The 2017 horror film The Ritual features a creature one of the characters calls a jötunn (and a bastard son of Loki). I have always imagined the jötnar as anthropomorphic giants, however the unique design of the film's creature made me wonder about the shapes of jötnar in Norse lore.

I realize all jötnar don't necessarily look the same, but do they at least share some defining characteristics? Is it, for example, possible to identify a creature in a tale as jötunn from its description alone?

I've focused this on the shape of jötnar, as their size is discussed in: How to reconcile the size differential between giants and non-giants in Norse mythology?

  • 2
    This seems to overlap to a large part with this question
    – andejons
    Feb 11, 2018 at 16:24
  • @andejons Yes, that seems to be the case. Should we close this one as a duplicate?
    – Ouroboros
    Feb 13, 2018 at 14:06
  • If you're pleased with the answers you got there, we can close this. Otherwise, I think that we could write something about the looks of the jötnar, without focusing much on their size.
    – andejons
    Feb 13, 2018 at 14:31

1 Answer 1


Their shape seems to have varied. A lot. This is perhaps most obvious if we look at their women. We have, on the one hand, desireable women such as Gerðr, whom Frey falls in love with and sends Skirnir to woo, as told in Skírnirsmál, and who is described as so fair that she lighted sea and sky. Also, Freyäs father, Njord, was married to the giantess Skadi, who in Grímnismál is described as the "fair bride of the Gods". Several of the Gods has also been known to couple with giantesses and produce offspring; in fact, most of the Aesir have a giantess for a mother (the one exeption of which I am sure is Balder).

At the other extreme, we have giantesses such as the (paternal) grandmother of Tyr, described in Hymiskviða as "ugly" and having "nine hundred heads".

Having several heads seems like something of a common trait; one of the first giants, an unnamed figure that is created out of a union between Ymir's feet, had according to Vafþrúðnismál six heads (no other of the poems which mentions him notes this detail).

That there is no easy way to tell if a person is a giant or not is best seen in the story of how Sleipnir came to be: An unnamed figure offers the newly established gods to build them fortifications in three years with the aid of no one but his horse. If he manages, he will get Freya, the Sun and the Moon. He almost does, but Loki manages to lure away his horse in the guise of a mare, and so he fails. Only then does the Aesir realise that the builder was a jötunn and calls for Thor, who smashes his head. (Gylfaginning, chapter 42).

However, for the most parts, the stories makes it explicitly clear from the start who is a giant and who is not.

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