Gerð is attested to in the Poetic and Prose Eddas, and Heimskringla. She is also attested to in archaeological artifacts. She is a Jötunn, daughter of the frost giant Gymir and mountain giant, Aurboða. As such, she is one of the primordial beings who represent the wild forces of nature that care little for humanity. She is the wife of Freyr, and through this marriage she is considered one of the Asyjnr, the major Æsir goddesses who receive worship.
Gerð’s name means “enclosure.” She is a goddess of gardens, fertile earth, and enclosures necessary to protect crops. She is described as being exceptionally beautiful, so much so that she ensnared the heart of Freyr, previously the preeminent bachelor of the gods.
In the lore, Freyr had snuck into Hlidskjalf, the observation tower which allows Óðin and Frigg the vantage point to observe all happenings in all of the worlds; and which is off-limits to all other beings. From it’s heights, Freyr spotted Gerð in Jötunheimr. In particular, he saw her arms shimmering and shining with light, which is compared in poetry to the glistening of sunlight on snow. So beautiful was Gerð that Freyr fell in love with her at first sight – but then he fell into hopeless despair, assuming a match with her would be impossible.
His step-mother, Skaði approached the messenger god Skyrnir, to find out what was troubling Freyr. She asked him to help alleviate whatever it is. Skyrnir offered to help do whatever it would take to win the maiden, but only if Freyr would give him his mighty sword, the sword which fights on it’s own. Without reluctance, Freyr agreed.
Gerð rebuffed all of Skyrnir’s attempts, dismissing all of Freyr’s charms: his wealth, his warm personality, his golden farm-boy good-looks, his pedigree as a prince of the Vanir, his might as a warrior, and even his renowned masculine endowment and sexual prowess! Skyrnir offered her Draupnir, Óðin’s magic multiplying ring, Iðunn’s apples of eternal youth and beauty, and the wealth of the Vanir. No, no and no. Gerð would have none of it.
After persuading, cajoling, begging and counter-offering, finally Skyrnir resorted to threats, and asserted that Freyr would curse Gerð with his “magic wand.” Gerð relented, and agreed to marry Freyr at the end of a 9-day courtship in a sacred orchard.
While this story is sometimes seen in modern eyes as Freyr sexually harassing Gerð, the context of this tale is one of a long-standing war between the forces of creation (Ásgard) and the forces of destruction (Jötunheimr). The Jötnar are a notoriously bitter tribe who delight in the destruction of the gods’ creations, including their children: humanity and civilization. Further, the tale is a metaphor for the transition of Winter into Spring: the aggressiveness life requires to end the freeze of Winter. In this tale, Skyrnir is at first gentle and slow, and then insistent – the power of the sun to bring forth Spring.
The months between January and spring weather in the Northern Hemisphere is a process which can try the patience of all. As such, Gerð is associated with the date which has become Groundhog Day, a day when we predict how long winter is going to drag on. This secular festival is also known as Imbolc in Celtic lands and to contemporary neo-pagans.
Thoughts on Gerð
Gerð is worshiped alongside Freyr, together as a divine couple. She symbolizes the frozen earth, which is warmed by the sun at the coming of spring, and then which is plowed and made fertile for the growing season. As such, the first sign of Winter breaking, 1-2 February in Northern tradition is associated with her. She is Skaði’s cousin, and is similarly a goddess of the cold.
Her Anglicized name led to the phrase “gird your loins.” The character Gerda, in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen gets her name from her.
Signs and Symbols
Fences, gates, garden sheds, and storehouses. Flower pots. Frozen earth and fertile soil. Gardens, farmland, orchards, and greenhouses. Crops. Sunlight reflecting off snow and water. Dating and courtship rituals. February 1st or 2nd: “the Charming of the Plough,” Groundhog Day, Imbolc and Candlemas.
Gerda, Gerdhr, Gerth, Grið, and Griðr.