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In Norse mythology, Skaði ( / ˈ s k ɑː ð i / , sometimes anglicized as Skadi, Skade, or Skathi) is a jötunn and goddess associated with bowhunting, skiing, winter, and mountains. Skaði is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources the Prose Edda and in Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the works of skalds.
Skaði is the daughter of the deceased Þjazi, and Skaði married the god Njörðr as part of the compensation provided by the gods for killing her father Þjazi. In Heimskringla, Skaði is described as having split up with Njörðr and as later having married the god Odin, and that the two produced many children together. In both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, Skaði is responsible for placing the serpent that drips venom onto the bound Loki. Skaði is alternately referred to as Öndurguð (Old Norse 'ski god') and Öndurdís (Old Norse 'ski dís').
The etymology of the name Skaði is uncertain, but may be connected with the original form of Scandinavia. Some place names in Scandinavia refer to Skaði. Scholars have theorized a potential connection between Skaði and the god Ullr (who is also associated with skiing), a particular relationship with the jötunn Loki, and that Scandinavia may be related to the name Skaði (potentially meaning 'Skaði's island') or the name may be connected to an Old Norse noun meaning 'harm'. Skaði has inspired various works of art.
AM 748 I 4 to , one of the two manuscripts to preserve Skírnismál, has notes on the margin indicating the speaker of each verse. Some scholars consider this a clue that the poem might have been performed as ritual drama.
The prose prologue to the poem says that the god Freyr, the son of Njörðr, sits in Óðinn's throne, Hliðskjálf and looked over all the worlds. On looking to Jötunheimr, the land of the giants, Freyr sees a beautiful girl and is immediately seized by love. Fearing that the object of his heart's desire is unattainable, gloom settles upon him.
The poem itself starts with the wife of Njörðr, Skaði, bidding Skírnir to ask of Freyr why he is so sad. Skírnir, fearing his master's wrath, nevertheless does as he is bidden. Freyr's response is sullen, yet he pours his heart out. Skírnir agrees to undertake a journey to woo Gerðr, and Freyr furnishes him with his magical steed and sword.
Skírnir duly fetches up in Jötunheimr, at the hall of the giant Gymir. Gerðr, the daughter of Gymir bids him enter the hall without further ado, Skírnir tries to woo Gerðr on Freyr's behalf, offering first gifts then threats (in other versions Skírnir does not use threats but manages to successfully woo Gerðr). Eventually, Gerðr succumbs. Skírnir reports to Freyr, who asks him:
Tell me, Skírnir, before unsaddling Or stepping forth another pace Is the news you bring from Jotunheim For better or for worse?
In the woods of Barri, which know we both so well, A quiet still and tranquil place In nine nights time to Njörd's son Will Gerd give herself.
One night is long enough, yet longer still are two How then shall I contend with three? For months have passed more quickly Than half a bridal eve.
Seest thou, maiden, this keen, bright sword That I hold here in my hand? Before its blade the old giant bends,— Thy father is doomed to die. I strike thee, maid, with my gambantein, To tame thee to work my will There shalt thou go where never again The sons of men shall see thee.
The Lovesickness of Freyr - History
(also spelled Freyr), in Norse mythology, a god of wealth and of the harvest, and patron god of Sweden and Iceland. The handsome Frey had power over rain and sun, bountiful harvests, good fortune, happiness, and peace. He was the brother of the fertility goddess Freya. His father was Njord, a god of the sea, who also ruled over prosperity and good harvests.
Frey and Freya were Vanir deities associated with agriculture and subordinate to the warlike Aesir gods, who were associated with battle and victory. According to the myths, war had once broken out between the Aesir gods and the Vanir gods. As a part of the peace treaty there was an exchange of hostages, and Njord, Frey, and Freya left Vanaheim, the home of the Vanir, and went to live with the Aesir gods in Asgard.
In Asgard, Njord was married to Skadi, daughter of a giant named Thiassi, but according to one account, the mother of Frey and Freya was Njord’s own sister, whom he had married in Vanaheim before he became a hostage.
Frey ruled the domain of elves. He had a magical horse named Blodighofi (Bloody-Hoof). He also drove a shining chariot that could travel over both air and sea, as easily at night as during the day. This chariot was drawn by a boar with golden bristles called Gullenbursti. A boar cult was thus associated with Frey even today in Sweden a custom survives in which Yule cakes are baked in the shape of a boar. In several sources Frey is described as the ancestor of the line of Swedish kings.
Frey’s magical ship, Skidbladnir, always made straight for its destination and was big enough to hold all the Aesir in their battle array, but portable enough to fold up into Frey’s pocket when on land.
Frey married Gerd, daughter of the mountain giants Gymir and Aurboda, after a long bout of lovesickness. Frey had one day ventured to sit on Odin’s high throne, Hlidskjalf, from which one could see everything everywhere. In faraway northern Jotunheim, the land of giants, Frey spied a large homestead belonging to Gerd’s father. Frey saw Gerd walking into a building there and was overwhelmed by her beauty. He fell deeply in love and began pining desperately for Gerd. He left Odin’s throne, full of grief. When he got home he would not speak or sleep or drink. Njord asked Frey’s servant Skirnir to find out what was wrong with his son. Frey confessed to Skirnir that he was so full of grief for love of Gerd that he would not live much longer if he could not have her.
Skirnir agreed to go to Jotunheim and ask for Gerd’s hand on Frey’s behalf, if Frey would give him his sword, a magic weapon that would swing itself. Skirnir went on the errand and got Gerd to agree to marry Frey. She said she would meet Frey and marry him in a sacred wood called Barey nine nights later. When Skirnir took her reply back to Frey, his heart was filled with joy.
