Freyja

Freyja

In Norse religion, Freyja (/ˈfrə/; Old Norse for “(the) Lady”) is a goddess associated with love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death. Freyja is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot pulled by two cats, keeps the boar Hildisvíni by her side, possesses a cloak of falcon feathers, and, by her husband Óðr, is the mother of two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi. Along with her brother Freyr (Old Norse the “Lord”), her father Njörðr, and her mother (Njörðr’s sister, unnamed in sources), she is a member of the Vanir.

Freyja rules over her heavenly afterlife field Fólkvangr and there receives half of those that die in battle, whereas the other half go to the god Odin‘s hall, Valhalla. Within Fólkvangr is her hall, Sessrúmnir. The godess assists other deities by allowing them to use her feathered cloak, is invoked in matters of fertility and love, and is frequently sought after by powerful jötnar who wish to make her their wife. Freyja’s husband, the god Óðr, is frequently absent. She cries tears of red gold for him, and searches for him under assumed names. Freyja has numerous names, including Gefn, Hörn, Mardöll, Sýr, Valfreyja, and Vanadís.

Freyja
Nuzzled by her boar Hildisvíni, Freyja gestures to a jötunn in an illustration (1895) by Lorenz Frølich

Freyja is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; in the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, the two latter written by Snorri Sturlusnson in the 13th century; in several Sagas of Icelanders; in the short story Sörla þáttr; in the poetry of skalds; and into the modern age in Scandinavian folklore, as well as the name for Friday in many Germanic languages.

Scholars have theorized about whether Freyja and the goddess Frigg ultimately stem from a single goddess common among the Germanic peoples; about her connection to the valkyries, female battlefield choosers of the slain; and her relation to other goddesses and figures in Germanic paganism, including the thrice-burnt and thrice-reborn Gullveig/Heiðr, the goddesses Gefjon, Skaði, Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr and Irpa, Menglöð, and the 1st century CE “Isis” of the Suebi. Freyja’s name appears in numerous place names in Scandinavia, with a high concentration in southern Sweden. Various plants in Scandinavia once bore her name. Rural Scandinavians continued to acknowledge Freyja as a supernatural figure, and Freyja has inspired various works of art.

Freyja
Freya (1882) by Carl Emil Doepler

The name Freyja is transparently “lady” and ultimately derives from Proto-Germanic *fraw(j)ōn. Freyja is cognate with, for example, Old Saxon frūa “lady, mistress” and Old High German frouwa (compare modern German Frau “lady”). The theonym Freyja is thus considered to have been an epithet in origin, replacing a personal name that is now unattested. As a result, either the original name became entirely taboo or another process occurred in which the goddess is a duplicate or hypostasis of another known goddess; see “Relation to Frigg and other goddesses and figures” below.

Poetic Edda

In the Poetic Edda, Freyja is mentioned or appears in the poems Völuspá, Grímnismál, Lokasenna, Þrymskviða, Oddrúnargrátr, and Hyndluljóð.

Völuspá contains a stanza that mentions Freyja, referring to her as “Óð’s girl”; Freyja being the wife of her husband, Óðr. The stanza recounts that Freyja was once promised to an unnamed builder, later revealed to be a jötunn and subsequently killed by Thor (recounted in detail in Gylfaginning chapter 42; see Prose Edda section below). In the poem Grímnismál, Odin (disguised as Grímnir) tells the young Agnar that every day Freyja allots seats to half of those that are slain in her hall Fólkvangr, while Odin owns the other half.

Freyja
Freyja and Loki flyte in an illustration (1895) by Lorenz Frølich

n the poem Lokasenna, where Loki accuses nearly every female in attendance of promiscuity and/or unfaithfulness, an aggressive exchange occurs between Loki and Freyja. The introduction to the poem notes that among other gods and goddesses, Freyja attends a celebration held by Ægir. In verse, after Loki has flyted with the goddess Frigg, Freyja interjects, telling Loki that he is insane for dredging up his terrible deeds, and that Frigg knows the fate of everyone, though she does not tell it. Loki tells her to be silent, and says that he knows all about her—that Freyja is not lacking in blame, for each of the gods and elves in the hall have been her lover. Freyja objects. She says that Loki is lying, that he is just looking to blather about misdeeds, and since the gods and goddesses are furious at him, he can expect to go home defeated. Loki tells Freyja to be silent, calls her a malicious witch, and conjures a scenario where Freyja was once astride her brother when all of the gods, laughing, surprised the two. Njörðr interjects—he says that a woman having a lover other than her husband is harmless, and he points out that Loki has borne children, and calls Loki a pervert. The poem continues in turn.

