Sif is counted among the Æsir, and is attested to in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, and in Skaldic poetry. Her sphere of influence has some overlap with her mother-in-law, Frigg, however she stands on her own as one the Asyjnur, a major goddess of Ásgard. She is rather iconic, depicted as having sublimely beautiful, long golden hair.
She is a goddess of the harvest and Autumn, and her hair symbolizes farm fields abundant with golden wheat, and the brightly coloured leaves that fall in Autumn. As Autumn turns to Winter, she becomes the mother of Ullr, a god of Winter. Sif’s hair seems to represent vitality, and is counted as one of the great treasures of the gods, as important in its own way as her husband’s powerful hammer, Mjölnir.
The most famous tale about her features her hair. The trickster god Loki, with whom she may have had an affair previously, shaves her head and absconds with her hair. Throughout the stories, Loki is often a jealous god. Although he himself is described as comely and charismatic, he is envious of gods who are beautiful and well-liked. While asleep (and by some accounts having drugged Sif and Thor) he creeps into their bedchamber and shears off Sif’s crowning glory.
The act is a violation and an outrage, and Loki is almost killed for it. He scarcely evades this fate by gifting the goddess an unparalleled replacement for her shorn hair, through wheeling and dealing with two clans of dwarfs. To sweeten the deal and assure his forgiveness, Loki throws in five more magic wonders, establishing the six treasures of the gods: Sif’s golden wig, Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer), Skíðblaðnir (Freyr’s ship), Gungnir (Óðin’s spear), Gullinbursti (Freyr’s boar), and Draupnir (Óðin’s ring).
Sif’s wig is made by the dwarfs from strands of actual gold, which sparkle and shine more brilliantly than her own golden hair, and the strands are described as flowing like water. The hair piece makes her more beautiful than ever, and similar to Draupnir, the wig multiplies itself and grows strands of hair-like gold all on it’s own, just as if it was Sif’s natural hair.
In a later story, Lokesanna, Sif plays the role of peace-keeper. In the tale, Loki insults all of the gods during a great feast. Sif attempts to shift the conversation, quieting Loki and restoring a sense of civility to the gathering. This action has denoted her as a goddess of peace-keeping and social civility by modern Heathens.
Thoughts on Sif
Sif’s hair is thought to represent golden grain crops, ready for harvest, and the golden leaves of the Fall season. She is envisioned as the embodiment of the crops reaching upward to her sky-god husband, Thor, who’s Summer storms reach down and fertilize her. One of the kennings for the mineral gold is “Sif’s hair.” The story of her her hair cutting, and ever-regrowing wig is representative of the cycle of cutting down and regrowing crops, and cycle of growth and shedding of tree leaves. Sif is worshiped as a goddess of the harvest, of bread, and of food for the family, as well as of family gatherings and provisions.
To the proto-heathens, family was everything, and had a much broader definition than today – the nuclear family being a contraption of 20th Century industrial society. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins-by-marriage, god parents, step parents, step siblings, half siblings, in-laws, fosterlings, adopted family, as well as clan and tribe: Sif is a goddess of them all as a family unit.
In a society of inter-generational feuding, the ties that bind a clan meant life and death. In the post-modern age, where family units break down, a goddess such as Sif may seem secondary, but in Viking times and earlier, Sif was a goddess of breaking bread together, and the ties that helped a clan survive.
Sif is thought to have inspired Hrodgar’s wife, the character Wealhbeow in Beowulf. She is similarly golden-crowned, and defuses all conflict in her husband’s hall. Comparative mythology sometimes connects Sif with the Greco-Roman goddess of golden grain and family feasting, Demeter (also known as Ceres). Like Sif, Demeter loses her golden visage, shrouding her hair and her divinity when she feels violated. With the taking of her lovely daughter, Persephone, she cloaks the land in Winter.
Sif is known to the Saami people by the name Ravdna, the goddess of the rowan tree. In one Norse myth, a kenning for the rowan is “the saviour of Thor”, as the god clung to the tree, saving himself from drowning. This tree is thought to be a manifestation of Sif in the story, and she is likened to the rowan, as it is she who mighty Thor clings to.
Signs and Symbols
Golden hair, wigs, weaves, hair pieces, combs. Cosmetics and beauty treatments. Harvests, wheat and grains, bread, fields and meadows. Autumn leaves and harvest seasonal motifs. Families: extended, split and in-laws. Rowan trees. The expression “breaking bread.” Gold. The rune Ár.