Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Lady of the Hall

How about some information on my favorite Norse Goddess, Freyja? Well, folks, how about it? Freyja is an enigmatic and loved lady, and the Norse ladies, surrounded by shouting Ragnarok-bound beefcake, can always use a spotlight moment!

Freyja's name means Lady - as in the Lady of a hall or fiefdom, the counterpart to a Lord (which is what her brother Freyr's name means) - and she certainly lives up to the idea of being the boss of her immediate environs. She is the goddess of female power in myriad forms; she is a warrior and the leader of the valkyries, who collect the slain from the battlefield and deliver half their souls to live in eternal bliss in her pleasant fields and hall of Folkvangr, and she is also the goddess of sex, beauty, love, and all things romantic and steamy, frequently called upon by women during her time of worship to give them her blessings and famous for her sexual exploits with gods and other creatures.

As one of the Vanir deities traded to the Aesir in order to keep the peace between the two pantheons, and the only woman at that, she occupies an odd political niche; she is invaluable to both the ongoing truce and the gods themselves, who are very protective of her and almost universally fond of her (or at least somewhat dazzled by her beauty and sensuality). Of course, Freyja doesn't need the Aesir dudes to save her from most things; most of the time, they're helping her because they have caused problems for her in the first place, and want to avoid her wrath coming down upon them if they don't handle it.


For example, the charming gentlemen of the Aesir have managed to accidentally promise to trade Freyja away to other people not once, but TWICE, and neither time with her even knowing ahead of time. The first time, a giant appeared out of the wastes of Jötunheimr and presented himself as a master mason, and offered to build a wall around the newly-built halls of the gods, so strong and tall that the giants would not be able to invade and threaten them, and completed by the end of the winter. He asked, as his price, to be given both the sun and the moon as well as Freyja as his bride, and Odin, king of Bad Future Decisions, basically said, "Yeah, sure, sounds groovy," and then told everyone at home that it was totally fine, because obviously there was no way he would succeed so they'd just get the wall, or however much of it got finished, for free.

Needless to say, this turned out to be a poor decision; the giant harnessed up his massive magical horse Svaðilfari and successfully built the wall like nobody's business, until the appointed time was almost up and it looked like he was going to make it. A hilarious council meeting occurs, in which the gods try to pass the buck and try to blame everyone else for agreeing to give Freyja away to the giant, and then eventually they decide to go ahead and blame Loki (like you do), and Loki ends up handling the situation by turning into a mare, distracting the plow-horse, and preventing the wall from being finished on time.


In another case, the giant Thrymr stole Thor's mighty hammer Mjölnir, and then demanded that he be sent Freyja as a bride in order to ransom it back. In another stunningly poor decision, Thor and Loki headed over to Freyja's hall and tell her to get dressed to go get married to a giant she's never heard of before, which she understandably did not take well; in fact, she snorted angrily so hard that the hall itself shook and the chain of the magical necklace Brisingamen on her neck broke, and wisely everyone dropped that particular idea and fled. Loki ended up diguising Thor as Freyja and sending him to go have a wedding ceremony instead, thus reaffirming that Freyja herself is not here to do any of your bullshit errands or be passed around without persmission, and that Thor and Loki don't know how to solve problems in undramatic ways.

These stories alone might make it seem like Freyja is a virgin goddess archetype, guarding herself against all these dudes who want to put their paws on her, but in fact she's very sexually active in her myths; it's not that she doesn't enjoy sex and represent sexuality, but that she has no time for other people deciding what sexiness she gets to do, instead of herself. In one myth, she sleeps with four dwarves in the same night in order to barter the necklace Brisingamen from them, which is renowned as the most beautiful piece of jewelry in existence and gives her great status among the goddesses of Asgard, and while she seems to have no problem with this, Odin later confiscates the necklace and tries to shame her about the method by which she acquired it. His demand that she create an unceasing forever-battle in which two warring kings' armies resurrect to continue the fight whenever they fall is fulfilled by her in short order - an interesting part of the myth, since it's hard to tell why that was what Odin wanted from her, and why he, also a major war deity with ties to the dead, didn't or couldn't just have done it himself.


