Freyja (sometimes anglicized as Freya) is a major goddess in Norse Paganism, a subset of Germanic Paganism. Because the documented source of this religious tradition, the Norse Mythology, was transmitted and altered by Christian medieval historians, the actual role, heathen practices and worship of the goddess are uncertain.
In the Eddas, Freyja is portrayed as a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. Blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful, Freyja is described as the fairest of all goddesses, and people prayed to her for happiness in love. She was also called on to assist childbirths and prayed to for good seasons.
Freyja was also associated with war, battle, death, magic, prophecy, and wealth. She is cited as receiving half of the dead lost in battle in her hall Fólkvangr, whereas Odin would receive the other half at Valhalla. The origin of Seid was ascribed to Freyja.
Frigg and Freyja are the two principal goddesses in Norse religion, and described as the highest amongst the Asynjur. Freyja is the goddess most honoured after or along with Frigg, and her worship seems to have been even the more prevalent and important of the two. In the Droplaugarsona Saga, it is described that in a temple at Ölvusvatn, Iceland, statues of Frigg and Freyja have been seated upon higher thrones opposite those of Thor and Freyr. These statues were arrayed in drapery and ornaments of gold and silver.
In Heimskringla, Freyja is also presented as a mythological Princess of Sweden. Her father Njörðr is seen as the second mythological King of Sweden, and her brother Freyr is the third. Freyr and Freyja's mother is Njörðr's sister (who has been often linked to the ancient Germanic goddess Nerthus), as it is a custom of the Vanir and allowed by their laws.
Further in Heimskringla, it is written that many temples and statues of native pagan gods and goddesses were raided and destroyed by Olaf Tryggvason and Saint Olaf during the gradual and violent process of the Christianization of Scandinavia. During and after the extent that the process of Christianization was complete, Freyja and many things associated with her were demonized by the growing influence of Christian missionaries. After Christian influence was cemented in law, traces of belief went increasingly underground into mainly rural areas, surviving into modern times in Germanic folklore and most recently reconstructed to varying degrees in Germanic neopaganism.
The names Freyr and Freyja come from Germanic words meaning "the Lord" and "the Lady" respectively (Germanic cognates include Gothic Fráuja "lord, master", Fráujo "lady, mistress", Old Norse Frú "mistress, lady, woman", Danish Frue, Swedish Fru, German Frau "miss, woman, wife", Old High German Frouwa, Anglo-Saxon Freo, Frea). Like the French word "Dame" (from Latin "domina"), whose masculine form (Latin "dominus") had perished, the meaning of "Lord" is also no longer in use, while the title "Frau" still survives today in many Germanic languages.
Freyja's name, however, is potentially related to Frigg's name (cognate to the Swedish verb att fria, "to propose marriage"), because "woman" and "marriage/love" are ultimately related, and Freyja and Frigg are often thought to be avatars of each other (cf. Frige, Friia, Frija, Frea).
Freyja appears in various poems of the Poetic Edda
, a compilation of poems composed around the 9th to the 11th century rooted in Skaldic poetry from much oral tradition.
("The Sayings of Grímnir") features stanzas devoted to describing the realms of major Norse deities. Fólkvangr, Freyja's dwelling, is among the twelve abodes of the gods mentioned in the poem:
- "Fólkvangr is the ninth,
- there Freyja directs
- the sittings in the hall.
- She half the fallen chooses each day,
- but Odin the other half."
It was written by Snorri Sturluson in the Prose Edda that "whenever she rides to the strife, she has one-half of the slain". The stanza above describes Freyja's realm. The name Fólkvangr can be translated to "People-Field" or "Army-Field"). Her hall, Sessrúmnir, can be translated as "Seats-Roomy". These names indicate a parallel to Valhalla, which houses the Einherjar, an army of the dead preparing for Ragnarök.
("Prophecy of the Seeress") is the first and one of the primary poems of the Poetic Edda. In the poem, a Völva
("Seeress") professes much information about past and future events to Odin. Freyja is mentioned briefly in the poem:
- "Then sought the gods their assembly-seats,
- The holy ones, and council held,
- To find who with venom the air had filled,
- Or had given Óðr's bride [Freyja] to the giants' brood.
- In swelling rage then rose up Thor,
- Seldom he sits when he such things hears,
- And the oaths were broken, the words and bonds
- The mighty pledges between them made."
These two stanzas are part of the story mentioned in the Prose Edda, when the gods tried to break the deal with the owner of Svadilfari in order to protect Freyja. Here Freyja is mentioned as "Óðr's bride", and the one with "venom the air had filled" is Loki. Parts of this scropt were lost because the Völuspá manuscript, like most other Eddic Poems, was in very poor shape.
In his books , Viktor Rydberg had another idea. He thinks that these stanzas are connected to the story of the execution of Gullveig (which is mentioned right before this part), and that Gullveig was executed because she gave Freyja to Jötunheim. Rydberg's explanation is not unsupportable, because given Völuspá's poor state, many Eddic editors sorted the poem differently.
("The Song of Thrymr") is arguably the best and oldest of all Eddic poems. The poem begins with Thor
one day finding his legendary hammer, Mjolnir
, stolen. Thor goes with Loki to Fólkvangr to borrow Freyja's hawk's plumage.
- "Wilt thou me, Freyja,
- thy feather-garment lend,
- that perchance my hammer
- I may find?"
- "That I would give thee,
- although of gold it were,
- and trust it to thee,
- though it were of silver."
Loki then used the feathered cloak to transform into a bird to seek for Thor's hammer. He met Thrymr, King of the Rime Jötuns, who admitted that he had hidden the hammer somewhere, and demanded to marry Freyja in return.
- "I have Hlorridi's
- hammer hidden
- eight rasts
- beneath the earth;
- it shall no man
- get again,
- unless he bring me
- Freyja to wife."
Loki came back to Asgard and went to Fólkvangr again.
- "Bind thee, Freyja,
- in bridal raiment,
- for we two must drive
- to Jötunheim."
Freyja was so wrathful that all the gods' dwellings were shaken and the necklace Brísingamen broke off from her neck.