At the time of Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and the forces of evil that would take place at the end of the world, Frey was destined to be one of the first gods to die he would fight the fire giant Surt and would perish because he no longer had his magic sword
Love Killed The Norse God, Frey
The most famous deities from the Vanir clan of the Norse gods were the children of Njord—Frey and Freyja. Both siblings were fertility gods, although they manifested their powers in different ways. Frey had influence over the heat of the sun and the refreshment of the rain—making him especially important to farmers who needed help with their harvests. Freyja exercised her influence more within the realm of love, and could, if she was so inclined, provide her followers with prosperity in their households. Although the Vanir were a one-time rival of the main clan of Norse divinities, known as the Æsir (Odin, Thor etc…), the two sides eventually made peace and became so close that the name “Æsir” became a label that could be used to describe all of the gods that kept their homes in Asgard, including Frey and Freyja.
Frey and Freyja were described as being among the most beautiful of the Norse gods. Yet, with their beauty also came brawn. Freyja, despite being a goddess of household fertility and happiness, also had a ferocious side. Whenever she decided to join a battle, she was said to claim half of the resulting dead to join her inside her hall at Folkvangar, the Warriors’ Fields. The rest of the worthy souls that she left behind would go to Odin’s host of warriors in Valhalla. Freyja was also a goddess of unique style—she was said to have ridden in a chariot pulled by two large cats.
Frey, too, was more than he seemed. Despite being a fertility god that could control the weather, Frey also had a selection of supernatural items that made him a more than formidable divinity. Whereas his sister had a chariot pulled by cats, Frey had his own chariot that was hauled by a golden boar. This gilded creature was a gift from two dwarves named Eitri and Brokk. It was said that the boar’s bristles emitted a light bright enough to overcome any darkness. Also in Frey’s possession was the greatest ship available in the Norse mythological world—Skidbladnir. This ship, also crafted by dwarves, was large enough to house all of the gods and their weaponry, yet also had the miraculous ability to be folded up when not in use, so as to be stored in a pouch or a pocket. Furthermore, the ship always had a favorable wind, which would blow in the direction of wherever the captain wanted to sail. Even with all of these incredible items, Frey’s most precious possession was his trusty sword. This supernatural weapon was basically Frey’s bodyguard. The sword could expertly dispatch multiple threats without Fray having to use up any of his own energy. Simply put, as long as he had his sword, Frey was virtually invincible.
A Sacrifice For Love—As told by Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241)
On a fateful day, Frey ascended to the top of Hlidskjalf, a watchtower near the center of Asgard. From his vantage point on the tower, the god of sun and rain looked to the north and saw an enormous, beautiful home that belonged to a family of mountain giants. The residence was magnificent, even by the standards set in Asgard. Either inside the house or absent from the property were the giants Gymir and Aurboda, yet their daughter, Gerd, was presently in front of the home, about to approach the door.
As soon as Frey laid his eyes on the young giantess, he was drawn to her grace and beauty. Yet, it was when Gerd lifted her arm to unlock her door that Frey became completely and utterly smitten. With awestruck eyes, Frey watched as his own rays of sunlight reflected against the delicate skin of Gerd’s raised arm, magnifying the radiance of the air, land and sea that lay around her home. She literally and figuratively brightened Frey’s world.
The god immediately knew she was the one for him and that he would sacrifice anything to have her by his side. Yet, something kept him from approaching her perhaps, he had a premonition lurking in the back of his mind—in attaining her love, he would eventually forfeit his life in an otherwise avoidable death. Whatever the cause, Frey turned away from her and rejoined the rest of the gods in Asgard to suffer in silence.
To those around him, Frey looked like the manifestation of sorrow. He kept himself in quiet isolation ever since he came back from Hlidskjalf. Even worse, he was too distressed to eat or drink, and too tormented to sleep. The situation became so dire that Frey’s father, Njord, took it upon himself to intervene on his son’s behalf. He summoned his depressed god’s assistant, Skirnir, and asked him about what was plaguing Frey. When Skirnir denied having any knowledge of his master’s affliction, Njord tasked the man with investigating the issue. Skirnir was wary of prodding Frey for answers while the god was in such a gloomy state, but he ultimately accepted the job.
When Skirnir mustered enough courage to try and converse with Frey, he found that the lonely god was surprisingly willing to talk. Frey explained that he had seen a beautiful woman to the north of Asgard and had come to the conclusion that he wanted her to be his bride. The god finished his emotional outburst with the claim that Gerd’s absence was so painful to him that he would surely die if his wish were not soon made a reality.
Having finally spoken his mind, Frey decided to act on his emotions. He asked Skirnir to go to Gerd and inquire into what she thought of a marriage proposal between herself and the god of the rain and sun. Skirnir agreed to carry out the task, but demanded a heavy price in return. He would do the job for nothing less than Frey’s famous sword. How could a measly sword be worth more than love?
Frey agreed to the bargain and Skirnir left to deliver the message. Gerd eventually consented to marry the lovesick god, although the amount of persuasion or coercion required to ultimately convince her varied from source to source. The two were married at a place called Barey, possibly as early as nine days after Skirnir delivered Frey’s proposal to Gerd.
Frey’s union with Gerd—or more concisely, his deal with Skirnir—would eventually lead to the demise of this fertility god. There are two prophetic accounts of his future death. In the first account, Frey is foretold to die in a battle against a giant named Beli. Even though the giant wields no typical weaponry, he is predicted to slay Frey with the antler of a stag. Another version of Frey’s death is predicted to occur at the last battle of the gods on the day of Ragnarok. Frey is predicted to be one of the first victims slain by the fire giant, Surt, who will reportedly then spread a sea of flames over the world during the end times. In both of these instances, Frey would have likely survived if only he had not given away his miraculous sword. Even so, if the fate-deciding norns had decreed that Frey would die, not even his powerful sword would save him when his time came.
Njörðr and Skaði on the way to Nóatún (1882) by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine
Modern works of art depicting Skaði include Skadi und Niurd (illustration, 1883) by K. Ehrenberg and Skadi (1901) by E. Doepler d. J. Skaði also appears in A. Oehlenschläger's poem (1819) Skades Giftermaal. Art deco depictions of both the god Ullr (1928) and Skaði (1929) appear on covers of the Swedish ski annual På Skidor, both skiing and wielding bows. E. John B. Allen notes that the deities are portrayed in a manner that "give[s] historical authority to this most important of Swedish ski journals, which began publication in 1893". A moon of the planet Saturn (Skathi) takes its name from that of the goddess.
