Why Freyr?

2001 Ingeborg S. Nordn

Runic text:  "God of the World and of the Swedes"





Part 2: Runes and Lore


Even people who are fairly familiar with the lore sometimes forget that "Freyr" is only a title of my patron god, a word for "Lord"; his actual name is given as Ing in Anglo-Saxon or Yngvi in Old Norse. Some Heathens have asked whether my own first name, Ingeborg, is connected with his. Their assumption is indeed correct: "Ingeborg" does mean "Freyr's help" or "Freyr's protection" in Old Norse. Other Scandinavian names preserve the Ing-element as well; though they aren't as common as the Thor-names, enough still exist to show that Freyr's cult had some serious followers in ancient times!

Freyr must have played a larger role in the pantheon than the surviving lore shows; in the original Germanic and Anglo-Saxon futharks, the twenty-second rune (Primitive Germanic *Ingwaz, Anglo-Saxon Ing) bears his "real" name (see the graphic below).

Primitive Germanic form of the Ingwaz rune:  a hollow, equal-sided diamond

Only two other Germanic deities (Tyr and Odin) have individual runes explicitly associated with them in traditional texts, so Freyr seems to be on equal footing with them at least! Some Heathens may be familiar with the stanza in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem (my own translation)--

"Ing was first, among the East-Danes, seen by men
until he went back over the wet way (=the ocean);
the wagon followed behind him;
that is what the stern men called the hero."

If that verse associates Freyr with Denmark and is considered genuine lore, then why have I repeatedly called him the patron of Sweden? There are two ways to resolve that, in my opinion:

*      On one hand, Freyr's cult was not limited to Sweden in ancient times, even though it became strongest there. The Danish pagan kings also claimed descent from Freyr and claimed that Skjold--an ideal, peaceful ruler with Freyr-like traits--mysteriously arrived as a child aboard a ship filled with grain. The composer of the Old English Rune Poem may have been more familiar with the Danish legends about Freyr than with any Swedish ones, wording the lines for the Ing-rune accordingly.

*      On the other hand, some Anglo-Saxon texts have used "Dane" as a generic synonym for "Norseman". (When those church historians were writing about Vikings looting their monasteries, they hardly cared which country the raiders came from!) Given that the Ynglingasaga already associates Freyr with Sweden, and that the Swedes live the farthest east of all Scandinavians--the poet may have wanted a kenning for "Swedes" which alliterated with Ing's name.


Many runic inscriptions have also been left by Swedes, raised to commemorate people who died "in the east with Yngvarr". Now, this Yngvarr may have been a flesh-and-blood sea captain (the stones that mention his name were raised at the time when Swedes were sailing out to Russia and Byzantium). But if he was only a legendary figure, then comparing that line with the Anglo-Saxon verse does provoke serious thought.

Some rune books, incidentally, try to make ingwaz into a "castration" rune; the authors read Freudian symbolism into the myth of Freyr's sacrificing his magic sword to gain a wife. I see at least three things wrong with that interpretation:


*      A person castrating himself in order to get married is as illogical as a person cutting off his feet to enter a marathon.

*      The groom giving the bride an ancestral sword seems to be a regular Norse marriage custom; if phallic symbolism is involved, I would associate it with offering the woman his manhood to use normally.

*      The conventional image of Freyr (judging by the lore and religious art) is anything BUT castrated; the photograph below, depicting a god-image kept in the Swedish State Historical Museum, should be convincing enough.

Viking Age statue of Freyr from Sweden, with a prominent erection

Believe it or not, one feminist rune book (Susan Emmer's Lady of the Northern Light) even claims that Freyr was originally a "Great Mother Goddess" whom Norsemen later changed into a castrated male. There is NO evidence in the lore for this kind of sex-change, however. If all Emmer wanted to do was eliminate a male reference, she could have simply re-assigned the twenty-second rune to Freyja.

Of course, Freyr's fertility aspects are not restricted to human or animal sexuality. The Germanic peoples considered his agricultural aspect just as important; and because they thought the king's fertility and luck was connected with the land's, Freyr became a god of kingship and national well-being in general. To quote the Ynglingasaga (my own translation):


"Freyr took over the kingdom after Njord; he was named war-leader of the Swedes and received tribute from them. He had many friends and good harvest-luck, like his father. Freyr raised a great temple at Uppsala and established his seat of government, keeping all his tribute money, land and personal property there. At that time the Uppsala domain began and has continued ever since. In his days the Peace of Frodi prevailed; there were good harvests in every country, and the Swedes gave Freyr credit for that. He was worshiped more than the other gods; in his days the people [of Sweden] were wealthier than before, because of the peace and good harvests....

"Freyr fell ill; and as the sickness progressed, [his] men thought of a plan. They allowed only a few men to visit him; and they built a great grave-mound which had a door and three windows. When Freyr was dead, they carried him secretly to the grave-mound, but told the Swedes that he was [still] alive. They poured all the tribute money into the mound: the gold into one window, the silver into another, and the copper coins into a third. The good harvests and peace continued [as before]....

"When all the Swedes knew that Freyr was dead, but that the good harvests and peace continued, they believed that it would remain so as long as Freyr was in Sweden. They refused to burn his body, but called him 'God of the World' and sacrificed to him for good harvests and peace, as they have always done since."


In the original Old Norse, by the way, two particular words are worth noticing. First, the word for "Sweden" (Svj) literally means the Swedish people (Old Norse j), not the place they inhabit. I do not believe in a folk-soul per se, nor do I believe that Freyr is as strictly attached to one place as a landwight would be. I do not necessarily believe that Freyr was buried in that mound at Gamla Uppsala either (if he was, any evidence is long gone by now). BUT...the Swedish people acknowledged that their peace and prosperity depended on Freyr's staying among them, even in death.

Second, the word for "world" in that passage does NOT mean the earth or the environment. (If that were what Snorri Sturluson had meant, the Old Norse would have called Freyr heimsins go, not veraldar go!) The word verld literally translates as "man-age" or "human lifetime". ("God of everyday life" or "god of existence" would be more accurate, though less formal, translations.)

Judging by historical texts and artifacts, then, Freyr seems to have been much more important in the old Heathenry than most modern followers of Asatru realize. The "mere fertility figure" or "great cosmic phallus" is only a small part of who my patron truly is.



Runic text:  "God of the World and of the Swedes"

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