“Ullr: Nordic God of Snow and Winter”
|(click to enlarge)|
Original acrylic painting by Floyd Johnson, ULLR Ski Club member 1960's-1980's
"Glory." The son of Sif, and the stepson of Thor. Ullr is associated with archery, hunting, skating, and skiing,
as attested by numerous kennings in skaldic verses. His
dwelling-place is Ţdalir. Snorri Sturluson lists him among the
Ăsir and says that he is “so excellent a bowman, and so swift on snowshoes, that none may contend with him.
He is also fair of aspect and has the accomplishments of a warrior; it
is well to call on him in single-combats.” His name is not found
in the Nafna■ulur.
In Skßldskaparmßl Snorri says that Ullr can be periphrased as Son of Sif, Stepson of Thor, God of the Snowshoe,
God of the Bow, Hunting-God, and God of the Shield. A kenning for
shield is Ullr's Ship. In Atlakvia, there is a reference to an
oath sworn on Ullr's ring.
Literary evidence for Ullr is sparse,
but his name appears in several Norwegian and Swedish place names,
though none in Denmark or Iceland.
In Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta
Danorum, a character named Ollerus (Ullr) replaced Othinus (Odin) after
the latter was banished for his rape of Rinda. He flourished for
ten years, but was ultimately expelled by the returning Othinus, and
killed by the Danes in Sweden.
early Germanic paganism, Wul■uz ("glory") appears to have been an
important concept, perhaps personified as a god, or an epithet of an
important god; it is continued in Old Norse tradition as Ullr, a god
associated with archery. The term wol■u- "glory" (cf. Old English
wuldor and the Gothic wul■us), possibly in reference to the god, is
attested on the 3rd century Thorsberg chape (as owl■u-), and there are
many placenames in Ullr and a related name, Ullinn, but medieval
Icelandic sources have only sparse material on the god Ullr. The
medieval Norse word was Latinized as Ollerus. The Icelandic form
is Ullur. In the mainland North Germanic languages, the modern
form is Ull.
In chapter 31 of
Gylfaginning in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri
Sturluson, Ullr is referred to as a son of Sif (with a father
unrecorded in surviving sources) and as a stepson of Sif's husband; the
major Germanic god Thor: "Ullr, Sif's son and Thˇr's stepson, is one
[too]. He is such a good archer and ski-runner that no one can rival him.
He is beautiful to look at as well and he has all the characteristics
of a warrior. It is also good to call on him in duels." – Young's
the second part of the Prose Edda, Snorri mentions Ullr again in a
discussion of kennings. Snorri informs his readers that Ullr can be called ski-god, bow-god,
hunting-god and shield-god. In turn a shield can be called Ullr's
ship. Despite these tantalising tidbits Snorri relates no myths
about Ullr. It seems likely that he didn't know any, the god
having faded from memory.
note that a shield can be called Ullr's ship is borne out by surviving
skaldic poetry with kennings such as askr Ullar, far Ullar and kjˇll
Ullar all meaning Ullr's ship and referring to shields. While the
origin of this kenning is unknown it could be connected with the identity of Ullr as a ski-god.
Early skis, or perhaps sleds, might have been reminiscent of
shields. A late Icelandic composition, Laufßs-Edda, offers the
prosaic explanation that Ullr's ship was called Skj÷ldr, "Shield".
name appears in several important Norwegian and Swedish place names
(but not in Denmark or in Iceland). This indicates that Ullr had
at some point a religious importance in Scandinavia that is greater
than what is immediately apparent from the scant surviving textual
references. It is also probably significant that the placenames
referring to this god are often found close to placenames referring to
another deity: Nj÷rr in Sweden and Freyr in Norway. Some of the
Norwegian placenames have a variant form, Ullinn. It has been
suggested that this is the remnant of a pair of divine twins and
further that there may have been a female Ullin, on the model of divine
pairs such as Fj÷rgyn and Fj÷rgynn.
