|Goddess of Love, Beauty, and War|
|About Lady Freya||Prayers||Reference Guide||Articles|
Freya is the goddess that women want to be and men want to possess. She is completely comfortable in her own independence, her own ferociousness, and her own sexual power. She does not need anyone, but desires them all, with a shamelessness that would make a stripper blush. Societal rules and regulations, mores and morals, do not apply to Freya. She is her own lady, bringer of wealth, love, fertility, and death.
Freya is a member of the Vanir, one of two pantheons that comprise Norse divinity. In general, the Vanir are closely connected to the earth, to the fertility of the planet and the people and animals who live upon her. The AEsir, the other clan of deities, are similar to sky beings, working with universal and mystical forces that are almost too large for humans to comprehend. Most of the Norse gods and goddesses in the Poetic and Prose Eddas, medieval texts of Norse mythology, are members of the AEsir. Some historians speculate that the Vanir and AEsir were actually two different groups of ancient people with diverse cultural focuses. The varying gods and goddesses focused on the specific needs of each society -- the Vanir for an agricultural society and the AEsir for a pastoral society. When the two societies met, they fought (just as their gods fight in "The Seeress's Prophecy" in the Poetic Edda), and eventually the two cultures merged. Freya, her twin brother, Frey, and their father, Njordh, go to live him on the AEsir as a sign of truce between the divine clans.
Freya and Frey are blood relations, but they are also divine lovers. Following the construct of divine pairings and royal blood staying true, Freya and Frey unite to ensure the fertility of the earth, as well as material wealth for all. Frey is the fertile Earth to Freya's energizing presence. He is the seed and she is the sun, warming the soil and coaxing the seed to be reborn. She is the raging fire to his calming earth, the spark that kindles his divinity. Their relationship works in a way similar to the God and Goddess union in Hindu mythology. The male God, in the Hindu belief system, lies inert and passive, waiting for the female Goddess to awaken and empower him. Freya is the wild woman to Frey's green man, the life force to his life vessel or container.
Freya's powerful life spark is represented by two symbols, one modern and the other from the original sources in Scandinavian and Icelandic mythology. The simple heart was suggested, by Edred Thorsson in his A Book of Troth, to be a sign of the blessings of Freya, given to those who undertake her mysteries. The heart is a stylized impression of the female genitals and/or buttocks and indicates the life-giving power of female sexuality. The other, more ancient symbol is Freya's necklace, Brisingamen, which she received from four dwarves after a night spent with each one of them (and you can almost bet that they weren't playing canasta).
In the Icelandic saga the Tale of Hogni and Hedinn, Freya happens upon four dwarves who are just completing a beautiful necklace. Desiring it above all else, she offers them gold and silver in exchange for the piece of jewelry. They tell her that they have gold and silver aplenty, but they'll sell her the necklace for four nights of her love. She agrees and, after four nights, leaves the dwarves, adorned with her new necklace. The four dwarves are easily recognizable as the four dwarves who support the four directions in Norse mythology. Although their names are different, that number indicates a strong correlation between them. As Freya slept with each in turn, she gained knowledge of each direction and the corresponding four elements that craft our world -- earth, air, fire, and water. This wisdom allowed her to embody the essence of life, taking it into herself and claiming it as her own. Freya's vast life-giving and revitalizing power is undoubtedly the reason that numerous giants try to steal her or coax her into marriage and the reason that Loki (the Norse god of cunning and mischief) tries to steal her necklace for Odin. Freya's power is stored in her necklace, as well as in her body.
Norse mythology is rife with stories of Freya's sexual escapades, as she was not satisfied with just her brother, Frey, and the four dwarves. In the "Lokasenna" in the Poetic Edda, Loki, not invited to an AEsir party, decides to attend anyway and stir up some trouble. He insults each god and goddess in turn. Freya stands up for Frigg, the wife of Odin, telling Loki that he is "mad" and pointing out that he has done "ugly, hateful deeds." Loki retaliates by pointing out some of Freya's deeds, saying:
Be silent, Freya! For fully I know thee,
Sinless thou art not thyself;
Of the gods and elves who are gathered here,
Each one as my lover has lain.
Be silent, Freya! Thou foulest witch,
And steeped full sore in sin;
In the arms of thy brother the bright gods caught thee
When Freya her wind set free.
Obviously, in Loki's mind, the easiest way to insult Freya is through her abundant sexuality.
Freya's sexual exploits are known even among the Etin-folk, or giants. In "The Song of Hyndla" in the Poetic Edda, Freya rides her lover Ottar (now disguised as a boar) to the home of the giantess Hyndla, it order to learn some information about his family tree. (I do not doubt that her position on top of Ottar is perfectly crafted to evoke the act of sex.) Hyndla casually calls Ottar the lover of the goddess, and then, after realizing she has been duped into relating information about Ottar's family, the giantess retaliates by demeaning the goddess. Comparing Freya to Heithrun, the mead-giving nanny goat of the gods, Hyndla says:
... in the night who runnest -- your noble friend --
in her heat has Heithrun the he-goats among.
