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Frigg

[frig]

Frigg (or Frigga) is a major goddess in Norse paganism, a subset of Germanic paganism. She is said to be the wife of Odin, and is the "foremost among the goddesses". Frigg appears primarily in Norse mythological stories as a wife and a mother. She is also described as having the power of prophecy yet she does not reveal what she knows. Frigg is described as the only one other than Odin who is permitted to sit on his high seat Hlidskjalf and look out over the universe. The English term Friday derives from the Anglo-Saxon name for Frigg, Frigga.

Frigg's children are Baldr and Höðr, her stepchildren are Thor, Hermóðr, Heimdall, Tyr, Vidar, Váli, and Skjoldr. Frigg's companion is Eir, a goddess associated with medical skills. Frigg's attendants are Hlín, Gná, and Fulla.

In the Poetic Edda poem Lokasenna 26, Frigg is said to be Fjörgyns mær ("Fjörgynn's maiden"). The problem is that in Old Norse mær means both "daughter" and "wife", so it is not fully clear if Fjörgynn is Frigg's father or another name for her husband Odin, but Snorri Sturluson interprets the line as meaning Frigg is Fjörgynn's daughter (Skáldskaparmál 27), and most modern translators of the Poetic Edda follow Snorri. The original meaning of fjörgynn was the earth, cf. feminine version Fjorgyn, a byname for Jörð, the earth.

Etymology

Old Norse Frigg (genitive Friggjar), Old Saxon Fri, and Old English Frig are derived from Common Germanic Frijō. Frigg is cognate with Sanskrit prīyā́ which means "wife". The root also appears in Old Saxon fri which means "beloved lady", in Swedish as fria ("to propose for marriage") and in Icelandic as frjá which means "to love".

Attributes

The asterism Orion's Belt was known as "Frigg's Distaff/spinning wheel" (Friggerock) or "Freyja's Distaff" (Frejerock). Some have pointed out that the constellation is on the celestial equator and have suggested that the stars rotating in the night sky may have been associated with Frigg's spinning wheel.

Frigg's name means "love" or "beloved one" (Proto-Germanic *frijjō, cf. Sanskrit priyā "dear woman") and was known among many northern European cultures with slight name variations over time: e.g. Friggja in Sweden, Frīg (genitive Frīge) in Old English, and Frika in Wagner's operas. Modern English translations have sometimes altered Frigg to Frigga. It has been suggested that "Frau Holle" of German folklore is a survival of Frigg.

Frigg's hall in Asgard is Fensalir, which means "Marsh Halls. This may mean that marshy or boggy land was considered especially sacred to her but nothing definitive is known. The goddess Saga, who was described as drinking with Odin from golden cups in her hall "Sunken Benches," may be Frigg by a different name.

Frigg was a goddess associated with married women. She was called up by women to assist in giving birth to children, and Scandinavians used the plant Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum) as a sedative, they called it Frigg's grass).

Myths

Death of Baldr

Frigg plays a major role in section 49 of the 13th century Prose Edda book Gylfaginning written by Snorri Sturluson, where a version of a story relating the death of Baldr is recorded by Snorri. Baldr has had a series of ominous dreams. As Baldr was popular amongst the Æsir, after Baldr told the Æsir about his dreams, they met together at the thing and decided it wise to provide a truce for Baldr that would maintain his safety. Frigg, his mother, here takes an oath from all things, which includes disease, poisons, the elements, objects and all living beings that none will harm Baldr.

After the oaths were taken, the Æsir, aware of Baldr's newly gained invincibility, had Baldr stand in front of the thing. There, the Æsir hit Baldr with blows, shot objects at him, and some would hit him with stones. Nothing harmed him and everyone felt it was remarkable.

Loki witnessed this and was angered by Baldr's invulnerability. Loki changed himself into a woman and visited Frigg at her hall Fensalir. There, Frigg asked the woman if she knew what was happening at the thing. The woman told her that the Æsir were shooting at Baldr and yet he remained unharmed. Frigg responded that nothing could harm Baldr, as she had taken oaths from all things.