- Wroth then was Freyja,
- and with anger chafed,
- all the Æsir’s halls
- beneath her trembled:
- in shivers flew the famed
- Brisinga-necklace. (Brisinga: flaming, twinkling; -men: necklace, jewery)
- "Know me to be
- of women lewdest,
- if with thee I drive
- to Jötunheim."
Since Freyja refused, gods and goddesses hold a council. And following Heimdallr's advice, Thor and Loki borrowed Brísingamen. They went to the wedding disguised as "Freyja and her maid", where Thrymr jubilantly welcomed his new bride.
- "Rise up, Jötuns!
- and the benches deck,
- now they bring me
- Freyja to wife,
- Njörðr's daughter,
- from Noatún.
- Hither to our court let bring
- gold-horned cows,
- all-black oxen,
- for the Jötuns' joy.
- Treasures I have many,
- necklaces many,
- Freyja alone
- seemed to me wanting."
At the banquet, Thrymr was shocked as "Freyja" ate an ox, eight salmons, and drank three casks of meads, but Loki was quick to make lies.
- "Where hast thou seen brides
- eat more voraciously?
- I never saw brides
- feed more amply,
- nor a maiden
- drink more mead."
- "The maid":
- "Freyja has nothing eaten
- for eight nights,
- so eager was she
- for Jötunheim."
- "Why are so piercing
- Freyja's looks?
- Methinks that fire
- burns from her eyes."
- "The maid":
- "Freyja for eight nights
- has not slept,
- so eager was she
- for Jötunheim."
The Jötuns eventually gave "Freyja" the hammer.
- "Bring the hammer in,
- the bride to consecrate;
- lay Mjöllnir
- on the maiden's knee;
- unite us each with other
- by the hand of Vör."
Thor took back his hammer, sprang out from his disguise, slew Thrymr and all his kin.
This myth is also recorded in a Swedish folksong called the Thor song (18th Century), where Freyja is called miss Frojenborg, "den väna solen" (the fair sun).
("Loki's Wrangling") was found only in one edition of the Poetic Edda, the Regius
. Most references in this poem are not mentioned anywhere else either, and whether the poet was influenced by Christianity or not is debated, because he seems not to have any respect for pagan deities.
Following the events of Hymiskviða, Ægir obtained a mighty kettle, brewed mead and invited the Æsir and the Alfar. Of all the gods came Odin, Njörðr, Freyr, Bragi, Týr, Heimdallr, Vidar. Of all the goddesses came Frigg, Freyja, Gefjun, Iðunn, Skaði, and Sif. Although not invited, Loki appears. There, he kills one of Ægir's servants and accuses the gods and goddesses of various vices. Gods and goddesses exchange hurtful comments with Loki, and the poem continues until Thor intervenes. At the end of the poem, a prose ending part relates that shortly afterward, Loki is caught by the gods and bound to a rock until Ragnarök.
The exchange between Freyja and Loki reads as follows:
- "Be thou silent, Frigg!
- Thou art Fjorgyn's daughter, (Fjorgyn: the earth.)
- and ever hast been lustful,
- since Ve and Vili, it is said,
- thou, Vidrir's wife, didst (Vidrir: another name of Odin, Ve and Vili: Odin's brothers)
- both to thy bosom take."
- "Mad art thou, Loki!
- in recounting
- thy foul misdeeds.
- Frigg, I believe,
- knows all that happens,
- although she says it not."
- "Be thou silent, Freyja!
- I know thee full well;
- thou art not free from vices:
- of the Æsir and the Alfar,
- that are herein,
- each has been thy paramour."
- "False is thy tongue.
- Henceforth it will, I think,
- prate no good to thee.
- Wroth with thee are the Æsir,
- and the Asyniur.
- Sad shalt thou home depart."
- "Be silent, Freyja!
- Thou art a sorceress,
- and with much evil blended;
- since against thy brother thou
- the gentle powers excited.
- And then, Freyja! what didst thou do?"
- "It is no great wonder,
- if silk-clad dames
- get themselves husbands, lovers;
- but 'tis a wonder that a wretched man,
- that has borne children, (i.e. the horse Sleipnir)
- should herein enter."
Beside Frigg and Freyja; other goddesses like Iðunn, Gefjun, Sif, Skaði, and even Týr's wife (who is unknown) are also insulted by Loki in the same way. Lee M. Hollander theorized that Lokasenna was intended to be humorous and that the accusations thrown by Loki in the poem are not necessarily to be taken as "generally accepted lore" at the time it was composed. Rather they are charges that are easy for Loki to make and difficult for his targets to disprove, or which they do not care to refute.
Hyndluljóð ("The Lay of Hyndla") was found only in a late edition of the Poetic Edda (around 1400), where it is preserved in a very poor shape. The poem is in fact two poems mixed up together, the semi-historical "Lay of Hyndla" and another labelled by Snorri as "The lesser Völuspá". The date it was composed is generally accepted as around 12th century. In this poem, Freyja rode on her boar Hildisvini to enlist the help of the giantess Hyndla (She-Dog) to find the pedigree of Óttar, her protégé. Óttar here is maybe another name of Freyja's husband, Óðr.
Freyja arrived at Hyndla's cave and called her to Valhalla. But Hyndla quickly realized that the boar is Óttar in disguise.
- "False art thou, Freyja!
- who tempest me:
- by thy eyes thou showest it,
- so fixed upon us;
- while thou thy man hast
- on the dead-road, (i.e. the road to Valhalla)
- the young Óttar,
- Innstein's son."
- "Dull art thou, Hyndla!
- methinks thou dreamest,
- since thou sayest that my man
- is on the dead-road with me;
- there where my hog sparkles
- with its golden bristles,
- hight Hildisvini,
- which for me made
- the two skilful dwarfs,
- Dain and Nabbi."
Hyndla came with Freyja, riding on a wolf. On the road, Freyja explained her duty, and how Óttar had induced her to help him: "For me he built a hörgr with rocks; those stones are now turned to glass; as he reddened it with fresh blood of cattle". (Hörg hann mér gerði hlaðinn steinum; nú er grjót þat at gleri orðit; rauð hann í nýju nauta blóði).
