This makes sense when you consider the vast reach of the ancient Norse, and the varying belief systems that were later consolidated to create a single (more or less) mythology. “Freyr” – meaning “Lord” – is more of a title than a name, which the god has in common with others in the pantheon who share power with Óðin (such as Ullr, who’s name means “Glory” or Víðarr, who’s name means “Wide Ruler”), and who are considered rulers and chieftains in their own rights.
Indeed, if we look back in time, we find the name Yngvi associated with Freyr in an Anglo-Saxon rune poem. There are several other connections made, including a mention by Tacitus in Germania, a passage in Beowulf, and the ancestral documents of the Swedish Royal Family (the Ynglings) who descended from the God Yngvi-Freyr.
Freyr is attested in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, Tacitus’s late 1st-century work Germania, Adam of Bremen’s Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum in the 11th century, Skaldic poetry, the 12th Century Danish Gesta Danorum, the 14th century Icelandic Ögmundar þáttr dytts, and several Icelandic Sagas.
Many archaeological artifacts have been found depicting Freyr, and there are place-names honouring Him spanning throughout Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Freyr is often described as remarkably handsome amongst the gods, and he and his twin sister, Freya, are deities of love, pleasure, sexuality and fertility. Freya signifies feminine sensuality, and Freyr represents masculinity and male potency. He is one of the Vanir, traded to the Æsir along with his sister and their father, Njörðr, in the exchange of hostages that cemented peace between the two warring God tribes.
Freyr was associated with all aspects of agriculture, and especially the relaxation earned after a successful harvest. He is the god of all hard work, and the fruits of labour. Snorri Sturlson describes Freyr in his Prose Edda:
“Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men.”
He owns two of the six magical treasures of the gods, made by dwarven master smiths. The first is Gullinbursti, a mechanical golden boar that serves as his mount, and which can run through the air as well as over land. The second is Skíðblaðnir, a ship also made of gold, that could sail even without wind and which folded up to fit inside his pocket.
Freyr also possessed a magical sword which wielded itself. He traded this sword to Skirnir, a messenger god and Freyr’s personal man servant, in exchange for braving a harrowing trip to Jötunheimr to propose to Freyr’s future wife, Gerð. Even without his sword, he is a fierce warrior, famously slaying the giant Beli with nothing but an antler as a weapon.
Come Ragnarök, however, the god is left to fight the fire-giant Surtr without his wondrous sword, and doesn’t survive. Freyr is a god of both war and peace. His sacred animals, the boar and stag, were popularly invoked among Germanic and Nordic tribal warriors.
Freyr gets no simple hall amongst the gods’ homes in Ásgard: He is gifted Álfheimr, one of the Nine Worlds, the realm of the Alfar. The Alfar eventually became the elves and fairies of later popular legend, but before that, they were our human ancestors – the exalted dead of the pagans. Along with the spirits of the land, they were given tribute and veneration as a whole, and also individually by each family in a community. Many scholars consider the ancestors to have been more important than the gods to the daily lives of the ancients.
There are many connections to be made between burial mounds throughout Europe, the elves, ancestor worship, and Freyr – not the least of which was a huge temple and mound complex at Uppsala in Sweden, a site at the centre of Freyr worship in its time. Freyr is king of the Alfar, and he was given the great respect due the ruler of all important ancestors, with pilgrimages
Dating back as far back as the bronze-age, phallic idols, identified as him, have been found throughout Denmark and Sweden, thrown into bogs, lakes, and rivers. Water was one of the doorways to the other world, in the same way that burial mounds were thought to bridge the worlds of the living and the dead.
Thoughts on Freyr
Freyr was such an important deity that it was common to find his likeness beside that of Óðin’s and Thor’s on altars in the Viking Age. As a Vanir, he reigns over all things earthly and of the body, and (of most concern to ancient communities) agriculture and husbandry of livestock they depended on for survival. The story of his defeat at the hand of Surtr is a metaphor for the decimation of all fertile growing things, under the wrath of the fires of Ragnarök.
Freyr appears as a jolly, warm personality, and his energy is comforting and steady – like a big, burly bear hug. He is easy-going and promotes enjoyment of the good life and the peace and satisfaction that comes after all the work is done.
Freyr’s most powerful season is the end of Summer through to the Autumn harvest (August through September in the Northern Hemisphere). Like Baldr, He is associated with the sun, without being a sun god per se. Freyr manifests in Miðgarðr as all fair and enjoyable weather which helps the crops grow.
Hand-in-hand with abundance comes fertility, and the sexual metaphors never end in his stories – from a sword with a mind of its own, to plowing the fields (Gerð’s name actually means “field” even.) He shares some poignant overlap with Ullr, both being gods of food production and masculine potency: Freyr within a domestic, farming context; Ullr within the hunter-wilderness realm.
Freyr has appeared to many different peoples around the world: Priapus to the Romans, Pan to the Greeks, and Min to the Egyptians. He has strong parallels with Cernnunos in Celtic lore, and by extension, feeds into the inspiration behind Oberon, king of the fairies in medieval literature, made famous in Shakespeare. In Ireland, Freyr’s counterpart is the Dagda, the jovial phallic god of plenty and joy.
Signs and Symbols
Boars, pigs, farms, fields, crops and harvest symbols. Seeds, pollen and semen. Magic swords, antlers, and phallic symbols. Stags, bulls, stallions and all virile male animals. Feasts, festivals, and bawdy humour. The day Friday. The colours green, brown and gold. The rune Yngvi. Freyfaxi (August 21), and Lammas (August 1-2.). Bells and simple percussion instruments.
Frey, Yngvi, Yngvi-Freyr, Ingui, Ing, Frawjaz, Fricco, Frø, Freo, Ingawz.