Rydberg in his Teutonic Mythology makes Ullr the son of Sif and
Egill-Írvandill, half-brother of Svipdagr-Ër, nephew of V÷lundr and a
cousin of Skai. His father, Egill, was the greatest archer in
the mythology, and Ullr follows in his father's footsteps. Ullr
helped Svipdagr-EirÝkr rescue Freyja from the giants. He also
ruled over the Vanir when they held ┴sgarr during the war between the
Vanir and the Ăsir.
Within the winter skiing community of Europe the Old Norse god "Ullr" is considered the Guardian Patron Saint of Skiers (German Schutzpatron der Skifahrer). An
Ullr medallion or Ullr ski medal, depicting the Scandinavian god Ullr
on skis holding a bow and arrow, is widely worn as a talisman by both
recreational and professional skiers as well as ski patrols in Europe
and elsewhere. The town of Breckenridge, Colorado hosts a
week-long festival called "Ullr Fest" each year in January, featuring
numerous events designed to win his favor in an effort to bring snow to
the historic ski town. Breck Ullr Fest was first held in 1963.
by David McKee, Vancouver, BC, Canada
know the feeling-you are on your skis working the rhythm, enjoyin' the
speed, and suddenly for a few turns, you feel immortal. The
feeling is difficult to describe but perhaps you sensed a little
inspiration from Ullr, the god of choice among Scandinavians and
backcountry snow lovers alike.
Ullr, a.k.a. Uller, Ullin, Holler, Vulder, and Ull, is
a pre-Viking era Nordic god and he kept fine company with the likes of
Odin, Thor, and other esteemed deities. Among his many skills, he
was the god of skiing, archery, hunting, and was known to be quite
promiscuous (which he may have inherited from his mother Sif, the
Goddess of Fertility). Sure, Ullr had some neat traits but in our
world of plastic boots, cap skis, laser sights, and Viagra, it's easy
to dismiss them as the quaint skills of some randy old god.
Nevertheless, think back to the days when being noted as a master
archer was no slight task.
At the time, Ullr was
competing with the likes of Thor, who brandished a hammer capable of
shooting lightning bolts in battle (sort of like skiing old Karhu XCD's
while your buddy is on a pair of AK Launchers). Then there was
Loki the trickster, who could assume the form of animals to deceive or
escape the wrath of the gods. Despite his lack of supernatural
powers (aside from skiing), Ullr was the name invoked to warrant good
luck when undertaking a duel. His name, which means glorious or
dazzling, clearly reflects his abilities, and myth has it he once held
the seat of the highest god. His character and the legends
associated with it are pervasive throughout the historic tales of the
Vikings, Goths, Saxons, and ancient Britons. Basically, Ullr
In addition to dueling, gods were also
known to have a penchant for good times, and Ullr, when he was not out
making fresh tracks, was known to flirt with the Goddesses on a regular
basis. His sexual prowess is legendary and if modern pop culture
is any indication, then the goddesses may well have been sporting horns
and pointy metal bras - necessitating some smooth talkin' and delicate
moves on Ullr's part (and you thought the obstacle course on Survivor
was tough). As an historical aside: Ullr's sexual prowess seems
to support archaeological evidence that polypropylene underwear has not
existed until recent times given the effect sweaty polypro has on most
folks' amorous inclinations. However, most important to us snow
lovers, Ullr is the god of skiing. As the undisputed master of
skis, he often used his skill to escape from foes or track down prey in
addition to shredding fresh POW. In a sport intimately tied with
Scandinavian tradition, it is no wonder that in Norway there are a
number of place names that incorporate the name of Ullr.
the days of Ullr, skis were not entirely what we'd recognize
today. In fact, what we know as skis probably did not evolve
until the last century. In the time of the gods, skis were akin
to two planks of wood - one wrapped with cord to provide
traction. As people were often hunting or at war, a single ski
pole was often used, allowing a free hand for a weapon.
is said that Ullr was such a great skier that he would streak across
the sky leaving the brilliant stars as his trails (they obviously had
some fine powder days). Though very skilled, Ullr guarded his
knowledge closely and refused to show the other gods how to ski.
Luckily for us, he let the secret out of the bag and we will all be
soon celebrating his glory. Next time you are trying to bash
through some wind crust or plunge head first into fresh waist deep
powder, be sure to invoke his name and remember - ULLR RULES!