Hélène Adeline Guerber
Myths of the Norsemen|
Chapter X: Freya
Freya, the fair Northern goddess of beauty and love, was the sister of Frey and the daughter of Niörd and Nerthus, or Skadi. She was the most beautiful and best beloved of all the goddesses, and while in Germany she was identified with Frigga, in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland she was considered a separate divinity. Freya, having been born in Vana-heim, was also known as Vanadis, the goddess of the Vanas, or as Vanabride.
When she reached Asgard, the gods were so charmed by her beauty and grace that they bestowed upon her the realm of Folkvang and the great hall Sessrymnir (the roomy-seated), where they assured her she could easily accommodate all her guests.
Although goddess of love, Freya was not soft and pleasure-loving only, for the ancient Northern races believed that she had very martial tastes, and that as Valfreya she often led the Valkyrs down to the battlefields, choosing and claiming one half the heroes slain. She was therefore often represented with corselet and helmet, shield and spear, the lower part of her body only being clad in the usual flowing feminine garb.
Freya transported the chosen slain to Folkvang, where they were duly entertained. There also she welcomed all pure maidens and faithful wives, that they might enjoy the company of their lovers and husbands after death. The joys of her abode were so enticing to the heroic Northern women that they often rushed into battle when their loved ones were slain, hoping to meet with the same fate; or they fell upon their swords, or were voluntarily burned on the same funeral pyre as the remains of their beloved.
As Freya was believed to lend a favourable ear to lovers’ prayers, she was often invoked by them, and it was customary to compose in her honour love-songs, which were sung on all festive occasions, her very name in Germany being used as the verb “to woo.”
Freya, the golden-haired and blue-eyed goddess, was also, at times, considered as a personification of the earth. As such she married Odur, a symbol of the summer sun, whom she dearly loved, and by whom she had two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi. These maidens were so beautiful that all things lovely and precious were called by their names.
While Odur lingered contentedly at her side, Freya was smiling and perfectly happy; but, alas! the god was a rover at heart, and, wearying of his wife’s company, he suddenly left home and wandered far out into the wide world. Freya, sad and forsaken, wept abundantly, and her tears fell upon the hard rocks, which softened at their contact. We are told even that they trickled down to the very centre of the stones, where they were transformed to gold. Some tears fell into the sea and were changed into translucent amber.
Weary of her widowed condition, and longing to clasp her beloved in her arms once more, Freya finally started out in search of him, passing through many lands, where she became known by different names, such as Mardel, Horn, Gefn, Syr, Skialf, and Thrung, inquiring of all she met whether her husband had passed that way, and shedding everywhere so many tears that gold is to be found in all parts of the earth.
Far away in the sunny South, under the flowering myrtle-trees, Freya found Odur at last, and her love being restored to her, she was happy and smiling once again, and as radiant as a bride. It is perhaps because Freya found her husband beneath the flowering myrtle, that Northern brides, to this day, wear myrtle in preference to the conventional orange wreath of other climes.
Hand in hand, Odur and Freya now gently wended their way home once more, and in the light of their happiness the grass grew green, the flowers bloomed, and the birds sang, for all Nature sympathised as heartily with Freya’s joy as it had mourned with her when she was in sorrow.
The prettiest plants and flowers in the North were called Freya’s hair or Freya’s eye dew, while the butterfly was called Freya’s hen. This goddess was also supposed to have a special affection for the fairies, whom she loved to watch dancing in the moonbeams, and for whom she reserved her daintiest flowers and sweetest honey. Odur, Freya’s husband, besides being considered a personification of the sun, was also regarded as an emblem of passion, or of the intoxicating pleasures of love; so the ancients declared that it was no wonder his wife could not be happy without him.
