Keep in mind when reading this that several names and terms are used interchangeably and can become quite a hassle to keep up with. To help out a bit, here is a fantastical quote: For the sake of clarity in the modern age, Edred Thorsson has divided them thus: the very wise, powerful, magical ones are called etins (jotnar, single jotunn - the Eaters), the huge mountain-dwellers are giants or rises (risar - giants), the uncontrollable, hardly conscious natural forces are thurses, and troll is (as it was in the old days) used as a catch-all phrase for obnoxious supernatural wights. The whole lot of them are referred to collectively as etin-kind or Ymirs children, as they were all born from the body of the hermaphroditic ur-etin Ymir before Wodan and his brothers slew him and made the world from his corpse. - Kaerhrafnr Kindred. However, even with that in mind some of the terms will be used in a way I see fit. Some scholars try to sort the names out by morality, who was good and who wasnt, but I toss that out the door.
Another quick note. As youll find, the lore has lots of holes and gaps leaving a lot to be wanted. So this article and the articles following it will contain UPG (Unusual Personal Gnosis) and PCPG (Peer-Corroborated personal Gnosis). This is essentially what we, spirit-workers and world-travelers, have learned on our own from experience or have been spirit-taught. You will not find all of this in a book somewhere, or written in one of the Eddas. It comes from real pathwalking and journeying and learning. If you dont like that, or dont trust it, you shouldnt read it. Reconstructionalists place a lot of value on the written-word, which at times it good. However, take into consideration that the written word has been much changed from whatever it originally was, and that the wights do not always intend for us to learn just from a book. It makes sense, to me, that the written works cannot fully cover everything and that a person who works with these deities and spiritual beings will eventually learn more than the written-word through their own personal communication and workings with them. Of course it is okay to be slightly skeptical about some of it! PCPG tends to be a little more trustworthy, as it is a collaboration of things several people have learned (having never met each other) that all matches up. Ill try to point out where UPG/PCPG is used throughout the articles.
So what are the Jotunfolk?
A complicated thing. It would be far easier to tell you what they are not. When you think of the word giant, do you picture a huge humanoid figure slowly moving around? That is not a jotun. Their physical shapes vary to incredible degrees. While some may choose to use a humanoid form some of the time, do not think that they look that way 24/7. Physical appearances are strange in the Jotun world. They like to take the forms of animals, part-animal part-humans, and of course they take the shape of nature. A whirling 20 foot cloud of ice and cold- that is a Jotun. That word, giant, often conjures up negative connotations such as a lack of intelligence, as they are often portrayed in media as being dumb. That is not a jotun. Jotun are clever, and some of the oldest and most intelligent beings.
The Jotun, as a whole, are numerous and vary from individual to individual. They inhabit MUCH of the worldtree. Muspellheim, Jotunheim and Niflheim are completely inhabited by Jotunfolk. And even Helheim is ruled by a Jotun, Hel. Their personalities cover every inch of the spectrum. While some tend to be reluctant to work with people (or even each other) others are very friendly. There is no black and white when working with the Jotun. The ideas of clearly defined good and evil need to be tossed aside: there is no dualism here. You experience the Jotun for yourself, and will come to terms with them yourself and make an opinion of them for yourself as well. In general, they are all forces of untamed nature and even more abstract personifications. And being so, they do have the potential for destruction and raw force- which is probably why people tend to demonize them. Many people are quick to associate the word Jotun or Etin with evil. However, they are never wholly one way or the other.
