The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Norse hags are identified with the primordial spirits known as Giants; they are particularly fascinating because these spirits are observed as young, powerful women as well as old, gnarled hags. In all cases, however, they are fierce, powerful, warrior spirits.
Giants (Norse: Jotuns) play a significant but contradictory, confusing, and mysterious role in Norse mythology. The very first being in the cosmos was the giant Ymir, and giants emanated from parts of his body.
The first gods (Odin and his brothers) destroyed Ymir, grinding his corpse up in a mill and fashioning the universe from it. The giants are the enemies of the gods (and vice versa—Thor is always out battling giants) but they are also their parents, teachers, lovers, and spouses. Unlike the Aesir spirits, the Giants are permanent and eternal:
The very first being was a giant
The universe was created from a giant’s body
The spirits destined to survive the Twilight of the Gods (Ragnarok) are sons of giantesses
Norse mythology was not written down until the thirteenth century; its scribes were mainly Christian scholars who identified and empathized with the Aesir gods and so Norse mythology is told from their perspective. The giants were the enemies of the Aesir and they come off badly in myths: other names for giants include trolls and ogres. The stereotypical male giant is huge, ugly, fierce, harsh, and haggard, although many giantesses are very beautiful in a huge, wild, powerful kind of way.
Giants are wild, nocturnal beings, identified with ice, stone, and hailstones. Their home, Jotunheim (literally “Giant Home”), is a mountainous, freezing, harsh realm. Giants hurl boulders and hailstones as weapons. They are master shape-shifters: favored forms include eagles and wolves.
Female giants are also called troll-hags and ogresses, both words eventually synonyms for “witch.” These giantesses correspond to Hags if one understands that the Hag is but one of the faces or manifestations of these potent spirits. Female giants manifest as fierce hags but also as beautiful warriors and nurturing mothers.
The cosmology of Giants is more complete than that of Hags or the Cailleach: some fairly lengthy narratives survive. Giantesses have personalities, lovers, husbands, and children, however they remain mysterious spirits:
Norse spirits tend to use different names to indicate different manifestations: it can be difficult to determine whether a name indicates an independent spirit or whether several different names just indicate different aspects of one spirit.
Various giantesses appear in myths devoted to male heroes: although they are pivotal, significant characters, they are not the primary focus of the myth as conventionally told. Among those giantesses are Grid and Hyrrokkin (see pages 543 and 544).
Angerboda may or may not be a giantess. Her husband Loki, identified as a giant, may or may not also be her brother. Hella, their daughter, is classified as a giant but whether this is based on paternal lineage alone or on both parents is unknown. See page 532, Angerboda.
See ANIMALS: Transformation, Wolves and Werewolves; DIVINE WITCH: Angerboda, Hella.