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  • Writer's pictureNorse Norn

Freya: Norse Goddess of Love, Beauty, Fertility, Sorcery, War, and Death

While Freyja does not make an appearance in the Marvel universe, she is probably the best-known of the old Norse goddesses. The evidence suggests that she was more widely worshipped among the pagan Vikings than any other goddess.

In Norse mythology, Freyja is a complex goddess imported into the Aesir pantheon. Freyja is considered the goddess of love and beauty but is also a fertility goddess, goddess of wealth and abundance, the mistress of Seidr magic, and associated with both war and death.

In some ways, Freyja is the female counterpart to Odin, the principal god of the Norse pantheon. There is some evidence to suggest that they may have been more closely linked in ancient heathenry than the surviving sources indicate today.

Freyja goddess of love and beauty
Freyja goddess of love and beauty

Vanir Goddess Origins

Freyja, also called Freya, is one of several Norse gods and goddesses that were imported into the Aesir pantheon. According to Norse mythology, there are two races of gods, the Aesir, principally descended from Odin, and the Vanir.

It is possible that the Vanir are descendent of one of Odin's brothers, Vili or Ve. Near the beginning of time, the three brothers grew concerned about the number of against in existence, and so killed the progenitor of all the giants, Ymir, and used his body to shape some of the worlds in the Norse cosmos, in particular Midgard. After that, we hear nothing of Vili and Ve. It could be that, while Odin went on to be the progenitor of the Aesir gods and their leader in Asgard, the realm of the gods, while Vili and Ve established other lines, including the Vanir.

The Aesir and the Vanir soon found themselves in conflict, principally over their ways of life. While the Aesir wanted to impose order on the world, for example creating barriers between the different worlds, the Vanir were more chaotic and free-loving people closely linked to nature. The Aesir seem to have disapproved of several aspects of their culture, in particular, the custom of brothers and sisters marrying. At this time, Freya was married to her twin brother Freyr, and the pair were the son and daughter of Njord with his sister-wife, probably the earth goddess Nerthus.

This disagreement led to battle, but a truce was eventually struck. To seal the truce, hostages were exchanged. The Aesir sent Hoenir and Mimir to live among the Vanir, while Njord, Freyr, and Freya were sent to live among the Aesir.

The marriage between Freya and Freyr was dissolved by the Aesir, and Freya was married to another Aesir god named Odr. Very little else is known about Odr except that he often abandoned Freya to wander the worlds. This devastated the passionate goddess, who would sometimes disguise herself to search the universe for her husband. Freya used many alternative names including Gefn, Horn, Mardoll, Valfreya, and Vanadis.

Freya often wept over the absence of her husband. Her divine tears were called tears of gold because, in the mortal realm, when they touched land they turned into gold, and when they touched the water they turned into amber.

Freya has two daughters with Odr, the goddesses Hnoss and Gersemi, who are said to rival their mother in beauty.

Freyja's Golden Tears
Freyja's Golden Tears

Fertility and Abundance

All the Vanir gods seem to have been closely linked with nature and therefore linked with fertility and abundance. Despite Sif, the wife of Thor, being the goddess with hair that represents golden corn, it seems that in Viking times, Freyja was the principal goddess of fertility worshipped in Norse religion.

Freyja's brother Freyr is also a fertility god and is believed to grant good fortune and abundance. Freyja also seems linked in abundance, since her tears are the source of gold and amber in the world.

Abundant Freyja
Abundant Freyja

Love and Beauty

While the cult of Freyja among the Norse people seems to have centered on fertility, the stories about Freyja in Norse mythology focus on her great beauty. She is the goddess of love, and is also linked with female sexuality and lust. Freyja is seen as promiscuous, another trait of Vanir gods.

Freyja's beauty is often commented on and is at the heart of many of the most famous Old Norse myths.

When the Aesir were looking for someone to build the walls of Asgard, a builder came to them and said that he would build the wall in exchange for the sun, the moon, and Freyja's hand in marriage. Freyja had no intention of agreeing to marry this builder. But Loki convinced the gods and goddesses to agree to the deal but to make the conditions of completing the wall impossible so that they could get the world done without paying for it. In the end, Loki had to sabotage the work of the builder to stop him from claiming his prize, and the gods killed him.

In another story, the giant Thrym stole Thor's hammer and only agreed to return it if the beautiful goddess Freyja would marry him. Again, Freyja refused to marry the giant or to be part of any ruse that would involve visiting the hall of the giant. In the end, Thor had to dress up as Freyja to trick the giant and reclaim his hammer (and kill Thrym and everyone in his giant court with it).

On yet another occasion, Freyja was visiting Svartalheim, the realm of the dark elves, also called dwarves. There she encountered the necklace Brísingamen, which she declared was the most beautiful thing that she had ever seen, and decided that she must possess it. The four dwarven brothers who made the necklace said that Freyja could have it if she would spend a night with each of the brothers. The goddess agreed. This is often used as evidence of Freyja's promiscuity. But it may have been considered a fair exchange. They gave her their very best work of artistry, and she gave them the same in return.

