Forseti was the Norse god of justice, law, and reconciliation. Known to be the son of Baldr and Nanna (Baldr being the god of peace and light and Nanna having no known role outside of being married), he was renowned for his great mediation abilities and his signature weapon was the axe.
With a name that translates literally to “the presiding one” in Old Norse, Forseti represented the court system within Nordic society. It was said that no one left Forseti’s court without their problems reconciled in some form, both parties accepting his verdict without complaint. Even the other gods of Valhalla would abide by his decisions as no one was above the law or the verdicts he set down.
To represent his position as the judge above all, Forseti’s own court was known as Glitnir, meaning “shining”. This was appropriate as legends described the hall as being made of gleaming golden pillars and a silver roof, shining so brightly as to be seen from great distances away. Some stories describe Baldr as residing there with his son at times, as well.
Compared to other gods in the Norse pantheon, Forseti is somewhat obscure and little is known about him in modern day. Classical literature mentions him by name only twice. The first of these appearances was in the 15th century as part of the stanza Grímnismál which describes Glitnir and his role in dispute resolution among gods and men.
The second source, the 13th century Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, describes Forseti’s parentage. However, issues arise in following this text, as Sturluson’s work is often abridged or invented without actual historical backing, making Forseti’s actual heritage somewhat dubious. Any further mentions of the god are ambiguous at best.
The fact that Forseti is considered to be a “younger” god in the pantheon relates back to his role as a judge. Compared to the old gods like Odin and many of his children, Forseti represented the importance of talking disputes out peacefully rather than seeking violent retribution for being wronged. This is particularly important given Baldr’s murder by Höðr, essentially meaning Forseti chose to uphold the rule of law despite being wronged in a way that many other gods would avenge through killing.
It has been suggested by certain historians that Forseti may be the same deity as Fosite, a Frisian deity. An island known in modern times as Heligoland was supposedly founded as Fositesland, named for a god-like man who rescued twelve Frisian set adrift in a boat who taught them about law and order. Given the island’s location relative to Germany and the Scandinavian countries, this would make sense. Others are skeptical of this association, though, as the golden axe Fosite was claimed to have had could also indicate that the figure in the myth was a closer match to Thor.
Forseti’s influence can still be felt today, in that his name is the modern word for “president” in both Icelandic and Faroese.