Ullr is a name that many avid skiers throw around. When there is a lack of snow, they pray to Ullr. When it starts dumping snow, everyone claims that Ullr must be happy. To most skiers, Ullr is the God of Snow known from the Viking era. But, what is Ullr really? Being the curious person that I am, I decided to take a deeper look into Ullr.
What I found was actually surprising. I did not find any historical evidence that Ullr is the God of Snow. That’s right- no evidence. Sure, there are Ullr festivals in many ski towns, including Breckenridge, and these festivals claim that Ullr is the God of Snow. There is even a Facebook page for Ullr, Snowgod. But, when looking into the history of Viking and Norse Gods, there is no connection to Ullr and snow. Here is what I did find….
From miscellaneous dictionary sources including Dictionary.com
Ullr – noun (Norse mythology) one of the Aesir known for his beauty and skill with bow and skis; son of Sif and stepson of Thor
Norse mythology – the mythology of Scandinavia (shared in part by Britain and Germany) until the establishment of Christianity
Other Names for Ullr
Ollerus, wulþuz, wuldor, Ullar, Ullin, Holler, Vulder, Ull, Ullur
If Ullr is not the God of Snow, then what kind of God is he?
Sources all agree that the Ullr still remains a mystery. Historical sources pointing to this Ullr God are rare, so there is still some debate about what role he played in the pagan religions of northern Europe. However, most sources agree that Ullr is the god of justice and dueling, the patron god of agriculture, bow(archery)-god, hunting-god, and shield-god. Sources also agree that Ullr plays a mythological warrior in historical legends and that his name originates from translations of “glory” or “glorious”.
But, skiers need not be devastated. While historical evidence does not support that Ullr is the God of Snow, there are several indicators that point to Ullr being the God of Skiing. Ullr is often depicted as a figure with skis on his feet and a bow and arrow in his hand. Could he have been the world’s first biathlete? 😉
Depictions of Ullr
(From the 18th century Icelandic manuscript in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland, downloaded from wikimedia.org)
(An illustration of the Norse god Ullr, from an Icelandic century manuscript created in 1680, from Skaldic Arts)
Depicted on the Böksta Runestone in Balingsta, Sweden, thought to be created in the 11th century. Many believe this figure represents the Norse God Ullr.
Ullr’s place in Norse Mythology
For those who care about the structure of the Gods, sources largely agree that Ullr was the son of Sif (mother) and that Thor (God of Thunder) was his stepfather. Who Ullr’s real father was is still a debate. However, In Viktor Rydberg’s idiosyncratic Teutonic Mythology Ullr is the son of Sif and Egill-Örvandill. His father, Egill, was the greatest archer in the mythology, and Ullr follows in his father’s footsteps.
Evolution of a God
So, is Ullr really the God of Snow on top of being the God of Skiing, Bow, Hunting, Agricuture, Shield, Justice, and Dueling? Historical evidence does not support this. However, American skiers continue to playfully-ritually pray to Ullr as if he were the Snowgod. Perhaps we are first-hand witnesses to how Gods are morphed over time to fit the needs and perceptions of the populous. This morphism has happened to religions and Gods across the world- Maybe Ullr’s resurrection as a God-like figure has caused him to undergo a slight make-over! Nevertheless, I will continue to ask Ullr for good snow. If he’s a skier too, he’ll deliver 🙂