Virgo and Astraea:
Star Maidens of the Eddas
 by Peter Krüger

 In the Eddas we find many stories about young maidens such as Bödvild, Gerd, Nanna and Idunn, all of them in connection with the netherworld or the world of the giants. In this essay it will be shown that all of these stories are star lore referring to the same set of constellations. Key to the identifications will be an investigation of the items mentioned together with the maidens.

It has already been shown in a previous essay that the maiden Bodvild, mentioned in the Völundarkvida, could be identified with the constellation Virgo, the Greek Astraea “the star maiden”. On pictures Virgo is normally depicted bearing an ear of grain in her hand. The ear of grain refers to the star Spica with the same meaning. In Völundarkvida Spica represents the golden ring made from Volund, stolen from Nidud and brought as a gift to Bodvild.

King Nithuth gave to his daughter Bothvild the gold ring that he had taken from the bast rope in Völund's house, and he himself wore the sword that Völund had had. The queen spake: 

 Ámun eru augu ormi
þeim inum frána.
Sníðið ér hann sina magni
 og setjið hann síðan í Sævarstöð.
18. "The glow of his eyes | is like gleaming snakes,
His teeth he gnashes | if now is shown
The sword, or Bothvild's | ring he sees;
Let them straightway cut | his sinews of strength,
And set him then | in Sævarstath."

And a little later in the same poem:

en úr tönnum tveggja þeirra
sló hann brjóstkringlur sendi Böðvildi.

26. And from the teeth | of the twain he wrought

A brooch for the breast, | to Bothvild he sent it;
Þá nam Böðvildur baugi að hrósa
- - - - - -
er brotið hafði:
Þorig-a eg að segja nema þér einum.

27. Bothvild then | of her ring did boast,
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . | "The ring I have broken,
I dare not say it | save to thee."

Völundur kvað:

Eg bæti svo brest á gulli
að feður þínum fegri þykir
og mæður þinni miklu betri
og sjálfri þér að sama hófi.


Völund spake:
28. 'I shall weld the break | in the gold so well
That fairer than ever | thy father shall find it,
And better much | thy mother shall think it,
And thou no worse | than ever it was."

Together with the ring of Völund two other items are mentioned: a sword and brooch. It has also been shown that the sword of Volund is depicted as the brightest star of the Northern sky, Arcturus, in the lower parts of the constellation Bootes. The brooch made out of the teeth of the brothers is the constellation of the Northern Crown called known as Corona Borealis.


Let us now have a look on the gifts brought from the messenger of the gods, Skirnir to the maiden Gerd, located in Gymisgard:

 Epli ellifo
hér hefi ek algullin,
þau mun ek þér, Gerðr, gefa,
frið at kaupa,
at þú þér Frey kveðir
óleiðastan lifa.
Baug ek þér þá gef,
þann er brendr var
með ungom Óðins syni;
átta ero iafnhöfgir,
er af driúpa
ena níundo hveria nótt.

Sér þú þenna mæki, mær,
mióvan, málfán,
er ek hefi í hendi hér?
höfuð höggva
ek mun þér hálsi af,
nema þú mér sætt segir.


Tamsvendi ek þik drep,
en ek þik temia mun,
mær, at mínom munom;
þar skaltu ganga
er þik gumna synir
síðan æva sé.


19. "Eleven apples, | all of gold,
Here will I give thee, Gerth,
To buy thy troth | that Freyr shall be
Deemed to be dearest to you."


21. "Then do I bring thee | the ring that was burned
Of old with Othin's son;
From it do eight | of like weight fall
On every ninth night."


23. "Seest thou, maiden, | this keen, bright sword
That I hold here in my hand?
Thy head from thy neck | shall I straightway hew,
If thou wilt not do my will."

26. "With Taming-wand, I strike thee,
To tame thee to my will;
There shalt thou go | where never again
The sons of men shall see thee.

Skirnir and Gerd

The sword mentioned in Skirnismal can easily be brought into connection with the star Arcturus as in Volundarkvida. For the other items an identification is more difficult so let’s have a look on another story first: the story of Hermods journey to the netherworld after Balders dead. He meets in the netherworld Balder and Nanna and brings some gifts from them back to the gods. Interestingly in this story told in Gylfaginning 49 the golden ring Draupnir is again mentioned:

Þá stóð Hermóðr upp, en Baldr leiddi hann út ór höllinni ok tók hringinn Draupni ok sendi Óðni til minja, en Nanna sendi Frigg rifti ok enn fleiri gjafar. Fullu fingrgull. Then Hermódr arose; but Baldr led him out of the hall, and took the ring Draupnir and sent it to Odin for a remembrance. And Nanna sent Frigg a linen smock, and yet more gifts, and to Fulla a golden finger-ring.

