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Freyja

Freyja

In Norse* mythology, Freyja was the goddess of love and fertility, associated with affairs of the heart. According to one Norse source, "all lovers would do well to invoke her." Her identification with love and passion led other deities to condemn her behavior. The trickster god Loki claimed that Freyja was the lover of all of the gods and accused her of sleeping with her twin brother, Freyr, the god of fertility and prosperity.

One story about Freyja explained how she acquired her favorite possession, the Necklace of the Brisings, made by four dwarfs. She agreed to spend a night with each of the dwarfs in exchange for the necklace. However, Loki later crept into Sessrumnir, Freyja's heavenly home, while Freyja was sleeping and stole the precious necklace.

In addition to being concerned with matters of love, Freyja had links with death and the world of the dead. Half of all the warriors who died in battle were given to her; the other half went to Odin, ruler of the gods. Freyja was associated with Frigg, goddess of marriage. Some scholars have suggested that the two goddesses represent different aspects of the same deity, who oversaw both love and motherhood.

See also Freyr; Frigg; Loki; Norse Mythology.

deity god or goddesss

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

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Freyja

Freyja (frā´yä) or Freya (frā´ä), Norse goddess of love, marriage, and fertility. Her identity and attributes were often confused with those of the goddess Frigg. As a deity of the dead, Freyja was entitled to half the warriors killed in battle, the other half going to Odin. She was the sister of the god Frey and was frequently represented as riding in a chariot drawn by cats.

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Freya

Freyaabaya, betrayer, conveyor, Eritrea, flayer, Freya, gainsayer, layer, Malaya, Marbella, Maya, Mayer, Nouméa, obeyer, payer, player, portrayer, prayer, preyer, purveyor, slayer, sprayer, stayer, strayer, surveyor, waylayer, weigher •tracklayer • bricklayer • minelayer •record-player • taxpayer • ratepayer •naysayer • soothsayer • crocheter

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Freyja

FREYJA

FREYJA ("Lady"), the daughter of Njo̜rðr (Njord) and sister of Freyr, is the main Scandinavian goddess of the group of gods known as the Vanir. Although no extant source tells how she came to the world of the Æsirthe dominant group of godsallusions to her arrival in their citadel Ásgarðr (Ásgard) suggest that there was a myth about this that has since been lost. According to Snorri Sturluson (11791241), Freyja is the noblest of goddesses, equal in dignity to Óðinn (Odin)'s wife Frigg. She lives in a grand hall, shares dominion over the dead with Óðinn, and travels in a cart pulled by cats. People often invoke her in matters of love. Incestuous marriage was usual among the Vanir, and it is likely that Freyja was married to her brother. The Æsir frowned on this practice, and once Freyja becomes a member of their community, she takes a different husband, Óðr (Odr). The name of this obscure deity is related to Óðinn, and the pair Óðr/Freyja may be a doublet of Óðinn and his wife Frigg. Freyja bore Óðr two daughters, Hnoss ("jewel") and Gersimi ("treasure"). These names are synonyms and most likely are later poetic reflections of the goddess herself. Freyja and Óðr's marriage was apparently not a happy one, as Óðr disappeared on long journeys, and Freyja wept tears of red gold in his absence. She looked for him in many countries and assumed various names in her wanderings. She is said to have owned a garment that allowed its wearer to take the shape of a falcon. Like her brother Freyr, Freyja rides a boar; hers is named Hildisvíni ("battle swine"). It has shining golden bristles and was made for her by the dwarves. Pigs are sacred to her as they are to Freyr, and one of her names is Sýr ("sow").

Freyja is often in demand as a bride. The Æsir agree to give away Freyja, the sun, and the moon to the master builder of Ásgarðr if he finishes by the first day of summer, and when the giant Hrungnir becomes drunk at a feast at Ásgarðr, he threatens to destroy the citadel and all its inhabitants except for Freyja and Þórr's wife Sif, whom he will keep for himself. The giant Þrymr (Thrymr) steals Þórr's hammer Mjo̜llnir in order to have something of enough value that the Æsir would exchange Freyja for it. The gods ask Freyja to go to Þrymr, but she indignantly refuses, saying that such a journey would make everyone think that she was eager for sex. Þórr retrieves Mjo̜llnir himself by going to Þrymr dressed as a bride and taking his hammer when it is brought out as part of the wedding ceremony.

