Ullr is supported in the archaeological record by the Thorsburg chape, and through Lilla Ullevi. He is attested in the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, Skaldic poetry, and the Gesta Danorum.
The Thorsburg chape (a chape is a metal fitting from a sword scabbard) inscription dates from around 200 CE, by far one of the oldest mentions of Ullr specifically. Owlþuþewaz niwajmariz roughly translates to “Well honoured servant of the Glorious One,” or “Servant (or priest) of Ullr.”
Lilla Ullevi (“Little Shrine of Ullr”) is an actual preserved shrine that was unearthed just north of Stockholm. The shrine was in a remarkable state, with beautifully preserved wooden and stone structures, as well as 65 oath rings of various sizes strewn about the area.
Very little is actually said about Ullr in the Eddas. The Poetic Edda mentions Ullr’s hall, Ýdalir (Yew Dales) and makes a couple of references to obscure ceremonies involving the god. One reference is to “Ullr’s ring” which is thought to coincide with the rings found at Lilla Ullevi. Snorri’s Prose Edda lists Ullr as the son of Sif, and Thor as his step-father, but remains frustratingly silent on the matter of Ullr’s biological father – usually an important matter in Old Norse society.
Snorri’s assessments are confirmed by Skaldic poetry, where Thor is mentioned several times as Ullr’s step-father. They also agree with Snorri’s kennings, such as several warrior and skill kennings for Ullr, and especially the popular name for a shield as “Ullr’s ship” (Ullr once sailed across a lake on his shield!)
Saxo Grammaticus, in a surprising turn-about, remains very close to the Ullr descriptions elsewhere, though of course he couldn’t resist plumping up the drama. His euhemerized Ullr, in the Gesta Danorum, sails across water and through the skies on a rib bone. He also rules in Óðin’s place for ten years before being run out of town as an usurper.
Ullr is often “married off” to Skaði, though there are no attestations of this, and in contrast many attestations of Skaði’s enduring marriage to Njörðr. They do have many similarities however, and some scholars like to make inferences that neatly fill in gaps in the lore. Other such inferences include: Ullr as a son of Óðin, a son of Njörðr, a biological son of Thor, or even the incest child of Freyr and Freya. Further, place names seem to infer that Ullr had a female counterpart named Ullin.
One interesting theory of Ullr’s parentage, proposed by Viktor Rydberg (Teutonic Mythology) is that Ullr is the son of Sif and Egill-Örvandill, half-brother of Svipdagr-Óðr, a nephew of Völundr and a cousin of Skaði. In this scenario, his father Egill-Örvandill was the greatest archer in all the realms, and Ullr definitely seems to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Thoughts on Ullr
Ullr is a very ancient god about whom very little is historically known, at least at this point in time. There are many theories about who he may be. Some scholars think he is actually Heimdallr, due to their very similar descriptions. Many modern pagans see connections between him and another mysterious hunter deity, Celtic Cernunnos or “The Horned God” as he is called in modern day Wicca. Commonalities we see between Cernunnos and Ullr include them both being gods associated with the deep woods and hunting for the tribe. They have associations with kingship – Ullr as a chieftain, and Cernunnos with his king-symbol the torc. Both are also associated with oath rings binding rulers and their subjects.
Ullr’s name means “Glory” and he is the god of hunting, archery, and survival, as well as single combat and duels. Ullr ranges through his forested realm whenever he’s not watching the High Seat for Óðin. Ýdalir the “Yew Dales” is his hall. He is the patron god of archery, and protector of hunters and rangers through the wilderness. Among his attributes, Ullr is described as being especially attractive.
Ullr is described by Saxo Grammaticas as a rotating ruler deity; a chieftain who takes turns. He rules over the Æsir whenever Óðin goes wandering, and he ruled the Vanir during the early wars with the Æsir. It was folklore that his oath ring would shrink to sever a limb or finger if you went back on your oath to him! Modern pagans thus see Ullr as a god of oaths, promises and contracts.
It is possible that he is the Saami interpretation of Óðin. Like Óðin, Ullr is a leader of the Wild Hunt. As such, his holy days include the traditional commencement of the Wild Hunt: the date of the first frost – sometime between October and November in the Northern Hemisphere, marked in modern times with Halloween.
Suggested Signs and Symbols
Bows and arrows, arrow heads, axes and hatchets, yew trees, ever-greens. Oath rings and torcs. Skis, snowshoes, shields. Skates, snowboards and skateboards. Winter, snow and ice. Northern Lights. Camping. Animal pelts. Dark green colours. Venison, and game meat. The runes Úr and Eoh.
Uller, Ull, Ullur, Wulþuz, Wuldor, Ollerus, Holler, Herne, Tapio, Father Wuldor, Jack Frost.