Njord was the god Norse sailors and fisherman turned to in times of need. He was a sea god with powers over the wind and the fertility of land along the coast. But what this deity is best remembered for is the strange nature of his marriage to a giantess.
In Norse mythology, Njord (which is an anglicized version of the Old Norse ‘Njörðr’) is a member of the Vanir, a group of deities commonly associated with wealth, fertility, and commerce. Njord is particularly affiliated with the sea and was regarded by the Norse to oversee such nautical activities as fishing and sailing. Njord appears in several Norse myths, arguably the most famous of which being that of his marriage to the goddess and jötunn Skadi.
Njord is a fairly mysterious god as not a lot is known about him. For instance, little is said in Norse mythology about the genealogy of this deity. We know that Njord is a member of the Vanir - gods who inhabit the Vanaheimr (meaning ‘Home of the Vanir’). The Vanir were believed to be in charge of such aspects of life as wealth, fertility, commerce, and nature; in contrast to the more war-like Aesir, the other major group of Norse gods.
Additionally, it is known that Njord had two children, Freyr and Freyja, both of whom are worshiped as fertility deities. The mother of Freyr and Freyja are said to be an unnamed sister of Njord, speculated to be Nerthus, a Germanic fertility goddess first mentioned in Tacitus’ Germania.
According to Norse mythology, a war broke out between the Vanir and the Aesir at some point of time. This conflict resulted from the torture of Gullveig, a member of the Vanir, by the Aesir. As reparation for this deed, the Vanir demanded either monetary compensation or to be given equal status as the Aesir.
The Aesir refused these demands and declared war instead. Despite being associated with warfare, the Aesir were defeated by the Vanir numerous times. In the end, the Aesir asked for peace and granted the Vanir equal status. One of the consequences of this peace settlement was the exchange of hostages between the Vanir and the Aesir. The Vanir were given the gods Hoenir and Mimir, whilst the Aesir received Njord and his two children. Therefore, it may be said that Njord is also an ‘honorary Aesir’.
The best-known tale about Njord, however, is that of his marriage to the goddess and jötunn, Skadi. In this myth, the father of Skadi, Thiazi, was killed by the Aesir. The goddess prepared for war and went to Asgard (the home of the Aesir) to avenge her slain father. Instead of fighting with Skadi, the Aesir agreed to compensate her loss. One of these was to allow her to marry any one of the gods there. The only condition, however, was that she must make her decision by only looking at the gods’ feet. Skadi chose the most beautiful pair of feet, thinking that they belonged to Baldr, who is said to be the most handsome Norse god.
Unfortunately for Skadi, the feet did not belong to Baldr, but to Njord. Things went from bad to worse for the newly-wedded couple. As Njord is a god of the sea, his abode was the sea, or more specifically, Nóatún (which means ‘Ship Enclosure’). Skadi, on the other hand, preferred the mountains, where she could ski and hunt wild animals.
The pair tried to make their marriage work by agreeing to live in each other’s home for a part of the year. Unfortunately, Njord could not stand the cold and the howling of the wolves during his stay in Thrymheim (meaning ‘Thunder Home’), the abode of Skadi, whilst his wife found the motion of the sea and the noise of the harbor at Nóatún unbearable. In some accounts, Skadi eventually breaks up with Njord, and returns to Thrymheim.