Death Gods, Fertility Gods, Gender Non-Conforming Gods, History, Culture & Worship, Reference Sheets, Relationships Between the Gods, The Gods, Worship, Worship Practices

Freyr: A Reference on the Norse God of Fertility, Peace, and Prosperity

Please note that this work is subject to updates and that the most recently updated version will always be the document in my google drive linked to on my Resources page. Please also note that you should not accept any of this at face value and always research any of the information I make available yourself. This is intended to be a simple reference and jumping-off point.

DOEPLERFREYR
Freyr, Emil Doepler

Basic Info:

  • Name Origin: Old Norse
  • Other Names: Inguin/Yngvi (Old High German/Old Norse); Frô/Frôjo/Frouwo (Old High German); Ingƿine (Old English) Ingwaz/Fraujaz/Frauwaz (reconstructed Proto-Germanic)
  • Principal Race/“Family” Designation: Vanir
  • God of: sacral kingship; virility; prosperity; peace; marriage; childbirth; sunshine; fair weather; fertility; death
  • Associations: boars; horses; ships; death; funerary rites; burial mounds; phallic imagery; effeminateness, the ingwaz rune
  • Epithets: Veraldar góð[1], Inn Fróði (according to Snorri), possibly Ing[2]
  • Mythological Possessions: Gullinbursti, a boar faster than any horse, covered with golden, glowing bristles; Skíðblaðnir, a splendid ship capable of being folded up and carried in one’s pocket; a magic sword (possibly called Lævateinn[3]) that fights on its own “if wise be he who wields it”
  • Dwellings: Vanaheimr; Álfheimr; Ásgarðr
  • Family: Father: Njǫrðr; Mother: probably Nerthus (Nerþuz); Wife: Gerðr, possibly Freyja; Sister: Freyja; Children: Fjǫlnir[4]

Further Info:

On the Relationship Between Freyr and Gerðr: In the Eddic poem Skírnismál, Freyr snuck into Valaskjálf and sat upon Hliðskjálf, from which he looked into Jötunheimr, where he saw and fell in love with the jötun maiden Gerðr. Freyr sent Skírnir with the task of relaying his (Freyr’s) feelings to Gerðr, a task which Skírnir accepted on the condition that he would be given Freyr’s sword in return for this service. In the end, Gerðr consented to meet Freyr and became his bride.

On Freyr and Nerthus’ Common History with Sacred Wagons: Like Nerthus[5], there are instances recorded of Freyr, with a priestess-wife to accompany him, being borne around the land in a sacred wagon, feasting with mortals during the winter season.[6] The Danish King Fróði is also similar to the both of them in this respect.

On the “Unmanliness” of the Worship of Freyr: Saxo tells[7] of the worship of Freyr at Uppsala, which involved “effeminate gestures,” “clapping of mimes upon the stage,” and the “unmanly clatter of bells.” This was likely part of a ritual performance in Freyr’s honor, possibly to invite Freyr’s blessing upon the fields the crops that would be harvested later.

On Freyr’s History with Human Sacrifice: Saxo also tells of human sacrifices that were part of the Vanir cult, and the poem Ynglingatal seems to imply that Swedish kings were not uncommonly the victims of such sacrifices, which therefore suggests that Freyr may have begun as a priest-king. However, there is no hard evidence to support these theories.

On Freyr’s History with the Horse Cult: Freyr was associated with the horse cult (we even know the name of one particular sacred stallion, Freyfaxi), and horses were kept near Freyr’s temples in Iceland. Sacred horses were also kept in a sanctuary in Norway at Thrandheim. Flateyjarbók tells of King Olaf Tryggvason, on his way to destroy the sanctuary, riding a horse that had been given to Freyr, which was forbidden, and an act of defiance against the god.

On Freyr’s and Freyja’s Association with Boars: Boars were sacred to both Freyr and Freyja, and Tacitus tells that the Aestii, a Germanic tribe on the coast of Prussia, wore figures of boars in rituals and to signify their cult affiliation. When Óttarr the Simple donned a boar mask in the Eddic poem Hyndluljóð, he was able to disguise himself as Freyja’s boar Hildisvín and gain protection and inspiration from her. Boar helmets were treasured for their ostensible protective powers by the early kings of Sweden.

On Freyr’s Association with Ships: It is possible that Freyr’s mythological portable ship Skíðblaðnir was based on an actual mock-ship used in ritual practices and folded up when not being used. There is plenty of evidence of processional ships being kept in churches in Scandinavia from the Middle Ages to the modern day. Ship symbolism was also very commonly used in funerary rites, and Freyr himself was very closely associated with death and funerary rites. When in Ynglinga Saga Freyr was dead and lying in a burial mound, priests placed gifts of gold, silver, and copper into three separate holes in the side of the mound.

On King Fróði: The Danish King Fróði is similar to Freyr as he was in Sweden, a bringer of peace and prosperity to the land, and borne around in a wagon after death, the news of which was buried for sometime before Fróði himself was finally buried in a mound.

