Freya the Beautiful, Lady of the Vanir
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Goddess of Love, Beauty, and War
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Reference Guide for the Goddess Freya

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BRÍSINGA MEN
Torque or necklace belonging to Freyja.

A precious necklace, owned by the goddess Freya according to the 13th-century Icelander Snorri Sturluson and other late sources, notably the eddic poem Thrymskvida. In his ninth-century skaldic poem Haustlong, Thjodolf of Hvin describes the god Loki as 'the thief of Brising’s girdle', while a 10th-century skaldic poem, Husdrapa, appears to allude to a battle between Loki and the god Heimdall over some precious item of jewelry. Snorri, presumably synthesizing from these and other now-lost sources, recounts how Loki stole the Brisingamen from Freya, but that Heimdall recovered it after he Loki had fought in the shape of seals. A 14th-century source, Sorla Thattr, describes how Freya acquired the necklace, which was made by four dwarves, by spending a night with each in turn. According to Sorla Thattr, Loki stole the necklace at the request of the god Odin, after changing himself into a fly, passing into Freya's bedchamber through the keyhole and stinging the sleeping figure, who was lying on the necklace, to make her move. Only when Freya causes an endless war between two kings (the so-called Hjandningavig) does Odin return her hard-won property.

In eddic poetry, the Brisinga men is found in Thrymskvida. It jerks when Freyja is angered at the suggestion that she should go to Giantland (stanza 13), and at Heimdall’s suggestion (stanza 15), it is put onto Thor as he assumed Freyja’s disguise (stanza 19). Otherwise the Brisinga men is found only in Snorri’s Edda. In both Gylfaginning and Skaldskaparmal, Snorri says simply that Freyja owned it, but in Skaldskaparmal he also gives two very interesting pieces of information: Loki and Heimdall fought over it, and Loki is known as the “thief of the giants, of the goat, of the Brisinga men, and of the apples of Idun.” A battle between Heimdall and Loki is known from one stanza of the late-tenth-century Icelandic skaldic poem Husdrapa by Ulf Uggason. It is difficult to interpret, but some scholars think they may indeed have been fighting over the Brisinga men. In stanza 9 of the Haustlong of Thjodolf of Hvin, one of the very earliest skaldic poems, Loki is called “hoop-thief of Brising’s people,” an apparent reference to his theft of the necklace. The same myth also appears to be recounted in the late Sorla thattr, in which Loki, taking on the form of a fly, steals from Freyja a golden necklace made for her by dwarfs, but the necklace is not explicitly called the Brisinga men.

Lines 1197–1201 of the Old English epic Beowulf allude to a legendary narrative in which the hero Hama takes away the necklace of the Brosings (Brosinga mene), fleeing the terror of Ermaneric. This necklace is clearly an analog of the Brisinga men, and many scholars have tried to relate the story attached to it to Loki’s battle with Heimdall or theft of the necklace, an enterprise that is not easy. What the Beowulf analog does seem to show is that Brisinga men should be understood as “torque of the Brisings,” not, as some scholars have thought, “gleaming torque” or “sunny torque.” But who the Brisings might be remains an unanswered question. The Brising of Haustlong is not found elsewhere, although the thulur refer to a Norwegian island of that name. The simplest explanation might be to regard the Brisings as dwarfs, the ones who, according to Sorla thattr, made Freyja’s precious necklace.

References and further reading: Perhaps the most famous treatment of the Brisinga men is an essay by Karl Mullenhoff, “Frija und der Halsbandmythus,” Zeitschrift fur deutsches Altertumn 30 (1886): 217–260, which argues for a kind of solar myth that, as F. Klaeber put it, “compels admiration rather than acceptance” (Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg: Edited with Introduction, Bibliography, Notes, Glossary, and Appendices, 3rd ed., with first and second supplements [Boston: D. C. Heath, 1950], 178). The archaeological background is explored by Birgit Arrhenius, “Det flammande smycket,” Fornvannen 57 (1962): 79–101, and “Zum symbolischen Sinn des Almadin im fruheren Mittelalter,” Fruhmittelalterliche Studien 3 (1969): 47–59. The parallel between Brosinge mene and Brisinga men is treated by Ursula Dronke, “Beowulf and Ragnaro, k,” Saga-Book of the Viking Society 17 (1968): 302–325, and Helen Damico, “Sorlaπattr and the Hama Episode in Beowulf,” Scandinavian Studies 55 (1983): 222–235.

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