Norse Mythology, a body of myths concerning the north Germanic people, based on Norse paganism, comprises numerous gods and goddesses. Like the Celtic deities, they represent different elements of nature and control things like floods, fertility, death, love, and so on.
Freya is one of the Norse goddesses and the most renowned and probably the most powerful Norse goddess to have ever existed. Aside from her importance, Freya was also revered for her beauty. This post is dedicated to who Freya was as the goddess. We cover what goddess she is, her abilities, and her attributes. We also look at the origin of her name and her family.
- 1. Freya the Goddess
- 2. Etymology
- 3. Attributes
- 4. Abilities and Powers
- 5. Freya’s Mythology
- 6. Freya the Volva
- 7. Freya and Frigg
- 8. Freya’s Family
- 9. Conclusion
- 10. Viking Jewelry
Freya the Goddess
Being one of the principal deities in the Norse pantheon, Freya is mainly considered the goddess of fertility, love, blessings, and lust. She is also said to represent, beauty, sex, sorcery, gold, death, and war. Freya is said to have the ability to bestow and take away fertility (in terms of having children). She also oversaw battles and was petitioned for love.
Although she is considered an Ásynjur (female Aesir), she is originally from Vanir. Vanir and Aesir are the two major groups of Norse deities. The Vanir resided in the realm of Vanaheim and were known for their strong connection to the earth and their practice of magic. As a result, Freya was born knowing the divine secrets of magic and the Runes, hence her title the Queen of Witchcraft. When Vanir and Aesir formed a truce, Freya and her father and brother were given to Aesir as a token of the peace treaty, in exchange for the Aesir gods that were given to Vanir.
Even though not originally from Aesir, Freya was one of the most powerful Ásynjur known. She was even said to be at the same par as Odin. Freya was the one who taught Odin and other Aesir gods, the magic of seiðr. Just as Odin would take half of the slain heroes to Valhalla, Freya also got her choice of half of the slain heroes in a battle for her great hall in Fólkvangar. In addition, Freya and her father were considered the high priestess and priest, respectively, of sacrificial offerings.
In terms of moving around, Freya was known to have various modes of travel. The first is her famous cloak of falcon feathers, which had the magical ability to fly through the skies and allowed her to see the grounds below. Aside from that, she also had the chariot that was pulled by two magical cats. Some describe the cats as blue; others describe them as black and grey; others also say that the cats were a gift from Thor the god of thunder. Her third mode of travel was riding her wild boar with golden bristles named Hildisvíni. The boar was said to be like a pet to her and so pigs/boars/swine were said to be sacred to her. She is often depicted riding into a war on the boar accompanied by the Valkyries, psychopomps who ferried the dead’s souls to the next realm.
One of Freya’s favorite things was jewelry and fine accessories. She knew how to use her immense beauty to get them. Her most prized piece of jewelry is the glowing necklace called Brísingamen. The necklace was forged by dwarves and was neither a gift for her nor something she bought off of the dwarves. According to the story in Sörla þáttr, Freya was walking past the cave where the dwarves lived. There she found four of them in the process of completing the necklace. Although she offered them large sums of gold and silver as payment for the necklace, the dwarves refused, stating that they had enough valuables in their possession. They wanted something else from the goddess. So, they struck a deal with her to trade the necklace in exchange for a night spent with each of them. Because she wanted the necklace she agreed.
In terms of worship, Freya is said to favor seers, shamans, witches, or other practitioners of the art of magic. She also favors jewelers, soldiers, and veterans. To communicate with her, it is said that you can do that through Runes. Even today, Freya remains a popular Norse goddess in Scandinavia, with many places in Norway named after her.
The name Freya in Old Norse translates to Lady. The name is said to have been derived from the Proto-Germanic word ‘frawjon’ which was the title used for a mature woman with an upper-class social status. The name is also believed to be the root of the modern German word ‘frau’ which is the title given to a married woman. Some also believe that Friday could have been derived from Freya, since the day is said to be Freya’s day. And because her lucky number was 13, Friday 13th is said to be her feast day, when she is celebrated.
