Arguably, few figures in the Eddas are as mysterious as Gullveig. Her identity, her ties to the Vanir, and her importance to the greater lore have long been a source of confusion and debate across heathenry and the greater academic world. Who is Gullveig? Well, that really is up to your personal interpretation, as annoying as that answer is.
She remembers the war of peoples first in the world,
When Gullveig with spears they studded
And in Hár’s hall burned her;
Thrice burned, thrice born,
Often, unseldom, though she yet lives.
Heid they called her, wherever she came to houses,
A seeress skilled in prophecy, she observed magic staffs;
She performed seid, wherever she could, she performed seid in a trance,
She was ever the joy of an evil woman
(Voluspa, Lindow Translation)
We can draw certain conclusions from her sparse attestations – namely, that she was important enough to the Vanir that her attempted murder at the hands of the Æsir was reason enough to start a war. This has lead many to draw the conclusion that Gullveig is Freyja, daughter of Njorðr. She too, after all, is known to practice seiðr and is associated with gold. This is the perspective of noted academics Maria Kvilhaug, John Lindow, and Rudolf Simek, among others. Others see Angrboða as Gullveig, as the One Who Brings Sorrow is clouded in mystery and intrigue that extends beyond the Völuspá – and she too clearly holds unknowable power and a story that predates her relationship with Loki. Loki eats a burned heart in Hyndluljóð, and many have speculated that it’s the aftermath of Gullveig’s (Angrboða/Heið’s) burning.
Loki ate some of the heart, the thought-stone of a woman, roasted on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked; Lopt was impregnated by a wicked woman, from whom every ogress on earth is descended.
And others still see the seeress herself – the one speaking the prophecy – to be Gullveig (putting aside that many also see Angrboða as the seeress). She clearly held knowledge that the gods coveted, and Gullveig herself is a being that bewilders the Æsir, enough to try to kill her three times with little to show for it.
It’s highly likely that we will never know the answer to the question who is Gullveig? So, for now, we see her as a powerful seidworker, a being who was punished by the Æsir, a being important enough to the Vanir that her mistreatment fractured whatever peace they held with Asgard. For many heathens she is seen as the first of the women burned for having power that frightened social authority. An inspiration, perhaps, to live and thrive regardless.
But, who is Gullveig to you?