- "They have contested
- for the dead's gold,
- Óttar the young
- and Angantir.
- A duty 'tis to act
- so that the young prince
- his paternal heritage may have,
- after his kindred.
- An offer-stead to me he raised,
- with stones constructed;
- now is that stone
- as glass become.
- With the blood of oxen
- he newly sprinkled it.
- Óttar ever trusted
- in the Asyniur.
- Now let us reckon up
- the ancient families,
- and the races of
- exalted men."
Hyndla gave a very long list of heroes' names as Óttar's ancestors (this is the main part and purpose of the poem). Freyja then confirmed that the boar is Óttar in disguise. She further requested Hyndla to give Óttar a potion that would enable him to remember all that he had been told. But the giantess refused.
- "Go thou quickly hence,
- I long to sleep;
- more of my wondrous power
- thou gettest not from me.
- Thou runnest, my hot friend,
- out at nights,
- as among he goats
- the she goat goes."
- "Fire I strike
- over thee, dweller of the wood!
- so that thou goest not
- ever away from hence."
Hyndla was forced to give the memory-mead, but did not forget to curse it first.
- "Bear thou the cup
- to Óttar's hand,
- the mead with venom mingled,
- in an evil hour!"
- "Thy malediction
- shall be powerless;
- although thou, Jötun maid!
- dost evil threaten.
- He shall drink
- delicious draughts.
- All the gods I pray
- to favour Óttar."
("Oddrún's Laments") belongs to the myths of heroes. In this heroic lay, after giving birth, Princess Borgny called upon Frigg and Freyja to bless Oddrún.
- At last were born a boy and girl,
- Son and daughter of Hogni's slayer;
- Then speech the woman so weak began,
- Nor said she aught ere this she spake:
- "So may the holy ones thee help,
- Frigg and Freyja and favoring gods,
- As thou hast saved me from sorrow now."
The Prose Edda, a large collection of Norse tales and pagan lore written down by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson around 1220, contains numerous references to Freyja. Snorri quotes many Skaldic poems rooted in much older oral tradition as basis.
, the first book of the Prose Edda after the prologue, Freyja is introduced as follows:
- Njörðr í Nóatúnum gat síðan tvau börn, hét sonr Freyr en dóttir Freyja. Þau váru fögr álitum ok máttug. [...] Freyja er ágætust af ásynjum, hon á þann bœ á himni er Fólkvangar heita, ok hvar sem hon ríðr til vígs, þá á hon hálfan val, en hálfan Óðinn [...]
- Salr hennar, Sessrýmnir, hann er mikill ok fagr. En er hon ferr, þá ekr hon köttum tveim ok sitr í reið. Hon er nákvæmust mönnum til á at heita, ok af hennar nafni er þat tignarnafn er ríkiskonur eru kallaðar fróvur. Henni líkaði vel mansöngr. Á hana er gott at heita til ásta.
- Gylfaginning, (Björnsson's Edition)
- Njördr in Nóatún begot afterward 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)
- Freyja er tignust með Frigg. Hon giftist þeim manni, er Óðr heitir. Dóttir þeira er Hnoss. Hon er svá fögr, at af hennar nafni eru hnossir kallaðar, þat er fagrt er ok gersimligt. Óðr fór í braut langar leiðir, en Freyja grætr eftir, en tár hennar er gull rautt. Freyja á mörg nöfn, en sú er sök til þess, at hon gaf sér ýmis heiti, er hon fór með ókunnum þjóðum at leita Óðs. Hon heitir Mardöll ok Hörn, Gefn, Sýr. Freyja átti Brísingamen. Hon er ok kölluð Vanadís.
- Gylfaginning, (Björnsson's Edition)
- Freyja is most gently born (together with Frigg): she is wedded to the man named Óðr. Their daughter is Hnoss: she is so fair, that those things which are fair and precious are called hnossir. Óðr went away on long journeys, and Freyja weeps for him, and her tears are red gold. Freyja has many names, and this is the cause thereof: that she gave herself sundry names, when she went out among unknown peoples seeking Óðr: she is called Mardöll and Hörn, Gefn, Sýr. Freyja had the necklace Brísingamen. She is also called Lady of the Vanir.
- Gylfaginning, (Brodeur's Translation)
The three minor goddesses mentioned immediately after Freyja in Gylfaginning (section 35) are often regarded as her attendants: Sjöfn (a goddess of love), Lofn (a goddess of marriage), and Vár (a goddess of oaths between men and women).
, various informative kennings are written for Freyja:
"How should one paraphrase Freyja? Thus: by calling her Daughter of Njörðr, Sister of Freyr, Wife of Óðr, Mother of Hnoss, Possessor of the Slain, of Sessrúmnir, of the Gib-Cats, and of Brísingamen; Goddess of the Vanir, Lady of the Vanir, Goddess Beautiful in Tears, Goddess of Love." (Skáldskaparmál
Further, in Skáldskaparmál, various kennings for Freyja focus on the tears she weeps, which are made of red gold:
"How should gold be paraphrased? Thus: by calling it Ægir's Fire, and Needles of Glasir, Hair of Sif, Snood of Fulla, Freyja's Tears [...] Rain or Shower of Draupnfir, or of Freyja's Eyes [...]" (Skáldskaparmál (32))
"Gold is called Freyja's Tears, as was said before. So sang Skúli Þórsteinsson:
- Many a fearless swordsman
- Received the Tears of Freyja
- The more the morn when foemen
- We murdered; we were present.
And as Einarr Skúlason sang:
- Where, mounted 'twixt the carvings,
- The Tear of Mardöll lieth,
- We bear the axe shield-splitting,
- Swollen with Serpent's lair-gold." (Skáldskaparmál (37))
Appearances in Myths
Freyja appears in many myths recorded in the Prose Edda.