That particular myth is actually one of the very few places in Norse myth where anyone tries to get on Freyja's case about her sexual shenanigans - for the most part, she does exactly what she wants and no one has much to say about it. She is lusted after by many of the gods, but they also acknowledge that she cannot be courted without her permission, to the point that Loki objects when Odin sends him to break into her room because he says her room is completely impregnable to outside invaders. She is married, to the wandering god Odr, and demonstrably fond of him to the point where she weeps tears that fall to the earth to become gold because she can't find him, but she also has lovers among the other gods, and no one seems to think this is a problem. In fact, the only time anyone ever says anything nasty to her about her affairs is when Loki makes fun of her for sleeping with her brother Freyr - and he's not making fun of her for having sex with someone other than her husband, just with the fact that it's her brother (which, incidentally, is something that the myth's context implies is a normal practice among the Vanir, but not accepted among the Aesir). Because so much of Norse mythology is passed down by Christian writers, in fact, and because Freyja's sexual nature made her such an easy target for Christian proselytizers who considered virginity the feminine idea, the few mentions of people getting down on Freyja for her behavior might have been later additions or interpretations rather than original to Norse myth.

In fact, Freyja's sexual nature is an important part of her helpfulness to humanity and the entire world; because she is associated with love and sex, acts that relate to the fertility of humankind, she's also associated with the fertility of the land, helping plants grow and bountiful harvests become a reality for those who pay her homage. It's a role she shares with her brother Freyr, and with the whole of the Vanir, in a symbolic sense; the Vanir are often theorized to function as deities representing nature and the earth itself, as opposed to the Vanir representing more human ideas such as civilization and warfare.


As a final interesting side note, there's also a slow but ongoing debate in the scholarly community over whether or not Freyja is - or at least, at some point was - the same goddess as Frigg wife of Odin and mother of the gods. There are numerous items of proof that make them similar: their names probably come from a similar root (frija/frijaz, a theorized word meaning beloved); they're both powerful in the occult, with Frigg knowing "all the secrets of the universe" but refusing to tell them and Freyja knowing the secrets of seidr rune-magic, which she taught to Odin; Frigg being married to Odin while Freyja is married to Odr, two gods with similar names who might be forms of the same deity; and connections to various other magical goddess deities, who may or may not be either one of them. Some scholars believe they're the same goddess, just with multiple names and roles, while others point out that similar root names is not much to go on in Norse myth and they might have nothing to do with one another, and still others claim that they probably evolved from the same original figure, but became distinct individuals long before the end of Norse religion.

Whatever your thoughts on Freyja and other goddesses who might share some of her real estate, she's a powerful figure beloved by her worshipers and feared by her enemies, and it's no wonder she's one of the most popular and badass figures the pantheon has to offer!

5 comments:

  1. What a great Goddess to feature in the return of my favorite section of the blog - the biggest badass in Asgard! (move over Odin) The ladies of Yggdrasil have it so tough compared to all the BATTLE DUDES that constantly push them out of the spotlight, and Freyja's greatest glory is (sadly) being able to stay relevant in the ultimate male-dominated society. That's why I'm so divided on the Frigg/Freyja thing...on one hand, I prefer to keep things simple (it's the Roman thing) so I like the idea of there just being one God instead of two, but it would really suck if the two most powerful women in Asgard were really just the ONLY powerful woman in Asgard...you know??

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  2. I'm perfectly happy with Freya and Frigg being two people. The Norse Pantheon has precious few ladies in it as is, and these two are way too interesting as separate people. Hell, part of the reason Norse mythology has never caught my fancy as much as the other three core ones is the lack of badass Goddesses. I mean, other than those two the only candidates are Hel and Skadi. And before anybody points them out, I know Idunn and Nanna and Sif and Thrud exist. Sadly that is ALL they seem to do, exist. Hell, even the misogynistic Greeks have five in the top ranks (Hera, Athena, Artemis, Demeter, Aphrodite). And that's not even going into people like the Tridevi and Isis.

    That rant being over, I love Frigg and Freyja. Frigg has to win some kind of award for managing to out-Sage and out-Trickster the great Trickster Sage Odin.

    But Freyja? Freyja is on another level. I mean, think about it. Every great wizard that is a cornerstone of fantasy and pop culture...everyone from Gandalf to Merlin to countless others, is inspired by Odin. Hell, so is Santa Claus. And who taught Odin magic? Why Freyja! :D

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    1. Freyja also has her own special place in western pop culture - she is the enrapturing and gloriously sexy witch queen from whom all magic originates. She is the majestic goddess of nature whose very femininity is the source of the power that makes the BATTLE DUDES tremble.

      Freyja is the best Norse God and I'll fight you. (unless you say it's Idun in which case maybe......)

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  3. I wonder how well Freyja and Skadi get along. Especially considering that Skadi was once Freyja's stepmom.

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  4. I suspect that Freyja and the other Goddesses get the short end of the stick, myth-wise, because most of said myths are passed down by the notoriously not-pro-women Christian scholars of that time. They cut out the stuff they didn't like/agree with, and so now we just don't know how cool the Goddesses all may have really been. Which is a major bummer.

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