Freya - Great Goddess of the Norse

Freya - Norse Goddess

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Freya (Freyja) ("Mistress" or "Lady", from Swe fru, Ger frau) was a multi-faceted goddess with multiple parallels in other IE pantheons. Firstly, however, she is the Norse goddess of beauty, love and fertility, and of wealth and prosperity. She is the patron of childbirth and of the fecund earth.

Outside the Norse pantheon, her character probably most closely equates to the Greeks' Aphrodite. Just as Aphrodite was not related to the Olympians but adopted by them, so too Freya came to Asgard as an outsider. However, along with Freya came her twin brother Frey, and together they recall the Greeks' Apollo and Artemis. The twins and their parents Njord and Nerthus (or Skadi) were from a race of deities called the Vanir. Indeed, one of Freya's names was Vanadia ('the goddess of the Vanas' - Roman Venus and eponymous goddess of tribes known as the Venedae and Venetti, and Vandals?). Her other names included Mardal, Moertholl ('death bringer'?), horn ('corn'?) and Syr ('pig', an IE symbol of fecundity).

Freya's most distinctive accouterment was her necklace (or belt) called the Brising (the Norse name for the Milky Way). This metaphor recalls Frigg's bejeweled spinning wheel, which also symbolizes the rotating stars. This and their name similarities led the Germans to believe the two were synonymous, though we do not have details on the German 'Lady'. In character, however, Freya and Frigg were quite distinctive. Friday was named after one of them (Frigg, I believe, since she was the Norse's 'Great Goddess' and true Aesir).

Freyja obtained the Brising from four dwarves after sleeping with them. In fact Freyja was quite promiscuous. Loki, being the tactless sort that he was, accused her of being a bed-hopper. After hearing of her tryst with the dwarves Odin got really mad (lucky Thor did not find out first or he might have mashed the ugly little twerps with his hammer). This is not unusual in early IE religion or myth. After all, fidelity was not a requirement for love and fertility goddesses such as Aphrodite or any number of Celtic equivalents -- even in Germanic culture where adultery was akin to murder. The same was true for the Near Eastern equivalent known variously as Astarte.

But just as Aphrodite was married to Hephaistos, Freya was married to Od (also as Oth or Odur). Their daughters were Hnoss ('treasure') and Gersemi. Their main story involves Odur disappearing one day, causing her to uncontrollably weep tears of amber and gold. With the land going cold and sterile, this is obviously a metaphor for the coming of winter and the falling of yellow autumn leaves. Like Demeter wandering the earth for Persephone, Freya searches about for Odur, finally finding him far to the south reclining under a tree. They happily return north, bringing the summer with them and a renewal of the land. This story not only recalls the Demeter-Persephone story, but can be traced to Hittite Anatolia where Telepinus wandered off and the earth similarly withered.

Another of Freya's accouterments was her cats-drawn chariot. This curious association could have earlier been lynxes, though in any case double felines (lions) were commonly depicted with a major goddess in Near Eastern iconography since the Neolithic Age. Lions continued into ancient times alongside the mother- and fertility goddess Atargatis in Syria, Kades in Canann, and Ishtar/ Astarte in Babylonia. This association was probably inspired by cats' eyes, thought to mirror the phases of the moon, and their nocturnalism. Both of these traits were related to the 'celestial goddess'. Her chariot was thus possibly originally the 'moon car' driven by the twin sister of the sun-god common in IE mythology. From her chariot, however, Freya dispensed flowers and fruits as an allegory for bringing fruitfulness to the earth (hence her epithet Gefn, 'giver').

The Scandinavians also recognized Freya's martial aspect, and she often led the Valkyries in conjunction with Odin to choose the fallen heroes from the Norse battlefields. This relationship recalls that of Zeus and Athena (daughter of Zeus and goddess of battlefield valor), though this pair had no similar partnership on the battlefield. Indeed, as Valfreya, she was depicted with corselet, helmet, shield and spear, with her lower body showing only her usual flowing gown, as was Athena. Freya divided the chosen slain with Odin, with each taking half back to their respective halls. As a Valkyrie, she was also the owner of a falcon-feathered coat by which she could descend to Midgard.

One of Freya's mortal guests is her former human lover Ottar, who becomes her own Hildesvini ('battle boar'). As is discussed in more detail elsewhere, Ottar not only seems to be a variation of Odur, but also parallels the Greeks' Adonis (Aphrodite's lover gored to death by a boar) and the Anatolians' Attis (Cybele's consort whose death also leads to a withering of the earth).

Of course, no true IE fertility goddess escaped kidnapping from the forces of winter and darkness (see Damsels in Distress). In fact, all the Frost Giants had the hots for her. So also was Freya rescued by Svipdag ('Shining Day'), another name for her husband Odur. The first time Svipdag had to go to Jotunheim ('Land of the Giants') to retrieve her. However, as she was still under their spell, she wandered off, forcing Odur to rescue her from the ogre Hag.

Unfortunately for cats, Freya was demonized in Christian times as a witch, and so by their ancient association became a target of Christian persecution.

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