The woman asked Frigg if all things had indeed promised not to hurt Baldr, to which Frigg reveals that:

"A shoot of wood grows west of Valhalla. It is called mistletoe, and it seemed too young for me to demand its oath."
Immediately after Frigg revealed this, the woman vanished. Loki then took hold of the mistletoe, broke it off and went to the thing.

There, Höðr, since he was blind, stood at the edge of the circle of people. Loki offered to help Höðr in honoring Baldr by shooting things at him. Höðr took the mistletoe from Loki and, following Loki's directions, shot at Baldr. The mistletoe went directly through Baldr and he fell to the ground. Baldr was dead.

The gods were speechless and devastated, unable to react due to their grief. After the gods gathered their wits from the immense shock and grief of Baldr's death, Frigg asked the Æsir who amongst them wished "to gain all of her love and favor" by riding the road to Hel. Whomever agreed was to offer Hel a ransom in exchange for Baldr's return to Asgard. Hermóðr agrees to this and set off with Sleipnir to Hel.

While Hermóðr rides to Hel, Frigg arrives at the cremation with Odin, Hugin and Munin, and the Valkyries. With them came various other gods and beings during which a grand funeral for Baldr was held. After a long journey, Hermóðr arrives in Hel, meets with Hel and pleads for the return of Baldr on behalf of Frigg. Hel gives the condition that all things must weep for Baldr if Baldr will be returned to Asgard. Nanna, the wife of Baldr (whose heart burst upon seeing the corpse of Baldr and was placed upon the pyre with Baldr), gives gifts to Hermóðr to return to Asgard with. "Along with other gifts", only two gifts are specifically mentioned: a white linen robe for Frigg and a golden ring for Fulla.

The Æsir then sent forth messengers to all things to have them weep for Baldr, so that he may return from Hel. All things did but a giantess by the name of Þökk, regarding whom Snorri writes that "people believe that the giantess was Loki". Afterwards, in sections 50 and 51, a series of events occur where the gods take revenge upon Loki by binding him and thus furthering the onset of Ragnarök, though Frigg is not mentioned further in these sections.

Vili and Ve

The story of Frigg and Odin's brothers, Vili and Ve, has survived in very brief form. In the Ynglinga Saga of Snorri Sturluson the entire story is told as follows:
"Othin [Odin] had two brothers. One was called Ve, and the other Vili. These, his brothers, governed the realm when he was gone. One time when Othin was gone to a great distance, he stayed away so long that the Æsir thought he would never return. Then his brothers began to divide his inheritance; but his wife Frigg they shared between them. However, a short while afterwards, Othin returned and took possession of his wife again.

The same story is referenced in one stanza of the poem, Lokasenna, in which Loki insults Frigg by accusing her of infidelity with Odin's brothers:

Hush thee, Frigg, who art Fjorgyn's daughter:
Thou hast ever been mad after men.
Vili and Ve, thou, Vithrir's spouse, [Vithrir=Odin]
Didst fold to thy bosom both.
Modern scholars such as Lee Hollander explain 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.

Comparisons have been proposed regarding Frigg's role in this story to that of sacred queens during certain periods in ancient Egypt, when a king was king by virtue of being the queen's husband.

Historia gentis Langobardorum

The Langobard historian Paul the Deacon, who died in southern Italy in the 790s, was proud of his tribal origins and related how his people once had migrated from southern Scandinavia. In his work Historia gentis Langobardorum, Paul relates how Odin's wife Frea (Frigg/Freyja) had given victory to the Langobards in a war against the Vandals. She is depicted as a wife who knows how to get her own way even though her husband thinks he is in charge. The Winnili and the Vandals were two warring tribes. Odin favored the Vandals, while Frea favored the Winnili. After a heated discussion, Odin swore that he would grant victory to the first tribe he saw the next morning upon awakening-- knowing full well that the bed was arranged so that the Vandals were on his side. While he slept, Frea told the Winnili women to comb their hair over their faces to look like long beards so they would look like men and turned the bed so the Winnili women would be on Odin's side. When he woke up, Odin was surprised to see the disguised women first and asked who these long bearded men were, which was where the tribe got its new name, the Langobards ("longbeards"). Odin kept his oath and granted victory to the Winnili (now known as the Lombards), and eventually saw the wisdom of Frea's choice.