The Jotnar are all different.. They are not some mindless screeching horde.. I dont believe they can all be painted with the same brush. In short, they remind me a lot of human beings in many respects. However, I think the etins should be accorded caution, circumspection and respect- no matter whether youre well or ill disposed toward them personally (if nothing else, they can be viewed as worthy enemies to those so inclined). No one has to like or admire them, but they cannot be dismissed as insignificant. After all, I doubt Thor would have made it his business to fight them if they were all just a bunch of sniveling weaklings- Elizabeth, spirit-worker
The relationship(s) between the main deities (Aeisr and Vanir) and the Jotun is always interesting but terribly complex. There does seem to be some kind of tension in the air, so to speak, between them. For instance, in regards to the creation of the world there is a dispute between the Jotnar/The Gods as to how exactly it happens and some hostility is held over this. However, keep in mind that it is not uncommon in the literature and tales to hear about the Gods going to visit a Jotun or eat in a Jotun hall. And it is quite common to hear of etin-brides, or giantesses who are married by the Gods. Heck, Skadi was a Jotun. And a lot of the Aesir have Jotun blood in their veins- due to their lineage being intertwined with the jotun. Keep in mind that Buri was the only PURE Aesir. Yet others wage wars with them, and fight with them often. Some hold grudges from the past, some just look for fights. Its a strange relationship, to say the least. But what you have to do when evaluating the Jotun is judge by individual, not the entire group.
Raven K suggests that Jotun DO tend to have a few things in common though, so heres that list he provided:
1) A wild, primal temper, and the ability to berserk easily. Some have excellent self-control, some don't. (AKA, dont give a Jotun a reason to be angry. The Frost types tend to be more stoic and capable of controlling themselves, but if you think you can push them around youre dead wrong.. literally.)
2) Strong passions in general - high emotions, harsh violent lusts, wild ecstatic joys, loud crude humor, overkill vengeance. Their one mark is their intensity. They live life at high volume and deadly seriousness. To add to this from personal experience, they can change these emotions in the blink of an eye so there is reason for caution. Just because a jotun seems smiley doesnt mean that they are happy. Utgard-Loki, for instance, often portrays himself as jovial. But make no mistake that there is steel behind that smile.
3) Strong clan and tribal loyalties. (Blood holds a lot of meaning to the jotunfolk, so family comes first, then marriage family, and so on in that order. Some spirit workers have suggested that when jotun marry they share blood at the event so as to put the blood of their family into their spouse, and thus move them up the totem-pole of importance. Youll find that the Jotun have several clans and tribes within their culture- and each one is a little different)
4) Powers that are strongly linked to nature and the elements - wind, water, fire, snow, rock, trees, animals. To be in the presence of the elemental Jotuns is to see this up-close and in action. Take a fire-etin, for example. It is not that he is just fire, otherwise he'd just be, well, a fire like any other fire. It is not that he knows the true name of fire. It is that he embodies the true name of fire. It is not that he embodies the spirit of fire, it's that he embodies the true name of fire, that experience of being one with fire yet being oneself as well, separate.
5) Jotunkind have an almost casual familiarity with shapeshifting (They do not like to stay in one singular form: Oftentimes they have several forms, and enjoy shifting in and out of them. Dont expect to see a bunch of tall human-figures walking around. And dont expect them to be eye-candy. To them, there is beauty in things such as disfigurement. I will explain that later on.)
6) Their cultures vary, but all seem to be more bloodthirsty, more intense, more primal than humans. Certain things are acceptable in their culture that are not so in ours - one example is cannibalism, which they do for both funerary and vengeance reasons. (Cannibalism and violence are common. They will pick fights over little things, as they do not mind shedding some blood. They take physical action very seriously. Everything they do is intense, even when they are calm- this can be overwhelming for someone not accustomed to their behaviors.)
7) Jotnar are fighters, all of them. The natural forces that they are most in tune with are the most powerful of Nature's forces - the hurricane, the brush fire, the earthquake, the storm at sea. (Hint: Dont fight with a Jotun. They will break you. Or laugh at you. Then break you. In a way, they are similar to wolves in that they will fight with each other to determine pack order: who is where on the chain of command. )
8) Jotun sex is wild, rough, and violent, but not sexist; in general, male and female Jotunfolk tend to be equal in size and ferocity, with no sexual dimorphism. The idea of females submitting to or being overpowered by males is ridiculous to them. Ordinary sexual activity among the Jotunkind is as passionate as anything else that they do, and as violent. There is no taboo against nonheterosexual relations in any Jotun tribe that I have found; although heterosexuals tend to have a somewhat higher status in tribes where childbearing and siring is important. Monogamy as a standard is very rare.
