Freya is the Norse goddess of everything feminine: love, beauty, sex, fertility, and gold. However, she was also associated with war and death. Her name translates as “(the) Lady.”
The daughter of Njord, the sea god, and an unnamed mother, Freya was born into the Vanir tribe of gods, but she later became an honorary member of the Aesir gods. Her brother was Freyr and her husband Odr, with whom she had two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi.
In late Old Norse literature, Odr and Odin, the father of the gods, are most likely the same person. Many theories supported by literary sources would, therefore, also have it that Freya and Frigg, Odin’s wife, are ultimately identical.
The similarities between Freya and Frigg run deep. Both were accused of infidelity by Loki, the trickster god. In a poem in the Poetic Edda, he even accused Freya of sleeping with her brother. Similarly, legend has it that Frigg slept with Odin’s brothers, Vili and Ve.
The infidelity supposedly took place when Odin or Odr was away. Odin was known to travel far and wide within the Nine Worlds of Norse cosmology. Freya is said to have cried tears of red gold over her husband’s absence. Despite her infidelity, she searched for him wearing her magical feathered cloak, which allowed her to cover big distances quickly in the air.
It is believed that Freya was the first to bring the art of seidr, a type of sorcery practiced during the Late Scandinavian Iron Age, to the gods. She had the knowledge and power to control others’ good fortune and desires.
Freya was also privileged to choose the first half of the warriors killed in battle to stay in her afterlife realm Folkvang. Odin received the other half in Valhalla, his palatial home.
It is unclear whether the weekday Friday was named after Freya or Frigg. One theory has it that the word for “Friday” in Germanic languages comes from Frija, a Proto-Germanic goddess who was the foremother of Freya and Frigg.
Facts About Freya
- Freya is often depicted riding a golden chariot pulled by two blue cats, a gift from Thor. Sometimes she also rode the boar Hildisvini, who was her faithful companion;
- One of Freya’s most famous possessions was a necklace called Brisingamen. It was stolen by Loki and recovered by Heimdall, watchman of the gods;
- Freya had four nicknames: Hörn, Syr, Gefn, and Mardöll;
- As the goddess of love and sex, Freya was sought after by prominent Jotnar, the giant gods who were constantly at war with the Aesir. The Jotnar wanted her hand in marriage;
- Freya allowed other gods to borrow her magical feathered cloak;
- In Old Norse literature, Freya is mentioned in the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda;
- Freya’s brother Freyr is associated with fine weather and good fortune. He is also said to be an ancestor of Swedish royalty;
- In her role as sorcerer or shaman practicing pre-Christian Norse magic, Freya’s social status changed dramatically depending on where she was and whom she was with;
- In rural Scandinavia, Freya was thought to be a supernatural figure until the 19th century;
- Freya, or a variant of the name, is still a popular name for girls in Scandinavian countries. Alone in Norway around 500 women have the first name Frøya;
- Numerous places in Sweden bear Freya’s name. Many of them, including Freyjulundr, which refers to her sacred grove, are in Uppland;
- In Denmark, Freya is mentioned in the first stanza of the national anthem. The line goes like this: “… it is called old Denmark and it is Freja’s hall”;
- Various plants were named after Freya, including Freya’s hair (Polygala vulgaris). However, most were replaced with the name of the Virgin Mary during the process of Christianization;
- Freya has been compared with the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek goddesses Aphrodite and Venus;
- Wagner included Freya in his famous opera cycle The Ring;
- Freya has been depicted in several famous works of art, including the statue Freyja by H.E. Freund (1821-1822) and the painting Freyja and the Brisingamen by J. Doyle Penrose (1862-1932).
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