Ullr is the god of sports. In particular, he is the god of bow hunting and skiing. He is considered to be one of the eldest gods in the Norse pantheon, and because of that, much of the mythology surrounding him is lost to the ages. More’s the pity– if what we DO know of him is anything to go on, the dude was wicked clever and a RAGER most extreme.
Here’s what we do know:
– He is the son of Sif, who is the wife of Thor
– Therefore, Thor is his stepdad. Cue the, “You’re not my real dad!” jokes.
– His real dad was the morning star, Aurvandil, and the greatest archer to ever live (except for Ullr, of course).
– He ruled over Asgard for a while when the Vanir took it from the Aesir.
– He lived in the yew dales. Yew is great for making bows. That makes sense, right?
– He could win ANY game.
– He may have had a twin sister named Ullinn.
– People really loved to name places after him.
In fact, there are more than twenty places in Sweden and Norway that are named after Ullr.
So, why was it important for the Norse to have a god of sports?
The word ‘Ullr’ comes from two words in the Ancient Norse language: one meaning glory, and one meaning servant. It wasn’t that the Norse needed a god to rule over their sports– it was that they needed one who would bestow glory upon those who were good at them. Someone who could serve those who were most glorious. A servant to the glory.
And while there was such a thing as finding glory in war, a sporting competition would make a lot of sense to the Vikings of yesteryear. For you weren’t always at war– and how could you prove yourself better than your friends if you didn’t go to war with your friends? Sports competitions. The Greeks knew it, and the Norse did too. And their sports didn’t only extend to those of physical prowess. They also loved board games. Like, REALLY loved board games.
In fact, in the graves of the Ancient Norse people, we see Ullr’s influence. There are gameboards and pieces made of wood, antler, bone; there are dice not unlike those you’d find in a set of Monopoly today.
Even the gods played board games. In the ancient eddas, Völuspá, the gods played their favorite games in a meadow. It’s interesting to note here that some enterprising company in more recent times saw their chance and decided to make a board game CALLED Völuspá.
Every year, Breckenridge, Colorado holds an Ullr Fest, designed to win the skiing god’s favor and bring good snow to the region. Many skiers wear horned helmets and participate in feats of skill. We’re willing to bet that quite a few board games get played in the lodge that week, too. The story goes that in 1963, locals heard Ullr was in town and wanted to thank him for the sick snowfall he’d brought with him the only way they knew how: a killer party. The party has been raging ever since, and has even spawned a number of other events, including the International Snow Sculpture Championships.