- Divine twins born after the war of the gods: The war between the Æsir and the Vanir was ignited by the ill treatments of the Æsir to Gullveig, as written in Völuspá. The war ended in a peace treaty, and both sides exchanged hostages. Njörðr was chosen by the Vanir, and sent from Vanaheim to Asgard where he later begot two fair children, as written in Gylfaginning (23 & 24):
- Hinn þriði áss er sá er kallaðr er Njörðr, hann býr á himni þar sem heitir Nóatún. Hann ræðr fyrir göngu vinds ok stillir sjá ok eld. Á hann skal heita til sæfara ok til veiða. Hann er svá auðigr ok fésæll at hann má gefa þeim auð landa eða lausafjár er á hann heita til þess. Eigi er Njörðr ása ættar. Hann var upp fœddr í Vanaheimum, en vanir gísluðu hann goðunum ok tóku í mót at ása gísli gu þann er Hœnir heitir. Hann varð at sætt með goðunum ok vönum. Njörðr í Nóatúnum gat síðan tvau börn, hét sonr Freyr en dóttir Freyja...
- The third among the Æsir is Njörðr: he dwells in heaven, in the abode called Nóatún. He rules the course of the wind, and stills sea and fire; on him shall men call for voyages and for hunting. He is so prosperous and abounding in wealth, that he may give them great plenty of lands or of gear; and him shall men invoke for such things. Njörðr is not of the race of the Æsir: he was reared in Vanaheim, but the Vanir delivered him as hostage to the gods, and took for hostage in exchange him that men call Hœnir; he became an atonement between the gods and the Vanir. Njörðr in Nóatún begot afterward two children: the son was called Freyr, and the daughter Freyja...
- The feast of the Æsir: When Ægir came to Asgard, the Æsir invited him in to their banquet. Many gods and goddesses are mentioned here: "And in the high-seats sat them down those twelve Æsir who were appointed to be judges; these were their names: Thor, Njörðr, Freyr, Týr, Heimdallr, Bragi, Vidar, Váli, Ullr, Hœnir, Forseti, Loki; and in like manner the Asynjur: Frigg, Freyja, Gefjun, Iðunn, Gerd, Sigyn, Fulla, Nanna... The man seated next to Ægir was Bragi, and they took part together in drinking and in converse: Bragi told Ægir of many things which had come to pass among the Æsir." (Skáldskaparmál (1))
- The robbery of Brísingamen: The skaldic poem Húsdrápa partially preserved in Skáldskaparmál relates the story of the theft of Brísingamen by Loki: "One day when Freyja wakes up and finds Brísingamen missing, she enlists the help of Heimdallr to help her search for it. Eventually they find the thief, who turns out to be Loki who has transformed himself into a seal. Heimdallr turns into a seal as well and fights Loki. After a lengthy battle at Singasteinn, Heimdallr wins and returns Brísingamen to Freyja." The rivalry of Loki and Heimdallr for Brísingamen is an important event, as they are destined to fight again and slay each other at the end of Ragnarök. Snorri quoted this poem, saying that because of that legend, Heimdallr is called "Seeker of Brísingamen" and Loki is called "Thief of Brísingamen": "How should one periphrase Heimdallr? By calling him Son of Nine Mothers, or Watchman of the Gods [...] or White God, Foe of Loki, Seeker of Freyja's Necklace [...] Heimdallr is the Possessor of Gulltoppr; he is also Frequenter of Vágasker and Singasteinn, where he contended with Loki for the Necklace Brísingamen, he is also called Vindlér." (Skáldskaparmál (8)) "How should one periphrase Loki? [...] Thief of the Giants, of the Goat, of Brísingamen, and of Iðunn's Apples, Kinsman of Sleipnir, Husband of Sigyn, Foe of the Gods, Harmer of Sif's Hair, Forger of Evil, the Sly God." (Skáldskaparmál (16))
- This myth, which takes place at the sea, is maybe related to the origin of Freyja's name "Mardöll" (Sea-Bright), the bright here is maybe the glittering of the stolen Brísingamen (brísinga means "glittering, twinkling, flaming"). In Heimdallr's name, the word dallr (light) is masculine of döll, and heim means "earth" or "land" (cf. Vanaheim, Alfheim). This is maybe one of the lost tales of Freyja's journey in search for her husband (as Snorri wrote: "She has a great variety of names, for having gone over many countries in search of Óðr, each people gave her a different name".) In Gesta Danorum is another story of a beautiful woman named Sýr (Latinized as Syritha) seeking for Óðr/Óttar (Latinized as Otharus).
- The owner of Svadilfari: This giant came to offer to build a citidel for the gods in three seasons. He demanded to marry fair Freyja, also the sun and the moon as his rewards. Following Loki's ill advice, the gods accepted the deal, but they later urged Loki to deceive the giant to protect Freyja. Loki turned into a mare and seduced Svadilfari, the huge steed of the giant. Without his horse, the giant could not complete his job, he was enraged, insulted the gods, and eventually got slain by Thor before the deal was completed. Loki's prank ultimately backfired on him, and he bore the son of the horse Svadilfari, Sleipnir. (Gylfaginning (42))
- The abduction of Iðunn: The giant Thjazi captured Loki and forced him to lure Iðunn out to kidnap her along with the golden apples. Without the apples of youth, the gods grew old and they soon found out that Iðunn was missing. She was last seen going with Loki, so they cornered the giant and threathened to slay him. Loki had to borrow the hawk's plumage of Freyja to go and free Iðunn. Thjazi chased after them in eagle form, but he was roasted by the gods' fire. Thjazi is father of Skaði, who later became Freyr and Freyja's stepmother. Skaði's march to Asgard for vengeance ended in a marriage with Njörðr. (Skáldskaparmál (1))
- Thor's duel: After his race with Odin, which he lost, the champion of the giants, Hrungnir, came to Asgard. Thor is absent, so he boasted that he would destroy Valhalla, slay all the gods, and take Freyja and Sif home with him. Of all goddesses, Freyja alone was brave enough to stand and pour ale for the giant to waste time while Thor is summoned. The god of thunder, with the help of his clever servant Þjálfi, later slew Hrungnir in a duel, but Thor himself was struck by the giant's horn and also wounded. This is one of the reasons why the Hill Giants are amongst the gods' enemies at the final battle. (Skáldskaparmál (17))
- Baldur's funeral: Baldur, the best of the Æsir, can not be harmed by anything. Loki turned himself into a woman to trick Frigg into revealing that Baldur can only be hurt by the mistletoes. Loki then tricked the blind god Hödr to shoot his brother with a mistletoe twig, thus Baldur was murdered by the evil giant Loki's trickery. "People of many races visited this burning. First is to be told of Odin, how Frigg and the Valkyries went with him, and his ravens; but Freyr drove in his chariot with the boar called Gold-Mane, or Fearful-Tusk, and Heimdallr rode the horse called Gold-Top, and Freyja drove in her chariot drawn by cats..." (Gylfaginning (49))
Sagas of Icelanders
The various Sagas of Icelanders
contain numerous mentions of Freyja.