However, the giantess does not satisfied with this brief description of Freya as a rutting she-goat. She continues, in even more graphic detail:
Were you ever ready to lie with Oth:
Under your apron still others have crept in the night,
Who runnest -- as you noble friend --
In her heat as Heithrun the he-goats among.
It is unclear who the giantess refers to by the name of "Oth." He may be another of Freya's lovers or it may be another name for Freya's husband, Od.
It's hard to imagine a Norse warrior comfortable with a philandering wife. Yet Od is represented in the Eddas as loving Freya without end, and the feeling appears to be mutual. When Od leaves Freya on long travels, Freya cries tears of red gold and searches for him among the varying cultures on earth. Little is known of Od, other than his role as Freya's husband. Od may have been a later addition to the Eddas, in an attempt to "purify" the goddess and toned down her promiscuity. Since Od has no exploits in the mythology (apart from the leaving of Freya), he may actually be Odin in disguise. After all, Freya and Odin share many of the same characteristics and interests.
Like Odin, Freya receives half of the slain warriors from every battlefield. Odin's battle maids, the Valkyries, escort half of the warriors to his hall, Valhalla. The other half are led by Freya herself to her hall in Asgard, alternatively called Folkvang ("army-plain") or Sessrumnir ("roomy-seated"). Indeed, Freya serves as the leader of the Valkyries added this capacity is known as Valfreya, Mistress of the Slain. She rides her gold-bristled boar, Hildisvin ("battle-swine"), into battle or drives a golden chariot drawn by two large cats. (She also has the capacity to fly when wearing a cloak of falcon feathers and shapeshifting into a falcon. The mythology never actually shows her achieving this feat but does mention her cloak when Loki borrows it in "Thyrmís Poem" in the Poetic Edda.) The boar is an animal that shows the duality of Freya's personality. It is a life-giving, fertile animal as well is an animal that is associated with death. Boars have been known to eat the rotting flesh of dead animals and even, on occasion, their own piglets. The boar is so closely associated with Freya that one of her many names is Syr ("the sow" or "the protector").
Another of Freya's animals, the cat, connects the goddess to an additional aspect of Norse culture, that of the practice of Seidr, or Norse shamanic magic. A practitioner of Seidr is described as wearing white catskin gloves, catskin shoes, and a hood lined with catskin as part of a traditional costume when performing an oracular ceremony in the Norse Saga of Eric the Red. Although the Norse mythology takes a dim view of Seidr, it cannot be considered an evil or malevolent practice. Like all shamanism, it deals with the spirit world and the subject of a person's soul or animus. Working in the shadows, Seidr was antithetical to the warrior ethic found among much of Norse culture and thus was relegated to the subject of sorcery or witchcraft, "women's work," and not worthy of the respect of the leaders of men.
Freya gains the knowledge of Seidr in a fiery initiation, under the name of Gullveig ("golden liquor," "power of gold," or "gold-intoxication"). Gullveig begins the war between the Vanir and AEsir when she is killed three times in Odin's Hall at the beginning of the Poetic Edda in "The Seeressís Prophecy." (The reason for violence against Gullveig is debatable and may have something to do with her bringing gold lust to the gods or with the process of refining gold by burning it.) The Volva, or Seidr mistress, says:
The war I remember, the first in the world,
When the gods with spears had smitten Gullveig,
And in the hall all of Hor [Odin] had burned her,
Three times burned, and three times born,
Oft and again, yet ever she lives.
Gullveig, after having been speared several times and burned three times, still survives, showing her divine status. Not only does she survive, but the next stanza of the poem states that after the initiatory trial, Gullveig emerges as Heidh, with full knowledge of Seidr.
Heith they named her who sought their home,
The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise;
Minds she'd bewitched that were moved by her magic,
To evil women a joy she was.
The interpretation of this stanza is much debated by modern Seidr-workers and scholars of Norse literature. Most of the time, the last line is translated as "wicked women," but other translations include "unhappy women" and "wretched people," indicating a more positive outlook on Seidr.
As Freya teaches heard newly earned skill to Odin and to humanity, it is probable that Seidr reflects the oppositional characteristics of the goddess. As Freya is neither loved nor war, birth nor death, but a composite of both, so too can Seidr be used for good and bad, for positive and negative results.
The goddess Freya does not easily fit into a nice, neat category. She is full-bodied and rife with the energy of life. She throws caution to the wind and lives with complete abandon, never allowing an opportunity to pass her by. She is completely herself, choosing to honor her own moral compass instead of that of society. Sexy, strong, and supernatural, Freya lives on the edge, teetering precariously, balancing on her toes, and laughing all the while.