Named after the goddess, Skadi is the main character in a web comic by Katie Rice and Luke Cormican on the weekly webcomic site Dumm Comics.
Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman, W.W. Norton, 2017.
Earlier this year I reviewed Carolyne Larrington’s The Norse Myths, a lavishly illustrated introduction to the Norse myths for a popular audience. While Larrington’s book is more scholarly and objective, Gaiman’s book is laid out as a series of stories retellings rather than analysis.
In that earlier review, I felt I should explain who Larrington was and why she was qualified to write such a book. I hardly need to say who Neil Gaiman is, and his interest in mythology is well-known. From American Gods to the Sandman comics, he has often incorporated deities and myths into his work.
Norse Mythology is available on KIndle as well as hardback, and since it’s not illustrated, there’s no great loss in buying the Kindle version if you prefer reading that way. Like Larrington’s book he starts with the creation and goes to the Ragnarök, the doom of the gods that will see Odin, Thor and the rest fall. The old world will be destroyed, and new rise in its place.
To help you keep track of the vast number of deities, giants, and other creatures in Norse myth, there is a quick reference at the end, and after the introduction Gaiman gives a quick overview of the three main characters, Odin, Thor and Loki.
The three gods, from the Sandman comics. SuperPower Wiki.
Anyone who’s read the Sandman comics knows what to expect of Gaiman’s thunder-god, who is strong, fearless, and clueless. The one thing he knows, and sticks to, is that if there is trouble, Loki caused it. Loki, and Odin, of course, are the clever, slippery ones. Odin is wise, however, and looks ahead, while Loki acts mainly on impulse. (Michael Dirda poiints out that the gods speak like superheroes: Thor as the Hulk, Loki as Iron Man, as Robert Downey plays him.)
The short paragraphs and straightforward sentences suggest an audience of eight and up. Like Kevin Crossley-Holland’s earlier book, its main audience seems to be children, which is not to say that adults won’t enjoy it. Gaiman acknowledges Crossley-Holland and Roger Lancelyn Green as inspirations for his book, saying that Green was his first introduction to Norse myth as a child.
Retelling the Norse myths for children is easier in some ways than retelling the Greek myths, because there’s not a lot of sex, and certainly a lot less rape. The Norse myths are more violent, however, starting right with the creation myth.
In the beginning, there was ice and fire, and two beings, the giant Ymir and the cow Audhumla, grew out of the space between them. Ymir created more beings out of his own body, and they in turn had children, including the god Odin and his two brothers. They decided to create the worlds, but had nothing to create them with. So they killed grandfather Ymir, and made the nine worlds out of his body:
Ve and Vili and Odin looked at each other and spoke of what was needful to do, there in the void of Ginnungagap. They spoke of the universe, and of life, and of the future.
Odin and Ve and Vili killed the giant Ymir. It had to be done. There was no other way to make the worlds. This was the beginning of all things, the death that made all life possible.
Gaiman, being a modern storyteller, goes inside the gods’ heads and tells what their reasoning was. This is a stark contrast to the style of the Prose Edda or the Icelandic sagas, who tend to a more reportorial style: they tell you what happened, and what people said and did, but let you draw your own conclusions about motivations.
The Prose Edda simply says of Ymir’s death:
Bor’s sons killed the giant Ymir. And when he fell, so much blood escaped from his wounds that with it they drowned all the race of frost-giants, except the one that escaped with his family.
Gaiman’s simple, stripped-down style was probably inspired by Snorri’s Edda and the sagas, who tend to be brief and to the point. He does elaborate on his sources in places, however. In both the poem Thrymskivda and Gaiman’s book Freyja’s reaction to Thor’s suggestion that she marry a giant to get his hammer back is pure fury. Gaiman also describes Freyja’s growing anger in the story of how Asgard’s walls were built, where the gods once again use Freyja, along with the sun and moon, as bait.
A depiction of the unnamed master builder with the horse Svaðilfari (1919) by Robert Engels. Wikimedia.
Loki assumes the giant won’t finish on time, but Freyja is not convinced. As the walls mount, we see her getting more and more pissed off, until she tries to make a bargain of her own: if she has to leave Asgard to live with the giants, then Loki has to die before she goes. (Loki saves the day with a trick of his own.) Gaiman uses Freyja’s mounting fury as a recurring element in his telling, whle the Prose Edda doesn’t mention her reactions at all.
He does apologize in the introduction for the lack of stories about the Norse goddesses, who are very poorly represented in the stories that remain to us. It’s clear that his heart belongs to Angrboda, Loki’s mistress and mother of three monstrous children by him. (Given the Sandman comics, this makes sense.)
I was pleased by his handling of Skadi‘s story, where he makes her desire for revenge the focus. (Unlike Crossley-Holland, he doesn’t funk describing how Loki made Skadi laugh, although that may be because in 1980 Penguin didn’t want godly testicles in a children’s book. Even Gaiman blinked slightly on that point.)
However, he failed completely with the story of how Freyr fell for Gerdr, as told in the Eddic poem Skirnirsmal. He had to put together the Prose Edda version, which focuses on Freyr’s lovesickness, with Skirnirsmal, a dialogue between Gerdr and Freyr’s messenger, Skirnir. In the poem, Gerdr steadfastly refuses to meet with Freyr and has to be coerced into it.
Gaiman focuses on Freyr, and only mentions Skirnir’s meeting with Gerdr so that she can consent immediately. (I kept thinking of the parallel between Freyja’s fury at being married off to a giant and Gerdr’s refusal to marry some distant god she’d never met.)
Don’t allow my carping about Gerdr to put you off reading this book. Gaiman’s version of the Norse myths is an easy, captivating read for children that adults will also enjoy. And if you want a little more background on Norse myths and the society that invented them, read Carolyne Larrington’s book alongside it.
