Ullr, the god of the hunt


Ullr (pronounced “ULL-er,” often Anglicized as “Ull,” and also occasionally referred to as “Ullinn”) is an obscure and enigmatic Norse god. References to him in Old Norse literature are sparse and tell us little to nothing about his personality or role. Nevertheless, these passing references indicate that he was once a deity of considerable importance, even if we don’t know everything about it.

Ullr is the son of the grain goddess Sif, and therefore the stepson of the thunder god Thor. Ullr is the god of the hunt, therefore an excellent archer, hunter, skater, and skier, handsome, warlike, and an especially apt deity to invoke before a duel.

One of the poems in Poetic Edda, the Grímnismál, states that his home is called Ýdalir, “Yew Dales,” which makes perfect sense since yew wood was preferred above that of all other trees for making bows, the god preferred weapon.

 

The Gesta Danorum (an essential source of Denmark’s early history) tells us of Ullr high status amongst the gods, as he assumed regency over Asgard for ten years, during a time in which Odin exiled himself.  Similarly, another Old Norse poem, the Atlakviða, features a scene involving the swearing of oaths wherein the last and most solemn oath is sworn on the ring of Ullr.

The prevalence of place names derived from “Ullr” throughout Sweden and eastern Norway further attests to Ullr having once been an exceptionally prominent figure amongst the Scandinavian gods. Many of these names are combined with elements such as hof, “temple,” which indicates active worship of Ullr during the early Viking Age and possibly later as well.

The only actual shrine to Ullr ever unearthed was in Sweden, in the city of Lilla Ullevi. In the earth, around it 65 rings were found with references to swearing on Ullr's ring, which indicates that he was one of the Gods who watched over a vow. 

 

Some of the 65 amulet rings excavated at Lilla Ullevi

Sadly, before Snorri Sturluson wrote his Prose Edda in the early XIII century, almost all knowledge about the Asgardian Pantheon was kept orally,  which led to most information about Ullr being lost. We know just enough about Ullr to infer his prime importance as hunter, provider, keeper of oaths and regent of Asgard, but the tales of his adventures are lost to time.


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