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The Giantess

Giantess Folklore

September 29, 1996

 

Giantesses are very rare in most cultures apart from obscure references. I have tried to mention a few I am familiar with and encourage correspondence from people with more information.

 

Northern Europe

The majority of references to giantesses that I have come across come from the Nordic countries, but many of these tend to be non-descriptive one-line references.

 

Alta - giantess mother of Heimdall

 

Asynjr - the generic term for Scandinavian giantesses.

 

Angrbooa - giantess wife of Loki

 

Eistla - a Norse giantess

 

Freya - goddess giantess. One story describes her as being seven times seven times as tall as the tallest man.

 

Various giantess daughters of Geirroo. Among other things two of them pressed Thor against a ceiling.

 

Gefjon - a virgin Norse giantess

 

Gerd - a Scandinavian giantess/diety of light. She is the most beautiful of all creatures.

 

Heith - a Norse witch giantess.

 

Hyrrokin was an enormous Norse giantess

 

Imdr - a Norse giantess

 

Gjolp and Greip - giantess daughters of Aegir.

 

Gunlad was the Scandinavian giantess who was also the mother of poetry.

 

Ran was a Norse giantess of the sea capable of holding seafaring ships in one hand. She was fond of stealing sailors.

 

Skade - the giantess bride of Njord (god of the sea) and different from the race of the early Norse giants. She was the only daughter of Tjasse and was exceedingly beautiful and tall (she could hold a boatload of men in her hand). Unfortunately girls couldn't inherit their father's wealth and Tjasse was in search of eternal youth to keep Skade out of poverty. Tjasse eventually gets killed and Skade ends up as a bride to Njord.

 

England and Ireland

 

Long Meg was a giantess at the time of Henry VIII. There probably really was a very tall woman who went by that name, but folklore turned her into a real giantess. Years ago I came across and then lost a series of stories of her adventures. Somewhere out there...

 

Brobdingagian giantesses. Swift created a world where living creatures were twelves times the size of humans.

 

Badb was one of the giantess forms of Morrigan - the Irish war goddess. She was sufficiently tall to place a foot on either side of a river.

 

Bebhionn was a giantess from the Maiden's Land far off the West coast of Ireland. She was known for beauty and seduction.

 

Eriu was a giantess/goddess who gave Ireland its name (Ireland means land of Eriu). She could pick up huge clods of earth in her hand and turn them into armies.

 

Guinevere (also Gwenhyfar) was the Welsh triple goddess who became part of the Arthurian legends. In some of the tales Arthur marries all three. One of them was an extremely blonde giantess

 

Germany

 

Southern Europe

 

Greek mythology is filled with references to titanesses who, in some accounts, are giantesses. The stories vary, but here are some of the players (I would appreciate specific details if anyone has them).

 

Asteria

 

Dione

 

Mnemosyne

 

Metis

 

Phoebe (not the one on Friends, although that is an interesting idea:-)

 

Thetis

 

Africa

 

The Zulus have legends about a race of tiny perfectly formed people who happen to be about a half inch tall. They only appear to young virgin women, who would be huge giantesses to them.

 

The Watusi tribe regularly produces women greater than 185cm tall (the normal definition of a giantess) with 200cm not being rare. Basketball anyone?

 

India

 

I point out a comment from an Indian correspondent (I'm afraid I'm completely unfamiliar with Indian mythology). Apparently giantesses are not uncommon and many references occur in both the Ramayana and Mahabharata. I guess it is time to start learning about other cultures.

 

Thailand

 

The Phra Abhai Mani tales feature giantesses and sea giantesses

 

Polynesia

 

The goddess Pele is considered to be a giantess

 

North America

 

Several people have written noting the existance of giantesses in native american cultures. None of the notes have been specific, so if you have information...

Giantesses have appeared in movies and ads, which may be considered to be folklore by some. The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (original and 1993 remake), BFG ads from the 1960s, rock videos, and a few current commercials. For some reason (perhaps the advent of digital editing tools) giantesses seem to be more popular in recent years.

 

It appears there are two major groups with a more than casual interest in the subject judging from the feedback I receive.

The first (and probably largest if my mail is any indication) is male and is interested in domination of one form or another. One can imagine breaking down that group into several segments, but I won't attempt that here.

The second group is female and is more interested in this mythological manifestation of extremely powerful women. Other than the symbol of the giantess there appears to be little coupling between the two groups as giantesses seem to serve very different purposes for each.

Images of very powerful women are taboo in many cultures, which probably accounts for the vanishingly small giantess/giant ratio in folklore. More recently a few techno-pagan feminists (check out zines and even Wired for references on who these women are) have begun using the symbol of the giantess in prose, poetry, art and even t-shirts (A Fifty Foot Woman is Just About the Right Size). It can be the stuff of myth and legend and perhaps new myth is being created even now.

As women take a more important place in society (or should I say if women take a more important place), it will be interesting to see if images like these take on more importance. It may be that they only make sense as parody in a world where women are second class citizens.

 

Stephanie Evans

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