FREYJA ("Lady"), the daughter of Njrdr (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 Aesir—the dominant group of gods—allusions to her arrival in their citadel asgardr (asgard) suggest that there was a myth about this that has since been lost. According to Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241), Freyja is the noblest of goddesses, equal in dignity to Odinn (Odin)'s wife Frigg. She lives in a grand hall, shares dominion over the dead with Odinn, 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 Aesir frowned on this practice, and once Freyja becomes a member of their community, she takes a different husband, Odr (Odr). The name of this obscure deity is related to Odinn, and the pair Odr/Freyja may be a doublet of Odinn and his wife Frigg. Freyja bore Odr two daughters, Hnoss ("jewel") and Gersimi ("treasure"). These names are synonyms and most likely are later poetic reflections of the goddess herself. Freyja and Odr's marriage was apparently not a happy one, as Odr 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 Hildisvini ("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 Syr ("sow").
Freyja is often in demand as a bride. The Aesir agree to give away Freyja, the sun, and the moon to the master builder of asgardr if he finishes by the first day of summer, and when the giant Hrungnir becomes drunk at a feast at asgardr, he threatens to destroy the citadel and all its inhabitants except for Freyja and Orr's wife Sif, whom he will keep for himself. The giant Hrymr (Thrymr) steals Orr's hammer Mjllnir in order to have something of enough value that the Aesir would exchange Freyja for it. The gods ask Freyja to go to Hrymr, but she indignantly refuses, saying that such a journey would make everyone think that she was eager for sex. Orr retrieves Mjllnir himself by going to Hrymr 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 (Strom, 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 HyndluljOd (sts. 30–31), where she is described as "running through the night in heat like [the goat] Heidrun [Heidrun]." Her unfaithfulness to her husband is accentuated as well: "Under your apron still others have crept" (Hollander, 1962, p. 135). Srla ?attr, a story in a late fourteenth-century manuscript, tells how she slept with four dwarfs in order to obtain the famous necklace Brisingamen, 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 Odinn'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 Hrn, a term often occurring in skaldic kennings for "woman" and related to the Old Norse term hrr ("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 Mardll she appears in poetic circumlocutions for "gold" such as Mardallar tar ("Mardll'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 SjAelland 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 Brisingamen) 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 Mengld ("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. 328–329).
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 seidr, 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 seidr only to the Aesir goddesses and to Odinn, who was willing to risk shameful effeminacy for its power. Sagas describe seidr 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. 308–310). 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.
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