Freyja's personality is complex: she is said to enjoy "love poetry," an erotic genre that was forbidden in Iceland under threat of banishment (Ström, 1975, p. 151). Her lustfulness is often stressed, not only by Loki, who denounces her as incestuous and grossly promiscuous (Lokasenna sts. 30 and 32), but also in other eddic poems such as the Hyndluljóð (sts. 3031), where she is described as "running through the night in heat like [the goat] Heiðrún [Heidrun]." Her unfaithfulness to her husband is accentuated as well: "Under your apron still others have crept" (Hollander, 1962, p. 135). So̜rla þáttr, a story in a late fourteenth-century manuscript, tells how she slept with four dwarfs in order to obtain the famous necklace Brísingamen, which they had forged. Such behavior is in keeping with the personality of a fertility goddess, but the story as a whole is a Christian creation intended as a demonstration of the evils of paganism, and its depiction of Freyja as a malicious near-giantess and as Óðinn's mistress is much more likely to be the author's invention than a reflection of authentic pagan tradition. Freyja's association with the cat is another hint at her lasciviousness, since the cat was considered by Norsemen to be a most lascivious animal. In the case of Freyja, the feline is the equivalent of the lions and panthers associated with such ancient Near Eastern fertility goddesses as the Dea Syria or Cybele.

Freyja also goes under such other names as Ho̜rn, a term often occurring in skaldic kennings for "woman" and related to the Old Norse term ho̜rr ("flax" or "linen"); it also occurs in a few place-names and points to the worship of the goddess as deity of the flax harvest in eastern Sweden (Vries, 1967, p. 331). As Mardo̜ll she appears in poetic circumlocutions for "gold" such as Mardallar tár ("Mardo̜ll's tears"). She is also known as Gefn, a name derived from the verb gefa ("give") and referring to the concept of the fertility goddess as the generous dispenser of wealth, goods, and well-being. This term is also preserved in the name of the Matronae Gabiae and Dea Garmangabis, recorded in the Rhineland in Roman times. Freyja has therefore been connected with Gefjun, who plowed the island of Sjælland away from the Swedish mainland with the help of her four sons. There are indeed some striking parallels between Freyja and Gefjun, as suggested by Loki's reference (Lokasenna, st. 20) to Gefjun's seduction of a "fair-haired lad" (possibly Heimdallr) who gave her a necklace (presumably Brísingamen) in exchange for her favors. Though the Eddas treat them as separate deities, Gefjun can hardly be anything but a local incarnation of the omnipresent fertility goddess. Another possible hypostasis of Freyja is the beautiful Menglo̜ð ("necklace-glad"), who lives in the company of nine maidens on top of the Lyfjaberg (the "mount of [magical] healing herbs"), surrounded by a wall of flickering flames (Vries, 1967, pp. 328329).

Freyja's association with the dead has been understood as an expression of the opposition between physical death and fertility. Together with her shape-changing garment, this association also suggests a connection with shamanism. Another connection with shamanism is seiðr, a special kind of sorcery Freyja practiced that allowed her to see the future and do harm to others. The possession by the spirits that this entailed was considered to be too much like sexual penetration to be appropriate to men, so Freyja taught seiðr only to the Æsir goddesses and to Óðinn, who was willing to risk shameful effeminacy for its power. Sagas describe seiðr rituals performed by women in a variety of Norse communities.

Although one might expect that the goddess of love would be worshiped in private ceremonies, in fact the cult of Freyja was a public one. According to the testimony of Nordic place-names, the cult was comparatively old and was widely dispersed over Scandinavia, though it is not always easy to determine whether the toponyms refer to Freyr or to Freyja (Vries, 1967, pp. 308310). The greatest concentration seems to be along the west coast of Norway and in the Swedish Uppland, and the name of the deity is joined with terms meaning "lake," "grove," "hill," "field," and "meadow," as well as "sanctuary" and "temple." An anecdote about the tenth-century Icelandic poet Hjalti Skeggjason throws light on Freyja's important position in heathen religion: at the general assembly in 999 he composed this mocking verse, "I don't like barking gods; I consider Freyja to be a bitch," and was promptly outlawed for blasphemy.

See Also

Germanic Religion; Óðinn; Sagas; Snorri Sturluson.

Bibliography

Hollander, Lee M., trans. and ed. The Poetic Edda. 2d rev. ed. Austin, Tex., 1962.

Lindow, John. Scandinavian Mythology: An Annotated Bibliography. New York, 1988.

Lindow, John. Handbook of Norse Mythology. Santa Barbara, Calif., 2001.

Pulsiano, Phillip, ed. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. New York, 1993.

Ross, Margaret Clunies. Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society, vol. 1: The Myths. Odense, Denmark, 1994.

