Freya is attested to in the Poetic and Prose Eddas, in Hemskingla, various Icelandic Sagas, in the story Sörla þáttr, in skaldic poems, and throughout folklore. Her name means “Lady” and the day of the week, Friday is named after her. She is the famed Vanir goddess of love, sex, beauty, and gold in Northern Tradition.
She is also the goddess of witchcraft (called seiðr) and a goddess of battle and of death. Freya famously teaches Óðin women’s magic, and the two split the spoils of the battlefield. Freya’s pick of the fallen warriors go to Fólkvangr, her realm in Ásgard, and her hall Sessrúmnir is located there. As a war goddess, she is often considered the leader of the valkyrjur, the angel-like women who choose the heroic warriors from battlefields. These women also serve mead to the Einherjar, and often appear in stories as lovers to mortals and heroes.
Her twin brother is Freyr, the god of masculinity and male sexuality. Freya is his feminine half and counterpart. Her father is Njörðr, by his un-named sister (generally considered to be Nerthus), and her husband is Óðr, with whom she has two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi. She drives a chariot pulled by a team of cats. Most seem to agree they were either lynxes, or skogkatts (a breed of felines about the size of lynxes, larger than felis domesticus), both of which are native to Northern Europe. In Freya’s honour, kittens were commonly given to brides as wedding gifts in the Viking era.
Like her brother, who is equal in might and power to Óðin, Freya is considered equal in power to Frigga, the two being the most important and powerful goddesses of the North. Some scholars have suggested that the two are one and the same, as they have some striking similarities, but both are distinctly described in the Eddas and interact with one another. Since none of the male deities (who all also seem to have striking similarities and overlaps) are combined in this way, it seems rather reductive (and sexist) to combine the two great women.
Like Frigga, Freya owns a mantle of falcon feathers (It seems that the elite goddesses whore such a feathers like rich women might wear fur coats!) and she flies all over Miðgarðr, looking for her husband Óðr, who has left her to go wandering where she can never find him. In the story, Óðr is ashamed of her greed in the acquisition of her most prized possession, the celebrated golden necklace Brísingamen, and he regularly leaves her. Freya is forever searching for him, and weeps golden tears, which we find in Miðgarðr as the precious stone amber, or as veins of gold within stone.
Freya is the most sought-after goddess by the Jötnar, and many tales tell of desperate barters on behalf of the mighty nature spirits to win Freya for a bride. When Thor’s mighty hammer goes missing, it is the giant Þrymr who has taken it, and he demands Freya as his bride in exchange for its return. Freya is also the price (along with the Sun and Moon) for the construction of the wall around Ásgard. In both cases, the jötnar are tricked, and Freya’s honour is preserved.
The goddess isn’t a prude, however. In true Norse style, her marriage would seem rather unusual to modern eyes. She travels with a constant companion, a boar named Hildisvíni, who is her human lover Óttar in disguise. As payment for Brísingamen, she sleeps with several dwarfs (less honourable than sleeping with giants, even) and in Lokasenna she is even accused of sleeping with her brother, Freyr, by Loki in front of the other gods at a party.
Long after Christianisation, Freya continued to be honoured and named by rural Scandinavians, in folklore and folk magic well into the 19th century. As attested in several sources, due to Freya’s fame, women of rank could become known by her name Frúvor (“lady”), and a woman who was the mistress of her property was often referred to as Freya, and Húsfreyja (“lady of the house”).
Thoughts on Freya
Freya is attested to in the myths as being particularly benevolent and approachable: she readily answers the prayers of her worshipers, particularly in all matters of the heart and fertility. She is famous in the lore for appreciating romantic poetry and song.
Her sexual appetite is legendary. Loki attempts to insult her for having slept with all gods and elves – even her brother Freyr – however, Freya feels neither shame nor embarrassment about this.
Among her best mates is Óðin, with whom she splits half the souls of those who fall in battle. Like Óðin, she is one of the goddesses who is famed for appearing to non-heathens, whether to deliver messages, bestow divine aid, or recruit as one of her followers.
Freya bears a suspicious resemblance to Venus-Aphrodite, the Greco-Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and gold. Like Venus-Aphrodite, she is a lover of war: while Venus takes Mars, the god of war as her paramour, Freya takes half the warriors who die in battle as her companions. Like Venus, she bears a magical garment which dramatically extends her already epic beauty, and this is the necklace Brísingamen, the reflection of which shows up on Miðgarðr as the Northern Lights.
Unlike Frigga, Freya was not easily reconciled with Christianity. Much of Frigga’s character was absorbed by the Virgin Mary. Freya, as the goddess of witchcraft and sex, was demonized, and her figure was converted to the folkloric character of the witch and her cat. Of further archetypal significance, many believe that the witches’ Goddess, of Wiccan tradition, is imported most significantly from the persona of Freya.
Signs and Symbols
Gold, both the mineral and the colour; sunshowers; amber; pigs; cats, domestic and wild; honey; emblems of eroticism, classic and modern (e.g. lingerie); witches and witchcraft; sexually confident women; cougars; the Northern Lights.
Freija, Frejya, Freyia, Fröja, Frøya, Frøjya, Freia, Freja, Frua, Freiya, Vanadis, Horn, Mardoll, Syr, Valfreyja, Gefn.