Freya’s name can also be spelt as Freja, Freyja, Frøya, or Fröja. She also has four nicknames based on her appearance and traits. One nickname is Hörn, which translates to ‘flaxen’ and is about her hair. Sýr is another one of her nicknames. It translates to Sow, which is a creature that represents fertility like Freya. Her other nicknames included, Gefn, the giver, Mardöll, the sea shaker, and Valfreyja, the lady of the slain.
Freya is mostly known for her immense beauty. Being a Vanir, she is known to shape-shift therefore can take any form. She has, however, been described to have long blonde hair and in most of her depictions, she is wearing her falcon cloak and the glowing Brísingamen necklace. At times she is shown riding her cat-driven chariot, other times she’s on her boar on a pile of dead bodies.
Unlike other Norse deities, Freya was said to be gentler and more agreeable which made her among the most loved and popular goddesses on the Norse pantheon. Still, like other deities, she is said to have her dark side which is the thirst for blood, lust, and greed.
When it comes to associations, Freya is linked to many things on earth. To begin with, animals, since she owns two cats and a wild boar, they are said to be associated with her. Other animals include falcons, swallows, oxen, rabbits, ladybugs, and cuckoos. Freya is also known to love flowers and is associated with plants like roses, opium poppy, English daisy, Arnica, clover, hemp, holly, and mistletoe among others. Her favorite fruit is also said to be strawberries.
The essential oils associated with her and her worship are sandalwood, myrrh, cypress, benzoin, and rose. Other materials she’s associated with are gold and amber. That’s because her tears are said to turn to gold when they land on the ground and amber when they fall into the water. Her preferred colors are yellow, pink, green, white, light blue, and red. She enjoys food like apples, ales, barley, pork, honey, edible flowers, and mead.
To pay homage to her, you can give her favorite food as offerings to her. You could also adopt a cat or treat cats well. Another way is by reading out love poems or singing songs which she is said to enjoy hearing from her dwelling place Sessrúmnir, in Fólkvangr.
Abilities and Powers
Being one of the Vanir leaders, Freya is considered very powerful. Some might say she is the most powerful Vanir goddess to have existed. The following is a list of her powers and abilities according to the God of War:
Magic of Seiðr
This form of magic allows you to foretell the future and alter it. In Aesir, this type of magic was considered feminine and not suitable for women. In Vanir, this magic was practiced by all Vanir gods. Even though she taught Odin the art, her power was still much stronger. That is why Odin cursed her so that she wasn’t able to use her magic in battle. Still, she was able to use her magic to manipulate others to fight on her behalf. Aside from Seiðr, Freya also could understand and interpret Runes, the individual letters in the Norse alphabet used for fortune-telling, magic, and divination. The following are the list of abilities she had based on Seiðr magic and the knowledge of Runes:
Invulnerability spell – this spell made a person difficult to hurt or kill unless when using a mistletoe which was the only thing that could break the spell. Aside from being indestructible, the spell also made a person emotionless, meaning you’re unable to feel anything from love to hate. Freya used this spell on Baldur in the God of War.
Cloaking spell – this works by Freya marking someone with a rune that hides their location from whoever pursues them. This spell is how Freya and Thor were able to sneak into Jotunheim.
Divination – this is her ability to look into the future using runes. It was how she predicted Baldur’s pointless death.
Plant manipulation – through this ability Freya can conjure up vines, bend them to her will and use them to subdue an enemy. She can also make weapons like bows from the plants.
Magical perception – this ability enables her to know a person’s divine origin. It is how she was able to tell that Kratos was a god from a different realm outside of Midgard.
Animal command – plants aren’t the only thing Frey can control. She also has power over various creatures including cats, boars, and the giant turtles that live in her home.
Seiðr poison purification – this means that Freya can contain and purify poison seiðr poisons. These poisons are generated from scorn poles, and she can purify them for an indefinite amount of time as long as her medium is attached to the poles.
Legion summoning – Freya can call humanoids, creatures made of plant matter. They aren’t strong but they come in large numbers, which is how they overpower the enemy.
Reanimation – this is her ability to recreate a dead body to the closest form they were in when alive. In that state, they can still use all the skills they had before. She can also reanimate dead bodies without their consciousness and use them like a puppet. How good the reanimated corpse is will depend on the state of the body when the person died.