Origins of Nerthus
The true origins of the Goddess Nerthus are obscure, thanks to the lack of a written record. She does seem to have profound connections to the Vanir — a group of Norse gods associated with vitality, health, fertility, and divination.
Among the Vanir, Frey (also Freyr) and Freya were said to be the children of the sea god Njörd (Latinized from the Old Norse Njörðr). Njörd lived in what was called the shipyard, and he ruled over the peace and tumult of the waters. He is said to have had a sister-wife who bore him his children, but this wife remains unnamed in the Eddas. Some say she was Nerthus, others are not so sure.
The issue centers on the names of Nerthus and Njörd. They stem from the same name: *Nerþuz. Nerthus is the direct latinization, while Njörd comes from the name’s immigration into Old Norse.
So there might have been a change in sex for the god over time, as well as a change in dominion. Of course there might have been a surviving Mother Earth tradition that borrowed the name at some point. We do not know.
Before moving on, we should mention that the worship and attribution of Frey is quite similar to that of Nerthus (who might be Frey’s mother or a development out of his father). Frey travelled in a wagon and had strong associations with the sea, including a ship that he could fold and put in his pocket when he didn’t need it. Further, it was a strong taboo to commit violence in Frey’s temples, and weapons were not allowed inside.
And while Nerthus was not necessarily a Vanir, Frey certainly was. The Vanir, as we have discussed, were gods of fertility and prosperity. Nerthus, too, was worshipped for such powers. And so, there is still a third possibility: that Nerthus is an entity that spawned (or spawned from) both Frey and Njörd.
The Trundholm sun chariot, National Museum of Denmark
Freyr or Frey [ 1 ] is one of the most important gods of Norse religion. The name is conjectured to derive from the Proto-Norse * frawjaz , "lord". [ 2 ] Freyr was associated with sacral kingship, virility and prosperity, with sunshine and fair weather, and was pictured as a phallic fertility god, Freyr "bestows peace and pleasure on mortals". Freyr, sometimes referred to as Yngvi -Freyr, was especially associated with Sweden and seen as an ancestor of the Swedish royal house.
In the Icelandic books the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda , Freyr is presented as one of the Vanir, the son of the sea god Njörðr, and the twin brother of the goddess Freyja. The gods gave him Álfheimr, the realm of the Elves, as a teething present. He rides the shining dwarf-made boar Gullinbursti and possesses the ship Skíðblaðnir which always has a favorable breeze and can be folded together and carried in a pouch when it is not being used. He has the servants Skírnir, Byggvir, and Beyla.
The most extensive surviving Freyr myth relates Freyr's falling in love with the female jötunn Gerðr. Eventually, she becomes his wife but first Freyr has to give away his magic sword which fights on its own "if wise be he who wields it". Although deprived of this weapon, Freyr defeats the jötunn Beli with an antler. However, lacking his sword, Freyr will be killed by the fire jötunn Surtr during the events of Ragnarök.
Adam of Bremen
Written around 1080, one of the oldest written sources on pre-Christian Scandinavian religious practices is Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum . Adam claimed to have access to first-hand accounts on pagan practices in Sweden. He refers to Freyr with the Latinized name Fricco and mentions that an image of him at Skara was destroyed by the Christian missionary, Bishop Egino. [ 3 ] His description of the Temple at Uppsala gives some details on the god.
In hoc templo, quod totum ex auro paratum est, statuas trium deorum veneratur populus, ita ut potentissimus eorum Thor in medio solium habeat triclinio hinc et inde locum possident Wodan et Fricco. Quorum significationes eiusmodi sunt: 'Thor', inquiunt, 'praesidet in aere, qui tonitrus et fulmina, ventos ymbresque, serena et fruges gubernat. Alter Wodan, id est furor, bella gerit, hominique ministrat virtutem contra inimicos. Tertius est Fricco, pacem voluptatemque largiens mortalibus'. Cuius etiam simulacrum fingunt cum ingenti priapo.
In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such wise that the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber Woden and Frikko have places on either side. The significance of these gods is as follows: Thor, they say, presides over the air, which governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops. The other, Woden—that is, the Furious—carries on war and imparts to man strength against his enemies. The third is Frikko, who bestows peace and pleasure on mortals. His likeness, too, they fashion with an immense phallus.
Gesta Hammaburgensis 26, Tschan's translation [ 4 ]
Later in the account Adam states that when a marriage is performed a libation is made to the image of Fricco.
Historians are divided on the reliability of Adam's account. [ 5 ] While he is close in time to the events he describes he has a clear agenda to emphasize the role of the Archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen in the Christianization of Scandinavia. His timeframe for the Christianization of Sweden conflicts with other sources, such as runic inscriptions, and archaeological evidence does not confirm the presence of a large temple at Uppsala. On the other hand, the existence of phallic idols was confirmed in 1904 with a find at Rällinge in Södermanland. [ 6 ]
When Snorri Sturluson was writing in 13th century Iceland, the indigenous Germanic gods were still remembered although they had not been openly worshiped for more than two centuries.
In the Gylfaginning section of his Prose Edda , Snorri introduces Freyr as one of the major gods.
Njörðr í Nóatúnum gat síðan tvau börn, hét sonr Freyr en dóttir Freyja. Þau váru fögr álitum ok máttug. Freyr er hinn ágætasti af ásum. Hann ræðr fyrir regni ok skini sólar, ok þar með ávexti jarðar, ok á hann er gott at heita til árs ok friðar. Hann ræðr ok fésælu manna. Gylfaginning 24, EB's edition
Njördr in Nóatún begot afterward two children: the son was called Freyr, and the daughter Freyja they were fair of face and mighty. Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men. Gylfaginning XXIV, Brodeur's translation
This description has similarities to the older account by Adam of Bremen but the differences are interesting. Adam assigns control of the weather and produce of the fields to Thor but Snorri says that Freyr rules over those areas. Snorri also omits any explicitly sexual references in Freyr's description. Those discrepancies can be explained in several ways. It is possible that the Norse gods did not have exactly the same roles in Icelandic and Swedish paganism but it must also be remembered that Adam and Snorri were writing with different goals in mind. Either Snorri or Adam may also have had distorted information.