Gesta Danorum

Saxo Grammaticus wrote in his Gesta Danorum another story about Frigg:
"At this time there was one Odin, who was credited over all Europe with the honour, which was false, of godhead, but used more continually to sojourn at Upsala; and in this spot, either from the sloth of the inhabitants or from its own pleasantness, he vouchsafed to dwell with somewhat especial constancy.

The kings of the North, desiring more zealously to worship his deity, embounded his likeness in a golden image; and this statue, which betokened their homage, they transmitted with much show of worship to Byzantium, fettering even the effigied arms with a serried mass of bracelets. Odin was overjoyed at such notoriety, and greeted warmly the devotion of the senders. But his queen Frigg, desiring to go forth more beautified, called smiths, and had the gold stripped from the statue.

Odin hanged them, and mounted the statue upon a pedestal, which by the marvellous skill of his art he made to speak when a mortal touched it. But still Frigg preferred the splendour of her own apparel to the divine honours of her husband, and submitted herself to the embraces of one of her servants; and it was by this man's device she broke down the image, and turned to the service of her private wantonness that gold which had been devoted to public idolatry. Little thought she of practicing unchastity, that she might the easier satisfy her greed, this woman so unworthy to be the consort of a god; but what should I here add, save that such a godhead was worthy of such a wife? So great was the error that of old befooled the minds of men.

Thus Odin, wounded by the double trespass of his wife, resented the outrage to his image as keenly as that to his bed; and, ruffled by these two stinging dishonours, took to an exile overflowing with noble shame, imagining so to wipe off the slur of his ignominy. At home, Frigg went with a certain Mith-Othin and took over Odin's properties, until Odin came back and drove them away. Frigg's death later cleared Odin's name and he regained his reputation." (Gesta Danorum, Book I)

In Saxo's Gesta Danorum, however, the gods and goddesses are heavily euhemerized, and Saxo's view on pagan deities is extremely biased, therefore most stories related to pagan gods written in it might not exist in ancient lore. Georges Dumézil linked Saxo's account of Frigg's infidelity and the stolen gold with the burning of Gullveig.

Connection between Frigg and Freyja

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. There are clearly many similarities between the two: both had flying cloaks of falcon feathers and engaged in shape-shifting, Frigg was married to Odin while Freyja was married to Óðr, both had special necklaces, both had a personification of the Earth as a parent, both were called upon for assistance in childbirth, etc.

There is also an argument that Frigg and Freyja are part of a triad of goddesses (together with a third goddess such as Hnoss or Iðunn) associated with the different ages of womankind. The areas of influence of Frigg and Freyja don't quite match up with the areas of influence often seen in other goddess triads. This may mean that the argument isn't a good one, or it may show something interesting about northern European culture as compared to Celtic and southern European culture.

Finally, there is an argument is that Frigg and Freyja are similar goddesses from different pantheons who were first conflated into each other and then later seen as separate goddesses again (see also Frige). This is consistent with the theological treatment of some Greek, Roman, and Egyptian deities in the late classical period.

Toponyms

In Västergötland, Sweden, there is a place called Friggeråker. An English charter from 936 AD displays the name "Frigedun", which means "Valley of Frig". Friden, in Derbyshire, England, is further named after Frig. The cities of Froyle ("Frigg's Hill") and Freefolk ("Frigg's People") in Hampshire, England may be named after Frigg.

References


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