The poem Þrymskviða features Loki borrowing Freyja’s cloak of feathers and Thor dressing up as Freyja to fool the lusty jötunn Þrymr. In the poem, Thor wakes up to find that his powerful hammer, Mjöllnir, is missing. Thor tells Loki of his missing hammer, and the two go to the beautiful court of Freyja. Thor asks Freyja if she will lend him her cloak of feathers, so that he may try to find his hammer. Freyja agrees:

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
“That I would give thee, although of gold it were,
and trust it to thee, though it were of silver.”
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
“Thine should it be though it of silver bright,
And I would give it though ’twere of gold.”

Loki flies away in the whirring feather cloak, arriving in the land of Jötunheimr. He spies Þrymr sitting on top of a mound. Þrymr reveals that he has hidden Thor’s hammer deep within the earth and that no one will ever know where the hammer is unless Freyja is brought to him as his wife. Loki flies back, the cloak whistling, and returns to the courts of the gods. Loki tells Thor of Þrymr’s conditions.

The two go to see the beautiful Freyja. The first thing that Thor says to Freyja is that she should dress herself and put on a bride’s head-dress, for they shall drive to Jötunheimr. At that, Freyja is furious—the halls of the gods shake, she snorts in anger, and from the goddess the necklace Brísingamen falls. Indignant, Freyja responds:

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
“Know of me to be of women the lewdest,
if we thee I drive to Jötunheim.”
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
“Most lustful indeed should I look to all
If I journeyed with thee to the giants’ home.”

The gods and goddesses assemble at a thing and debate how to solve the problem. The god Heimdallr proposes to dress Thor up as a bride, complete with bridal dress, head-dress, jingling keys, jewelry, and the famous Brísingamen. Thor objects but is hushed by Loki, reminding him that the new owners of the hammer will soon be settling in the land of the gods if the hammer isn’t returned. Thor is dressed as planned and Loki is dressed as his maid. Thor and Loki go to Jötunheimr.

In the meantime, Thrym tells his servants to prepare for the arrival of the daughter of Njörðr. When “Freyja” arrives in the morning, Thrym is taken aback by her behavior; her immense appetite for food and mead is far more than what he expected, and when Thrym goes in for a kiss beneath “Freyja’s” veil, he finds “her” eyes to be terrifying, and he jumps down the hall. The disguised Loki makes excuses for the bride’s odd behavior, claiming that she simply has not eaten or slept for eight days. In the end, the disguises successfully fool the jötnar and, upon sight of it, Thor regains his hammer by force.

Freyja
While Freyja’s cats look on, the god Thor is unhappily dressed as Freyja in Ah, what a lovely maid it is! (1902) by Elmer Boyd Smith

In the poem Oddrúnargrátr, Oddrún helps Borgny give birth to twins. In thanks, Borgny invokes vættir, Frigg, Freyja, and other unspecified deities.

 

Freyja
Reclining atop her boar Hildisvíni, Freyja visits Hyndla in an illustration (1895) by Lorenz Frølich

Freyja is a main character in the poem Hyndluljóð, where she assists her faithful servant Óttar in finding information about his ancestry so that he may claim his inheritance. In doing so, Freyja turns Óttar into her boar, Hildisvíni, and, by means of flattery and threats of death by fire, Freyja successfully pries the information that Óttar needs from the jötunn Hyndla. Freyja speaks throughout the poem, and at one point praises Óttar for constructing a hörgr (an altar of stones) and frequently making blót (sacrifices) to her:

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
An offer-stead to me he raised,
with stones constructed;
now is the stone
as glass become.
With the blood of oxen
he newly sprinkled it.
Ottar ever trusted the Asyniur.
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
For me a shrine of stones he made,
And now to glass the rock has grown;
Oft with the blood of beasts was it red;
In the goddesses ever did Ottar trust.

