Freyr and Freyja come from Germanic words meaning "lord" and "lady" respectively (cf. German Frau "woman, wife", Gothic Frauja "the Lord"). While there are some sources suggesting that she was called on to bring fruitfulness to fields or wombs, in Eddas she was portrayed as a goddess of fertility, love, beauty, and attraction. Freyja was also a goddess of war, death, magic, prophecies and wealth. Freyja is cited as receiving half of the dead lost in battle in her hall Sessrúmnir, whereas Odin would receive the other half.
Correspondingly, Freyja was at times one of the most popular goddesses. According to Snorri's Ynglinga saga, Freyja was a skilled practitioner of the seiðr form of magic and introduced it amongst the Æsir.
Poetic Edda and Prose EddaEdit
Njördr in children: the son was called Freyr, and the daughter Freyja; they were fair of face and mighty. ... Freyja is the most renowned of the goddesses; she has in heaven the dwelling called Fólkvangr, and where so ever she rides to the strife, she has one-half of the kill, and Odin half ...
Her hall Sessrúmnir is great and fair. When she goes forth, she drives her cats and sits in a chariot; she is most conformable to man's prayers, and from her name comes the name of honor, Frú, by which noblewomen are called. Songs of love are well-pleasing to her; it is good to call on her for furtherance in love. (Gylfaginning, Brodeur's translation )
Surviving tales regarding Freyja often associate Freyja with numerous enchanted possessions.
Freyja, for example, owned a cloak of feathers (debatedly, either robin's feathers or hawk feathers), which gave her the ability to change into any bird, and to fly between worlds. She lends this garment to Loki twice, once to save Idun, once in Þrymskviða to search for Thor's hammer. The same magical cloak was also assigned to Frigg in some tales.
Freyja rides a boar called Hildisvín the Battle-Swine. In the poem Hyndluljóð, we are told that the boar is Ottar, but it seems that Ottar was temporarily disguised as Hildisvini, not that Hildisvini is Ottar. The boar has special associations within Norse Mythology, both relative to the notion of fertility and also as a protective talisman in war.
Freyja also has a famous necklace called Brisingamen (Brísingamen). Reputed, it is made of gold and amber.
According to Prose Edda, Loki once robbed Brisingamen from Freyja, and the goddess had to ask Heimdall for help. After a great battle with Loki, Heimdall won and gave the necklace back to Freyja. This myth was partially borrowed by Sörla þáttr.
In Thrymskvitha, when Loki asked Freyja to put on the bridal veil and come with him to Jotunheim, the goddess was so wrathful that all the dwellings in heaven were shaken and the necklace Brisingamen broke off from her neck.
Bind thee, Freya
in bridal raiment
for we two must drive
Know me to be
of women lewdest
if with thee I drive
Receiver of half the slainEdit
Snorri writes in Gylfaginning (24) that "wherever she rides to battle, she gets half the slain" (Faulkes translation); he does not say whether or not Freyja actively participates in the battle in any way. Though Freyja receives some of those warriors slain on the battlefield, there is no record of how that occurs. Does Freyja pick them herself? Or do Odin or the Valkyries decide? There are no answers to these questions.
It is said in Grímnismál:
- The ninth hall is Folkvang, where bright Freyja
- Decides where the warriors shall sit:
- Some of the fallen belong to her,
- And some belong to Odin.
In Egil's saga, Thorgerda (Þorgerðr), threatens to commit suicide in the wake of her brother's death, saying: "I shall not eat until I sup with Freyja". This should be taken to mean that she expected to pass to Freyja's hall upon her death. Any greater associations with Freyja and death are not supported.
- "Vanadis", which means "Dís of the Vanir".
- Mardöll, whose etymology is uncertain, also appears in kennings for gold;
- Hörn, which may be related to the word hörr meaning "flax", "linen" (Hörn is also listed in the þulur as a giantess name);
- Gefn, which means "the giver", is a suitable name for a fertility goddess;
- Sýr, whose translation is "sow", illustrates the association of the Vanir with pigs (cf. Freyr's boar Gullinbursti).
Some of these names (Hörn, Sýr, Gefn, Mardöll) are also listed in a þula which also supplies:
Frayja in Other Indo-European TraditionsEdit
Britt-Mari Näsström posits in her "Freyja: Great Goddess of the North" that there is a tenable connection from Freyja to other Goddesses worshipped along the migration path of the Indo-Europeans who consistently appeared with either one or two cats/lions as companions, usually in the war Goddess aspect but occasionally also as a love Goddess. These would include: Durga, Ereshkegal, Sekhmet, Menhit, Bast, Anat, Asherah, Nana, Cybele, Rhea, and others. That the name Freyja translates to the deliberately ambiguous title of "Lady" infers that like Odin, She wandered and bore more names than are perhaps remembered in the modern age.
References and notesEdit
- Egils Saga
- Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda
- H. R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
- E. O. G. Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North
- Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, 2nd Edition (the seminal work of reference on Germanic and Scandinavian religion).