Many people are familiar with Thor, the Thunder God.. but few know much about his beautiful wife, Sif.
Sif is a golden-haired goddess associated with the earth. Sif is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the poetry of skalds. In both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, she is known for her golden hair and is married to the thunder god Thor.
The Prose Edda recounts that Sif once had her hair shorn by Loki, and that Thor forced Loki to have a golden headpiece made for Sif, resulting in not only Sif’s golden tresses but also five other objects for other gods. Sif is also named in the Prose Edda as the mother of Þrúðr by Thor and of Ullr.
Scholars have proposed that Sif’s hair may represent fields of golden wheat, that she may be associated with fertility, family, wedlock and/or that she is connected to rowan, and that there may be an allusion to her role or possibly her name in the Old English poem Beowulf.
In stanza 48 of the Poetic Edda poem Hárbarðsljóð, Hárbarðr (Odin, father of Thor, in disguise) meets Thor at an inlet of a gulf. The two engage in flyting, and Hárbarðr refuses to ferry Thor across the bay. Among numerous other insults, Hárbarðr claims that Sif has a lover at home. In response, Thor says that Hárbarðr is speaking carelessly “of what seems worst to me” and also lying.
In stanzas 53 and 54 of the poem Lokasenna, after pouring Loki a crystal cup of mead during his series of insults towards the gods, Sif states that there is nothing Loki can say only in regard to her. In response, Loki claims that Sif has had an affair with him:
Then Sif went forward and poured out mead for Loki into a crystal cup and said:
Welcome now, Loki, and take the crystal cup
full of ancient mead,
you should admit, that of the children of the Æsir,
that I alone am blameless.
He took the horn and drank it down:
That indeed you would be, if you were so,
if you were shy and fierce towards men;
I alone know, as I think I do now,
your lover beside Thor,
and that was the wicked Loki.
Sif does not respond, and the exchange turns to Beyla. Sif is additionally mentioned in two kennings found in poems collected in the Poetic Edda; Hymiskviða (where Thor is referred to as the “Husband of Sif” thrice, and Þrymskviða (where Thor is once referred to as “Husband of Sif”).
In the Prose Edda, Sif is mentioned once in the Prologue, in chapter 31 of Gylfaginning, and in Skáldskaparmál as a guest at Ægir’s feast, the subject of a jötunn’s desire, as having her hair shorn by Loki, and in various kennings.
Sif is introduced in chapter three of the Prologue section of the Prose Edda; Snorri’s euhemerized account of the origins of Viking mythology. Snorri states that Thor married Sif, and that she is known as “a prophetess called Sibyl, though we know her as Sif”. Sif is further described as “the loveliest of women” and with hair of gold. Although he lists her own ancestors as unknown, Snorri writes that Thor and Sif produced a son by the name of Lóriði, who “took after his father”.
In chapter 31 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, Ullr is referred to as a son of Sif and a stepson of Thor (though his father is not mentioned):
Ull is the name of one. The son of Sif, he is the stepson of Thor. He is so skillful a bowman and skier that no one can compete with him. He is beautiful to look at, and is an accomplished warrior. He is also a good person to pray to when in single combat.
As reported in the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, Thor once engages in a duel with Hrungnir, there described as the strongest of the jötnar. Prior to this, Hrungnir had been drunkenly boasting of his desire to, amongst other things, kill all of the gods except Freyja and Sif, whom he wanted to take home with him. However, at the duel, Hrungnir is quickly killed by the enraged Thor.
Further in Skáldskaparmál, Snorri relates a story where Loki cuts off Sif’s hair as a prank. When Thor discovers this, he grabs hold of Loki, resulting in Loki swearing to have a headpiece made of gold to replace Sif’s locks. Loki fulfills this promise by having a headpiece made by dwarfs, the Sons of Ivaldi. Along with the headpiece, the dwarfs produced Odin’s spear, Gungnir. As the story progresses, the incident leads to the creation of the ship Skíðblaðnir and the boar Gullinbursti for Freyr, the multiplying ring Draupnir for Odin, and the mighty hammer Mjöllnir for Thor.
Sif also appears in Skáldskaparmál listed as a heiti for “earth”, appears in a kenning for a gold-keeping woman, and once for Hildr. Poetic means of referring to Sif calling her “wife of Thor”, “mother of Ullr”, “the fair-haired deity”, “rival of Járnsaxa”, and as “mother of Þrúðr”.
Many scholars have suggested that this is a symbol of a field of flowing grain ripe for the harvest. When viewed from the standpoint of comparative religion, as well as what we know about Thor, this would seem to be a sound intuition. One of the most common themes in the mythology of the Indo-European peoples such as the Norse and other Germanic peoples, as well as the Celts, Slavs, Balts, Greeks, Romans, Indians (of India), and many others, is the idea of the sexual union of a sky god and an earth goddess. Historians of religion call this a hieros gamos or hierogamy, which means “divine marriage.” The hieros gamos maintains the cosmic order and brings fertility and prosperity to the earth as it – or she – is fertilized by the rain and sun from the sky. One of Thor’s foremost roles in ancient Germanic religion was that of a bringer of agricultural abundance. As the eleventh-century German historian Adam of Bremen notes, “Thor, they say, presides over the air, which governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops.” Thus, it would make sense for Sif to be a goddess of the fertility of the earth, a role also occupied to varying degrees by other Norse goddesses such as Freya, Gefjun, Fjorgyn, and Jord. Sif’s being especially associated with the vegetation on the surface of the earth, which is suggested by the nature of her hair, is also corroborated by the fact that a species of moss (Polytrichum aureum) was called haddr Sifjar (“Sif’s hair”) in Old Norse.
There is very little known about Sif’s own family. While we know she was married to Thor, we don’t know if they had any children. She did have a child from her first husband named Ullr. He was the god of snowshoes, hunting, the bow and she shield. He was described as being incredibly handsome with many warrior-like attributes. He was often called upon for help in battles. Artistic representations of Sif always show a young and strikingly beautiful woman with long, flowing golden hair. In most pictures, the hair is nearly touching the ground. It can be argued that without her long hair, it would be hard to recognize Sif as there is very little description of her otherwise.
Sif is said to symbolize fidelity. She is also associated with summer, passion and the sun. Her best symbol though is her hair, which was said to symbolize the crop fields of the Norse population. The health of her hair was directly related to the strength of the crop, specifically wheat according to some sources. An old tradition says that in order to ask Sif for help, one should bake bread with plenty of grains. Sif is also associated with light, as it is said she was able to control the light in the sky and had a hand in the changing of seasons.