Freya is attested to in the Poetic and Prose Eddas, in Hemskingla, various Icelandic Sagas, in Sörla þáttr, skaldic poems, and throughout folklore. Her name means “Lady” and Friday is named variously for her, Frigg and Freyr. She is perhaps the most famous Norse goddess, is one of the tribe of Vanir, and is most often associated with love, sex, beauty, and gold (prosperity).
She is also associated with witchcraft (called seiðr) and battle, and is a goddess of both life and death. Freya famously teaches Óðin seiðr, which seems to be a bit of a scandal. She splits the spoils of battle with him, and Freya’s pick of the fallen are said to go to Fólkvangr, her realm in Ásgard where her hall Sessrúmnir is located. She is often considered leader of the Valkyrjur, the goddess figures who choose the heroic warriors from battlefields.
Her brother is Freyr, and her father is Njörðr by his unnamed sister (generally considered to be Nerthus). Her husband is recorded as Óðr (thought be a nickname of Óðin, but this is contested) 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 lynxes or skogkatts (a breed of felines the size of lynxes) native to Northern Europe. In Freya’s honour, kittens (felis domesticus) were commonly given to brides as wedding gifts in the Viking era.
Many consider Freya and Frigg to be one and the same, as they have striking similarities, and they seem to have emerged as a single goddess in earlier history. In the later Eddas they are depicted as separate, interacting characters.
Like Frigg, Freya owns a magical mantle of falcon feathers. Freya uses this to fly over Miðgarðr looking for her husband Óðr, who has left her to go wandering. Freya is forever searching for him, and weeps golden tears, which appear on earth as the precious stone amber, or as veins of gold.
Freya is much sought-after by the Jötnar, and several tales tell of desperate barters to win Freya for a bride. When Thor’s hammer goes missing, it is the giant Þrymr who has taken it, and demands Freya in ransom. In another story, Freya is also the price (along with the Sun and Moon) for the construction of the protective wall around Ásgard. In both cases, the jötnar are tricked out of the deal, and Freya’s honour is preserved.
Marriage had different rules in proto-heathen times, and her (and other gods’) marriages appear to modern eyes as a crazy off-the-rails train. She travels with a constant companion boar, Hildisvíni, who is her human lover Óttar in disguise. As payment for Brísingamen, her wondrous golden necklace, she slept with several Dwarfs – this necklace is said to appear as the Northern Lights over Miðgarðr. In Lokasenna she is 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 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.
A proud sexual appetite is something many consider one of her attributes. Loki attempts to insult her for having slept with gods and elves, however, Freya appears to be neither ashamed nor embarrassed, though the other gods are aghast at his claims.
Freya has commonalities with Venus-Aphrodite, Greco-Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and gold. Like Venus-Aphrodite, she is a lover of war: while Venus takes Mars as her paramour, Freya takes half of all warriors who die as her companions. Like Venus, she bears a magical garment which enhances her already epic beauty.
Although some debate as to Freya’s status as a love goddess, it is important to note that pagan culture did not have our modern puritanical, sex-shaming hang ups, and often had a more positive approach to sex and sexuality, and did not see this as the opposite of divinity. No Madonna-Whore complex here!
Unlike Frigg, Freya was not easily reconciled with Christianity. Much of Frigg’s character was absorbed by the Virgin Mary, while Freya was demonized, and her figure was converted to the folkloric character of the witch and her cat. It is theorized by some that it may have been the Christian influence on the lore that separated Freya and Frigg into two separate goddesses to make it easier to deal with them.
We personally think that the fuss about their needing to be the same goddess is a bit silly. After all, the male deities, most of whom share striking similarities, do not receive this same treatment. There is no debate as to whether or not Thor and Freyr are the same god simply because they have too much in common. Either way, modern pagans see them as distinct archetypes, if not totally separate they are at least sisterly entities.
Suggested Signs & Symbols
Gold, amber, riches and abundance. Sun showers. Pigs, cats, honey, and feminine eroticism. Seiðr, witchcraft, and the motif of the Witch and her cat. Falcons. The Northern Lights and rainbow (the Brísingamen). The rune Fé.
Freija, Frejya, Freyia, Fröja, Frøya, Frøjya, Freia, Freja, Frua, Freiya, Vanadis, Horn, Mardoll, Syr, Valfreyja, Gefn.