Shape-shifting – like any Vanir, Freya can change her form into anything she wants. It could be an animal or person.
Realm traveling – she can also use the runes to get to different realms. That’s how she managed to get to the realm travel room where Mimir was, leaving Kratos and Atreus in Jotunheim.
Healing spells – Freya is also considered a healer since she knows spells and ingredients to heal different sicknesses and wounds, even those unheard of. She mostly uses seiðr and herbs together.
Telekinesis – she can lift things without touching them. Once she lifted Atreus’ bow and kept it in the air as she attached her bowstring to it.
Magical combat – even though Odin’s curse prevents her from killing or harming anyone through magic, she can still use it to fight. She used her magic to fight against Aesir in the war between them and Vanir.
Immortality and superhuman durability
Like any Norse deity, Freya can live for centuries without aging. She can also withstand serious falls or injuries that would normally kill a human. She can however be killed by another god or a divine weapon or being.
She is considered to be the Queen of Valkyries and perhaps the strongest one, with her power almost at par with Sigun’s. She is said to even have Valkyrie wings, but according to the God of War, her husband Odin snatched them from her when she ended their marriage.
Freya is considered very intellectual. This is demonstrated by her vast knowledge of all creatures and objects in all the nine realms. She is also a master of the seiðr magic and knows the runes. Even though she wasn’t able to break Odin’s curse, she managed to find loopholes around it.
Freya is believed to have been skilled in archery given the bow she uses to arrow’s infused with Alfheim’s light, to create light bridges. She also carries around with her a sword, which is another weapon she is believed to be skilled at using. Unfortunately, due to Odin’s curse, she is unable to use these weapons in combat.
The Norse people did not have a written record of their customs and culture, so the majority of what is known about them is gotten from the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda by Snorri Sturluson. These were written in Icelandic, in the era when women were not as highly regarded as men. As a result, there is more information about Norse gods than goddesses. Freya however, was a powerful goddess and the most loved and widely venerated even today. So, it comes as no surprise that there is a lot of myths written about her. Of course, like most Norse deities, very little is known about her childhood, but the following are some of the myths that talk about her in Norse mythology:
The Vanir-Aesir War
According to the Ynglinga saga, a book of the Heimskringla by Snorri, Freya is described as the leading Vanir deity and one of the major players in the war between Aesir and Vanir. When the war ended and the two sides settled on a peace treaty, Freya along with her father and brother went to live in Aesir in exchange for the Aesir gods who were sent to Vanir.
While in Aesir, Freya made a great name for herself. Odin appointed her and her father to oversee the sacrificial offerings. In this role, she was in charge of maintaining peace among gods. She also kept the world in motion by maintaining the cycles of fertility. As a result, she was loved and praised by so many that her name became a reference to all ladies of good social standing. She was also popular for introducing the Aesir gods to the art of seiðr.
This myth is found in the Poetic Edda under the poem, Hyndluljód. This poem talks about Freya’s generous personality, when she helped her favorite servant, Ottar, to learn about his ancestry so he could settle a bet. Based on the poem, Freya helped Ottar by transforming him into her famous wild boar Hildisvíni. She then took him to see a wise woman named Hyndla, who Freya threatened to kill when she objected to helping at first. Hyndla gave in and recited the complicated genealogy, finding Ottar’s place in it. Afraid that Ottar might forget, Freya ordered Hyndla to give him the beer of memory so he could hold the detailed genealogy in his mind.
Freya’s beauty was undeniable, so it is no surprise that she had many admirers from gods to dwarves but especially giants. This is depicted in a lot of the myths where her sex appeal and desirability are often highlighted.
One of the stories that depict this is the story of Gylfaginning, in Prose Edda. According to the story, Freya was made a pawn in a dangerous bargain between the gods and a hill giant. The giant one day approached the gods with an offer to build them an impenetrable fortress that would protect them from Jötnar. In exchange, the hill giant wanted the sun and the moon, along with Freya’s hand in marriage. The gods accepted his offer on the condition that he would complete the task by the first day in summer. The giant accepted this condition only if he was assisted by his stallion Svadilfari. The gods agreed to his terms, thinking that he would not be able to complete the task in time.