Freyja wearing Brisingamen
Freyja wearing Brisingamen

Seidr Magic

Freya is also considered the mistress of Seidr magic, old Norse sorcery, which seems to have been more naturally practiced among the free-spirited Vanir than the Aesir. Gullveig, another Vanir goddess who was attacked and killed the Aesir during the war, is also described as a witch.

It was Freya who taught the art of Seidr magic to Odin when she arrived in Asgard. He was ridiculed by Loki for learning the art since it was considered feminine in nature.

Freya was also the patroness of Volva, human witches in the Viking age. They were almost all women, and it was considered unseemly for men to engage in the art. Men were more likely to perform rune magic, another art that Odin had mastered.

Freya's affinity with magic seems to link her with the Norns, the Norse fates. Three Norns sit at the base of Yggdrasil and spin the fate of men and carve runes of destiny into the bark of the tree. Some Old Norse sources also describe Norns walking in the other realms. The nature of the Norns seems unclear, but they may also have been Vanir goddesses.

Freyja the Volva
Freyja the Volva

War and Death

According to Norse mythology, with the help of his Valkyries - semi-divine female warriors - Odin chooses the bravest warriors that die in battle to dwell in his hall in Valhalla. There they feast and train until they are called on to fight again alongside the gods at Ragnarok. But, while this is the most famous Viking afterlife story, it is only part of the story.

The Old Norse sources say that Freyja too chooses brave fallen warriors and takes them to dwell in her realm, Folkvangr. There they also train to assist Freyja when they are needed. The sources also imply that Frejya actually gets the first choice from among the dead.

While some scholars suggest that Freyja had a parallel role in the afterlife of warriors to Odin, others suggest that the daughter of Njord was in fact a Valkyrie and that it is in this capacity that she chooses the fallen.

This seems a little unlikely since if Freyja were one of the Valkyrie, she would presumably be mentioned in almost every account of these divine shieldmaidens, but she is never mentioned alongside the warrior sisters when they are on their adventures. So, it seems rather to be a strange parallel between Odin and Freyja.

Freyja the Valkyrie
Freyja the Valkyrie

Freya and Frigg

There are many parallels between Odin and Freya, and also between Freya and Frigg, Odin's wife.

Freya and Odin both have the same role in the warrior afterlife, and they are both practitioners of Seidr magic.

As a divine Volva, Freya should be a seer, but she is never described as such. But Odin's wife Frigg is described as a seer, though she never tells anyone what she sees. It was this power that allowed Frigg to see that her son Balder was in danger and therefore procure promises from (almost) everything in existence never to harm him.

There are also parallels between Odin and Odr, Freya's Aesir husband. Odin also regularly abandons his seat in Asgard to roam the other realms.

Based on these parallels, scholars suggest that Freya and Frigg were initially one goddess and that at some point in time they became split. This would explain why Frigg has a relatively limited mythology surrounding her, despite being an important goddess; much of the shared mythology of the two was given to Freya.

This may also explain the significance of Freya being a Vanir goddess, even though she is always treated the same as the Aesir gods. Perhaps this was an accommodation that came about when groups with similar but different religions came together and needed to accommodate one another's beliefs.

Freya was imported into the pantheon from another group, but since Freya was such an important goddess to them, she may have been conflated with Frigg. But perhaps this did not sit comfortably, and Freya and Frigg drifted apart to become separate goddesses.

Freyja anf Frigg Symbology
Freyja anf Frigg Symbology

Symbolism of Freyja

Freyja has a significant amount of symbolism associated with her, but her most important characteristic is the gold necklace Brísingamen. This seems to have been her main identifier. For example, when Thor dressed up as Freyja to trick Thrym, he borrowed the necklace to complete the ruse. This seems to have been enough to convince Thrym that the hulking warrior was Freyja.

She also has a cloak made of falcon feathers. She lends the cloak to Loki when he needs to fly to Jotunheim to retrieve Idun, the goddess of youth. This cloak seems necessary for him to transform into a bird and fly there, though this appears to be inconsistent mythology since Loki is known to have been a shapeshifter.

Freyja rides in a chariot pulled by two cats, Bygul (honey) and Trjegul (amber). This is one of many pairs in Norse mythology. Odin has two ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory, and two wolves, Geri (greed) and Freki (ravenous).

Freyja also sometimes rode a wild bore, like her twin brother Freyr, who rides the golden boar Gullinbursti, Freyja rides Hildisvini, who may be her human lover Ottar whom she turned into a bull so that the two could travel together to discover the secrets of his giant parentage.

Freyja as Fortune in the Major Arcana of the Tarot
Freyja as Fortune in the Major Arcana of the Tarot

Worship of Freya

Those looking to work with Freya should consider conducting their rituals in nature, as this is where the Vanir goddess is most comfortable. Freya's principal festival days were probably early May and Midsummer, but Friday is also considered to belong to the goddess.

Freya can be called upon for rituals relating to self-esteem and romantic love. She is also a teacher of magic and can become an instructor in the ways of Seidr magic.

Freya is best represented by the element of earth and can be honored on an altar with gold, amber, or honey.

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