I've had a lot of instances lately where I've felt a pull towards Freyja, but I don't know a lot about her. Could you share a little bit about her to help with my research??
Sæll (eða sæl) vinur,
Unfortunately, Freyja seems to be quite allusive in our sources, especially in the Prose Edda. Her brother Freyr gets far more direct attention in them. In the sources that I am most familiar with, here is where she appears in them (from a database post I am currently working on):
- Freyja: Vanir, Fertility Goddess (multiple roles):
- The Prose Edda (Faulkes trans.):
- Gylfaginning: pages 24, 29, 30, 35, (36), and 50.
- Skaldskarpamal: pages 59, 60, 75-8, (85), 86, 94-5, 98-9, (119), and 157.
- The Poetic Edda:
- Seeress’s Prophecy: stanza 26 (kenning).
- Grimnir’s Sayings: stanza 14.
- Loki’s Quarrel: prose; stanzas 30 and 32.
- Thrym’s Poem: stanzas 3, 8, and 11ff.
- Oddrun’s Lament: stanza 9.
- The Song of Hyndla: stanza 6.
- Ynglinga saga: chapter 4 and 10.
- Bosi and Herraud: chapter 12.
- Egil’s Saga: chapter 79.
- The Saga of the People of Fljotsdal: chapter 26.
That list, of course, has not yet been completed, but it should still serve you and others rather well. I will provide some information directly in this post, though, because some of these texts are less easily accessible. I will also share the bits that contain the most helpful information contained in those texts.
THE PROSE EDDA: (1.)
Snorri Sturluson does not give us a lot of detail about Freyja, but he does provide a basis for us to work with. Honestly, the Prose Edda is a bit of a condensed snapshot of Norse mythology – a slice of time and a slice of place. Without spending too long on source-related debates, here is some of the most satisfying bits of information from that text:
- Freyja is the daughter of Njord, and the sister of Freyr.
- Freyja, along with Freyr, is “beautiful in appearance and mighty.”
- Freyja is “the most glorious of the Asynjur (goddesses).”
- Her dwelling is called Folkvangar.
- Whenever she rides to battle, she takes half of the slain. The other half goes to Odin. (This is pretty big).
- Her hall is called Sessrumnir, and it is “large and beautiful.”
- She travels in a chariot drawn by two cats.
- In terms of prayer, she is the most approachable goddess.
- She is “very fond of long songs” and it is “good to pray to her concerning love affairs.”
- She is married to Od.
- She has a daughter named Hnoss, who is also beautiful.
- Od went off to travel, and Freyja weeps because he is gone, and “her tears are red gold.”
- Freyja has many names because of her travels in search for Od: Mardoll, Horn, Gefn, and Syr.
- Freyja owns Bringsing’s necklace.
- Freyja was once almost married off to a giant.
- Freyja can apparently grant people a “falcon shape.” She does this for Loki when he must go retrieve Idunn.
- Freyja is bold. She was the only one who was brave enough to serve drinks to a giant named Hrungnir.
- Later Snorri includes more of her names: Thrungva and Skjalf. He also mentions a second daughter named Gersemi.
THE POETIC EDDA: (2.)
The reference in the Seeress’s Prophecy is a bit vague, but worth bringing up. I have not spent a considerable amount of time carefully contemplating the verse, but it clearly has an important role in Freyja’s story. I believe most internet it as how Freyja was given as a hostage to end the war between the Æsir and Vanir, but since I am not confident enough to say that as ‘fact’, I’ll just give you the stanza itself:
“Then all the Powers went to the thrones of fate,
the sacrosanct gods, and considered this:
which people had trouble the air with treachery,
or given Od’s girl to the giant race.”
Other information regarding Freyja in the Poetic Edda:
“Folkvang is the ninth, and there Fryja fixes
allocation of seats in the hall;
half the slain she chooses every day,
and half Odin owns.” (Grim., 14)
- Loki calls Freyja a witch, suggesting that she dabbles with magic. The Vanir, in general, have connections with magic.
- Loki suggests that Freyja and her brother Freyr had an affair.