The only extended myth related about Freyr in the Prose Edda is the story of his marriage.
Þat var einn dag er Freyr hafði gengit í Hliðskjálf ok sá of heima alla. En er hann leit í norðrætt, þá sá hann á einum bœ mikit hús ok fagrt, ok til þess húss gekk kona, ok er hon tók upp höndum ok lauk hurð fyrir sér þá lýsti af höndum hennar bæði í lopt ok á lög, ok allir heimar birtusk af henni. Gylfaginning 37, EB's edition
It chanced one day that Freyr had gone to Hlidskjálf, and gazed over all the world but when he looked over into the northern region, he saw on an estate a house great and fair. And toward this house went a woman when she raised her hands and opened the door before her, brightness gleamed from her hands, both over sky and sea, and all the worlds were illumined of her. Gylfaginning XXXVII, Brodeur's translation
The woman is Gerðr, a beautiful giantess. Freyr immediately falls in love with her and becomes depressed and taciturn. After a period of brooding, he consents to talk to Skírnir, his foot-page. He tells Skírnir that he has fallen in love with a beautiful woman and thinks he will die if he cannot have her. He asks Skírnir to go and woo her for him.
Þá svarar Skírnir, sagði svá at hann skal fara sendiferð en Freyr skal fá honum sverð sitt. Þat var svá gott sverð at sjálft vásk. En Freyr lét eigi þat til skorta ok gaf honum sverðit. Þá fór Skírnir ok bað honum konunnar ok fekk heitit hennar, ok níu nóttum síðar skyldi hon þar koma er Barey heitir ok ganga þá at brullaupinu með Frey. Gylfaginning 37, EB's edition
Then Skírnir answered thus: he would go on his errand, but Freyr should give him his own sword-which is so good that it fights of itself- and Freyr did not refuse, but gave him the sword. Then Skírnir went forth and wooed the woman for him, and received her promise and nine nights later she was to come to the place called Barrey, and then go to the bridal with Freyr. Gylfaginning XXXVII, Brodeur's translation
The loss of Freyr's sword has consequences. According to the Prose Edda , Freyr had to fight Beli without his sword and slew him with an antler. But the result at Ragnarök, the end of the world, will be much more serious. Freyr is fated to fight the fire-giant Surtr and since he does not have his sword he will be defeated.
Even after the loss of his weapon Freyr still has two magical artifacts, both of them dwarf-made. One is the ship Skíðblaðnir, which will have favoring breeze wherever its owner wants to go and can also be folded together like a napkin and carried in a pouch. The other is the boar Gullinbursti whose mane glows to illuminate the way for his owner. No myths involving Skíðblaðnir have come down to us but Snorri relates that Freyr rode to Baldr's funeral in a wagon pulled by Gullinbursti.
Freyr is referred to several times in skaldic poetry. In Húsdrápa , partially preserved in the Prose Edda, he is said to ride a boar to Baldr's funeral.
|Ríðr á börg til borgar böðfróðr sonar Óðins Freyr ok folkum stýrir fyrstr enum golli byrsta. Húsdrápa 7, FJ's edition||The battle-bold Freyr rideth First on the golden-bristled Barrow-boar to the bale-fire Of Baldr, and leads the people. Húsdrápa 7, Brodeur's translation|
In a poem by Egill Skalla-Grímsson, Freyr is called upon along with Njörðr to drive Eric Bloodaxe from Norway. The same skald mentions in Arinbjarnarkviða that his friend has been blessed by the two gods.
|[E]n Grjótbjörn of gæddan hefr Freyr ok Njörðr at féar afli. Arinbjarnarkviða 17, FJ's edition||Frey and Njord have endowed rock-bear with wealth's force. Arinbjarnarkviða 17, Scudder's translation|
In Nafnaþulur Freyr is said to ride the horse Blóðughófi ( Bloody Hoof ).
Freyr is mentioned in several of the poems in the Poetic Edda . The information there is largely consistent with that of the Prose Edda while each collection has some details not found in the other.
Völuspá , the best known of the Eddic poems, describes the final confrontation between Freyr and Surtr during Ragnarök.
|Surtr fer sunnan með sviga lævi, skínn af sverði sól valtíva. Grjótbjörg gnata, en gífr rata, troða halir helveg, en himinn klofnar. Þá kømr Hlínar harmr annarr fram, er Óðinn ferr við úlf vega, en bani Belja bjartr at Surti, þá mun Friggjar falla angan. Völuspá 51–52, EB's edition||Surtr moves from the south with the scathe of branches: [ 7 ] there shines from his sword the sun of Gods of the Slain. Stone peaks clash, and troll wives take to the road. Warriors tread the path from Hel, and heaven breaks apart. Then is fulfilled Hlín's second sorrow, when Óðinn goes to fight with the wolf, and Beli's slayer, bright, against Surtr. Then shall Frigg's sweet friend fall. Völuspá 50–51, Dronke's translation|
Some scholars have preferred a slightly different translation, in which the sun shines "from the sword of the gods". The idea is that the sword which Surtr slays Freyr with is the "sword of the gods" which Freyr had earlier bargained away for Gerðr. This would add a further layer of tragedy to the myth. Sigurður Nordal argued for this view but the possibility represented by Ursula Dronke's translation above is equally possible.
Grímnismál , a poem which largely consists of miscellaneous information about the gods, mentions Freyr's abode.
|Alfheim Frey gáfu í árdaga tívar at tannféi. Grímnismál 5, GJ's edition||Alfheim the gods to Frey gave in days of yore for a tooth-gift. Grímnismál 5, Thorpe's translation|
A tooth-gift was a gift given to an infant on the cutting of the first tooth. Since Alfheimr or Álfheimr means "World of Álfar (Elves)" the fact that Freyr should own it is one of the indications of a connection between the Vanir and the obscure Álfar. Grímnismál also mentions that the sons of Ívaldi made Skíðblaðnir for Freyr and that it is the best of ships.
In the poem Lokasenna , Loki accuses the gods of various misdeeds. He criticizes the Vanir for incest, saying that Njörðr had Freyr with his sister. He also states that the gods discovered Freyr and Freyja having sex together. The god Týr speaks up in Freyr's defense.
|Freyr er beztr allra ballriða ása görðum í mey hann né grætir né manns konu ok leysir ór höftum hvern. Lokasenna 37, GJ's edition||Frey is best of all the exalted gods in the Æsir's courts: no maid he makes to weep, no wife of man, and from bonds looses all. Lokasenna 37, Thorpe's translation|
Lokasenna also mentions that Freyr has servants called Byggvir and Beyla. They seem to have been associated with the making of bread.
The courtship of Freyr and Gerðr is dealt with extensively in the poem Skírnismál . Freyr is depressed after seeing Gerðr. Njörðr and Skaði ask Skírnir to go and talk with him. Freyr reveals the cause of his grief and asks Skírnir to go to Jötunheimr to woo Gerðr for him. Freyr gives Skírnir a steed and his magical sword for the journey.
|Mar ek þér þann gef, er þik um myrkvan berr vísan vafrloga, ok þat sverð, er sjalft mun vegask ef sá er horskr, er hefr. Skírnismál 9, GJ's edition||My steed I lend thee to lift thee o'er the weird ring of flickering flame, the sword also which swings itself, if wise be he who wields it. Skírnismál 9, Hollander's translation|
When Skírnir finds Gerðr he starts by offering her treasures if she will marry Freyr. When she declines he gets her consent by threatening her with destructive magic.
Snorri Sturluson starts his epic history of the kings of Norway with Ynglinga saga , a euhemerized account of the Norse gods. Here Odin and the Æsir are men from Asia who gain power through their prowess in war and Odin's skills. But when Odin attacks the Vanir he bites off more than he can chew and peace is negotiated after the destructive and indecisive Æsir-Vanir War. Hostages are exchanged to seal the peace deal and the Vanir send Freyr and Njörðr to live with the Æsir. At this point the saga, like Lokasenna , mentions that incest was practised among the Vanir.
Þá er Njörðr var með Vönum, þá hafði hann átta systur sína, því at þat váru þar lög váru þeirra börn Freyr ok Freyja. En þat var bannat með Ásum at byggja svá náit at frændsemi. Ynglinga saga 4, Schultz's edition
While Njord was with the Vanaland people he had taken his own sister in marriage, for that was allowed by their law and their children were Frey and Freya. But among the Asaland people it was forbidden to intermarry with such near relations. Ynglinga saga 4, Laing's translation
Odin makes Njörðr and Freyr priests of sacrifices and they become influential leaders. Odin goes on to conquer the North and settles in Sweden where he rules as king, collects taxes, and maintains sacrifices. After Odin's death, Njörðr takes the throne. During his rule there is peace and good harvest and the Swedes come to believe that Njörðr controls these things. Eventually Njörðr falls ill and dies.
Freyr tók þá ríki eptir Njörð var hann kallaðr dróttinn yfir Svíum ok tók skattgjafir af þeim hann var vinsæll ok ársæll sem faðir hans. Freyr reisti at Uppsölum hof mikit, ok setti þar höfuðstað sinn lagði þar til allar skyldir sínar, lönd ok lausa aura þá hófst Uppsala auðr, ok hefir haldizt æ síðan. Á hans dögum hófst Fróða friðr, þá var ok ár um öll lönd kendu Svíar þat Frey. Var hann því meir dýrkaðr en önnur goðin, sem á hans dögum varð landsfólkit auðgara en fyrr af friðinum ok ári. Gerðr Gýmis dóttir hét kona hans sonr þeirra hét Fjölnir. Freyr hét Yngvi öðru nafni Yngva nafn var lengi síðan haft í hans ætt fyrir tignarnafn, ok Ynglingar váru síðan kallaðir hans ættmenn. Freyr tók sótt en er at honum leið sóttin, leituðu menn sér ráðs, ok létu fá menn til hans koma, en bjoggu haug mikinn, ok létu dyrr á ok 3 glugga. En er Freyr var dauðr, báru þeir hann leyniliga í hauginn, ok sögðu Svíum at hann lifði, ok varðveittu hann þar 3 vetr. En skatt öllum heltu þeir í hauginn, í einn glugg gullinu, en í annan silfrinu, í hinn þriðja eirpenningum. Þá hélzt ár ok friðr. Ynglinga saga 12, Schultz's edition
Frey took the kingdom after Njord, and was called drot by the Swedes, and they paid taxes to him. He was, like his father, fortunate in friends and in good seasons. Frey built a great temple at Upsal, made it his chief seat, and gave it all his taxes, his land, and goods. Then began the Upsal domains, which have remained ever since. Then began in his days the Frode-peace and then there were good seasons, in all the land, which the Swedes ascribed to Frey, so that he was more worshipped than the other gods, as the people became much richer in his days by reason of the peace and good seasons. His wife was called Gerd, daughter of Gymis, and their son was called Fjolne. Frey was called by another name, Yngve and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honour, so that his descendants have since been called Ynglinger. Frey fell into a sickness and as his illness took the upper hand, his men took the plan of letting few approach him. In the meantime they raised a great mound, in which they placed a door with three holes in it. Now when Frey died they bore him secretly into the mound, but told the Swedes he was alive and they kept watch over him for three years. They brought all the taxes into the mound, and through the one hole they put in the gold, through the other the silver, and through the third the copper money that was paid. Peace and good seasons continued. Ynglinga saga 12, Laing's translation
Þá er allir Svíar vissu, at Freyr var dauðr, en hélzt ár ok friðr, þá trúðu þeir, at svá mundi vera, meðan Freyr væri á Svíþjóð, ok vildu eigi brenna hann, ok kölluðu hann veraldar goð ok blótuðu mest til árs ok friðar alla ævi síðan. Ynglinga saga 13, Schultz's edition
When it became known to the Swedes that Frey was dead, and yet peace and good seasons continued, they believed that it must be so as long as Frey remained in Sweden and therefore they would not burn his remains, but called him the god of this world, and afterwards offered continually blood-sacrifices to him, principally for peace and good seasons. Ynglinga saga 13, Laing's translation
Freyr had a son named Fjölnir, who succeeds him as king and rules during the continuing period of peace and good seasons. Fjölnir's descendants are enumerated in Ynglingatal which describes the mythological kings of Sweden.
Ögmundar þáttr dytts
The 14th century Icelandic Ögmundar þáttr dytts contains a tradition of how Freyr was transported in a wagon and administered by a priestess, in Sweden. Freyr's role as a fertility god needed a female counterpart in a divine couple (McKinnell's translation 1987 [ 8 ] ):
Great heathen sacrifices were held there at that time, and for a long while Frey had been the god who was worshipped most there — and so much power had been gained by Frey’s statue that the devil used to speak to people out of the mouth of the idol, and a young and beautiful woman had been obtained to serve Frey. It was the faith of the local people that Frey was alive, as seemed to some extent to be the case, and they thought he would need to have a sexual relationship with his wife along with Frey she was to have complete control over the temple settlement and all that belonged to it.
In this short story, a man named Gunnar was suspected of manslaughter and escaped to Sweden, where Gunnar became acquainted with this young priestess. He helped her drive Freyr's wagon with the god effigy in it, but the god did not appreciate Gunnar and so attacked him and would have killed Gunnar if he had not promised himself to return to the Christian faith if he would make it back to Norway. When Gunnar had promised this, a demon jumped out of the god effigy and so Freyr was nothing but a piece of wood. Gunnar destroyed the wooden idol and dressed himself as Freyr, and then Gunnar and the priestess travelled across Sweden where people were happy to see the god visiting them. After a while he made the priestess pregnant, but this was seen by the Swedes as confirmation that Freyr was truly a fertility god and not a scam. Finally, Gunnar had to flee back to Norway with his young bride and had her baptized at the court of Olaf Tryggvason.
Other Icelandic sources
Worship of Freyr is alluded to in several Icelanders' sagas.
The protagonist of Hrafnkels saga is a priest of Freyr. He dedicates a horse to the god and kills a man for riding it, setting in motion a chain of fateful events.
In Gísla saga a chieftain named Þorgrímr Freysgoði is an ardent worshipper of Freyr. When he dies he is buried in a howe.
Varð og sá hlutur einn er nýnæmum þótti gegna að aldrei festi snæ utan og sunnan á haugi Þorgríms og eigi fraus og gátu menn þess til að hann myndi Frey svo ávarður fyrir blótin að hann myndi eigi vilja að freri á milli þeirra. [ 9 ]
And now, too, a thing happened which seemed strange and new. No snow lodged on the south side of Thorgrim's howe, nor did it freeze there. And men guessed it was because Thorgrim had been so dear to Frey for his worship's sake that the god would not suffer the frost to come between them. - [ 10 ]
Other Icelandic sources referring to Freyr include Íslendingabók , Landnámabók , and Hervarar saga .
Íslendingabók , written around 1125, is the oldest Icelandic source to mention Freyr, including him in a genealogy of Swedish kings. Landnámabók includes a heathen oath to be sworn at an assembly where Freyr, Njörðr, and "the almighty áss " are invoked. Hervarar saga mentions a Yuletide sacrifice of a boar to Freyr.
The 12th Century Danish Gesta Danorum describes Freyr, under the name Frø , as the "viceroy of the gods".
Frø quoque deorum satrapa sedem haud procul Upsala cepit, ubi veterem litationis morem tot gentibus ac saeculis usurpatum tristi infandoque piaculo mutavit. Siquidem humani generis hostias mactare aggressus foeda superis libamenta persolvit. Gesta Danorum 3, Olrik's edition
There was also a viceroy of the gods, Frø, who took up residence not far from Uppsala and altered the ancient system of sacrifice practised for centuries among many peoples to a morbid and unspeakable form of expiation. He delivered abominable offerings to the powers above by instituting the slaughter of human victims. Gesta Danorum 3, Fisher's translation
That Freyr had a cult at Uppsala is well confirmed from other sources. The reference to the change in sacrificial ritual may also reflect some historical memory. There is archaeological evidence for an increase in human sacrifices in the late Viking Age [ 11 ] though among the Norse gods human sacrifice is most often linked to Odin. Another reference to Frø and sacrifices is found earlier in the work, where the beginning of an annual blót to him is related. King Hadingus is cursed after killing a divine being and atones for his crime with a sacrifice.
Siquidem propitiandorum numinum gratia Frø deo rem divinam furvis hostiis fecit. Quem litationis morem annuo feriarum circuitu repetitum posteris imitandum reliquit. Frøblot Sueones vocant. Gesta Danorum 1, Olrik's edition
[I]n order to mollify the divinities he did indeed make a holy sacrifice of dark-coloured victims to the god Frø. He repeated this mode of propitiation at an annual festival and left it to be imitated by his descendants. The Swedes call it Frøblot. Gesta Danorum 1, Fisher's translation
The sacrifice of dark-coloured victims to Freyr has a parallel in Ancient Greek religion where the chthonic fertility deities preferred dark-coloured victims to white ones.
In book 9, Saxo identifies Frø as the "king of Sweden" ( rex Suetiae ):
Quo tempore rex Suetiae Frø, interfecto Norvagiensium rege Sywardo, coniuges necessariorum eius prostibulo relegatas publice constuprandas exhibuit. Gesta Danorum 9, Olrik's edition
About this time the Swedish ruler Frø, after killing Sivard, king of the Norwegians, removed the wives of Sivard's relatives to a brothel and exposed them to public prostitution. Gesta Danorum 9, Fisher's translation
The reference to public prostitution may be a memory of fertility cult practices. Such a memory may also be the source of a description in book 6 of the stay of Starcatherus, a follower of Odin, in Sweden.
