Nanna is attested in the Prose Edda, Poetic Edda, skaldic poetry, and on the Setre Comb, a 6th century archaeological artifact. She also appears in the Gesta Danorum, although in a bastardized form.
Her name means “Daring” and Nanna is considered by modern Norse pagans as a goddess of joy and devotional love. Although little has been passed down to us in the lore, she is counted as an important Æsir goddess by Snorri. She is said to be the daughter of the Æsir god Nepr, possibly a son of Óðin, and alternately she may be the daughter of Máni, god of the moon, and the younger sister of Iðunn. Others still say she is the sister of Sigyn, Loki’s wife. Despite the confusion surrounding her lineage, everyone seems to agree that she is the mother of Forseti, god of justice.
Nanna is revered alongside her husband Baldr for her unwavering love and loyalty. In Ásgard, she is said to dwell with Baldr in his celestial hall, Breiðablik – a court of stars, which in folklore is associated with the Milky Way. Nanna and Baldr are something of Ásgard’s sweethearts – paragons of courtly love in Northern Tradition.
She joins Baldr in life, death and rebirth. At his demise, Nanna dies of a broken heart and is placed on his funeral pyre with him. In other sources, she throws herself onto the pyre, and dies with him, a known custom practiced among grieving wives of great lords in the Heathen North. In either case, her death is hallowed and made sacred by her brother-in-law, Thor. Nanna journeys with Baldr and his bother Höðr, into Helheim where they abide, safe and sound, until their emergence at the end of Ragnarök. While in her domain, Hel receives Baldr’s brother, Hermóðr, and gives him a gown to take back to Frigga, and a ring for Fulla, to console and reassure the grieve-stricken gods.
In the Gesta Denorum, Saxo Grammiticus’ Nanna is a human princess, as Saxo took efforts to denude the gods of their divinity in an act of Christian censorship. Saxo’s Nanna was desired by and fought for by both Balderus (Baldr) and Hotherus ( Höðr). In Saxo’s tale, her heart belongs to and is given to Hotherus, and their inevitable union is the source of Balderus’ nightmares and heartbreak.
Thoughts on Nanna
Modern Heathens revere Nanna as a goddess of romantic tenderness, sweetness, and devotion. While Baldr is a god of Heavenly beauty, Nanna is a goddess of love’s power to endure, even beyond the grave.
She is theorized by some to represent the heliotropic nature of flowers, which bloom with glee at the sun’s light, and seem to follow it across the sky into death, withering away when it goes, but returning anew with the rebirth of Spring. She bears some Archetypal points in common with Caer of Irish myth and Psyche of Greco-Roman tradition.
Signs and Symbols
Nanna is honoured in contemporary North pagan practice in partnership with her husband, Baldr. His symbols are considered appropriate for her – specifically the season times of Spring and Summer, and all flowers. Sunflowers, who most dramatically face the sun might be appropriate. Modern symbols could include wedding rings, wedding gifts, and ballads of lost love. She shares with Baldr the rune Dæg.