According to the Ynglinga saga
- "Dóttir Njarðar var Freyja, hon var blótgyðja, ok hon kendi fyrst með Ásum seið, sem Vönum var títt. Þá er Njörðr var með Vönum, þá hafði hann átta systr sína því at þat váru þar lög; váru þeirra börn Freyr ok Freyja. En þat var bannat með Ásum at byggja svá náit at frændsemi."
- "Njörðr's daughter Freyja was priestess of the sacrifices, and first taught the Æsir the magic art, as it was in use and fashion among the Vanir. While Njörðr was with the Vanir he had taken his own sister in marriage, for that was allowed by their law; and their children were Freyr and Freyja. But among the Æsir it was forbidden to intermarry with such near relations."
After the deaths of Odin, Njörðr, and Freyr:
- "Freyja hélt þá upp blótum, því at hon ein lifði þá eptir goðanna, ok varð hon þá hin frægsta, svá at með hennar nafni skyldi kalla allar konur tignar, svá sem nú heita frúvor. Svá heitir ok hver freyja yfir sinni eign, en sú húsfreyja, er bú á. Freyja var heldr marglynd; Óðr hét bóndi hennar, dætr hennar hétu Hnoss ok Gersemi; þær váru fagrar mjög: af þeirra nafni eru svá kallaðir hinir dýrstu gripir."
- "Freyja alone remained of the gods, and she became on this account so celebrated that all women of distinction were called by her name, whence they now have the title Frú (Frau in German); so that every woman is called frú (frau in German), or mistress over her property, and the wife is called the house-Frú (Ehefrau in German). Freyja continued the blood-sacrifices. Freyja had also many other names. Her husband was called Óðr, and her daughters Hnoss and Gersemi. They were so very beautiful, that afterwards the most precious jewels were called by their names.
In King Håkon the Good's saga, Freyja is mentioned twice. First, regarding the sacrifices for the goddess (16):
And first Odin's goblet was emptied for victory and power to his king. Thereafter, Njörðr's and Freyja's goblets for peace and a good season
Secondly, Freyja's golden tears for her husband are referenced:
- Although the king had gained of old
- Enough of Freyja's tears of gold,
- He spared himself no more than tho'
- He'd had no well-filled purse to show.
In Egils saga
, when Þorgerðr threatened to commit suicide, she said: "No supper have I had, and none will I have till I sup with Freyja. I can do no better than does my father: I will not overlive my father and brother."
In Hálfs saga, Queen Signy, wife of King Alfrek, prayed for the help of Freyja in an ale-brewing contest. Her opponent, Geirhild, however, had the help of Odin, who gave her his drools as yeast. And so Signy lost.
Frithiof's Saga mentions the tale of Freyja and Óðr:
- Freyja one day
- Falcon-wings took, and through space hied away.
- Northward and southward she sought her
- Dearly-loved Oder.
According to Njáls saga: "There had been a change of rulers in Norway, Earl Hacon was dead and gone, but in his stead was come Olaf Tryggvason. Along with that was heard that there had been a change of faith in Norway; they had cast off the old faith, but King Olaf had christened the western lands, Shetland, and the Orkneys, and the Faroe Isles. Then many men spoke so that Njal heard it, that it was a strange and wicked thing to throw off the old faith..." Then, Hjalti Skeggiason, an Icelander newly converted to Christianity, wished to express his contempt for the native gods, so he sang:
- "Ever will I Gods blaspheme
- Freyja methinks a dog does seem,
- Freyja a dog? Aye! Let them be
- Both dogs together Odin and she!
Hjalti was found guilty of blasphemy for his infamous verse and he ran to Norway with his father-in-law, Gizur the White. Later, with Olaf Tryggvason's support, Gizur and Hjalti came back to Iceland to invite those assembled at the Althing to convert to Christianity.
The Saga of King Olaf Tryggvason, composed around 1300, describes that following King Olaf Tryggvason's orders, to prove their piety, people must insult and ridicule major heathen deities when they are newly converted into Christianity. Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld, who was reluctantly converted from paganism to Christianity by Olaf, also had to make a poem to forsake pagan deities. Freyja is named among those major deities.
is a short story in the later and extended version of the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason
in the manuscript of the Flateyjarbók
, which is written and compiled by two Christian priests
, Jon Thordson and Magnus Thorhalson, in 14th-15th century. The story borrows parts of Heimskringla
(of how heathen
deities are euhemerised), parts of the poem Lokasenna
sleeping with a boy for a necklace), parts of the Húsdrápa
poem (of Loki
stealing Brisingamen), and the eternal battle Hjaðningavíg
. In the end of the story, the arrival of Christianity
dissolves the old curse that traditionally was to endure until Ragnarök
"Freyja was a human in Asia and was the favorite concubine of Odin, King of Asialand. When this woman wanted to buy a golden necklace (no name given) forged by four dwarves (named Dvalinn, Alfrik, Berling, and Grer), she offered them gold and silver but they replied that they would only sell it to her if she would lie a night by each of them. She came home afterward with the necklace and kept silent as if nothing happened. But a man called Loki somehow knew it, and came to tell Odin. King Odin commanded Loki to steal the necklace, so Loki turned into a fly to sneak into Freyja's bower and stole it. When Freyja found her necklace missing, she came to ask king Odin. In exchange for it, Odin ordered her to make two kings, each served by twenty kings, fight forever unless some christened men so brave would dare to enter the battle and slay them. She said yes, and got that necklace back. Under the spell, king Högni and king Heðinn battled for one hundred and forty-three years, as soon as they fell down they had to stand up again and fight on. But in the end, the great Christian lord Olaf Tryggvason arrived with his brave christened men, and whoever slain by a Christian would stay dead. Thus the pagan curse was finally dissolved by the arrival of Christianity. After that, the noble man, king Olaf, went back to his realm.
