A Jötunn (Old Norse: jǫtunn), sometimes anglicised as Jotun (pronounced yōtən), plural: jötnar/jǫtnar or Jotnar, is a giant in Norse mythology, a member of a race of nature spirits with superhuman strength, described as standing in opposition to the races of Æsir and Vanir, although they frequently mingled with or were even married to these. Their otherworldly homeland is Jötunheimr, one of the nine worlds of Norse cosmology, separated from Miðgarðr, the world of humans, by high mountains or dense forests. Other place names are also associated with them, including Niflheimr, Útgarðar and Járnviðr. In some legends and myths they are described as having the same height as humans.
In later Scandinavian folklore, the nature spirit called Troll (deriving from the term for 'magic') takes over many of the functions of the more ancient concept of Jötunn.
The mountain range of southern Norway is likewise called in Norwegian Jotunheimen or the Jotunheim Mountains.
In Old Norse, they were called jötnar (sing. jötunn), or risar (sing. risi), in particular bergrisar, or þursar (sing. þurs), in particular hrímþursar ('rime-giant'). A giantess could also be known as a gýgr.
Jötunn (Proto-Germanic *etunaz) might have the same root as "eat" (Proto-Germanic *etan) and accordingly had the original meaning of "glutton" or "man-eater", probably in the sense of personifying chaos, the destructive forces of nature. Following the same logic, þurs might be derivative of "thirst" or "blood-thirst." Risi is probably akin to "rise," and so means "towering person" (akin to German Riese, Dutch reus, archaic Swedish rese, giant). The word "jotun" survives in modern Norwegian as giant (though more commonly called trolls), and has evolved into jätte and jætte in modern Swedish and Danish. In modern Icelandic jötunn has kept its original meaning. In Old English, the cognate to jötunn are eoten, whence modern English ettin. Old English also has the cognate þyrs of the same meaning.
A Finnish sea monster and possible god of war was called Tursas which may be related to the word þurs.
The Saami languages, also Finnic, have in their mythology jiettanas, which were man-eating people with several wives. They could be captured and eaten by humans, and their stomachs were filled with gold and silver. Whether or not this word came from Germanic languages is unknown.
In Scandinavian folklore, the Norwegian name Tusse for a kind of Troll or Nisse, derives from Old Norse Þurs.
The first living being formed in the primeval chaos known as Ginnungagap was a giant of monumental size, called Ymir. When he slept a giant son and a giantess daughter grew from his armpits, and his two feet procreated and gave birth to a monster with six heads. Supposedly, these three beings gave rise to the race of hrímþursar (rime giants or frost giants), who populated Niflheimr, the world of mist, chill and ice. The gods instead claim their origin from a certain Búri. When the giant Ymir subsequently was slain by Óðinn, Vili and Vé (the grandsons of Búri), his blood (i.e. water) deluged Niflheimr and killed all of the giants, apart from one known as Bergelmir and his spouse, who then repopulated their kind.
Character of the giants
The giants represent the forces of the primeval chaos and of the untamed, destructive nature. Their defeats by the hands of the gods represent the triumph of culture over nature, albeit at the cost of eternal vigilance. Heimdallr perpetually watches the Bifröst bridge from Ásgarðr to Miðgarðr, and Þórr being too heavy to cross the Bifrost Bridge often ventures into Jötunheimr to get to Midgard, slaying as many of the giants as he is able on the way.
As a collective, giants are often attributed a hideous appearance – claws, fangs, and deformed features, apart from a generally hideous size. Some of them may even have many heads, such as Þrívaldi who had nine of them, or an overall non-humanoid shape; so were Jörmungandr and Fenrir, two of the children of Loki, viewed as giants. With bad looks comes a weak intellect; the Eddas more than once liken their temper to that of children.
Yet when giants are named and more closely described, they are often given the opposite characteristics. Unbelievably old, they carry wisdom from bygone times. It is the giants Mímir and Vafþrúðnir Odin seeks out to gain this pro-cosmic knowledge. Many of the gods' spouses are giants. Njörðr is married to Skaði, Gerðr becomes the consort of Freyr, Óðinn gains the love of Gunnlöð, and even Thor, the great slayer of their kind, breeds with Járnsaxa, mother of Magni. As such, they appear as minor gods themselves, which can also be said about the sea giant Ægir, far more connected to the gods than to the other giants occupying Jotunheim. None of these fear light, and in comfort their homes do not differ greatly from those of the gods.
Ragnarök and the fire giants
A certain class of giants were the fire giants, said to reside in Múspellsheimr, the world of heat and fire, ruled by the fire giant Surtr ("the black one") and his queen Sinmara. Logi, the incarnation of fire, was another of their kind. The main role of the fire giants in Norse mythology is to wreak the final destruction of the world by setting fire to the world tree Yggdrasill at the end of Ragnarök, when the giants of Jotunheim and the forces of Hel shall launch an attack on the gods, and kill all but a few of them. During Ragnarök, the fire giants (or Muspeli) ride on great horses and burn Midgard killing all the people, some of the gods, and all the fire giants themselves except a man and a woman set by Óðinn in a great forest that did not burn down.
- ↑ Merriam-Webster's Dictionary
- ↑ Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, 2001, ISBN-10: 0300090889.
- ↑ Refer Thurisaz or thorn.
- ↑ Cognate with Sanskrit rishi?
- ↑ 
- Faulkes, Anthony (transl. and ed.) (1987). Edda (Snorri Sturluson). Everyman. ISBN 0-460-87616-3
- Larrington, Carolyne (transl. and ed.) (1996). The Poetic Edda. Oxford World's Classics. ISBN 0-19-283946-2