Little is known about Forseti, yet he is counted among one of the twelve Æsir, the major gods of the Northern Tradition. His name means “Presiding One,” and “Bridge-builder.” He is attested to in the Prose Edda, and in the archaeological record.
Forseti is considered a god of justice, fairness, peace, and reconciliation. He is said to dwell in Ásgard, in a glittering hall of silver and gold called Glitnir – a celestial courthouse where he settles disputes as divine judge. He is the son of Baldr and Nanna.
Aside from this, not much is known of him in the lore. Forseti was worshiped most heavily in Frisia, an area that borders Germany and Holland, where he seems to have been a chief deity. He was worshiped in groves throughout Scandinavia, and in the Helioglad isles in the Northern Sea. Anglo-Saxon raiders brought his worship to England.
A famous legend is told of his miraculous interventions. The Frankish King Charles Martel (c. 688) forcibly brought Christianity to the Frisian Law-Speakers, twelve dignitaries of that tribe. He insisted that they submit to his ways, or be executed, enslaved, or cast out to sea in a boat without oars onto the open ocean.
The Law-Speakers chose the last of these options, and prayed to the gods for help. As the story goes, a thirteenth man appeared in the boat with them, bearing a gleaming axe made of gold. Using this treasure, he paddled the boat to shore, saving the Law-Speakers’ lives. He then chopped into the land with his axe, causing a fresh-water spring to gush forth. He told the men his name was Fosite, and taught them a new code of laws and legal negotiation skills. He then disappeared.
The site of the fountain became a sacred shrine. Christian writers syncretised and replaced Fosite with Saint Willebrord, who was venerated at the site of the fountain.
Forseti seems similar to Tyr, both being gods associated with law and justice. Modern Heathens consider him the god who presides over the Thing, the sacred assembly where legal matters are discussed. As such, Forseti is associated with sanctifying space, and is honoured by reverent silence. He is described as a shining and radiant god, bearing his golden axe, a symbol of peaceful negotiation.
Thoughts on Forseti
Forseti is venerated by some modern Heathens. He stands out as a just legal arbiter in the Viking age of vendettas and vengeance, as a god of peaceful reconciliation. He’s one of those gods who reveals that there was more to our Heathen ancestors than common stereotypes would have us believe.
Signs and Symbols
A golden axe or double-headed axe. White linen, edelweiss flowers and hawks. The Thing, laws, judges and courtrooms. A boat without oars. The colours red, purple, and gold. The metals silver and gold. Silent reverence. Springs, spring water, and fountains. Several expressions come to mind, such as “cool your jets”, “bury the axe” or “silence is golden.” The rune Reið.
Fosite, Forete, Foseti, Forseta, and Foresitta.