In Norse Mythology, Fornjot (Old Norse: Fornjótr) was an ancient primordial jötunn (giant) and ruler who fathered the deified personifications of wind, fire, and the sea. He appears in a few scattered sources, giving glimpses into his origins and familial role in Norse legend.
The Mysterious Origins of Fornjot
The etymology and meaning of Fornjot’s name is unclear. Scholars have proposed various interpretations. It may derive from Old Norse words meaning “ancient”, “primordial”, “original owner”, or “destroyer.” Some link it to the Finnish word jätte meaning giant. Other theories suggest it means “one who enjoys sacrifices”, or “ancient screamer.”
In an old English medical text, a plant name “fornetes folm” appears, with folm meaning “hand” or “palm.” Some scholars have proposed this may represent an early English version of Fornjot’s name.
The plant has not been identified but was possibly a species of marsh orchid, based on a perceived similarity of their tubers to hands. This potential plant connection provides hints about ancient pagan views of Fornjot as a mythical figure associated with nature.
Fornjot and His Sons in Norse Poetry and Lore
Fornjot receives direct mention in a few sources of Old Norse poetry and sagas. The 10th century Norwegian skald Þjóðólfr, cited in Ynglinga saga, refers to Fornjot as the “son of Fornjot”, meaning fire. This metaphorically implies that fire was Fornjot’s offspring.
Another old skald only known as Svein appears to use the kenning “ugly sons of Fornjot” to indicate wind, as referenced in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda. In the þulur, an Old Norse literary catalogue of kennings, Fornjot is included among a list of jötnar.
The Orkneyinga saga and Hversu Noregr byggdisk portray Fornjot as a legendary king ruling over Finland and Kvenland, home of the Sami people. He had three sons associated with the forces of nature – Hlér embodying the sea, Logi representing fire, and Kári symbolizing the wind.
Fornjot as Ancestor of Norse Kings
Several Old Norse legendary sources depict Fornjot as an ancient ancestor figure to royal Scandinavian lineages like the kings of Norway. The pre-Christian kings of Sweden who founded the House of Yngling claimed descent from Fornjot through his son Kári, according to texts such as Ynglinga saga, Historia Norwegiæ, and Beowulf.
This mythic genealogy served to legitimize the Yngling dynasty’s divine right to rule, by tracing their bloodline back to ancient primordial forces through their ancestors like Fornjot.
In modern astronomy, there is an additional connection to the legendary Norse figure Fornjot. One of the many moons orbiting Saturn was named Fornjot when it was discovered in 2004.
This small, irregularly-shaped moon takes over two years to complete a full orbit around the ringed planet. Fornjot the mythological giant was likely chosen as the moon’s name because of its association with the far north – Saturn’s moons are generally named after giants and figures from different world mythologies.
While clearly distinct from the Norse primordial Fornjot, the naming of this distant astronomical body shows an enduring influence of these ancient northern legends even in contemporary times. This frozen moon bearing Fornjot’s name orbits amidst the vacuum of space, reminiscent of the icy northern lands ruled in mythology by the original Fornjot.
The Enduring Legacy of the Primordial Fornjot
While Fornjot is obscure today outside of scholarship on Norse mythology, he left a lasting impact as the mythical primordial jötunn who sired deified incarnations of fire, wind, and the sea. He represents a vital ancestral figure for ancient Scandinavian royal houses and remains a compelling part of the mythological fabric of the far north.
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