This late work of Christian saga authors is quite obviously a propaganda, and does not represent an authentic pagan tradition (here Odin, the chief pagan god, somehow talked about Christianity, the religion that considers Odin and other pagan deities "devils). The Christian priests Jon Thordson and Magnus Thorhalson, who respectively wrote and revised the Olaf sagas in the Flateyjarbók, put this line in their manuscript: "May God Almighty and the Virgin Mary bless both the one that wrote and the one that dictated!"
The battle of Högni and Heðinn is recorded in the skaldic poem Ragnarsdrápa and in Skáldskaparmál (section 49): king Högni's daughter, Hildr, is kidnapped by king Heðinn. When Högni comes to fight Heðinn on an island, Hildr comes to offer her father a necklace on behalf of Heðinn for peace; but the two kings still battle, and Hildr resurrects the fallen to make them fight until Ragnarök. Both these earlier sources never mention Odin or Freyja, much less king Olaf Tryggvason, the historical figure who Christianized Norway and Iceland in the 10th Century. The stealing of Brísingamen is recorded in the skaldic poem Húsdrápa and Skáldskaparmál of the Prose Edda: Loki one day steals Brísingamen, Heimdall contends with Loki at Singasteinn, where he wins and returns Brísingamen to Freyja. Here the story is borrowed and changed that Heimdall is removed. In both the Elder Edda and the Younger Edda, as well as many old skadic poems preserved in Skáldskaparmál, Freyja is the wife of Óðr, not a concubine of Odin. The part of how Freyja obtained a golden necklace does not exist in any sources beside Sörla þáttr, and curiously, in Lokasenna, when Loki accuses goddesses for various vices, he does not even mention that. On the other hand, Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum wrote a somewhat similar story about Frigg sleeping with a servant to obtain a device to steal Odin's gold; in both stories, the chief pagan god Odin is depicted as a cuckold. But Saxo, as a follower of Archbishop Absalon, repeatedly stated that "Odin is a false god and together with Thor and others they borrowed the name and divinity of Latin and Greek gods to trick Scandinavians into recognizing them as a gods", and his accounts are heavily romanticized such as Baldr (Balderus) and Höðr (Høtherus) were not brothers, but love rivals over Nanna (in this account is a princess of Norway).
In Saxo Grammaticus
's Gesta Danorum
, Freyja is theorized as appearing under the name of Sýr (Syritha), a beautiful woman wanted for marriage by a giant, and she travelled seeking for Óðr (Otharus) who had slain the giant to save her.
Rural Scandinavians remained dependent on the forces of nature, fertility gods remained important and in rural 19th century Sweden
, Freyja retained elements of her role as a fertility goddess. In the province of Småland
, there is an account of how she was connected with sheet lightning in this respect:
Jag minns en söndag på 1880-talet, det var några gubbar ute och gick bland åkrarna och tittade på rågen som snart var mogen. Då sa Måns i Karryd: "Nu ä Fröa ute å sir ätter om råjen är mogen." [...] När jag som liten pojke satt hos den gamla Stolta-Katrina, var jag som alla dåtida barn mycket rädd för åskan. När kornblixtarna syntes om kvällarna, sade Katrina: "Du sa inte va rädd barn lella, dä ä bara Fröa som ä ute å slår ell med stål å flenta för å si etter om kornet ä moet. Ho ä snäll ve folk å gör dä bare för å hjälpa, ho gör inte som Tor, han slår ihjäl både folk å fä, när han lynna [...] Jag har sedan hört flera gamla tala om samma sak, på ungefär samma sätt.
I remember a Sunday in the 1880s, when some men were walking in the fields looking at the rye which was about to ripen. Then Måns in Karryd said: "Now Freyja is out watching if the rye is ripe" [...] When as a boy I was visiting the old Proud-Katrina, I was afraid of lightning like all boys in those days. When the sheet lightning flared in the nights, Katrina said: "Don't be afraid little child, it is only Freyja who is out making fire with steel and flintstone to see if the rye is ripe. She is kind to people and she is only doing it to be of service, she is not like Thor, he slays both people and livestock, when he is in the mood" [...] I later heard several old folks talk of the same thing in the same way.
In Värend, Freyja could also arrive at Christmas night and she used to shake the apple trees for the sake of a good harvest and consequently people left some apples in the trees for her sake. Moreover, it was dangerous to leave the plough outdoors, because if Freyja sat on it, it would no longer be of any use.
Potential continental Germanic Sources
Recorded during the 9th or 10th Century, though dating to an unknown earlier time, one of the two Merseburg Incantations
, from Merseburg
mentions a figure named Frîia
(Frôwa), who places an enchantment on the wounded horse of Balder and Wodan (Odin). This figure has been theorized as Freyja and as Frigg.
More to this confusion, the Origo Gentis Langobardorum (Origin of the Lombards, written in the 7th Century) mentions Frea, a goddess of love; and Historia Langobardorum (History of the Lombards, written in the 8th Century) also mentions the story of Frea (Freja) and how she gave the Lombards their name. But this goddess is described as the wife of Godan (Odin), which in Norse accounts is Frigg. On the other hand, it is Freyja, not Frigg, who is the goddess of love in Norse accounts.
Tacitus in his work Germania (1st Century) briefly mentioned the worship of a mother goddess, a female Freyr, that is Freyja. Tacitus also mentioned the goddess Nerthus, whom has been linked to Njörðr, Freyja, and Freyr.