- The “falcon shape” she can grant is also referred to as a “feather-shirt.” She loans this to Loki so he can help Thor retrieve Mjolnir. It allows the bearer to fly.
- Freyja is often the object of undesired marriages, often with giants. Yet, she is also often independent and bold enough to object them.
Freyja plays a pretty central role in the Song of Hyndla, but the information about her is not very direct. It would be best to read this poem in its entirety before drawing any conclusions about Freyja from it.
This is another work by Snorri Sturluson, but it is treated much differently than the Gylfaginning. From a down-to-Earth perspective, Snorri retells the tale of the gods in an earthly sense. Here are some of the portions about Freyja in Ynglinga saga:
“Njord’s daughter was Freyja. She was a sacrificial priestess. She was the first to teach the Æsir black magic, which was customary among the Vanir.”
There is also this:
“Freyja kept up the sacrifices, for she was the only one of the gods left alive, and she became the best known, so that all noble women came to be called by her name, just as now the name frúvur (‘ladies’) is used. Similarly everyone was called freyja (‘mistress’) of what she possessed, and húsfreyja (‘mistress of a household’) if she is in charge of a dwelling. Freyja was rather fickle. Her husband was called Od. Her daughters were called Hnoss and Gersimi. They were very beautiful. The most precious treasures are called by their names.”
These are sagas about legendary heroes and kings, and a great deal of mythological material gets tied up within them. There are likely others, but I do not have copies of all of them, so I am limited to knowing only of references made in my own small collection. I would share the reference for Freyja that appears in Bosi and Herraud, but it is not very satisfying. All that is said is that there was a toast to Freyja on a wedding night, but little more. Again, there are likely a few other Fornaldarsögur that contain information about Freyja, but they are not my specialty. In time I will hunt down more.
These sagas are a bit different from the Fornaldarsögur. They are much ore realistically toned, in that there is much less supernatural activity taking place. They are still good sources for information, though! Even in terms of mythology. There is a decent amount of information preserved in these texts about rituals and practices associated with certain figures, such as Freyja. Of course, there are problems with the sources that need to be addressed before taking certain bits of information too far, but that is not a concern until you really start to dig and contemplate the text.
- In Egil’s Saga, a woman named Thorgerd says this: “I have had no evening meal, nor shall I do so until I go to join Freyja.”
- This is interesting because it suggests that a woman, at least, can choose to go to Freyja after death. Given further context, there may be a way that she suspects she might be able to make this happen, but regardless there seems to be an acceptance that Freyja has privilege over dead, and not just the half she gets that are slain in battle. Food for thought.
The information in The Saga of the People of Fljotsdal is even less fulfilling, at least when looking to learn more about Freyja herself. If you are interested in the attitudes of Icelanders in regards to conversion, then more information awaits you in the saga.
In the end, there really is not much else to be found regarding Freyja. Most of what we know comes from the Eddas, but there is information scattered around elsewhere. I have not even included archaeological materials and runestone in this situation, but that is because I am a medieval literature kind of guy. Despite the lack of information, I hope what I have shared with you turns out to be helpful in some way or another. Surly something will be of interest to you.
Otherwise, I hope for the best in your endeavors. Freyja is a rewarding subject.
Með vinsemd og virðingu,
(With friendliness and respect,)
2. Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda. (repr., 1996; Oxfrod: Oxford University Press, 2014). All specific references are contained above, at the beginning of this post.
3. Snorri Sturluson, Ynglinga saga, in Heimskringla, Volume I: The Beginnings to Óláfr Tryggvason, 2nd ed., translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes. (London: University College London, 2016). All specific references are contained above, at the beginning of this post.
4. If you are curious, this is the citation for the collection that I own: Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards trans., Seven Viking Romances. (London: Penguin Books, 1985).
5. Bernard Scudder trans., Egil’s Saga, in The Complete Sagas of Icelanders: Including 49 Tales, Vol. I, edited by Viðar Hreinsson, Robert Cook, Terry Gunnell, Keneva Kunz, and Bernard Scudder, (Reykjavík: Leifur Eiríksson Publishing, 1997), 150. (Chapter 79)