Freya : Nordic goddess of love and beauty

In all mythology, we find at least one goddess of love and beauty, but the goddess Freya was much more than that.

Associated also with:

  • Sex
  • Lust
  • Beauty
  • Witchcraft
  • Fertility
  • Gold
  • War
  • Death

Freya was clearly THE most powerful Norse deity. Given her popularity and the number of her followers in some parts of Scandinavia, she is the goddess about whom we have the most information. But who is Freya, the goddess who stole the hearts of gods, dwarves and giants alike?

Origins of Freya

In Old Norse, the name Freya simply means “lady”, and the term was also used as an honorific among Norse women. It is likely that she took on this epithet at some point, and it came to replace her personal name, which was lost in time. According to Norse mythology, although Freya lived alongside the Aesir gods and goddesses and appears among them in their stories, she was not actually an Aesir goddess, but rather one of the Vanir gods. The Vanir were a second race of gods in Norse mythology who were in conflict with the Aesir because of their different life choices. For example, the Aesir did not approve of the practice of incest by the Vanir. These differences led to a war between the two races.

It was at the end of this war that Freya, her twin brother Freyr and their father Njordh, were sent to Asgard as hostages. They quickly became integrated into the Aesir community. Freya and Freyr were themselves children of incest, being the children of Njordh, a sea god, and his twin sister Nerthus, an earth goddess. Before arriving in Asgard, it seems that Freya and Freyr were also married, but the Aesir annulled the marriage as illegal. The goddess Vannor was instead married to Odr, a god about whom almost nothing is known, except that he often wandered and left Freya alone. goddess freya image According to Norse mythology, Freya often wandered the world in search of her husband, disguising herself using various names, including Gefn, Horn, Mardoll, Valfreya and Vanadis. Freya’s marriage does not seem to have prevented her from continuing her relationship with her brother, and other men. However, she only seems to have had children with Odr, two goddesses, Hnoss and Gersemi, who both rivaled their mother in terms of beauty.

Freya goddess of beauty

It is clear that Freya was the most beautiful of the Nordic goddesses, and probably the most beautiful being in the Nordic cosmos. While Freya is described as embracing and celebrating this beauty, her beauty was also the source of many problems for the Norse gods.

In one of the founding stories of Norse mythology concerning Asgard itself, an unnamed builder offers to build the fortified walls surrounding Asgard in exchange for Freya’s hand in marriage, the sun and the moon. The gods tried to obtain the wall without having to pay for it by demanding that the builder complete it in a single season and without the help of a single man. Nevertheless, the builder almost managed to complete the work with the help of his powerful stallion Svadilfari. Fearing that they would have to give the builder the hand of the goddess in marriage, the Nordic gods enlisted Loki to foil the builder. When he failed to complete the wall, Thor then killed the builder. In a similar story from Norse mythology, the giant king Thrym stole Thor’s hammer, and the gods discussed how they could infiltrate the giant’s hall to retrieve the hammer. Thrym’s only weakness seemed to be his passion for the goddess Freya, and the only way to get into the hall was to send Freya as his wife. Freya refused to go, saying that she was considered promiscuous if she agreed to go, even by trickery. In the end, Thor must disguise himself as a goddess to infiltrate the hall, retrieve his hammer and kill the giant king and his followers.

Freya goddess of sexuality

Despite her refusal to participate in the ruse against Thrym, Freya seemed to have no problem using her beauty and sexuality to get what she wanted. For example, she developed a deep desire for the Brisingamen necklace, the most beautiful jewel recorded in Norse mythology, made by four dwarf brothers. The only payment for the necklace that the dwarves would accept was one night each with the goddess. It seems that Freya agreed willingly, probably thinking that sharing her ultimate art as a goddess of sex was a fair payment for this ultimate piece of art created by the dwarves.
Freya goddess of war and death
Freya was also a goddess of war and death, for according to Norse mythology, Freya collected half of the souls of fallen warriors to live in her house of Folkvangr. Odin collected the other half to live in Valhalla, a great hall in Asgard, where the souls remained until they were called to fight again at Ragnarok, the end of the world. Unexpectedly, Freya seemed to have the first choice of fallen warriors, suggesting that the goddess had greater power in this realm than Odin, or that this was a favor Odin granted her for some unknown reason. It is not known whether these warriors will also be called upon to fight during Ragnarok, nor is Freya’s role in the end times. Her disappearance is not mentioned in the Ragnarok prophecy. This has led some to suggest that she would survive to help rebuild the world, but this is pure speculation.

Attributes

Many attributes have been associated with the goddess Freya, all of which reveal different elements of her personality and purpose as a goddess. Freya possesses a hawk-feathered cloak that allows her to fly in the form of a hawk. According to stories in Norse mythology, Freya has lent this cloak to Loki on several occasions to help him undo the wrongs he has done to the Norse gods. This cloak also associates Freya with metamorphosis, and thus with the goddess of magic and sorcery.

Freya was also explicitly linked to Seidr magic, a type of magic that involves discerning the course of fate and working within its structure to bring about change by weaving new events. This is a very feminine type of magic that was associated with the Vanir gods, but Odin is also known to have practiced Seidr magic. Like many of the Norse gods, Freya rode in a chariot, but her chariot was pulled by two cats, black or grey, named Bygul and Trjegul. She was also known to ride a wild boar, and boars were associated with the Vanir gods. The boar she rode, named Hildisvini, was perhaps her human lover Ottar in disguise. The goddess first transformed him into a boar so that they could work together to discover the secret of his giant ancestry and he could claim his inheritance. Freya was also associated with gold through her tears, which were said to turn to gold when they came in contact with the earth, and to amber when they came in contact with water. Thus, the goddess of beauty was associated with the creation of some of the most beautiful substances known to the Vikings.

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