Gefion's Home Page

assembled by


D. L. Ashliman

University of Pittsburgh
© 1998-2010


Return to folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


Gefion, the Norse Goddess of Unmarried Women

According to The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, Gefion (also spelled Gefjon) was the fourth goddess of the Æsir, following Frigg (the wife of Odin), Sága, and Eir (the best of physicians).

Gefion, we are told, was a virgin, and was thus served by women who died unmarried. This statement, however, is contradicted in The Prose Edda itself as well as in other sources. As you will read in the two accounts below, early in her career Gefion had four oxen-sons by a giant. Later she married Odin's son Skjold and settled in Leire, Denmark.

Further complicating Gefion's story is the fact that "Gefn" is one of the many names given to Freyja, the Norse goddess of love and procreation. "Gefn" may be a shortened form of "Gefion," and thus Gefion may be an alter ego of Freyja, who in turn may be an alter ego of Frigg, the wife of Odin.


Gefion creates the Island of Zealand

From The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson

King Gylfi ruled the lands that are now called Sweden. It is told of him that he gave a ploughland in his kingdom, the size four oxen could plough in a day and a night, to a beggar-woman as a reward for the way she had entertained him. This woman, however, was of the family of the Æsir. Her name was Gefion. From the north of Giantland she took four oxen and yoked them to a plough, but those were her sons by a giant. The plough went in so hard and deep that it loosened the land and the oxen dragged it westwards into the sea, stopping in a certain sound. There Gefion set the land for good and gave it a name, calling it Zealand.

But the place where the land had been torn up was afterwards a lake. It is now known in Sweden as "The Lake." And there are as many bays in "The Lake" as there are headlands in Zealand.

As the poet Bragi the Old says:

Gefion dragged with laughter
from Gylfi liberal prince
What made Denmark larger,
so that beasts of draught
the oxen reeked with sweat;
four heads they had, eight eyes to boot
who went before broad island-pasture
ripped away as loot.


Notes:

From the Ynglinga Saga of Snorri Sturluson

When Odin looked into the future and worked magic, he knew that his offspring would dwell and till in the northern parts of the earth. He, therefore, set his brothers Ve and Vili over Asagarth [in the land of the Turks] and he himself went away and with him went all the priests and many of his folk. First he went to Gardarik [Russia] and from there he went south to Saxland [Germany]. He had many sons; he won kingdoms far over Saxland and set his sons as rulers over them.

From there he fared north to the sea and found himself a dwelling on an island which is now called Odensö in Fyn [Funen]. Then he sent Gefion northeast over the sound to look for land; she then came to Gylfi, who gave her a ploughland. Next she went to a giant's home and there begot four sons with a giant. She shaped them in the likeness of oxen, yoked them to a plough and broke up the land into the sea westwards opposite Odensö; it was called Selund [an old spelling for Zealand], and there she dwelt afterwards.

Skjold, Odin's son, took her to wife and they lived in Leidra. There where she ploughed is now a lake or sea called Löginn; the fjords in Löginn answer to the nesses in Selund.

Thus said Bragi the Old:

Gefion drew with gladness
From the gold-rich Gylfi
Denmark's new increase
(So that it reeked from the beasts).

The oxen bore eight eyes
And four heads.
There they went forth,
Far over Vinö's bay.


Notes:

Return to

Revised February 16, 2010.