Who's Who in the Lore: Freyja
©2005 Ingeborg S. Nordén
Even though she doesn't get much publicity in popular culture, Freyja is still the one Norse goddess whose name people are likely to recognize. Most misconceptions about her come not from the media (comics, movies or RPGs), but from pagans who follow a religion other than Asatru. In particular, non-Heathens ought to know these facts about her:
· Freyja is definitely not a moon goddess. The Norse consistently personified the moon (Mani) as male, and the sun (Sol or Sunna) as female. (Sol even gives birth to a daughter just before being swallowed at Ragnarok; Mani is called a boy and her brother when the Prose Edda mentions him by name.)
· Freyja is not one-third of a Maiden/Mother/Crone triad. The Norse never divided the ages of women in that way. Even if they had done so, Freyja has too many contradictory attributes to fit one label neatly. (She is too blatantly sexual to be the Maiden; too unattached to a spouse, home, or child to be the Mother; and too youthful and desirable to be the Crone.)
· Freyja is definitely a goddess of love and sexuality--but not of fertility as such. It's true that she has two daughters by her legitimate husband; yet if motherhood were Freyja's main attribute, we would expect to see more stories of her acting motherly. In fact, other goddesses show more interest in fertility or birth than Freyja does: Frigg (Odin's wife) and the Disir (female ancestor-spirits) usually play those roles in the lore.
Where does Freyja's blatant sexuality fit in, then? Judging by the lore, she seems more interested in the pleasure of sex than in its biological function--either the physical experience itself, or gifts from a partner in exchange for her favors. One well-known story describes Freyja selling her body to four dwarves in exchange for the necklace they were forging. Another has Loki accusing her of sleeping with every male guest at a party, including her own brother (Freyr). Still a third story has a giant-woman accuse Freyja of riding her shape-shifted lover to Asgard (given the meaning of "ride" in Norse slang, this could well be another sexual accusation).
· Despite the stories described above, Freyja is no mere slut: when giants demand her hand in marriage, Freyja refuses them emphatically. (The builder of the new walls around Asgard wants her as part of his wages, but is stopped thanks to Loki's trickery. Similarly, the giant-king who has stolen Thor's hammer wants Freyja in exchange; she becomes so angry that her necklace bursts, flying off her neck in pieces. (Definitely not the tame, sweetness-and-light attitude some people associate with a love goddess!)
· Freyja and Frigg are two distinct goddesses, not different aspects/names of the same one. Granted, they have more than similar-sounding names in common: both are attached to Odin (Frigg as a "legitimate" wife, Freyja as a lover), and both have some magical talent. Their personalities and interests differ too much to call Frigg and Freyja one goddess, though: Freyja is wilder and more independent, whereas Frigg is more peaceful and conventional.
Like most Norse deities, though, Freyja isn't limited to a single function. Here are some of her non-erotic aspects:
· Freyja is a goddess of war, who leads the Valkyries ("choosers of the fallen") and shares half of the battle-slain dead with Odin. Her chosen heroes have a hall of their own in Asgard, distinct from Valhalla: Folkvangr, or "field of the people".
Freyja is a goddess of prosperity, strongly associated with gold.
(Her tears turn to gold as they fall; her necklace is supposed to be made of
gold; and even the boar she rides in one poem has glowing golden bristles.) Freyja's
daughters, too, are apparently personifications of wealth: Hnoss
("precious thing") and Gersimi ("treasure").
· Freyja is a goddess of magic--more specifically, she rules a kind of magic called seidhr, which includes techniques such as shape-shifting and trancework. (She owns a cloak trimmed with falcon feathers, which allows her to assume the form of that bird.) She allegedly taught Odin the secrets of seidhr in exchange for his teaching her runecraft.