Receiver of half the slain
Freyja receives half of the spirits of warriors who had died bravely in battle. Snorri writes in Gylfaginning
(24) that "wherever she rides to battle, she gets half the slain".
Further, from Grímnismál:
- The ninth is Fólkvangr, where bright Freyja decrees
- where in the hall warriors shall sit:
- Some of the fallen belong to her,
- And some belong to Odin.
Freyja is also called Eigandi valfalls (Possessor of the slain) and Valfreyja, Mistress of the slain and of the Valkyries in general.
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.
Another point of view explains a difference between Odin's Einherjar and Freyja's; the oral tradition, or Óðal property, explains that Odin's warriors are "the offensive", or those who dedicate their life to fighting. Freyja’s warriors are "the defensive", or those who only fight to protect their families, clans or goods. The historian Else Roesdahl noticed that a difference between the two cultures in regards to burials containing weapons. In those in Norway the buried warriors had defensive shields, and in Denmark they had only offensive weapons.
Surviving tales regarding Freyja often associate Freyja with numerous enchanted possessions.
Brísingamen is Freyja's famous necklace reputedly made of gold and amber, which also appears in Beowulf
. In some mythological writings, Brísingamen is assigned to Frigg. In Skáldskaparmál
(31), it is written that women often wore "stone-necklaces" as a part of a woman's apparels, to indicate their social status. That is the reason why woman is periphrased with reference to jewels and agates.
Freyja owns a cloak of falcon
feathers, which can give her the ability to change into the guise of any birds, and to fly between worlds. It is called Valshamr
, the "hawk's plumage", "falcon skin", or "falcon-feathered cloak" in different translations. The same magical cloak was also assigned to Frigg in some tales.
Freyja often rides on a chariot drawn by a pair of large cats. She rode this chariot to Baldur's funeral. These cats are called Gib-cats in the Prose Edda. They are often thought to be Norwegian forest cats. Cats are sacred to Freyja, just as wolves are to Odin. "When a bride goes to the wedding in fine weather, they say 'she has fed the cat well,' not offended the favourite of the love-goddess."
Freyja is considered a warrior goddess among her many roles. The chariot also is a warlike attribute and often given to exalted deities only. This does not mean that every exalted Germanic deity must have a wagon, but most of them have special rides. Odin and Heimdallr have horses, Thor has a chariot drawn by goats, Freyr has a boar, but Freyja has both chariot and boar.
Freyja also rides a golden-bristled boar
(Battle-Swine) which appeared only in the poem Hyndluljóð
. Later we are told that the boar is her protégé, Óttar, but it seems that Óttar was temporarily disguised as Hildisvini, not that Hildisvini is Óttar. The boar has special associations within Norse Mythology, both relative to the notion of fertility and also as a protective talisman in war.
In Skáldskaparmál (14), Freyr is described as riding on another golden-bristled boar, Gullinbursti, which may be one and the same with Freyja's.
- The battle-bold Freyr rideth
- First on the golden-bristled
- Barrow-boar to the bale-fire
- Of Baldur, and leads the people.
Forms of "Freyja"
- Freja - common Danish and literary Swedish form.
- Frya - Frisian form
- Frea - History of the Langobards
- Froya - Faroese form
- Frøya, Fröa - common Norwegian, and rural Swedish form.
- Fröe - a Danish form
- Froijenborg - Swedish folk song, in which she is referred to as the fair sun "den väna solen" (Vana: from "Vanir", means beautiful)
- Friia, Frīa - second Merseburg Charm
- Frija - variant of Friia
- Freija - Finnish form
According to Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, Freyja also bore the following names:
- Vanadís, which means "Dís of the Vanir" or "fair goddess" (väna means beautiful);
- Mardöll, which means "sea-bright" (mar: "sea", döll: feminine of dallr "bright light", cf. Heimdallr);
- Hörn, which may be related to the word hörr meaning "flax", "linen";
- 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 and fertility.
In the famous Njal's Saga, another title of Freyja is mentioned: Valfreyja, which means "Mistress of the Chosen", "Mistress of the Slain" (cf. Valfadir "Choosing Father" (Odin), Valkyrja "Chooser of the Slain").
|Gold is called Tears of Freyja: |
- Many a fearless swordsman
- Received the Tears of Freyja
- The more the morn when foemen
- We murdered; we were present
- Ródi's Roof's great Ice-Lump
- For the Rain of Freyja's Eyelids
- Grows not less, my fair axe-head;
- His age my lord so useth.
- I received the Ice of Wed Rims,
- With Freyja's golden Eye-Thaw,
- From the upright prince high-hearted;
- We bear in hand the Helm's Hurt.
Gold is called ''Tears of Mardöll:
- Where, mounted 'twixt the carvings,
- The Tear of Mardöll lieth,
- We bear the axe shield-splitting,
- Swollen with Serpent's lair-gold.
- The free-handed Lord gave,
- The heroes accepted,
- Sif's firm-grown tresses,
- Ice of the bow-force,
- Otter-gild unwilling,
- Weeping of Mardöll,
- Fire-flame of Órun,
- Idi's fine Speeches.
Gold is called Tears of Óðr's Bride:
- The shield, tempest's strong roof-ice,
- With tear-gold is unminished,
- The Eye-rain of Óðr's Bride:
- His age the King so useth.
Jewel is called Child of Hörn:
- Hörn's Child, the glorious adornment,
- I own, gold-wound a jewel
- Most fair to the shield's rim
- Fast is the golden Sea-Flame:
Gem is called Niece of Freyr, Gold is called Tears of Hnoss's Mother:
- On the gem, Freyr's Niece, the tear-drift
- Of the fore-head of her Mother
- She bears; the Raven-Feeder
- Gave me Fródi's seed-gold's fostering.
Gem is called Child of Njörðr's Daughter:
- A defence of songs full goodly
- He freely gave me, neighbor
- Of sea-scales: I praise gladly
- Njörðr's Daughter's golden gem-child.