Prose Edda

Freyja
Freja by John Bauer (1882–1918)

Freyja appears in the Prose Edda books Gylfaginning and Skálsdskaparmál. In chapter 24 of Gylfaginning, the enthroned figure of High says that after the god Njörðr split with the goddess Skaði, he had two beautiful and mighty children (no partner is mentioned); a son, Freyr, and a daughter, Freyja. Freyr is “the most glorious” of the gods, and Freyja “the most glorious” of the goddesses. Freyja has a dwelling in the heavens, Fólkvangr, and that whenever Freyja “rides into battle she gets half the slain, and the other half to Odin […].” In support, High quotes the Grímnismál stanza mentioned in the Poetic Edda section above.

High adds that Freyja has a large, beautiful hall called Sessrúmnir, and that when Freyja travels she sits in a chariot and drives two cats, and that Freyja is “the most approachable one for people to pray to, and from her name is derived the honorific title whereby noble ladies are called fruvor [noble ladies].” High adds that Freyja has a particular fondness for love songs, and that “it is good to pray to her concerning love affairs.”

In chapter 29, High recounts the names and features of various goddesses, including Freyja. Regarding Freyja, High says that, next to Frigg, Freyja is highest in rank among them and that she owns the necklace Brísingamen. Freyja is married to Óðr, who goes on long travels, and the two have a very fair daughter by the name of Hnoss. While Óðr is absent, Freyja stays behind and in her sorrow she weeps tears of red gold. High notes that Freyja has many names, and explains that this is because Freyja adopted them when looking for Óðr and traveling “among strange peoples.” These names include Gefn, Hörn, Mardöll, Sýr, and Vanadís.

Freyja plays a part in the events leading to the birth of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse. In chapter 42, High recounts that, soon after the gods built the hall Valhalla, a builder (unnamed) came to them and offered to build for them in three seasons a fortification so solid that no jötunn would be able to come in over from Midgard. In exchange, the builder wants Freyja for his bride, and the sun and the moon. After some debate the gods agree, but with added conditions. In time, just as he is about to complete his work, it is revealed that the builder is, in fact, himself a jötunn, and he is killed by Thor. In the mean time, Loki, in the form of a mare, has been impregnated by the jötunn’s horse, Svaðilfari, and so gives birth to Sleipnir. In support, High quotes the Völuspá stanza that mentions Freyja. In chapter 49, High recalls the funeral of Baldr and says that Freyja attended the funeral and there drover her cat-chariot, the final reference to the goddess in Gylfaginning.

At the beginning of the book Skáldskaparmál, Freyja is mentioned among eight goddesses attending a banquet held for Ægir. Chapter 56 details the abduction of the goddess Iðunn by the jötunn Þjazi in the form of an eagle. Terrified at the prospect of death and torture due to his involvement in the abduction of Iðunn, Loki asks if he may use Freyja’s “falcon shape” to fly north to Jötunheimr and retrieve the missing goddess. Freyja allows it, and using her “falcon shape” and a furious chase by eagle-Þjazi, Loki successfully returns her.

Freyja
Heimdallr returns the necklace Brísingamen to Freyja (1846) by Nils Blommér

In chapter 6, a means of referring to Njörðr is provided that refers to Frejya (“father of Freyr and Freyja”). In chapter 7, a means of referring to Freyr is provided that refers to the goddess (“brother of Freyja”). In chapter 8, ways of referring to the god Heimdallr are provided, including “Loki’s enemy, recoverer of Freyja’s necklace”, inferring a myth involving Heimdallr recovering Freyja’s necklace from Loki.