Being goddess of beauty, Freya, naturally, was very fond of the toilet, of glittering adornments, and of precious jewels. One day, while she was in Svart-alfa-heim, the underground kingdom, she saw four dwarfs fashioning the most wonderful necklace she had ever seen. Almost beside herself with longing to possess this treasure, which was called Brisinga-men, and was an emblem of the stars, or of the fruitfulness of the earth, Freya implored the dwarfs to give it to her; but they obstinately refused to do so unless she would promise to grant them her favour. Having secured the necklace at this price, Freya hastened to put it on, and its beauty so enhanced her charms that she wore it night and day, and only occasionally could be persuaded to lend it to the other divinities. Thor, however, wore this necklace when he personated Freya in Jötun-heim, and Loki coveted and would have stolen it, had it not been for the watchfulness of Heimdall.
Freya was also the proud possessor of a falcon garb, or falcon plumes, which enabled the wearer to flit through the air as a bird; and this garment was so invaluable that it was twice borrowed by Loki, and was used by Freya herself when she went in search of the missing Odur.
As Freya was also considered the goddess of fruitfulness, she was sometimes represented as riding about with her brother Frey in the chariot drawn by the golden-bristled boar, scattering, with lavish hands, fruits and flowers to gladden the hearts of mankind. She had a chariot of her own, however, in which she generally travelled. This was drawn by cats, her favourite animals, the emblems of caressing fondness and sensuality, or the personifications of fecundity.
Frey and Freya were held in such high honour throughout the North that their names, in modified forms, are still used for “master” and “mistress,” and one day of the week is called Freya’s day, or Friday, by the English-speaking race. Freya’s temples were very numerous indeed, and were long maintained by her votaries, the last, in Magdeburg, Germany, being destroyed by order of Charlemagne.
The Northern people were wont to invoke Freya not only for success in love, prosperity, and increase, but also, at times, for aid and protection. This she vouchsafed to all who served her truly, as appeared in the story of Ottar and Angantyr, two men who, after disputing for some time concerning their rights to a certain piece of property, laid their quarrel before the Thing. That popular assembly decreed that the man who could prove that he had the longest line of noble ancestors should be declared the winner, and a special day was appointed to investigate the genealogy of each claimant.
Ottar, unable to remember the names of more than a few of his progenitors, offered sacrifices to Freya, entreating her aid. The goddess graciously heard his prayer, and appearing before him, she changed him into a boar, and rode off upon his back to the dwelling of the sorceress Hyndla, a most renowned witch. By threats and entreaties, Freya compelled the old woman to trace Ottar’s genealogy back to Odin, and to name every individual in turn, with a synopsis of his achievements. Then, fearing lest her votary’s memory should be unable to retain so many details, Freya further compelled Hyndla to brew a potion of remembrance, which she gave him to drink.
Thus prepared, Ottar presented himself before the Thing on the appointed day, and glibly reciting his pedigree, he named so many more ancestors than Angantyr could recollect, that he was easily awarded possession of the property he coveted.
Freya was so beautiful that all the gods, giants, and dwarfs longed for her love and in turn tried to secure her as wife. But Freya scorned the ugly giants and refused even Thrym, when urged to accept him by Loki and Thor. She was not so obdurate where the gods themselves were concerned, if the various mythologists are to be believed, for as the personification of the earth she is said to have wedded Odin (the sky), Frey (the fruitful rain), Odur (the sunshine), &c., until it seems as if she deserved the accusation hurled against her by the arch-fiend Loki, of having loved and wedded all the gods in turn.
It was customary on solemn occasions to drink Freya’s health with that of the other gods, and when Christianity was introduced in the North this toast was transferred to the Virgin or to St. Gertrude; Freya herself, like all the heathen divinities, was declared a demon or witch, and banished to the mountain peaks of Norway, Sweden, or Germany, where the Brocken is pointed out as her special abode, and the general trysting-place of her demon train on Valpurgisnacht.
As the swallow, cuckoo, and cat were held sacred to Freya in heathen times, these creatures were supposed to have demoniacal attributes, and to this day witches are always depicted with coal-black cats beside them.
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