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Freya, also spelled Freyja, is a Nordic goddess of fertility, beauty, love, sex, as well as war and seiðr – a special kind of Norse magic. A beautiful and powerful goddess, Freya sits at the top of the pantheon of Norse Vanir deities, opposing the other faction of Norse gods – the Æsir or Asgardians. Here’s a look at her story.
Who is Freya?
The name Freya translates to The Lady in Old Norse but she’s also often called:
- Gefn (The Giver)
- Mardöll (Sea Brightener or Light)
- Valfreyja (Lady of the Slain (in battle)
- Sýr (sow),
And several other flattering names.
While most other cultures also have beautiful goddess of love and sexual lust such as Aphrodite, Venus, Anansa, Bastet, Teicu, and others, Freya is much more than that. She’s a complex goddess with an important role.
Freya – The Main Vanir Goddess
When most people hear about Nordic gods they think of the Asgardian gods, or the Æsir. Ruled by the All-Father Odin and his wife Frigg, as well as their son Thor and many other famous Norse deities, the Æsir pantheon has become synonymous in modern pop-culture with Norse gods.
However, there is a whole other Nordic pantheon of Nordic deities called the Vanir gods. They often stand in opposition to the Æsir, not as their antagonists but as their more peaceful and beloved counterparts. In fact, the Vanir were said to have battled the Æsir in the long Æsir–Vanir War in response to the Æsir’s unprovoked aggression against them.
The matron goddess of the Vanir is Freya. As a goddess of fertility and love, Freya perfectly exemplified the differences between the Vanir and the Æsir. While the Æsir were the war-like gods and the gods of vikings and warriors, the Vanir were the peaceful gods.
The Vanir were the gods most often prayed to by farmers and ordinary people who just wanted a rich yield, nice weather, and a peaceful life.
A Goddess Of War?
If the Vanir are the peaceful Norse gods and if Freya was the goddess of love and fertility, how can she also be the goddess of war and seiðr magic?
There’s no actual contradiction here.
While the Æsir were “the war gods”, the Vanir would stand up and defend their lands when they needed to. As such, Freya was viewed as a “defender” war goddess, one who would bring fertility and prosperity at times of peace but would defend her followers when they needed her help.
Freya’s Heavenly Fields and Halls
Freya valued soldiers and warriors to the point that she invited half of the souls of those fallen in battle to her domain, with only the other half going to Odin in Valhalla. With the Æsir being the more well-known pantheon in modern culture, most people know the idea behind Valhalla – when a warrior dies in battle, Odin’s valkyries take their soul on their flying horses and fly the fallen to Valhalla where they can drink and fight until Ragnarok.
Just like Valhalla, Fólkvangr was viewed as the desirable afterlife by many warriors – a place where they’d happily await Ragnarok to help the gods in their struggle against the giants and forces of chaos. This doesn’t make Fólkvangr the opposite of Valhalla but an alternative to it.
Those warriors who didn’t die honorably in battle still went to Hel and not to Valhalla or Fólkvangr.
Freya and Her Husband Óðr
As a goddess of love and sexual lust, Freya had a husband too – Óðr,the frenzied one. Also called Óð, Od, or Odr, Freya’s husband has a rather confusing history. Some sources describe him as a god, others as a human, a giant, or another being altogether. What’s constant in most stories, however, is that Óðr is often missing from Freya’s side.
It’s not clear why Freya and Óðr weren’t often depicted together, and the stories say that he would often go missing. The myths don’t necessarily imply that he was unfaithful to Freya but they don’t specify where or why he would disappear. On the contrary, the two are said to have had a passionate love for each other, and Freya is often described as always full of desire for her husband, in the poem Hyndluljóð, and as weeping tears of red gold for him.
Freya would also often assume other names and would travel among strange people to look for her husband.
Freya was faithful to her husband. With the goddess of love and sexual lust alone most of the time, she was often approached by other gods, giants, and jötnar but she would turn down most of these offers and continue looking for her husband.
Loki’s Insults At Ægir’s Feast
One of the key legends of the god of mischief Loki takes place at the drinking party of the god of the sea, Ægir. There, Loki gets drunk on Ægir’s famous ale and starts quarreling with most of the gods and elves at the feast. Loki accused almost all women in attendance of being unfaithful and promiscuous.
Loki also takes several jabs at Odin’s wife Frigg at which point Freya interjects and accuses Loki of telling lies. Loki yells at Freya and accusses her of having had sex with almost all the gods and elves at Ægir’s feast too, including her own brother Freyr. Freya objects but Loki tells her to be silent and calls her a malicious witch.
