Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
Who is Freyja?
Freyja is perhaps the most well-known goddess of the Norse pantheon. Freyja is most often associated with love, war, fertility, magic, and death. Freyja is a member of the Vanir, a tribe of deities whom the ancient Norse people associated with wisdom, fertility, magic, and the ability to look into the future. Freyja rules over Fólkvangr, which means “the Field of the People” and is a heavenly field where she receives half of those who have fallen in battle. (The fallen dead are shared between Freyja and Odin, who rules over Valhalla). Freyja’s hall, Sessrúmnir, lies within Fólkvangr. Freyja plays an important role in Norse mythology, and she has complex relationships to the other Norse deities.
Freyja’s Role in Norse Mythology
In Norse Mythology, Freyja serves as a goddess of love, war, magic, death, and fertility. As a member of the Vanir, she is important to fertility in the ancient Norse belief system. In many stories from Norse mythology, Freyja serves as an object of love and lust amongst the gods. Freyja served an important role in everything related to sexuality in Norse beliefs, except for childbearing, of which she had little concern for.
Freyja also plays an important role in Norse mythology in looking after the dead who have fallen in battle. Freyja and Odin, according to Norse Mythology, split the fallen dead, each bringing half to their own realm for the dead. Freyja rules over Fólkvangr, a heavenly realm of the afterlife where Freyja’s share of the dead who fell in battle end up. Some sources seem to imply that Freyja may also take in at least some of those who passed on in other ways as well.
Freyja was said to be adept in magic. She practiced a type of magic called Seidr, which she introduced to the gods and to humans, according to Norse mythology. This type of magic is used to change the course of fate to bring about change in the world.
Attestations of Freyja
Freyja is mentioned in quite a few traditional Norse writings. These ancient poems and stories are how we know about the beliefs and myths of the ancient Norse culture.
Freyja is mentioned several times in the Poetic Edda (a collection of anonymous Old Norse poems).
- In the poem Völuspá, Freyja is said to be the wife of Óð.
- The poem Grímnismál tells how Freyja receives half of the slain dead from battles in Fólkvangr.
- The poem Lokasenna recounts the story of a celebration held by Ægir, in which Loki publicly accuses Freyja of taking each of the gods and elves as lovers, despite being married.
- In the poem Þrymskviða, Þrymr hides Thor’s hammer and won’t return it unless Freyja agrees to become his bride. Freyja wants no part in that, so Loki helps Thor to dress up as Freyja in order to trick Þrymr and get his hammer back.
- In the poem Hyndluljóð, Freyja helps faithful servant Óttar to find information regarding his ancestry, so he may claim his inheritance by turning him into her boar, Hildisvíni. She uses flattery and threats to get the needed information from the jötunn Hyndla.
Other information about the goddess Freyja was revealed by the Prose Edda. The Prose Edda is an Old Norse work of literature from the early 13th century. It is believed to have been written by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson sometime around the year 1220.
- In chapter 24 of Gylfaginning, the birth of Freyja and her twin brother Freyr is mentioned. In this chapter, Freyja’s heavenly realm of Fólkvangr is also mentioned, as is Freyja’s love for love songs.
- Freyja is mentioned again in chapter 29 of Gylfaginning. In this chapter, Hár says that, next to Frigg, Freyja is the highest ranked goddess, and that she owns the magical necklace Brísingamen. This chapter also reveals that Freyja is married to Óðr, who often goes on long travels without her. Freyja, in her sorrow, weeps tears of red gold while he is away. She often travels to look for him, using various aliases including Gefn, Hörn, Mardöll, Sýr, and Vanadís while on her travels. Freyja and Óðr have a very fair daughter by named Hnoss.
- In chapter 49 of Gylfaginning, it is mentioned that Freyja attended the funeral of Baldr, where she drove her chariot pulled by two large cats.
- At the beginning of Skáldskaparmál, Freyja is among eight goddesses in attendance at a banquet held for Ægir.
- In chapter 56 of Skáldskaparmál, Freyja allows Loki to use her “falcon shape” to rescue the goddess Iðunn from the jötunn Þjazi.
Freyja’s Relationship to Other Norse Deities
Freyja is part of the Vanir family of Norse gods. She is the daughter of the Norse god Njörðr, who rules over the sea, wind, crop fertility, and wealth. There is much debate as to who Freyja’s mother was, but some believe that the goddess Skaði may be her mother. Freyr, a god associated with prosperity, fair weather, and fertility, is Freyja’s twin brother.
Though Freyja is said to have had many lovers, she was the wife of Ódr, with whom she had two daughters named Hnoss and Gersimi. Depending on who you ask, Ódr and Odin may, in fact, be one in the same.
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Freyja vs. Frigg
Freyja and Frigg were possibly originally one goddess in Norse beliefs. The differences in the characteristics between these two goddesses are superficial, and it is possible that they were both derived to the same source deity but were split into two distinct mythological characters shortly before the Norse were converted to Christianity.
Freyja is said to be the wife of Ódr, while Frigg is said to be the wife of Odinn. Ódr and Odinn come from the same word and have the same meaning, which gives credence to the theory that these two names represent the same character. The only thing that the Eddas say about Ódr, other than describing his relationship with Freyja, is that he is often away on long journeys. Odinn was also known for travelling throughout the Nine Worlds.
Both Freyja and Frigg are accused of infidelity throughout the stories. Both goddesses are adept at seidr magic and both possess magic feathers from birds-of-prey that allow them to transform.
In addition, the word for Friday in Germanic languages, such as English, can be traced back to both Freyja and Frigg. The name Freyja means “lady” and was sometimes used as a title by aristocratic women in the Viking age. Frigg comes from a root word meaning “beloved.” It is possible, and highly likely, that these were two names for the same goddess.
Iconography of Freyja
Freyja is often associated with cats. She was depicted as riding a chariot pulled by large, long-haired cats, similar to modern Norwegian Forest Cats.
Freyja is often associate with wild boars, as is her brother Freyr. Freyja was said to have ridden a boar with golden bristles.
Freyja owned a magic necklace called Brísingamen. This necklace is an important symbol that is often associated with Freyja.
Though the local gods and goddesses were demonized by Christian invaders who sought to completely change the culture and religion of the native people of Scandinavia, Freyja’s influence persisted in Scandinavian folklore, despite the influence of Christianization. In Iceland, locals still called upon Freyja for assistance using Icelandic magical staves as late as the 18th century. In the 19th century, Freyja is still acknowledged for her role as a fertility goddess among rural Swedes.
Some people in Värend, Sweden believe that Freyja arrives at Christmas night and shakes the apple trees for the sake of a good harvest. Some people leave apples in the trees for her. It is considered dangerous, however, to leave a plough outdoors. If Freyja sits on it, it will no longer work.
In modern literature, Freyja is often used as a Norse counterpart to the Roman Venus or Greek Aphrodite. There are a number of modern poems, songs, and books written about Freyja. Freyja (and alternate spellings such as Freya and Frøya) has become more common as a given name for girls since the 1990s.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber