• Anne

Divine Spotlight: Freyja

Freyja the fair then went they to find; Hear now the speech that first they spake: "Bind on, Freyja, the bridal veil, For we two must hasten to the giants' home."

Wrathful was Freyja and fiercely she snorted, And the dwelling great of the gods was shaken, And burst was the mighty necklace Brisingamen.


--Þrymskviða, ca. 10th century


A portrait of the Norse goddess Freyja inside a ring of Norse knotwork, wearing fur and leather armor and carrying a spear

Freyja, Sam & Steph Braithwaiter, 2014 for Hero's Journey


Freyja is the goddess of love and sex, warfare and death, and not being impressed by anything other people try to do or say about her. Considered the leader of the Valkyrjur as a goddess who takes half the dead to her afterlife and is called upon in times of war, she is also beloved as a protector of women and bringer of love, often having larger-than-life love affairs and causing instant discombobulation among enemies with her beauty as she does. Like a lot of Norse deities, she has scanter and later information to draw on, but we know that she was called upon by women about to die to protect them or take them to her paradise of Folkvangr, and that her beauty is said to manifest on earth in the form of gold, a metal she creates by weeping beautiful tears over her perpetually absent husband, Óðr.


In fact, Freyja is so beautiful that this frequently causes her problems, because giants keep coming out of the woodwork to demand she marry them, necessitating various shenanigans and sometimes outright violence to get them off her back. When the giant Thrymr steals Thórr's famous magical hammer Mjöllnir, one of the conditions of ransoming it back is that Freyja be given to him as a bride. Entertainingly, Thórr and Loki actually attempt to go bully her into agreeing, which you can see from the quote above does not go well for them, and eventually they end up having to put Thórr in drag and pass him off as Freyja instead because getting caught by a hall of angry giants is in fact less dangerous than aggravating Freyja in her own house any more.


A watercolor painting of Freyja with blonde hair wearing a pink gown, brandishing a whip as she drives her chariot pulled by cats

Excuse me, you want me to do what?


This happens to her again in Gylfaginning, when a giant builder appears out of the wilderness and offers to build the walls of Ásgarðr for the gods, asking for in payment the sun, the moon, and again Freyja as a wife. The gods agree, setting a time limit for the builder to finish that they think will save them from having to pay, and while Freyja's reaction to this nonsense is not recorded, the gods do end up panicking and needing to distract and disrupt the giant into not finishing on time, which leads to the famous tale of Loki turning into a horse to distract the builder's draft horse Svaðilfari, eventually giving birth to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir.


And in case the Æsir wanted to stop and breathe a sigh of relief, the giants are here to prevent that, doing the same thing again in Skáldskaparmál, wherein the drunken giant Hrungnir, a guest during a high-stakes race between Sleipnir and his horse Gullfaxi, gets wasted and declares he's going to kill all of the Æsir except for Freyja and Sif, who he'll take home to be his wives. Everybody is pretty tired of all this at this point, and they just go straight to sending Thórr to duel and kill the guy (although, as in all Norse myth, this inevitably ends in hilarious hijinks when Thórr succeeds in doing so but then everyone has to rescue him because the dead giant is now on top of him and he can't get out).


A black-and-white illustration of Freyja standing beside her chariot with her cats, wearing Brisingamen, carrying a knife and spear and shield, with her helmet sitting beside her

Definitely looks kidnappable, nothing could possibly go wrong here


But while people just cannot handle the level of Freyja's hotness without making very bad decisions, Freyja herself, interestingly enough, is usually doing something else. In one of her most famous tales retold in the heavily euhemerized Sörla þáttr, she visits the dvergir, who inform her that they will craft the magical necklace Brisingamen for her, but only if she spends the night with each of them; and then she does, after which point Brisingamen is hers and everyone goes home happy. Loki, however, has been doing some spying and knows about all this, so he tells Óðinn about it and the two of them steal the necklace from her, claiming that she doesn't deserve to have it because of her deal with the dvergir.


But, you know, she's Freyja, so she shows up to demand it back, and much as he's always doing with the giants, Óðinn sets her an impossible task as a condition, telling her she can only have her necklace returned if she creates a war that can never end. She promptly cases a mighty curse on two warring armies, those led by the famous Norse kings Högni and Heðinn, so that every soldier who dies in battle is immediately resurrected to carry on the fight, creating an unstoppable war that is destined to last until Ragnarök. Óðinn gives her back Brisingamen, and now a whole lot of Norse warriors are locked in eternal combat.


(It's worth noting that this myth is a bit of a source mess - the endless war between Högni and Heðinn is well-attested, but often has nothing to do with Freyja in other sources, with one or the other of the kings or their children casting the curse themselves. Add to that that Sörla þáttr is a Christian document that aggressively tries to recast the Norse gods as just historical humans and make them immoral to boot in an effort to delegitimize a rival religion, and there are a lot of theories about the whole thing. In particular, other parts of Norse myth suggest that Freyja's sexual behavior wasn't considered especially immoral and that the Christian focus on chastity and sexual purity for women may have contributed to this myth being so highly sexualized in an attempt to make Freyja look more licentious and less admirable.)


A black-and-white illustration of the god Loki stealing the necklace Brisingamen while nearby a nude Freyja sleeps on a bed surrounded by curtains

Loki some other time probably: IDK why Freyja doesn't like me, I've been a delight


Freyja occupies an interesting place in the Norse religion, because she's clearly extremely important and beloved, but also gives scholars trying to figure her out a lot of headaches. Her name simply means "Lady", matching her to her twin Freyr ("Lord"), and some scholars have theorized that she's the same goddess as Frigg, wife of Óðinn, citing the possible similar roots of her name and Frigg as well as Óðinn and Óðr; others think this may have been the case at some point, but that Freyja and Frigg are now so clearly separate characters that it's irrelevant where they started. She's also perhaps the most powerful and beloved of the Asynjur, the goddesses ruled over by Óðinn, but she wasn't originally one of them either; she's a member of the competing Vanir, gods who don't owe allegiance to the Æsir, and she and her father and brother were sent to live with the Æsir as hostages to ensure that the fragile peace between the two peoples doesn't erupt into hostilities again.


Modern-day worshipers have a wide variety of opinions about all of this, of course, and there's very little orthodoxy about it. Some worshipers consider her an Asynja and ignore the Vanir element; others consider her exclusively one of the Vanir and an automatic outsider among Óðinn's people. Most worshipers don't consider her the same as Frigg at this point, but there are always outliers, and omnitheists who like to consider most gods related or as different facets of each other (even across religions!) have an easy in there. And misogyny unfortunately plays a large role in interpretation of Freyja's legends and role, leading to her being shown in the modern-day as everything from a sex-obsessed maneater monster to an iron-hard queen of battle who can and will stab you in your face if you blink at her wrong.


A painting of a nude Freyja with long red hair lounging on a throne, looking unimpressed

Does this look like a woman who cares even slightly about your opinion of her sex life?


In Hero's Journey, the Heroes who serve Freyja bear a little bit of her shining irresistability. Whenever they use a Chapter Labor, the next Hero to take an action is so impressed and inspired by their radiance and skill that they get more dice to their own roll, rallying to try to match the heroics of their Freyja-following fellow.


In the end, Freyja is herself and is generally not concerned with your opinion or anyone else's, something most of the very status- and insult-conscious Norse gods can't say. She is the great lady of battle and death and the beautiful patron of love, and regardless of where you fall in your interpretation, she deserves - and commands - the utmost respect.

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