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Angrboda: Mother of Monsters

In Norse mythology, the giantess Angrboda is mentioned only fleetingly in connection with her affair with Loki and the three monstrous offspring she bore. The “Hag of the Iron Wood” is one title she is referred to but the other is her name, Angrboda meaning “the bringer of sorrows”. Norse myth is full of tales where Odin constantly seeks more knowledge, always to aid the Aesir and ultimately, prevent Ragnarok and the destruction of the Nine Worlds. It is curious then how little information is contained in the Norse texts referring to Angrboda, especially as two offspring she has with Loki play key roles in the final demise of the gods as does Loki himself. The relative silence concerning Angrboda seems to add power to the darkness and destruction the giantess embodies.
In the Norse myths and legends, references to how Loki seduced the horned giantess of Iron Wood in Jotunheim who bore three monstrous offspring. The true nature and relationship between Loki and Angrboda is not clearly detailed but the following tales of Loki’s wife Sigyn and her devotion to him during his binding and punishment, contrast with the betrayal and shame Sigyn apparently endures for Loki’s affair with Angrboda and the children she bore him. The three children born to Loki and Angrboda play pivotal roles in Norse myth.


The only daughter of the union was Hel, a sorrowful and deformed woman who was half-beauty, half-corpse and given the stronghold of the same name, Hel. There in Hel, the daughter of Loki holds the shades of the dead until Ragnarok.


Jormungand, the Midgard serpent is the other important offspring from Loki and Angrboda. Jormungand is a giant sea-serpent, prone to fits of anger and sharing a mutual hatred of the god, Thor. It is the Aesir who cast Jormungand into the Midgard sea where the serpent grows to encircle the land, forming the edges of the sea. In the final battle of Ragnarok, Jormungand and Thor slay each other, the weapons of their own demise.


The last and most destructive of the offspring is the wolf, Fenrir. The giant wolf is cunning and fated to devour the Nine Worlds at Ragnarok. In an effort to tame Fenrir, Odin and the Aesir commission the dwarves to forge a chain the wolf can not break. In the end, the Aesir are successful in binding Fenrir and although the god Tyr loses his hand to the cunning wolf, Fenrir will stay bound until the battle of Ragnarok. Chained at the entrance to Hel, Fenrir will break his fetters and his howl signal the unfurling of Ragnarok. It is Fenrir who kills Tyr and Odin at Ragnarok before being slain by Odin’s son.