The Disir were important and powerful beings in the world of Norse mythology. Much about these creatures, however, remained undefined and could vary from one Scandinavian region to another. There were, however, some standard traits about the Disir that most Scandinavian communities agreed upon. For one, the Disir were always portrayed as female entities. Additionally, the medieval Swedes, Norwegians and Icelanders all believed the Disir were worthy of honorary sacrifices and feasts during the Winter Nights. In Norway and Iceland, this event was called dísablót (“sacrifice to the Disir”), and in Sweden it was called dísaping, or “Disir-Assembly.”
Generally, a Dís (singular of Disir) was seen as a powerful supernatural being that took a keen interest in families and estates. Their strength could vary greatly. Sometimes, they were described as mere guardian ancestor spirits, but their power could also inflate to that of minor local gods. The Disir would usually use their power for good—they acted as guardians to families and family farms, and sometimes even lent their protection to individual people. Yet, they did not love unconditionally and were known to take revenge against families or people who had not given proper sacrifice, or had otherwise angered their respective Dís.
Scholars have found similarities between the Disir and other forms of matron worship throughout Scandinavia, Germany and Britain. In Norse mythology, alone, the Disir seem closely tied to Valkyries and fetches, but the Disir seemed to have been the strongest of these female Norse mythological compatriots. In the end, the Disir remain a mysterious group of beings who, although they did not have a clear position in the hierarchy of the Norse gods, were seen as powerful spirits that deserved respect.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Image of Sif commissioned by James Baldwin (c. 1897), in front of a depiction of a disablot by August Malmström, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Egil’s Saga (recorded c. 13th century, possibly by Snorri Sturluson), translated by Bernard Scudder. New York: Penguin Classics, 2004 edition.