Forseti: The God of Justice, Peace, and Truth in Norse Mythology

Did you know that the modern Icelandic president is referred to as forseti? The name comes directly from the god Forseti, a god that is even worshiped to this very day by a small group of people. Associating Forseti, a god, with the role of the president seems like a bit of an overstatement. However, there are some legit reasons why this is the case.

What Was Forseti the God Of?

An illustration of the Norse god Forseti, from an Icelandic 17th-century manuscript.

The Norse deity Forseti is generally seen as the god of justice. Also, he is associated with truth and peace, which are closely related to his main realm.

Forseti performs his tasks as a judge of the gods and the people from a beautiful palace called Glitnir. The walls of this palace were made of gold, just like the golden pillars that support the roof. The roof of the palace, on the other hand, is fully silver.

Glitnir is often considered to be the real center of justice in Norse mythology. All these shining components made sure that the palace radiated light, which could be seen from quite a distance.

Forseti had the best seat of judgment among Norse gods and men. Ordinary men and gods would come to see Forseti in Glitnir about any quarrel, or if they wanted to sue someone. Always, Forseti was able to answer key questions of his visitors, and every time they returned from the palace reconciled.

Family of Forseti

The parents of Forseti go by the name of Baldr and Nanna. The name Nanna means ‘mother of the brave’, while Baldr was the god of light, joy, and beauty. Legend has it that Baldr suffered a sudden death, and Nanna dropped dead out of anguish at his funeral, making Forseti an orphan.

Of course, the nature of his parents shaped their child. Combining his father’s joy and ability to bring light to darkness with his mother’s brave nature, Forseti was able to make firm decisions on every aspect of a quarrel or lawsuit.

Baldr and Nanna

Worship of Forseti

The worship of Forseti was only adopted in the Norse tradition from the Frisian tradition. In Frisian, Fosite was the name that was used to refer to the god.

In case you didn’t know, Frisia was a part of Northern Europe which stretches from the most northern provinces of modern-day – the Netherlands to the north of modern-day Germany. In fact, Frisian is still spoken in the Netherlands and is adopted as one of the official languages of the Netherlands.

The Germanic tradition transformed the name Fosite a little and it eventually came to be Forseti. Only around the eighth century, Forseti started to get worshiped in eastern Norway and the rest of Scandinavia.

Is Forseti an Aesir?

Based on the prose Edda, Forseti should be considered an Aesir. In short, that means that the god is part of the traditional pantheon of Norse mythology.

The recognition of Forseti as an Aesir starts with the Old Norse religion. The Norse god of truth was herein basically part of the first group of gods to be worshiped by Norse pagans. It’s believed that the Aesir gods and goddesses lived away from the mortal realm of Midgard, but still were able to exercise great influence over it.

Aesir games

READ MORE: Pagan Gods from Across the Ancient World

What Does Forseti Mean?

To be direct, the old Norse word Forseti means ‘the preceding one’, making it a bit more clear why the president of Iceland is called Forseti. However, it’s far from certain that this was the only interpretation. Some interpretations say it means ‘forbidden’ or ‘ban’, which would be equally legit if we consider the role of Forseti.

The name is also interpreted as ‘whirling stream’ or ‘cataract’ because he was mainly worshiped by sailors and seagoing people.

Fosite and Poseidon

It’s a bit odd, but the Germanic form Fosite is linguistically identical to that of the Greek god Poseidon. As you might know, the fellow god Poseidon rules over the sea. The original Frisian and German name Fosite is, therefore, believed to be introduced by Greek sailors and was potentially already in use in its Greek form before being translated to Fosite.

READ MORE: 41 Greek Gods and Goddesses: Family Tree and Fun Facts

What is the Story of Forseti?

It’s clear that Forseti is the god of justice in the earliest Norse mythical tradition. It’s only logical that he’d have a prominent place within the law and legislation of the cultures that worshiped him. This becomes very evident if we consider the island between Frisia and Denmark, called Fositesland.

It starts with Charlemagne, or Charles the Great if that sounds more familiar. He was able to cover a great distance and eventually conquer the people of Northern Europe, including those of Frisia. While he did his best to convert them to Christianity, in practice he never reached the full conversion rate that he longed for.

After conquering, Charlemagne would choose twelve representatives of the Frisian people, called the Äsegas. He would let them recite the laws of the Frisian people because he wanted written Frisian laws. However, it turned out that it wasn’t easy to recite everything.

Long story short, the twelve Äsegas couldn’t do it, leaving them with three options: die, become a slave, or be set adrift in a rudderless boat. Great guy, that Charles the Great.

Equestrian statue of Charlemagne, by Agostino Cornacchini

The Äsegas Choose Sea

Somewhat logically, they chose the last option. When on the boat, a thirteenth man appeared, who was apparently just sailing the seas.

He had in his hand a golden ax, which would become one of the most famous axes in Norse mythology, and a prominent Viking weapon. He used it to steer the aimless boat of the Äsegas to land and threw the ax ashore. With this, he created a giant spring on the island.

READ MORE: The Ancient Weapons of Old Civilizations

When on the island, he taught the Äsegas the Frisian laws that they weren’t able to recite. The moment he was certain they knew them by heart, he disappeared.

Of course, the thirteenth man is now believed to be Forseti, leading to the fact that the island where the law-speakers stranded is now called Fositesland. Fosite’s sacred island and its spring became an important site for sacrifices and baptisms.

Myth or Truth?

Since Charlemagne was a real person, it seems like the story should be considered entirely true. In a way, that’s what the followers of Forseti could have believed. Basically, in the same way, some could believe that Moses did split the sea so that his people could pass.

While there might be some truth in the story, it is quite questionable if the story of Forseti is a hundred percent true. The message it tells, however, definitely had a great influence on the society of the Vikings.

A scene of the Viking warriors in an act of invasion, painted by Becherel

Forseti’s Importance 

It’s evident that there is very little known about Forseti, which has partly to do with the fact that many sources are unreliable or simply lost over time. Only two stories remain, and even those are contested. Key questions about his existence remain largely unanswered.

Potential Patron God 

Still, some observations can be made about his importance. For example, the role of Forseti must have greatly influenced political life during the Viking age. Herein, the inhabitants of Scandinavia developed a type of democratic government, since free men assembled at the Þing: a place to debate societal issues.

Just as with the Greeks and Romans, lower members weren’t allowed to participate. Some free women, however, were able to participate, something which wasn’t evident in the early Greek and Roman empire

The one that led the discussion and voting was called logsumadr, or simply law speaker. While it is never officially documented, it is quite possible that Forseti was the patron god of logsumadr, meaning that he was worshiped to make sure the political and democratic decisions were made in peace and led to justice.

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