("Glory" in Old Norse)

Victorian UllrUllr is a very old god of the northern lands, so old that by the time the Iron Age Norse myths were written down, not much more was known about him except that he was a god of archery, hunting, and the winter. His name occurs so frequently as part of Scandinavian place-names that he must have been a much more important deity at one time. He was shown frequently with skates or skis on his feet, and because of this he has been hailed as the modern God of Skiing. One story talks about him "crossing water on a magic bone", alluding to crossing the frozen ice on skates. He was also called God of the Shield, and the shield was referred to as his "ship", which may be a reference to using a shield or shield-shaped board as a sled … or to the ice of winter enveloping the world like a shield.
Ullr's name comes from wuldor, an Old High German word meaning "glory". It was pronounced "Ool" in ancient times, but today is generally pronounced "Ooler". In Germany he was known as Holler and said to be the husband of the Germanic goddess Holda.
Victorian Ullr 2Ullr was said to be the son of Sif and the stepson of Thor. Some claim that he was the son of Egill/Aurvandil, the great archer who was Thor's hunting companion and the father of Svipdag as well. Some see him as Aesir because of his mother and stepfather; some as Vanir because of his food-procuring hunter's nature. He lived in Ydalir, the Yew-grove, referring to the fact that yew wood was the favorite for making bows even thousands of years ago. In Saxo Grammaticus's works, where the Gods are recast as human heroes, Odin is temporarily exiled for rape and Ullr is chosen to lead in his place until Odin's return, which is an echo of his former importance to the people of the North.
In Lilla Ullevi, Sweden, an actual shrine to Ullr was unearthed. In the earth around it were found 65 rings; old references to swearing on Ullr's ring indicate that he was one of the Gods who watched over a vow. The rings were apparently used for swearing oaths and then buried at his shrine.
In modern times, Ullr has seen a great surge in popularity as the official God of Skiing. First he was unearthed as such earlier in the century in northern Europe, where little amulet necklaces with his skiing figure on them were given out as gifts and good-luck charms for skiers. Then the Ullr custom spread to America, where he has been taken as the patron of various winter sports and winter hunting organizations, including a major festival – Ullr Fest – in Breckenridge, Colorado, and sacrificial bonfires to Ullr in Utah and other states (burning old worn-out skis and sleds) to bring the snow. He now has numerous amulets, sigils, organizations, and even liquor named after him. Ullr may currently be the Norse god most called upon and invoked today by people who don’t consider themselves to be Pagans or Heathens. 

Poetic Edda

Ullr is mentioned in the poem Grímnismál where the homes of individual gods are recounted.
Ýdalir heita
þar er Ullr hefir
sér of görva sali.
Ydalir it is called,
where Ullr has
himself a dwelling made.– Thorpe's translation
The name Ýdalir, meaning "yew dales", is not otherwise attested. The yew was an important material in the making of bows, and the word ýr, "yew", is often used metonymically to refer to bows. It seems likely that the name Ýdalir is connected with the idea of Ullr as a bow-god.
Another strophe in Grímnismál also mentions Ullr.
Ullar hylli
hefr ok allra goða
hverr er tekr fyrstr á funa,
því at opnir heimar
verða of ása sonum,
þá er hefja af hvera.
Ullr’s and all the gods’
favour shall have,
whoever first shall look to the fire;
for open will the dwelling be,
to the Æsir's sons,
when the kettles are lifted off.– Thorpe's translation
The strophe is obscure but may refer to some sort of religious ceremony (possibly fire scrying). It indicates Ullr as an important god.
The last reference to Ullr in the Poetic Edda is found in Atlakviða:
Svá gangi þér, Atli,
sem þú við Gunnar áttir
eiða oft of svarða
ok ár of nefnda,
at sól inni suðrhöllu
ok at Sigtýs bergi,
hölkvi hvílbeðjar
ok at hringi Ullar.
So be it with thee, Atli!
as toward Gunnar thou hast held
the oft-sworn oaths,
formerly taken -
by the southward verging sun,
and by Sigtý’s hill,
the secluded bed of rest,
and by Ullr’s ring.– Thorpe's translation
Both Atlakviða and Grímnismál are often considered to be among the oldest extant Eddic poems. It may not be a coincidence that they are the only ones to refer to Ullr. Again we seem to find Ullr associated with some sort of ceremony, this time that of swearing an oath by a ring, a practice associated with Thor in later sources. During an excavation in 2007, of a Vendel era shrine for Ullr north of Stockholm, many symbolic rings were discovered and which are considered to represent Ullr's ring.

Prose Edda

In chapter 31 of Gylfaginning in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, Ullr is referred to as a son of Sif (with a father unrecorded in surviving sources) and as a stepson of Sif's husband Thor:
Ullr heitir einn, sonr Sifjar, stjúpsonr Þórs. Hann er bogmaðr svá góðr ok skíðfœrr svá at engi má við hann keppask. Hann er ok fagr álitum ok hefir hermanns atgervi. Á hann er ok gott at heita í einvígi.
Ullr, Sif's son and Thór's stepson, is one [too]. He is such a good archer and ski-runner that no one can rival him. He is beautiful to look at as well and he has all the characteristics of a warrior. It is also good to call on him in duels.– Young's translation

In Skáldskaparmál, the second part of the Prose Edda, Snorri mentions Ullr again in a discussion of kennings. Snorri informs his readers that Ullr can be called ski-god, bow-god, hunting-god and shield-god. In turn a shield can be called Ullr's ship. Despite these tantalising tidbits Snorri relates no myths about Ullr. It seems likely that he didn't know any, the god having faded from memory.

Popular reception

The town of Breckenridge, Colorado hosts a week-long festival called "Ullr Fest" each year in January, featuring numerous events designed to win his favor in an effort to bring snow to the historic ski town. Breck Ullr Fest was first held in 1962.

Archaeological record

Thorsberg chape

The Thorsberg chape (a metal piece belonging to a scabbard found in the Thorsberg moor) bears an Elder Futhark inscription, one of the earliest known altogether, dating to roughly AD 200.
owlþuþewaz / niwajmariz
The first element owlþu, for wolþu-, means "glory", "glorious one", Old Norse Ullr, Old English wuldor. The second element, -þewaz, means "slave, servant". The whole compound is a personal name or title, "servant of the glorious one", "servant/priest of Ullr". Niwajmariz means "well-honored".

Lilla Ullevi

In Lilla Ullevi ("little shrine of Ullr") north of Stockholm archaeologists excavated during 2007 the site of a religious worshiping ground for Ullr (from 500 to 800 AD). The well-preserved state of the shrine may be unique in Scandinavia: it was shaped like a platform with two "arms" of rocks having four erected poles in front of it where there was probably a wooden platform. Moreover, the archaeologists found 65 "amulet rings" in the area; rings are reported to have been used when people swore oaths. They may be the rings of Ullr that are referred to in the eddic poem Atlakviða.