With summer nearing, the giant seemed like he was close to completing his task within the allotted time. Afraid to lose Freya to the giant, the gods hatched a plan to spoil the giant’s progress. They sent Loki disguised as a mare to distract the stallion. Without Svadilfari’s help, the giant knew he won’t be able to complete the task on time, so he went into a rage. The gods sent Thor to deal with him and protect them. In the end, the gods got their fortress without Freya getting into an unwanted marriage.
A similar story is told in the poem Thrymskvitha, in the Poetic Edda. According to the poem, the King of giants and ruler of Jotunheim, Thrym, lusted after Freya. As a result, he stole Thor’s hammer Mjölnir. When it was discovered that he had the hammer, he demanded that they give Freya to him in exchange for the hammer. When Freya heard this, she was so furious that her fury shook the foundation of the palace of the gods and her torc necklace broke.
To get the hammer back without losing Freya, Thor was dressed as Freya in a bridal veil and her prized necklace and went to King Thrym’s hall with Loki disguised as his handmaid. Together they found the hammer and forcefully took it from Thrym’s possession.
Despite fiercely guarding her honor and reputation, Freya was known to be promiscuous from time to time. She used her beauty and sexual appeal as weapons to get what she wanted. In the narrative of the Sörla þáttr written by a Christian priest in the 14th Century, Freya is presented as Odin’s concubine. The narrative speaks about the time when Freya came across the caves of the dwarves where they were making the Brísingamen necklace. Because of her greed for fine things and her desire to have the necklace, she agreed to sleep with each of the dwarves in exchange for it.
Loki found out about the affair and reported it to Odin, who encouraged him to steal the necklace. When Freya came to Odin to complain about the necklace, Odin exposed her promiscuity. He agreed to return the necklace only if she managed to complete an odd task. The task was to force two kings, each ruling over 20 kings, to fight an endless war, such that if they died, they would rise again and keep fighting. This war was to continue until the Christian king of Norway came to stop it. Freya accepted.
Freya the Volva
In many myths and narratives, Freya has often been associated with the Volva. During the Viking Age, a Volva was a wandering sorceress who could see the future. She moved from town to town performing acts using seiðr magic. In exchange, the people gave her food, lodging, and other forms of compensation. No one knew her true social status but she was in turns feared, exalted, coveted, scorned, and celebrated.
In the Ynglinga Saga, Freya is directly described as occupying this role among the gods. In the Eddas, the same thing is also hinted at. It says Freya would travel to different realms performing seiðr magic in exchange for things like food, lodging, or other things. Hence, she is sometimes referred to as the Volva.
During the migration period, which came just before the Viking Age, the figure that would later be called the Volva, had a more institutionalized role. The main societal institution at the time was a Warband, which was a tightly organized military society. They were led by a chieftain and his wife. According to Tacitus, the Roman historian, the chieftain’s wife had the title of Veleda. Her role was to use divination to foretell the outcome of a suggested plan. She was also meant to influence the outcome using active magic, on top of serving a special cup of liquor that was a strong symbol of spiritual and temporal power during that period.
Such a woman has been described in Beowulf, a medieval Old English poem, that talks about King Hroðgar, his Warband, and his queen Wealhþeow. She fit the description of the Veleda, given her domestic roles that maintained the unity and power structures of the Warband. This poem is close to the more robust politico-theological conception based on the mythological model of the divine pair Frija and Woðanaz. Frija in this case is considered the Veleda. The two deities would later evolve to be referred to as Frigg/Freya and Odin respectively.
In short, Wealhþeow is considered to be the Veleda who would later evolve into Frija, who in turn would later evolve into Freya, the Volva. Some myths even talk about Wealhþeow wearing the same necklace as Freya, the Brísingamen (Old English: Brosinga mene)
Freya and Frigg
Based on many mythologies from different eras, the names Frigg and Freya seem to be used interchangeably. This is because the two share certain similarities that one would think they are the same goddess. One similarity is that Friday is said to be named after both of them. A native English speaker would insist that Friday was named after Frigg and a Scandinavian would insist that it is after Freya, based on how they spell Friday. What’s more confusing is the fact that Norse sources term Friday as both Frigg’s and Freya’s day.
