Who is Freyja in Norse Mythology?
Freyja (“Lady” in Old Norse), sometimes known as Freya or Frea, was the daughter of the sea god Njörd in Germanic mythology and sister of Freyr. She was an important fertility goddess and oversaw love, fertility, battle, and death. She was also a member of the Vanir, one of the two branches into which the Germanic gods were divided. Pigs were sacred to her, and she rode a boar with golden bristles.
One of the most popular female divinities from the Norse pantheon, twin sister of Freyr and daughter of Njörd. Beautiful and many functioned, Freyja features heavily as a fertility goddess, stemming from her place in the Vanir family of gods who handle things related to fertility along her area of expertise regarding love, lust and beauty, but also with magic and sometimes death.
Freyja was the Scandinavian goddess who watched over the crops and new life, mainly appearing in many myths as a lover or object of lust. However, she was concerned with affairs of the heart and likely played an important role in the old Scandinavian religion.
The Role of Freyja in Norse Mythology
The starting point of Freyja’s many functions comes from her role as a fertility divinity. She was called Vanadis because of her Vanir descent, while her other name horn probably comes from a word meaning flax or linen in old Norse, which was an important material cultivated early on in Scandinavia and was thought to ward off evil while bringing fertility to mankind.
Flax manufacture was also known to have been a female affair and just because bridal dresses were made of linen, Freyja became an entity defender of love and weddings.
Integration of Freyja and Frigg
In Germanic myth, she is assimilated with Frigg, as they were both of equal nobility and are possibly separate aspects of a single divine principle.
Other accounts mention her as to have been associated with a form of witchcraft involving some kind of divination.
Depiction of Freyja
Freyja is often depicted as a young and beautiful blonde-haired woman wearing Armor over a flowing gown, sometimes bearing a shield and a spear.
It is believed that she is the most accessible divinity for people to call upon and from her name, came the designation Frúva or Lady, which became the sign of respect women bore ever since.
Playing a major role in erotic poetry, Freyja had a special authority in relationships involving love. So, it was believed that it was good to call on her for help. Yet, she was not the only goddess of love for whom mankind had recourse.
Background and Family of Freyja
Freyja was born in Vanaheim but moved to Asgard as a hostage when peace was made between the Vanir and the Aesir. As the story says, she was delivered over by the Vanir and was accepted among the Asgardians as the goddess of love and fertility.
While Freyja may have originally been paired in a brother-sister couple with Freyr, our most comprehensive source when it comes to Norse mythology, through the Icelandic mythographer Snorri Sturluson, has her down as the wife of a deity named Ódr (or Odur, Od) who have gone missing into foreign lands, inexplicably leaving Freyja behind who would later wander the earth in search of him while weeping tears of gold.
Being also a goddess of wealth, as attested to by many poetic references that link her to treasure, her tears are said to have been made of gold.
In addition, both Freyja’s daughters’ names Hnoss and Gersemi, meaning something along the lines of preciousness or treasure and were possibly used in later poetry as manifestations of Freyja herself.
According to some accounts, many of Freyja’s various names are those she acquired during her wanderings in the unknown looking for her husband. However, her journey in search of him is completely undocumented.
Freyja’s Association with War and Death
Freyja was given the realm of Folkvangr and given the fact that all Scandinavian warriors who bravely die in battle were collected by Valkyries, but as she was closely associated with death, she claimed half of these heroes for her own then carried them to Folkvangr, while the others went to Valhalla.
As the god of wisdom and magic, Odin had the closest association with the dead, while other Vanir deities have no such connection.
However, Freyja’s relationship with magic is also well known and Snorri Sturluson relayed how it was Freyja who first taught certain shamanistic magic among the gods of Asgard—this is called the Seidr (a form of magic practised in Old Norse society).
Finally, the way Freyja chose to slain warriors as opposed to Valkyries carries her into more ferocious spheres functioning as a goddess of death and even battle itself.
This link between Freyja and Odin, as well as Odin’s strong proficiency with magic, led many to think that Odin and Freyja’s husband could have originally been the same individual.
Animals and Symbols Associated with Freya
Freyja had several magical and valuable items, among which a cloak of bird feathers that allowed anyone wearing it to change into a falcon and fly great distances. In addition, she was said to take the form of a she-goat at night and was in the habit of travelling around the Norse mythological cosmos on a carriage pulled by cats.