Fair things are called Daughter of Freyja:
- The awesome Stately Urger
- Of Odin, he who raises
- The struggle stern, gave to me
- The courage-stalwart daughter
- Of the Vana-Bride, my fair axe;
- The valorous sword-mote's Ruler
- Led Gefn's girl to the Skald's bed,
- Set with the sea-flame's gold-work.
"It is proper to join 'tears' with all the names of Freyja, and to call gold by such terms; and in divers ways these periphrases have been varied, so that gold is called Hail, or Rain, or Snow-Storm, or Drops, or Showers, or Water falls of Freyja's Eyes, or Cheeks, or Brows, or Eyelids." (The Prose Edda, The poesy of Skalds or Poetical Diction (37), Snorri's teachings of how Freyja and Hnoss's names can be used as kennings for fair things like gold, jewels, and gems).
Freya (and its variant forms) is a common Scandinavian female name. In 2005, the name Freja was the 5th most popular given name for Danish girls born that year. The following year, 2006, the name became even more popular in Denmark, having risen to the 3rd most popular given name for girls born in 2006; but it dropped to 4th place in 2007. The name Freya was the 23rd (in 2006) and 25th (in 2007) most common given name for baby girls in England and Wales.
Many farms in Norway have Frøy-
as the first element in their names, and the most common are the name Frøyland
(13 farms). But whether Frøy-
in these names are referring to the goddess Freyja (or the god Freyr) is questionable and uncertain. The first element in the name Frøyjuhof
, in Udenes parish, are however most probably the genitive case of the name Freyja. (The last element is hof
'temple', and a church was built on the farm in the Middle Ages, which indicates the spot as an old holy place.) The same name, Frøyjuhof
, also occur in the parishes Hole
. There are also two islands named Frøya
In the parish of Seim, in the county of Hordaland, Norway, lies the farm Ryland (Norse Rýgjarland). The first element is the genitive case of rýgr 'lady' (identical with the meaning of the name Freyja, see above). Since the neighbouring farms have the names Hopland (Norse Hofland 'temple land') and Totland (Norse Þórsland 'Thor's land') it is possible that rýgr (lady) here are referring to a goddess. (And in that case most probably Freyja.) A sideform of the word (rýgja) may occur in the name of the Norwegian municipality Rygge.
There's Horn in Iceland and Hoorn in Holland, various places in the German lands are called Freiburg (burg meaning something like settlement).
Several plants were named after Freyja, such as Freyja's tears
and Freyja's hair
), but after the introduction of Christianity, they were renamed after the Virgin Mary
, suggesting her closest homologue in Christianity.
The name Friday
comes from the Old English frigedæg,
meaning the day of Frige
the Anglo-Saxon form of Frigg
, a West Germanic
translation of Latin dies Veneris
, "day (of the planet) Venus."
However, in most Germanic languages the day is named after Freyja—such as Frīatag in Old High German, Freitag in Modern German, Freyjudagr in Old Norse, Vrijdag in Dutch, Fredag in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish—but Freyja and Frigg are frequently identified with each other.
The chemical element Vanadium
is named after Freyja via her alternative name Vanadís. The Orion constellation
was called Frigg's distaff or Freyja's distaff (Frejerock).
It has been proposed that Freyja may be the most direct mythological descendant from Nerthus
. Nerthus, a goddess associated with a number of Germanic tribes as described by Tacitus
in the 1 AD
in his work Germania
, is sometimes identified with Njörðr through etymological connections. The first name is the exact older linguistical stage of the latter. Njörðr married his sister; they have a son, Freyr, and a daughter, Freyja. This secondary pair of deities may be an "emanation" of the first. Like Freyja's chariot, the early Germanic goddess Nerthus was also often described as riding a wagon.
Britt-Mari Näsström posits in her "Freyja: the Great Goddess of the North" that there is a tenable connection from Freyja to other goddesses worshiped 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.
Freyja in Modern Culture
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Freyja, in her German variant name "Freia", appears in Richard Wagner's massive opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen which includes Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. This has led to many portrayals based on Wagner's interpretation, although some are closer to pre-Wagnerian models. Since Wagner's time, numerous depictions and references have entered popular culture to varying extents. In Wagner's depiction, Freyja is Frigg's sister. She is the goddess of beauty who guards the golden apples. When she was captured by two giants Fasolt and Fafnir, the gods quickly became old and ugly, and Odin had to pay the giants a hefty ransom including the Tarnhelm and the Ring of the Nibelung which he robbed from Alberich to get her back.
Sagan om Valhalla
Freyja (in her common Swedish name "Freja") is the central character of Johanne Hildebrandt
's book trilogy "Sagan om Valhalla", a fictional account of how Norse mythology took shape. In the novels the gods are ordinary people, their characters built with the myths as inspiration. Freyja is a mighty priestess who can foretell the future, heal the sick and aid warriors in battle. She has a passionate love affair with Thor (although the myths never suggest that the two were lovers), but their love is doomed, as their people are at war with each other. Freyja and Thor are the parents of Iðunn, which they were not in the myths.
Influence in Christmas traditions
"Christian beliefs combined with existing pagan feasts and winter rituals to create many long-standing traditions of Christmas
celebrations. For example, ancient Europeans believed that the mistletoe plant held magic powers to bestow life and fertility, to bring about peace, and to protect against disease. Northern Europeans associated the plant with the Norse goddess of love, Freyja, and developed the custom of kissing underneath mistletoe branches. Christians incorporated this custom into their Christmas celebrations, and kissing under a mistletoe branch eventually became a part of secular Christmas tradition.
Frigg is the highest goddess of the Æsir
, while Freyja is the highest goddess of the Vanir
. Many arguments have been made both for and against the idea that Frigg and Freyja are really the same goddess, avatars of one another.
Some arguments are based on linguistic analysis, others on the fact that Freyja wasn't known in southern Germany, only in the north, and in some places the two goddesses were considered to be the same, while in others they were considered to be different.
Some modern scholars think that the minor goddess Gefjun is an avatar of Frigg or Freyja because of their many similarities.
Due to a number of similarities, a hypothesis supported by Gabriel Turville-Petre
is that Gullveig
, a seeress mentioned in Völuspá
is another name for Freyja.