This makes sense when you consider the reach of the ancient Norse, and the varying regional belief systems that were later consolidated to create a single (more or less) mythology. “Freyr” – meaning “Lord” – is more a title than a name.
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 in ancestral documents of the Swedish Royal Family (the Ynglings) who are in legend descended from the god Yngvi-Freyr. Claiming descent from divinity was common throughout various pagan cultures, and certainly in the development of Christianity, who’s monarchs even today claim a divine right to kingship.
Freyr is attested to in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, Tacitus’s late first century work Germania, in Adam of Bremen’s Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum in the 11th century, in Skaldic poetry, in the 12th Century Danish Gesta Danorum, in the 14th century Icelandic Ögmundar þáttr dytts, and in the Icelandic sagas.
Many archaeological artifacts have been found depicting Freyr, and there are numerous place-names honouring him spanning throughout Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden, further attesting to his widespread importance.
Freyr is described as remarkably handsome and is considered alongside his sister, Freya a deity of love, sexuality and fertility, representing masculine potency in particular. He is one of the Vanir, traded to the Æsir along with his sister and father, Njörðr in the exchange of hostages that cemented peace between the two tribes of gods.
Freyr is associated with agriculture, and with enjoying the fruits of the harvest. He is the god of all hard work, and the enjoyment that follows. 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 Dwarf master smiths. The first is Gullinbursti, a sun-like golden boar that serves as his mount, and which can run through the sky and over land. The second is Skíðblaðnir, a ship made of gold that could sail without wind and which folded up to fit in his pocket.
Freyr also possessed a magical sword which wielded itself. He gave it to his manservant Skirnir, to hold onto in exchange for braving the harrowing trip to Jötunheimr to propose to Freyr’s future wife, Gerð. Even without his sword, Freyr is a fierce warrior who famously slew the giant Beli with just an antler!
Freyr is said to be the penetrating sun, the god of Summer, while Gerð is said to be the frozen earth goddess of Winter. The aggressiveness in the tale as recounted in the Eddas is thought to be a metaphor for the thawing of the Winter frosts and slow warming of the earth.
At Ragnarök, the god is said to be left to fight the fire-giant Surtr without his wondrous sword, and according to Snorri he does not survive. Freyr is considered both a god of war and peace. His sacred animal the boar was popularly invoked among Germanic and Nordic tribal warriors.
Freyr is said to be the ruler of Álfheimr, one of the Nine Worlds, the realm of the Alfar. The Alfar eventually became the elves and fairies of later legend, but before that, they were human ancestors – exalted dead of the pagan peoples. Along with the spirits of the land, they were given tribute and veneration. 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. He was worshiped at a huge temple-mound complex at Uppsala in Sweden, and was venerated with pilgrimages made to this site, as well as processions throughout the lands in which he was worshiped. He is recorded to have been worshiped by effeminate men who danced wearing bells. Modern images of Morris dancers – who dance with bells, and poke the earth with phallic staves as part of an old courtship ritual to wake up the frozen earth goddess – come to mind.
Dating as far back as the bronze-age, phallic idols identified with Freyr have been found throughout Denmark and Sweden, thrown into bogs, lakes, and rivers.
Thoughts on Freyr
Freyr was such an important deity that it was common to find his likeness beside Óðin and Thor on altars in the Viking Age. He is a king in his own right, and is considered to be a god of kingship and sovereignty. Adam of Bremen, although Christian in bias and trivializing of pagan belief, noted that the Swedes worshiped a once-human king named Freyr, and concluded that this is the origin of the god. His reign was a golden era, such that they venerated him after death. The context Bremen misses is one in which pagan cultures venerate kings both after death and during life. Bremen is likely confusing worship of a dead human given the title “Lord” (Freyr), with an ongoing tradition of veneration of kings who were seen to be a living embodiment of the god.
As a Vanir, Freyr reigns over earthly, bodily concerns, agriculture and husbandry of livestock and of men. The story of his defeat at the hand of Surtr is a metaphor for the decimation of fertile growing things, under the rampaging fires of Ragnarök – mirroring the cyclical death and birth of seasons through the year.
Freyr appears as a jolly, warm archetype, and modern heathens describe his energy as comforting, friendly and paternal. He is described as easy-going and he promotes enjoyment, peace and merriment. Many modern pagans associate him with festivity.
Freyr is associated with all seasons, and significantly with Spring and Summer, and many pagans consider him to be a god of the sun. He is thought to manifest as all fair and enjoyable weather, as well as the gentle rains which help 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. Indeed, modern Heathens see Freyr as a god of sex, virility and vitality.
We think that Freyr has a striking and rather obvious resemblance to other European deities including Priapus (Roman god of the phallus and gardening) and the Irish Dagda (jovial phallic god of plenty and joy). Since both Rome and the Celts strongly interacted with the Germanic tribes, and descend from a common Indo-European origin, we take the stance that there are more connections to be found here than not.
Many modern pagans make connections between Freyr and Celtic Cernunnos. Cernunnos is an intriguing deity who we know very little about. He is associated with male animals and wild nature. As the Vanir are the older order of nature gods, this connection seems to make sense. A large, ancient monolith in England is said to be Cernunnos, with a massive phallus, and so iconographically this tie-in makes sense. At the same time, many male gods are phallic, including Thor (his hammer), the Dagda (his big ol’ club), and Hermes/Mercury.
Cernunnos and Freyr are sometimes associated with the male God of modern Wicca. It is also possible Freyr shares a common ancestral Indo-European origin as phallic Siva of Hinduism.
Suggested Signs & Symbols
Boars, pigs, farms, fields, crops and harvest symbols. Summer. Seeds, pollen and semen. Kings. Swords, antlers, and phallic symbols. Stags, bulls, stallions and virile male animals. Food (especially unprocessed), feasts, festivals, and bawdy humour. Friday. The colours green, brown and gold. Freyfaxi (August 21) and Lammas (August 1-2.). Bells, percussion instruments, Morris dancers. The rune Yngvi.
Frey, Yngvi, Yngvi-Freyr, Ingui, Ing, Frawjaz, Fricco, Frø, Freo, Ingawz.