Mortuo autem Bemono, Starcatherus ab athletis Biarmensibus ob virtutem accitus, cum plurima apud eos memoratu digna edidisset facinora, Sueonum fines ingreditur. Ubi cum filiis Frø septennio feriatus ab his tandem ad Haconem Daniae tyrannum se contulit, quod apud Upsalam sacrificiorum tempore constitutus effeminatos corporum motus scaenicosque mimorum plausus ac mollia nolarum crepitacula fastidiret. Unde patet, quam remotum a lascivia animum habuerit, qui ne eius quidem spectator esse sustinuit. Adeo virtus luxui resistit. Gesta Danorum 6, Olrik's edition
After Bemoni's death Starkather, because of his valour, was summoned by the Biarmian champions and there performed many feats worthy of the tellings. Then he entered Swedish territory where he spent seven years in a leisurely stay with the sons of Frø, after which he departed to join Haki, the lord of Denmark, for, living at Uppsala in the period of sacrifices, he had become disgusted with the womanish body movements, the clatter of actors on the stage and the soft tinkling of bells. It is obvious how far his heart was removed from frivolity if he could not even bear to watch these occasions. A manly individual is resistant to wantonness. Gesta Danorum 6, Fisher's translation
A strophe of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem (c. 1100) records that:
Ing was first among the East Danes seen by men
This may refer to the origins of the worship of Ingui in the tribal areas that Tacitus mentions in his Germania as being populated by the Inguieonnic tribes. A later Danish chronicler lists Ingui was one of three brothers that the Danish tribes descended from. The strophe also states that "then he (Ingui) went back over the waves, his wagon behind him" which could connect Ingui to earlier conceptions of the wagon processions of Nerthus, and the later Scandinavian conceptions of Freyr's wagon journeys.
Ingui is mentioned also in some later Anglo-Saxon literature under varying forms of his name, such as "For what doth Ingeld have to do with Christ", and the variants used in Beowulf to designate the kings as 'leader of the friends of Ing'. The compound Ingui-Frea (OE) and Yngvi-Freyr (ON) likely refer to the connection between the god and the Germanic kings' role as priests during the sacrifices in the pagan period, as Frea and Freyr are titles meaning 'Lord'.
The Swedish royal dynasty was known as the Ynglings from their descent from Yngvi-Freyr. This is supported by Tacitus, who wrote about the Germans: "In their ancient songs, their only way of remembering or recording the past they celebrate an earth-born god Tuisco, and his son Mannus, as the origin of their race, as their founders. To Mannus they assign three sons, from whose names, they say, the coast tribes are called Ingaevones those of the interior, Herminones all the rest, Istaevones".
In 1904, a Viking Age statuette identified as a depiction of Freyr was discovered on the farm Rällinge in Lunda, Södermanland parish in the province of Södermanland, Sweden. The depiction features a cross-legged seated, bearded male with an erect penis. He is wearing a pointed cap and stroking his triangular beard. The statue is 9 centimeters tall and is displayed at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities. [ 12 ]
Skog Church Tapestry
A part of the Swedish 12th century Skog Church Tapestry depicts three figures that has been interpreted as allusions to Odin, Thor, and Freyr, [ 13 ] but also as the three Scandinavian holy kings Canute, Eric and Olaf. The figures coincide with 11th century descriptions of statue arrangements recorded by Adam of Bremen at the Temple at Uppsala and written accounts of the gods during the late Viking Age. The tapestry is originally from Hälsingland, Sweden but is now housed at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities.
Small pieces of gold foil featuring engravings dating from the Migration Period into the early Viking Age (known as gullgubber ) have been discovered in various locations in Scandinavia, at one site almost 2,500. The foil pieces have been found largely on the sites of buildings, only rarely in graves. The figures are sometimes single, occasionally an animal, sometimes a man and a woman with a leafy bough between them, facing or embracing one another. The human figures are almost always clothed and are sometimes depicted with their knees bent. Scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson says that it has been suggested that the figures are taking part in a dance, and that they may have been connected with weddings, as well as linked to the Vanir group of gods, representing the notion of a divine marriage, such as in the Poetic Edda poem Skírnismál the coming together of Gerðr and Freyr. [ 14 ]
In 1904, a Viking Age statuette identified as a depiction of Freyr was discovered on the farm Rällinge in Lunda, Södermanland parish in the province of Södermanland, Sweden. The depiction features a cross-legged seated, bearded male with an erect penis. He is wearing a pointed cap and stroking his triangular beard. The statue is 9 centimeters tall and is displayed at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities. 
Skog Church Tapestry
A part of the Swedish 12th century Skog Church Tapestry depicts three figures that has been interpreted as allusions to Odin, Thor, and Freyr,  but also as the three Scandinavian holy kings Canute, Eric and Olaf. The figures coincide with 11th century descriptions of statue arrangements recorded by Adam of Bremen at the Temple at Uppsala and written accounts of the gods during the late Viking Age. The tapestry is originally from Hälsingland, Sweden but is now housed at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities.
Small pieces of gold foil featuring engravings dating from the Migration Period into the early Viking Age (known as gullgubber) have been discovered in various locations in Scandinavia, at one site almost 2,500. The foil pieces have been found largely on the sites of buildings, only rarely in graves. The figures are sometimes single, occasionally an animal, sometimes a man and a woman with a leafy bough between them, facing or embracing one another. The human figures are almost always clothed and are sometimes depicted with their knees bent. Scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson says that it has been suggested that the figures are taking part in a dance, and that they may have been connected with weddings, as well as linked to the Vanir group of gods, representing the notion of a divine marriage, such as in the Poetic Edda poem Skírnismál the coming together of Gerðr and Freyr.