Character Sketch: Sif

Sif is Thor‘s wife and the mother of Thrúd and Ullr.

Little is known of Sif, but some speculate that her golden hair and her relationship to the sky god suggests she is an earth goddess and that her golden hair signifies wheat, flax, or other crops.

Sif doesn’t figure prominently in any of the extant myths, even the one myth that revolves around her—the creation of her golden hair. Loki cuts off her hair for reasons that we can only speculate about and Thor threatens to kill him unless he does something about it. To right his wrong, Loki goes to the dwarves, who make beautiful golden hair that will grow like natural hair, as well as a number of other items, including Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir. Sif, however, does little more than provide a convenient plot point for the myth, which is really more about Loki, who nearly gets himself killed by tricking some of the dwarves.

One of the few other places where Sif receives any mention is in Thor’s fight against the Jötun Hrungnir, who threatens to carry off Sif and Freyja, and who (apparently) once tried to carry off Thor’s daughter, Thrúd. In general, Sif’s role in the myths is to highlight Thor’s role as the protector of the Aesir in general and his female relations in particular.

With so little to go on, writing Sif’s character posed the same challenges as writing Loki’s wife, Sigyn. I enjoyed a terrible freedom in creating her character from virtually nothing while ensuring both that she fit into the overall arc of a modernized version of the myths and still conformed in important ways with the original myths as well as Viking cultural norms in general. It is never easy to balance old and new. For me, the key was her suspected links to the earth and crops.

In Black Wolf, she is a kind, gentle woman who nurtures all living things. She loves wholeheartedly and trusts absolutely; her feminine graces and maternal nature are a counterpoint to her husband’s masculinity and warrior status. Despite her efforts, she has difficulty conceiving a child of her own, in part because Thor is away so often, so she fills her lonely days by tending her gardens at Bilskírnir. Sif relishes Loki’s visits as his charming, carefree demeanour lifts her spirits, and Loki’s concern for Sif and Thor spurs him to save their marriage on more than one occasion.

However, when divisions within the ruling house of the Aesir can no longer be mended, kindhearted Sif becomes a casualty of the internal war, even as the forces of Jötunheim conspire against the Aesir. It is her unwavering love that gives her the strength to endure great loneliness and the courage to risk everything to save her children.

Excerpt: The Golden Hair

Sif’s attention had greatly influenced young Loki. He would often go with her to the plains and fetch plants and seeds that she desired, or visit the grain fields of Thrúdheim. She was very fussy about caring for growing things, which Loki found fascinating. This was partly because he did not understand it—plants seemed to grow well enough on their own, although no one could deny that they grew taller and straighter for Sif’s care. It was also partly because he prized her affections so highly that he would do anything for her, and the Aesir quietly joked that even Loki grew taller and straighter for Sif’s care. They did not, however, repeat such jests in Thor’s presence.

However, one thing that had not changed significantly was Loki’s impulsiveness, and it occasionally got the better of him.

While Thor was travelling through Jötunheim, Loki visited Bilskírnir to help Sif take some cuttings of plants and trees for the lush palace gardens. As an ebony stallion, he gently carried her and all her tools and living treasures while she gripped his luxurious mane and stroked his strong, muscular neck, twittering about her precious plants. When Sif was satisfied with her collection of greenery, Loki bore her home and spent a pleasant afternoon helping her landscape the newest plot in her garden.

Returning to his natural form, Loki prepared the ground and listened to Sif sing quietly while she planted. When he had finished a long row, he stood and watched her work, mesmerized by the movement of her delicate curves beneath the plain dress she wore for gardening. Her head was tilted slightly on her slender, graceful neck, and she occasionally threw back the long, sleek plait of golden hair that slid down over her shoulder.

Heat flushed young Loki’s face and his thoughts tripped and tumbled like a crew of clumsy acrobats. He felt the urges of a man but lacked the wisdom of one, and he had already gotten himself into considerable trouble by trying—often quite successfully—to elicit the tender affections of highborn Aesir women. Though he was not so bold as to seduce the wife of Thor, he was tempted to interrupt her beautiful melody to taste her plump lips and caress her fair cheek. His pounding heart and tangled thoughts moved him before cool reason could intervene. Suddenly, he found himself standing behind Sif with his seax in one hand and her magnificent braid in the other.

Sif stopped singing and sat straight up. Her dirty fingers scrambled to unwind the remnants of her braid, now shorn to the nape of her neck—no longer than the tresses of a common serving girl. From beneath her furrowed brow, her wide eyes stared up at Loki like liquid emeralds as a flood of hot tears darkened the bodice of her dress. Her hands released her adulterated tresses and smeared her blanched cheeks with dark loam.

“Why, Loki?” she implored, her soft voice cracking.

Speechless for once, Loki stepped back, trampling a bed of new flowers. He stared dumbfounded at the seax for a moment before dropping it and running off, still clutching the shining braid in his other hand. He would never forget the stunned betrayal in Sif’s lovely eyes.

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