We find again a golden finger-ring, surely again identical with the star Spica. This means that the golden ring Draupnir in Gylfaginning and Skírnismál is to seen rather in connection to the brooch of Volundarkvida, i.e. the northern crown, Corona Borealis.

But where can we find the golden apples and what is the linen smock referring to? It might be helpful to have a look on the story of Idunn in Skaldskaparmal 3.

Thjazi had rowed out to sea, but Idunn was at home alone: Loki turned her into the shape of a nut and grasped her in his claws and flew his utmost.

Why does Loki turn Idunn into a nut? It seems that this is another hint to the star Spica and the constellation Virgo: The maiden Idunn (Virgo) is turned into a nut (Spica) bearing the same idea as the ear of grain. In Skirnismal, Spica turns into a magic staff, fitting also well to the other stories.

So if the constellation Virgo represents both Idunn and Gerd we should find the golden apples also in near proximity to Virgo. Here we might get a very surprising and unexpected help from the obscure gift sent from Nanna to Frigg. This item is not really understood and translated in several ways, e.g. linen smock, snood or hair net. However, a translation as a hair net pricks up one’s ears: Interestingly directly next to Virgo we find the constellation of Coma Berenices, the hair of Berenice. There were already attempts from other authors like Johansen to identify this constellation with the golden hair of Sif. Therefore it might be possible to connect also the hair net mentioned in Gylfaginning 49 with the constellation of Coma Berenices. Hair has been during all times a symbol of health and fertility – such as apples. I therefore tend to identify the apples of Idunn also with the hair of Coma Berenices. In one case we find a hair net – in the other tale a basket with apples.

In Summary:

During the course of the investigation we found ample evidence that the young maidens Bodvild, Gerd, Nanna and Idunn are all celestial maidens referring to Virgo and the Greek Astraea “the star-maiden”. This is supported by identifying their attributes with Spica, Coma Berenices, Arcturus and Corona Borealis.

Gerdr may be represented by the constellation Virgo, the maiden (in other tales Virgo represents Idunn, Bodvild or in Greek myth Persephone, Erigone or others). Her father Gymir is Böotes, the herdsman. His realm Gymisgard is the region of the starry sky below the arch of the Milky Way. On his way to Gerdr on the Zodiac Skirnir is passing a guard, Sagittarius, and hounds, Scorpio. Scorpio looks like a multi-headed dog and represents Cerberus in Greek tales and Garm in the Norse tales. Skirnir is bringing several gifts with him, eleven apples (the constellation Coma Berenices, named for Queen Berenice II of Egypt, her hair also being a symbol of fertility like apples), the ring Draupnir (Corona Borealis), a sword (the star Arcturus as in Vedic astronomy) and  Gambantein (perhaps the ear of grain in the hand of Virgo, i.e. the star Spica).

But who is Skirnir himself? As he seems to travel  through the constellations of the zodiac, Skirnir ('The Shining') must be a planet. In Astrology Mercury is the ruler of Virgo, this fits excellent as in the classic mythology Hermes/Mercury is the messenger of the gods who travels in the netherworld, as a pyschopomp, leading souls. Hermes is famous for the staff in his hand.

And who is Freyr? Freyr is sick (maybe not only from lovesickness), this can mean he is a constellation setting on the western horizon. At the time Virgo is raising on the eastern horizon, e.g. Aries is setting in the west. Freyr and Gerdr can't come together normally as they are placed on opposite sides of the starry sky but there is a time when both seem to touch the earth, (barri?).

In a way you can say that when the star Spica (the ear of grain or perhaps Gambantein) is raising, the constellation Aries is setting (i.e. dying). It might be the same idea we find in the Balder myth. The mistilteinn (maybe again in the hand of Virgo) is causing the death of Balder (i.e. the setting of his constellation). On gold bracteates a female figure bearing a branch causes the death of a figure identified as Balder. Freyr's lovesickness is paralleled by Baldur's bad dreams. In both cases, a messenger(s) is sent out.


Return to Germanic Astronomy