Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More About Goddesses: The Norse Goddess, Freya (New Column)

More About Goddesses: The Norse Goddess Freya
by Tim Kavi

Freya (also commonly spelled Freyja) is the Norse goddess of love, fertility, and sexuality.  Her name is derived from the Old Norse word for “the lady.” In Norse mythology, she is a member of the Vanir deities, together with her brother Freyr (“the lord”), her father Njoror, and her mother, whose identity is unknown.  Her husband is a god named Odr, and partly due to the similarities in name (Odr and Freya, Odin and Frigg), many scholars believe that these two couples are one and the same.
Freya’s afterlife field is known as Folkvangr, and that’s where half of the soldiers killed in battle go to, with the other half going to the god Odin’s Valhalla
Life of the Party, and Then Some
It can be said that Freya is the “life of the party” among Norse deities, given that she represents the aforementioned love, fertility, and sexuality, and also has a love for material trappings.  One can even say that Freya is a “player” of sorts, in informal terms.  The poem Lokasenna describes how Loki had accused Freya of sleeping with all the gods, and even her own brother Freyr.  But Freya’s seeming proclivity for decadence is just one of the many facets of her personality. 

Freya as a Master of Seidr
Freya is also known as the first to introduce seidr, a form of Norse magic, to the Aesir, also introducing the art to humanity indirectly. Seidr mainly deals with changing the course of destiny, and can be used in a number of ways, including manipulating any human destiny documented in Old Norse mythology.  

Seidr practitioners are known as volvas, and in Viking times, they traveled across different towns, performing this form of magic in exchange for food, shelter, or other types of compensation.  Due to the shamanistic nature of their craft, people reacted to Freya and other volvas with ambivalence, some respecting and exalting her and others treating her with scorn.

Freya and Frigg – Are They the Same?
It has been a much-debated topic as to whether Freya and Frigg are the same goddess, or similar, yet ultimately different goddesses from each other.  Migration Period mythology (400-800 AD) suggests that Freya was Odin’s wife, while Old Norse literature points to Freya’s husband being a god named Odr, which is very close to Odin.  This similarity in name is arguably the main reason why several experts do not differentiate between Freya and Frigg, instead considering them one and the same.
Other similarities include Freya and Frigg both being accused of infidelity while their husbands were away.  Tales such as Frigg sleeping with Odin’s brothers while he was exiled from Asgard refute the belief that Frigg differed from Freya by being more chaste.  Furthermore, the poem Lokasenna clearly shows Frigg as a volva in the same way that Freya is.

Freya after Christianization
The Christianization of Scandinavia resulted in the demonization of the Old Norse gods, though Freya remained revered by people even in modern times.  This was despite her sexual nature going against the epitome of an ideal woman for Christians – a chaste virgin.  Freya was still prayed to as a fertility goddess as recently as the 19th century, specifically for the purpose of ensuring a prosperous harvest.

About the image: The image is from the painting “Freyja and the Necklace” by James Doyle Penrose (1890)