Sometimes, too she would ride upon a boar with golden bristles not to be confused with that of her twin brother. —Freyja’s boar was called Hildisvíni, her protégé Óttar in disguise. Freyr’s was called Gullinbursti, which was fashioned by two brothers’ craftsmen
Her last, but most popular attribute was the Brisingamen necklace, a piece of gold jewellery with tremendous significance. This necklace is believed to have made the goddess irresistible to both men and gods. It also supported any army that she favoured on the battlefield.
Her ownership of the Brisingamen alludes in a text describing how she came into its possession, but its most famous myth concerns its theft which was preserved in such a fragmentary and clumsy way, that it is now hard to come up with one comprehensive story.
The Story of How Freyja Attained her Necklace
The most detailed version which is also the youngest and thus not the pinnacle of reliability describes how Freyja slept with four dwarfs in exchange for it.
The goddess accepted their bargain and received the golden jewellery, but upon knowing what she had done to obtain this necklace, Odin ordered the trickster god to steal it by assuming the form of a fly to get into her bedroom as she was asleep.
After successfully stealing the necklace, Loki was caught up by Heimdall who, after a struggle, managed to retrieve the necklace and return it to Freyja.
In another version, she was told to instigate war among men by any means if she wanted to be given the Brisingamen back to her.
Irresistibleness of Freyja
Just like this story goes, the handed down mythology emphasizes Freyja’s role in all things related to sexuality and her desirability was all over again the core theme. In classic myth, Freyja is often featured as an irresistible item of lust, mainly in the eyes of giants.
In one tale, she was kidnapped by one of them who took her to Jötunheim, hoping to marry her to one of his sons, but she rejected all of them.
Another story tells of Thor‘s hammer being stolen by the giant Thrymr, who refused to return the hammer unless getting his hands on the goddess.
In the tail of the master builder, the giant who was to construct a wall around Asgard, demanded Freyja be part of his payment.
As for other related myths, a certain giant entered Asgard and boasted he would destroy all gods except Sif and Freyja, whom he will take to his home but was fortunately defeated by Thor.
Besides the goddess is the price of many things, which other gods try to avoid paying, other myths however reinforce Freyja’s supposedly free and considerable sexuality, for she was reputed to have had relationships with many suitors including gods and other beings.
There is a poem in the Poetic Edda (Lokasenna Poem), in which Loki accused all goddesses of sexual indiscretion, especially Freyja, who according to him had several affairs with all gods of Asgard. But some account says that she played the oldest profession, for she gave herself to four dwarfs to obtain a beautiful necklace.
This sexual history and her fondness for erotic poetry made plausible the assertion of Snorri that it is towards Freyja whom one must turn in the affairs of lust and love. Presumably, this attachment to human love is consistent with the notion of the Vanir as fertility divinities.
We might reasonably expect a fertility deity to be associated with the dead, but in this mythology at least, the evidence all goes in the other direction.
Freyja’s Sexualisation and Worships
As a fertility deity, Freyja would have taken up a central role in old Scandinavian religion and society for playing a part in the circle of life and death. She is one of the few individual goddesses who had a major role in the more official religious cult, as she incorporates many traits that can be found in fertility divinities from all over the world, among which is a clear connection to death.
The goddess Freyja is feigned for her cheerfulness and the worship devoted to her was erotic.
We now know that she was a potent force in the last years of paganism in Iceland, because of a famous incident recounted in connection with Christianisation. At the Althing Parliament, a supporter of the conversion was banned for blasphemy towards the goddess because of a song he recited calling her in disgraceful names. This shows that she was still important enough for people not to successfully get away with these sorts of things.
Even though the old Norse sources do not specifically detail the existence of a cult to Freyja but many places in Sweden and Norway are related to her name, indicating clear worship of her which even pointed to a public cult as opposed to a domestic worship one would expect for a goddess.
It is obvious that the people of Iceland, on the verge of conversion to Christianity, still had Freyja clearly on their minds as the most renowned goddess of Scandinavian mythology.
Art Credits: Chris Gillett, Tomasz Ryger, Francesca Resta.