At that point, Freya’s father Njörðr steps in and reminds Loki that he, the god of mischief, is the biggest sexual pervert of them all and has slept with all manners of beings, including various animals and monsters. Njörðr also points out that there’s nothing shameful in a woman having other lovers aside from her husband.
After this incident, Loki shifts his attention to other matters and eventually ends up jailed by Odin until Ragnarok for killing one of Ægir’s servents.
While this is mostly Loki’s story, it also plays a pivotal role for Freya as it both points out that she hasn’t been that unfaithful to her missing husband and excuses any of the affairs she may have had.
A Counterpart To Frigg And Odin
Since Odin and Frigg are the main deities in the Æsir pantheon and Freya sits atop the Vanir pantheon together with Óðr, the two couples are sometimes confused with each other in certain myths.
This is especially complicated as the souls of fallen warriors go to both Odin’s and Freya’s realms. The fact that Óðr’s name seems similar to that of Odin also doesn’t help the matter. In most myths, however, the two couples are fairly distinct.
Symbols of Freya
One of the most popular of Freya’s symbols is the Brisingamen necklace, depicted as a sparkling, beautiful necklace that Freya went through a lot of trouble to acquire it.
According to legend, Freya found herself in the lands of the Dwarfs where she saw them crafting a beautiful necklace out of gold. Stunned by its beauty, Freya offered to pay any among of money if the Dwarfs would give her the necklace.
The Dwarfs had little interest in money and said that they would only give her the necklace if she would sleep with each of them. Initially disgusted at the idea, Freya’s desire for the necklace was so strong that she agreed, and slept with each of the four Dwarfs over four successive nights. The Dwarfs, true to their word, gave Freya the necklace.
Another popular symbol connected to Freya is her chariot, pulled by two cats. Described as a gift from Thor, the chariot is how Freya frequently travelled.
She was often accompanied by the boar Hildisvini when riding. This is why the boar is Freya’s sacred animal.
In the ancient Norse epic “Hyndluljóð,” the boar Hildisvíni (“Battle Swine”) holds an important place. The goddess Freyja transforms her human ward, Óttar, who is on a mission to trace his ancestry for an inheritance claim, into Hildisvíni using her magical prowess.
Freyja and Hildisvíni journey together to seek the wisdom of the giantess Hyndla, famous for her extensive knowledge of family trees, intending to uncover Óttar’s genealogical roots.
Nevertheless, some sources paint Hildisvíni as an independent character — a boar forged by dwarves and given to Freyja. This depiction aligns with Freyja’s warrior aspect and mirrors the boar’s symbolism in Norse culture, signifying bravery and combat.
Symbolism of Freya
As a goddess of love, sexual lust, and fertility, Freya has a symbolic meaning similar to that of goddesses such as Aphrodite and Venus. However, her role goes beyond that. She’s also the mother goddess in the Vanir pantheon, a defender war goddess to her people, and a ruler of the realm to which fallen heroes go to await Ragnarok.
Even just as a goddess of love, Freya is very different from most of her counterparts from other cultures. Where most goddesses of love and sexual lust are portrayed as seductresses and the initiators of love affairs and sexual acts, Freya is portrayed as a mourning goddess who is desired by all but is trying to be faithful to her missing husband.
Importance of Freya in Modern Culture
Just like the Vanir gods are often forgotten by modern culture in favor of the Æsir, Freya is not as popular as some of the other gods.
Freya used to be exceedingly popular in many works of art up to the mid-20th century. Freya has been portrayed in numerous paintings and European books and poems. The name Freyja is used as a girl name in Norway even today.
In recent American pop-culture, however, the most notable mention of Freya is in the video game series God of War where she’s potrayed as the mother of the antagonist god Baldur, a wife of Odin, and a Queen of Asgard.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the statue of Freya.
Facts About Freya
Freya is married to the god Óðr.
Freya is depicted as having two daugthers – Hnoss and Gersemi.
Freya’s brother is Freyr.
Freya’s parents are Njörðr and an unnamed woman, possibly his sister.
Freya’s heavenly fields are known as Fólkvangr, where she receives half of all the soulds of fallen warriors and soldiers.
Freya is the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, sex, war and gold.
Freya rides a chariot pulled by two cats.
Freya’s symbols include the Brisingamen necklace, boars, and a magical feathered cloak.
Freya remains an influential goddess, and plays a central role in Norse mythology. She’s often compared to other similar goddesses such as Aphrodite and Isis, but her role appears more complex than those of her equivalents.