Rowe, Elizabeth Ashman. "Sörla Þáttr: The Literary Adaptation of Myth and Legend." Saga-Book of the Viking Society 26 (2002): 3866.

Simek, Rudolf. Lexikon der germanischen Mythologie. Stuttgart, Germany, 1984. Translated by Angela Hall as Dictionary of Northern Mythology (Cambridge, U.K., 1993).

Ström, Åke V. "Germanische Religion." In Germanische und baltische Religion, edited by Ström and Haralds Biezais, 11306. Mainz, Germany, 1975.

Turville-Petre, E. O. G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. New York, 1964.

Vries, Jan de. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, vol. 2. 2d rev. ed. Berlin, 1967.

Edgar C. PolomÉ (1987)

Elizabeth Ashman Rowe (2005)

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Freyja

Freyja

Nationality/Culture

Norse

Pronunciation

FRAY-uh

Alternate Names

Freya, Van ad is

Appears In

The Eddas

Lineage

Daughter of Njord

Character Overview

In Norse mythology , Freyja was the goddess of love and fertility, associated with affairs of the heart. Her identification with love and passion led other gods to condemn her behavior. The trickster god Loki (pronounced LOH-kee) claimed that Freyja was the lover of all of the gods and accused her of sleeping with her twin brother, Freyr (pronounced FRAY), the god of fertility and prosperity. Freyja, Freyr, and their father Njord (pronounced NYORD) were originally part of the group of gods known as the Vanir (pronounced VAH-nir), who battled the other gods of Norse mythology before forming an alliance with them. In addition to being concerned with matters of love, Freyja had links with death and the world of the dead. Half of all the warriors who died in battle were given to her; the other half went to Odin (pronounced OH-din), ruler of the gods. According to oral tradition, Odin receives warriors who fight in lands away from their homes, while Freyja receives those who die defending their own homes or families.

Major Myths

One story about Freyja explained how she acquired her favorite possession, the Necklace of the Brisings, made by four dwarfs. She agreed to spend a night with each of the dwarfs in exchange for the necklace. However, Loki later crept into Sessrumnir, Freyja's heavenly home, while Freyja was sleeping and stole the precious necklace. When she discovered the theft, she knew that only Loki could have stolen it, and she demanded its return. Odin agreed that the necklace should be returned to her, but only on condition that she start a war between two kings and give the slain new life so they could fight again. Freyja agreed, and got back her necklace. This myth combines two of Freyja's primary roles: her role as a goddess of love, and her association with war and the death of warriors. Another version of the myth leaves out the theft of the necklace, and has Odin condemning Freyja for paying such a price for the necklace. As her penance, he orders her to start the war between the kings.

Freyja in Context

Freyja was associated with Frigg (pronounced FRIG), goddess of marriage. Some scholars have suggested that the two goddesses represent different aspects of the same deity, who oversaw both love and motherhood. The group of gods known as the Vanir, which included Freyja, were viewed as primitive when compared to the other Norse gods. Freyja's father is said to have married his sister, an act forbidden among the other gods (and the Scandinavian people) but allowed among the Vanir. This may have reflected Scandinavian views about previous generations or nearby cultures that were eventually overtaken by the Norse culture. The condemnation of Freyja by the other gods may also reflect societal views toward women who have relationships with more than one man.

Key Themes and Symbols

In Norse mythology, Freyja represents many things. As a symbol of fertility, she represents both the growth of crops and the creation of children. Freyja also symbolizes romantic and physical love. At the same time, Freyja is an agent of the land of the dead to some warriors.

One of the animals commonly associated with Freyja is the falcon, which symbolizes magic and the ability to travel between worlds. The boar is also sometimes associated with Freyja and can symbolize both fertility and protection for warriors. She is also associated with cats, which were said to pull her chariot.

Freyja in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Freyja is often depicted in Scandinavian art riding in a chariot drawn by cats, or with a falcon perched on her hand. She is often shown wearing the Necklace of the Brisings. Her most famous appearance is in the Richard Wagner opera cycle known as The Ring of the Nibelung, first performed in its entirety in 1876. More recently, Freyja has served as the inspiration for numerous characters in Japanese comics, animation, and video games, most notably in games created by the Japanese developer Square-Enix.

Freyja continues to play a part in modern Scandinavian life. The element vanadium was named after the goddess (who is sometimes known as Vanadis), and the name Freja (a variant of Freyja) is one of the most popular female names in Denmark.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research the geographic extent of the Norse culture. Which modern-day countries were part of the Norse culture? Do those areas still retain elements of their Norse heritage today?

SEE ALSO Freyr; Frigg; Loki; Norse Mythology

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