyrrokin.
Angrboda's next appearance before the Aesir gods came as a result of the wyrdic action of her reinvigorated lover Loki. When Balder had died, and the gods were preparing to launch Ringhorn, his funeral ship, they found that the mass of fuel and gifts that had been heaped upon it made it impossible to move. Helpless, they sort someone strong enough to push it, and so resorted to calling for Angrboda, whose strength was known throughout the nine worlds. As the force of the strong eastern winds, which send ships westward into the deadly sea realms of Ran and Aegir (Aegir is the Northern name for Gymir, the concealer, Angrboda's husband, who can be entrusted like the sea to keep secrets) Angrboda is called Hyrrokin, and it was as Hyrrokin that she came to launch Ringhorn. She came upon the funeral scene riding on an immense wolf and holding two writhing serpents as the bridle. She offered to give her assistance if the gods would hold her steed in the interim. Odin ordered four of his Berserkers to perform the task, but they failed, and in mockery, Hyrrokin deftly and simply tied it up in a matter of seconds. She then lent her shoulder to Balder's ship, and pushed it with such ferocity that the sky and earth quaked, and fire blazed from the rollers on which it sat. For some reason, this upset Thor, who, true to form, tried to knock her down with his big hammer; embarrassed by Thor, and his penchant for pellucid Freudian symbology, the gods managed to restrain him, and avoid a most inappropriate faux pas.
This manifestation of Hyrrokin provides a thoroughly Rökkr image. She rides upon an immense wolf, the Rökkr animal symbol for the Masculine (although not always exclusively so) which is held by reins of serpents, the Rökkr symbol for the Feminine (although, again, not exclusively). Her power is, blatantly, superior to that of the Aesir and Vanir, something that even the Æsir-loyal retellers of the tale cannot disguise, and in fact, appear to concede. Her relationship with Hela is evident, in that, through the launching of the Ringhorn death ship, she acts as a psychopomp, sending Balder on to Hela and Helheim. The funeral of Balder is one of a number of incidents where the differences between the Dark Goddesses are blurred, and they appear to be one and the same. Hela seems to possess a more than passing resemblance to her mother, both choose to manifest as both maidens and crones, both are connected with the name Heid, and they both have their abodes in the næther regions of Hel.
Angrboda, for whom the affair with Loki was as for purely wyrdic purposes as it was for him, was married to the storm-giant Eggthir-Gymir, with whom she gave birth to the beautiful Gerda, who would later marry Frey, and thus secure the wyrdic Sword of Victory for the Rökkr forces. Angrboda was also the mother of the solar and lunar wolves, Skoll and Hati, by her own lupine son Fenrir. As Ragnarok approached, Angrboda returned to the Ironwood, where she constantly fed her ravenous wolfen twins on the blood of men.