Why work with the Jotunfolk? (Will contain some UPG)
I personally like this quote from Diana Paxson: The Giants are as important to this world as the Gods are.
- They have vast elemental knowledge.
Wind, Sky, Earth, Forest, Ocean. You want to know these things? The Jotun can teach you the essence of the elements and nature itself.
- They are some of the oldest and wisest beings.
Technically Surt, the Fire-Etin, is the oldest being from Norse tradition. Ill explain later. Keep in mind that throughout the Eddas you see several instances where Jotun are contacted by the Gods for some kind of special ability or uniqueness. Even some, such as Vafthrudnir, were destroyed because of their wisdom.
- They are connected to the land-wights and nature.
They and the land-wights are close, and so a relationship with one may improve a relationship with the other.
- Gaining knowledge
Obviously they have a lot to teach! They can teach you the elements and nature, but also a lot about yourself. They can teach you controlling yourself, your emotions and at the same time how to live life to the extreme, vibrantly. They can teach you fighting and roughness, and love and honor. They are a great source of all knowledge. If they want to share it with you.
- Learning pathwalking better, such as manipulation of your HugR/Hame
Because so many of the Jotun take several forms, they can easily help you learn to manipulate your HugR and travel the realms in differing forms to suit your needs. They teach you that forms do not have to be what society calls pretty to be effective and beautiful in uniqueness.
- Becoming a part of the Rokkr family
When you are introduced into the community through one of the Rokkr or an elder Jotun (Loki tends to introduce a lot of people to the Jotunfolk) you become family. You will have loyalties laid to you, and be considered close. The Jotun take loyalty and kinship very seriously, and would lay down their lives for a friend- but expect the same intensity and commitment from you.
- Discrimination by Reconstructionalists and some members of the Heathen community
Many modern Heathens like to paint the Rokkr and Jotunfolk as evil. Regrettably, not everyone who does this type of work is open about it because there is slander and hate you will face. People cannot always wrap their minds around working with an uncontrolled force. If you do this work and talk of it, you may face discrimination and not be allowed in certain groups.
- They are an uncontrollable, raw and wild natured being- they can be too extreme for some people
You cannot control a Jotun, and you never will be able to. They can be the harshest-of-harsh when they want to be. They are stubborn and sometimes a bit thick-headed (never tell them that, lol). If they decide you are an enemy or that you dont belong, they will kick your butt right out of there with no second thoughts- and nothing you say will change their minds. They dont have the same morality and understanding of empathy as humans do, and can hurt you.
- They are not always as friendly and sociable as people would like
Its not in their nature to necessarily be very open and inviting (though some are!). Many of the frost-thurses will come off as stoic and cold (intended pun). They will not baby you. This can make people uncomfortable.
- They can hurt you, and they have a bit of a temper
As mentioned, they can hurt you if they deem to. Cannibalism, for instance, is a common thing amongst the Jotunfolk (whether of funerary or vengeance reasons). Some people actually develop shaman sickness from traveling to their realms, and being squashed by them. You make one angry, its likely to eat you or hurl something at you.
For me, this has really been the only issue with them that Ive found. Some of the Jotun are very political, concerning matters between the Aesir, Vanir, Rokrr and Jotunfolk. Some of them are very much aligned with ONE group, and discussion of another group can cause their tempers to flare. Some are a little more open about who you work with. The best advice I can give is to not necessarily talk too much about how much you looove the Aesir/Vanir over how much you love the Jotunfolk. Give them equal respect.
Utgard: The Role of the Jotnar in the Religion of the North by Paxson
Jotunbok by Raven K and Misc authors