Another similarity is their husband. Frigg’s husband is said to be Óðinn and Freya’s is said to be Óðr. Both names Óðinn and Óðr sound similar and have the same meaning which is inspiration, furor, and frenzy. Additionally, Freya is described in some myths looking for her missing husband in tears. On the other hand, Odin is described as a shape-shifting wanderer whose long journeys would keep him away from Asgard for long periods, hence he fits the bill of Freya’s husband.
The other similarity is that both Freya and Frigg have been accused of infidelity towards their husbands. On one hand, Freya’s promiscuities are mentioned in several places. On the other hand, according to Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish historian Frigg slept with a slave at least once. In the Ynglinga saga and Lokasenna, it is mentioned that when Odin was exiled from Asgard, his two brothers Vili and Ve slept with Frigg frequently until Odin’s return.
Other similarities include the fact that bit Frigg and Freya are considered the goddesses of fertility and love. Frigg, in the Lokasenna, is also said to know the fate of all beings, which is close to Freya’s seiðr magic. Both of them are also said to own bird of prey feather, Freya’s falcon cloak, and Frigg’s shape-shifting feathers; which brings about another similarity, the fact that they can both shapeshift.
There are, however, certain differences between the two, that make you question whether they are indeed the same goddess. To begin with, Freya is more of a title than a name and it means “Lady”. In the Viking Age, Freya was used to refer to the lady of the house, or in other words, a woman who was a property mistress. Frigg, on the other hand, is an actual name that means “beloved”. It is well known that Freya is Vanir, but it is not clear whether Frigg is an Aesir or a Vanir. Animals seen with Freya are the two cats and her wild boar, Frigg on the other hand has a Stork. Frigg’s hall is in Fensalir, where happily married couples spend their afterlife. Freya’s hall is in Fólkvangar and is where half of the heroes slain in battle reside.
While there are many similarities between the two goddesses, there are some differences. It is therefore difficult to clearly distinguish between the two. Judika Illes speculates that the reason behind this difficulty is because the two spirits were merged due to lost information. This is based on the hate Christian authorities had for Freya, which led to substantial information about her barely existing. That is why the two may be distinct goddesses in Scandinavia but merged in the German lands. There is also do not seem to be any depictions of the Freya in the Germanic mythologies, only Scandinavian.
As mentioned before, Freya is originally from Vanir. Although not much is written about her childhood, she is said to be the daughter of Njörðr, the god of the sea, and Herta, the goddess of the earth. Some, however, believe that Freya’s mother was Skida, the giant-daughter, and wife of Njörðr. Not much is written about Freya’s mother, though some speculate that she could be the unknown sister of Njörðr. Freya also has a twin brother named Freyr, whose name means “Lord” and is considered the male counterpart of Freya. When Vanir and Aesir reached a peace settlement, Freya together with her father and brother were taken to Aesir as a peaceful trade for the Aesir gods in Vanir. Njörðr resides in his great hall called Nóatún, beside the sea. Freyr on the other hand lives in Alfheim, a realm gifted to him by the Aesir.
Aside from them, Freya is married to Óðr, who many speculate is Óðinn. According to the Prose Edda, Óðr is missing, which is why Freya is always out searching for him while weeping. It is here that it’s said her tears turn to gold when they fall on the earth and amber when they fall in the sea. Freya and Óðr are said to have two daughters in the Prose Edda. Their names are Hnoss and Gersemi. Both names are said to roughly translate to something along the lines of precious or treasure. The two are said to be very beautiful. Aside from the Prose Edda, nothing much is mentioned about Freya’s daughters, but their names or similar meanings have been used in poems to describe Freya.
Even today Freya remains popular even after the Christianization of Scandinavia. Places in Sweden and Norway still show clear signs of her worship, perhaps even by a public cult. It is said that if you want to communicate with Freya, you can do so through Runes or in deep meditation after calling her name three times in your mind.