In chapter 17, the jötunn Hrungnir finds himself in Asgard, the realm of the gods, and becomes very drunk. Hrungnir boasts that he will move Valhalla to Jötunheimr, bury Asgard, and kill all of the gods—with the exception of the goddesses Freyja and Sif, who he says he will take home with him. Freyja is the only one of them that dares to bring him more to drink. Hrungnir says that he will drink all of their ale. After a while, the gods grow bored of Hrungnir’s antics and invoke the name of Thor. Thor immediately enters the hall, hammer raised. Thor is furious and demands to know who is responsible for letting a jötunn in to Asgard, who guaranteed Hrungnir safety, and why Freyja “should be serving him drink as if at the Æsir‘s banquet.”

In chapter 18, verses from the 10th century skald‘s composition Þórsdrápa are quoted. A kenning used in the poem refers to Freyja. In chapter 20, poetic ways to refer to Freyja are provided; “daughter of Njörðr”, “sister of Freyr”, “wife of Óðr”, “mother of Hnoss”, “possessor of the fallen slain and of Sessrumnir and tom-cats”, possessor of Brísingamen, “Van-deity”, Vanadís, and “fair-tear deity”. In chapter 32, poetic ways to refer to gold are provided, including “Freyja’s weeping” and “rain or shower […] from Freyja’s eyes”

Chapter 33 tells that once the gods journeyed to visit Ægir, one of whom was Freyja. In chapter 49, a quote from a work by the skald Einarr Skúlason employs the kenning “Óðr’s bedfellow’s eye-rain”, which refers to Freyja and means “gold”.

Chapter 36 explains again that gold can be referring to as Freyja’s weeping due to her red gold tears. In support, works by the skalds Skúli Þórsteinsson and Einarr Skúlason are cited that use “Freyja’s tears” or “Freyja’s weepings” to represent “gold”. The chapter features additional quotes from poetry by Einarr Skúlason that references the goddess and her child Hnoss. Freyja receives a final mention in the Prose Edda in chapter 75, where a list of goddesses is provided that includes Freyja.

Heimskringla

The Heimskringla book Ynglinga saga provides an euhemerized account of the origin of the gods, including Freyja. In chapter 4, Freyja is introduced as a member of the Vanir, the sister of Freyr, and the daughter of Njörðr and his sister (whose name is not provided). After the Æsir–Vanir War ends in a stalemate, Odin appoints Freyr and Njörðr as priests over sacrifices. Freyja becomes the priestess of sacrificial offerings and it was she who introduced the practice of seiðr to the Æsir, previously only practiced by the Vanir.

In chapter 10, Freyja’s brother Freyr dies, and Freyja is the last survivor among the Æsir and Vanir. Freyja keeps up the sacrifices and becomes famous. The saga explains that, due to Freyja’s fame, all women of rank become known by her name—frúvor (“ladies”), a woman who is the mistress of her property is referred to as freyja, and húsfreyja (“lady of the house”) for a woman who owns an estate.

The chapter adds that not only was Freyja very clever, but that she and her husband Óðr had two immensely beautiful daughters, Gersemi and Hnoss, “who gave their names to our most precious possessions.”

Freyja
Freja (1901) by Anders Zorn

Other

Freyja is mentioned in the sagas Egils saga, Njáls saga, Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka, and in Sörla þáttr.

Egils saga

In Egils saga, when Egill Skallagrímsson refuses to eat, his daughter Þorgerðr (here anglicized as “Thorgerd”) says she will go without food and thus starve to death, and in doing so will meet the goddess Freyja:

Thorgerd replied in a loud voice, “I have had no evening meal, nor will I do so until I join Freyja. I know no better course of action than my father’s. I do not want to live after my father and brother are dead.”
Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka
In the first chapter of the 14th century

legendary saga Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka, King Alrek has two wives, Geirhild and Signy, and cannot keep them both. He tells the two women that he would keep whichever of them that brews the better ale for him by the time he has returned home in the summer. The two compete and during the brewing process Signy prays to Freyja and Geirhild to Hött (“hood”), a man she had met earlier (earlier in the saga revealed to be Odin in disguise). Hött answers her prayer and spits on her yeast. Signy’s brew wins the contest.

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Freyja in the Dwarf’s Cave (1891) by Louis Huard