Sif – Thor’s Golden-Haired Wife

Sif – Thor’s Golden-Haired Wife

Sif, Thor’s wife, was very vain of a magnificent head of long golden hair which covered her from head to foot like a brilliant veil; and as she too was a symbol of the earth, her hair was said to represent the long grass, or the golden grain covering the Northern harvest fields. Thor was very proud of his wife’s beautiful hair; imagine his dismay, therefore, upon waking one morning, to find her shorn, and as bald and denuded of ornament as the earth when the grain has been garnered, and nothing but the stubble remains! In his anger, Thor sprang to his feet, vowing he would punish the perpetrator of this outrage, whom he immediately and rightly conjectured to be Loki, the arch-plotter, ever on the look-out for some evil deed to perform. Seizing his hammer, Thor went in search of Loki, who attempted to evade the irate god by changing his form. But it was all to no purpose; Thor soon overtook him, and without more ado caught him by the throat, and almost strangled him ere he yielded to his imploring signs and relaxed his powerful grip. When he could draw his breath, Loki begged forgiveness, but all his entreaties were vain, until he promised to procure for Sif a new head of hair, as beautiful as the first, and as luxuriant in growth.

Loki prepares to cut Sif's Hair

Loki approaches Sif preparing to cut her hair

“And thence for Sif new tresses I’ll bring Of gold, ere the daylight’s gone, So that she shall liken a field in spring, With its yellow-flowered garment on.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Then Thor consented to let the traitor go; so Loki rapidly crept down into the bowels of the earth, where Svart-alfa-heim was situated, to beg the dwarf Dvalin to fashion not only the precious hair, but a present for Odin and Frey, whose anger he wished to disarm.

His request was favourably received and the dwarf fashioned the spear Gungnir, which never failed in its aim, and the ship Skidbladnir, which, always wafted by favourable winds, could sail through the air as well as on the water, and which had this further magic property, that although it could contain the gods and all their steeds, it could be folded up into the very smallest compass and thrust in one’s pocket. Lastly, he spun the finest golden thread, from which he fashioned the hair required for Sif, declaring that as soon as it touched her head it would grow fast there and become as her own.

“Though they now seem dead, let them touch but her head, Each hair shall the life-moisture fill; Nor shall malice nor spell henceforward prevail Sif’s tresses to work aught of ill.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Loki was so pleased with these proofs of the dwarfs’ skill that he declared the son of Ivald to be the most clever of smiths—words which were overheard by Brock, another dwarf, who exclaimed that he was sure his brother Sindri could produce three objects which would surpass those which Loki held, not only in intrinsic value, but also in magical properties. Loki immediately challenged the dwarf to show his skill, wagering his head against Brock’s on the result of the undertaking.

Sindri, apprised of the wager, accepted Brock’s offer to blow the bellows, warning him, however, that he must work persistently and not for a moment relax his efforts if he wished him to succeed; then he threw some gold in the fire, and went out to bespeak the favour of the hidden powers. During his absence Brock diligently plied the bellows, while Loki, hoping to make him pause, changed himself into a gadfly and cruelly stung his hand. In spite of the pain, the dwarf kept on blowing, and when Sindri returned, he drew out of the fire an enormous wild boar, called Gullin-bursti, because of its golden bristles, which had the power of radiating light as it flitted across the sky, for it could travel through the air with marvelous velocity.

Frey, and the boar Gullinbursti

Frey, and the boar Gullinbursti

“And now, strange to tell, from the roaring fire Came the golden-haired Gullinbörst, To serve as a charger the sun-god Frey, Sure, of all wild boars this the first.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

This first piece of work successfully completed, Sindri flung some more gold on the fire and bade his brother resume blowing, while he again went out to secure magic assistance. This time Loki, still disguised as a gadfly, stung the dwarf on his cheek; but in spite of the pain Brock worked on, and when Sindri returned, he triumphantly drew out of the flames the magic ring Draupnir, the emblem of fertility, from which eight similar rings dropped every ninth night.

“They worked it and turned it with wondrous skill, Till they gave it the virtue rare, That each thrice third night from its rim there fell Eight rings, as their parent fair.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Now a lump of iron was cast in the flames, and with renewed caution not to forfeit their success by inattention, Sindri passed out, leaving Brock to ply the bellows as before. Loki was now in desperation and he prepared for a final effort. This time, still in the guise of the gadfly, he stung the dwarf above the eye until the blood began to flow in such a stream, that it prevented his seeing what he was doing. Hastily raising his hand for a second, Brock dashed aside the stream of blood; but short as was the interruption it had worked irreparable harm, and when Sindri drew his work out of the fire he uttered an exclamation of disappointment for the hammer he had fashioned was short in the handle.

Sindri creates Thor's hammer Mjölnir

Sindri pulls Thor’s hammer Mjölnir from the fire. Also seen on the table are the magic ring Draupnir, the wild boar Gullin-bursti, the spear Gungnir, the ship Skidbladnir, and Sif’s new golden hair

“Then the dwarf raised his hand to his brow for the smart, Ere the iron well out was beat, And they found that the haft by an inch was too short, But to alter it then ’twas too late.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Notwithstanding this mishap, Brock was sure of winning the wager and he did not hesitate to present himself before the gods in Asgard, where he gave Odin the ring Draupnir, Frey the boar Gullin-bursti, and Thor the hammer Miölnir, whose power none could resist.

Loki in turn gave the spear Gungnir to Odin, the ship Skidbladnir to Frey, and the golden hair to Thor; but although the latter immediately grew upon Sif’s head and was unanimously declared more beautiful than her own locks had ever been, the gods decreed that Brock had won the wager, on the ground that the hammer Miölnir, in Thor’s hands, would prove invaluable against the frost giants on the last day.

“And at their head came Thor, Shouldering his hammer, which the giants know.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

In order to save his head, Loki fled precipitately, but was overtaken by Thor, who brought him back and handed him over to Brock, telling him, however, that although Loki’s head was rightfully his, he must not touch his neck. Hindered from obtaining full vengeance, the dwarf determined to punish Loki by sewing his lips together, and as his sword would not pierce them, he borrowed his brother’s awl for the purpose. However, Loki, after enduring the gods’ gibes in silence for a little while, managed to cut the string and soon after was as loquacious as ever.

In spite of his redoubtable hammer, Thor was not held in dread as the injurious god of the storm, who destroyed peaceful homesteads and ruined the harvest by sudden hail-storms and cloud-bursts. The Northmen fancied he hurled it only against ice giants and rocky walls, reducing the latter to powder to fertilize the earth and make it yield plentiful fruit to the tillers of the soil.

In Germany, where the eastern storms are always cold and blighting, while the western bring warm rains and mild weather, Thor was supposed to journey always from west to east, to wage war against the evil spirits which would fain have enveloped the country in impenetrable veils of mist and have bound it in icy fetters.

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