Theories:

On the Sibling-Consort Relationships Between Njǫrðr and Nerthus, and Freyr and Freyja; and on the Shift from Matricentricism and Endogamy to Patriarchy and Exogamy: It seems extremely likely that Freyr and Freyja are later forms of Njǫrðr and Nerthus, since they share a great many qualities, and since Njörðr was recorded by Snorri as being the father of Freyr and Freyja. This conclusion is further supported by the evidence of Njǫrðr and Nerthus having once been siblings who in later mythology spawned Freyr and Freyja as the result of an incestuous relationship. Snorri himself states that sibling marriage was customary among the Vanir, a custom which is mirrored by actual historical practices of the endogamic, matricentric, matrilineal, and matrilocal cultures of Old Europe. During that era and in that area, clans were governed by matriarchs who co-ruled with their brothers or sometimes their uncles, both of whom were thought of as being “second in command.” American psychologist Ralph Metnzer, in his 1994 book called The Well of Remembrance: Rediscovering the Earth Wisdom Myths of Northern Europe, provides a relatively clear explanation of this through the following snippets:

‘With the shift from a matricentric to a patriarchal social order, from village commons to individual land holdings and ownership, and from matrilineal to patrilineal inheritance of name and property came parallel shifts from endogamous and matrilocal marriage customs to exogamous and patrilocal ones. In the cultures of Old Europe, marrying within the clan lineage (endogamy) was associated with matrilineal inheritance and matrilocality (living in the woman’s family home). In the widely dispersed settlements of the archaic period, women would marry someone from the clan, and the husband or consort would live in the woman’s extended family household, along with her brothers and sisters. Among the descendants of the pre-Celtic Picts in Scotland, matriliny survived into the eighth century and matrilocality, in which the woman stays in her maternal home on marriage, continued into the twentieth century. According to Gimbutas, Old European society was organized “around a theocratic, communal temple community…an endogamous society guided by a highly respected elder—Great Mother of the clan and her brother or uncle, with a council of women as a governing body. The structure was matrilineal, with succession to leadership and inheritance within the female line.”

‘According to the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the political and economic importance of exogamy is the real reason for the worldwide incest taboo. Possible genetic defects from inbreeding are too delayed and subtle to form the basis for such a powerful prohibition. But grown-up children with children themselves would put intolerable economic strain on the village or clan if they never moved. So the imperative was, “don’t marry in the family (or clan)—marry someone from outside, so that our family can prosper, and theirs too.” For the Kurgan invaders, marrying local women, whether through forcible abduction and rape or through peaceful economic exchanges, must have been one of the principal ways they established themselves in the farming communities of Old Europe. The endogamous practices of the indigenous inhabitants would have been condemned as “incestuous,” as would the co-rulership of elder women with their brothers. Over the three millennia of cultural interaction and migration, intermarriage must have been the principal social glue that led to the hybrid cultures that we encounter as we enter the historical period.’

‘A striking example of mythology as the mirror image of culture, and of mythology confirming the findings of archaeology, is in the myth of the Vanir deities Freyr and Freyja, whose names in the Old Norse tongue simply mean “Lord” and “Lady.” They were brother and sister, children of Njörd and Nerthus, who were also said to be siblings, or were possibly one androgynous being. Freyr was a god of fertility and abundance, especially revered among the Swedes, and Freyja was the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and magic. They were worshipped as consorts and siblings, although in the later period, in which the Aesir were the dominant gods, Freyr marries the giantess Gerdra, and Freyja has a mysterious, mostly absent husband Odr, one of the Aesir. [compiler’s note: This marriage of a Vanir goddess (Freyja) with an Aesir god (Odr) can only have come to be by means of cultural sharing between the matricentric Old Europeans and the patriarchal Kurgan migrants, and therefore they cannot have been each other’s original consorts.] The historian Snorri, who composed the Prose Edda, stated that among the Vanir, sibling marriage was customary, but the Aesir gods condemned it as incestuous and required them each to seek other mates.
‘This mythological fragment probably reflects the shift from endogamy and brother-sister rule among the Old Europeans, whose gods were the Vanir, to the exogamic, patriarchal structure of the Germanic and Nordic people, for whom the Aesir, as among the Olympians of classical Greece, goddesses play a decidedly lesser role, usually as wives or daughters of the father god, who often has numerous affairs with other goddesses or human women. Thus, the patriarchal code for male-female relationships, both at the human level and the divine, condemns sibling consorts and rulership as incestuous, demands absolute fidelity and loyalty from the woman, and permits promiscuity for the man. The double standard for sexual fidelity is still with us, of course, and is one of the most deep-seated anti-feminine biases of the Indo-European ideology.’

On Freyr and Alcohol: In Gods and Myths of the Viking Age, H. R. Ellis Davidson says this: “In Asgard there is a minor figure called Byggvir (Barley) who appears in the Edda poem Loki mocks at him because he is always chattering in the ear of Freyr, and he has a companion called Beyla, whose name Dumézil ingeniously interprets as ‘bee’, symbolizing the other favourite drink, mead made from honey.” [Compiler’s note: It is my personal opinion that Byggvir does in fact represent beer and Freyr’s ostensible “drinking problem,” and also that Beyla, Byggvir’s consort, represents Freyja and her arguable promiscuity and sexual relationship with Freyr.]

References:

  • Jackson. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis, IN: Haccket Publishing Company, 2015.
  • Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006.
  • Flateyjarbó c. 1394. MS.
  • Grammaticus, Saxo. The Danish History. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2009.
  • Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. c. 1220. MS.
  • Sturluson, Snorri. Ynglinga Saga. c. 1225. MS.
  • Tacitus, Cornelius, Harold Mattingly, and J. B. Rives. Agricola ; Germania. London: Penguin, 2009.
  • ss, 2016.

Footnotes:

[1] Snorri Sturluson. Edda. c. 1220. MS.

[2] H. R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006.

[3] Jackson Crawford. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis, IN: Haccket Publishing Company, 2015.

[4] Snorri Sturluson. Ynglinga Saga. c. 1225. MS.

[5] Cornelius Tacitus, Harold Mattingly, and J. B. Rives. Agricola ; Germania. London: Penguin, 2009.

[6] Flateyjarbók. c. 1394. MS.

[7] Saxo Grammaticus. The Danish History. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2009.

© Alixander F. D. Bragiteilen and Bragiteilen.com, 2018. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alixander F. D. Bragiteilen and Bragiteilen.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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