“Freyja says there’s going to be trouble.”
I didn’t know the man speaking to me. I had never met him before – we were in the same workshop at Sacred Space Conference. He had turned back to look at me several times during the class, and I steeled myself for the inevitable come-on. However, when he finally approached me after class, it was not an attempt to get my number. It was a warning about the choices I was making, an effort to save me from the consequences of my own decisions.
Freyja said there would be trouble. And oh, was there trouble to come.
Pagans develop devotional relationships with deities for many reasons. We have transcendental experiences, learn a body of mythology that resonates, or deliberately seek out deities to work with that embody qualities we wish to develop. Or, as it turns out, sometimes the gods try to save us from our own actions. To this day, Freyja remains the only deity I know of who has grabbed the nearest human capable of relaying a message to try to prevent me from hurting myself.
The Norse goddess Freyja is the primary deity I serve, although like most polytheists I honor more than one deity. I maintain a relationship with Hel, the Underworld goddess, and a cautious connection with Odhinn, the Wanderer. Other gods from the Norse pantheon cross my path occasionally. And, as a pagan community organizer, I maintain cordial acquaintanceship with the deities other members of my community serve. I sometimes joke that pagan community leadership is a bit like being an ambassador at a world conference of spirits.
One of the challenges that comes from working with Freyja has nothing to do with her whatsoever – it has to do with the Christian-influenced simplification of her role. A goddess of magick (also called seidr), death, sovereignty, and boundaries somehow became the pantheon’s pin-up girl. The Chooser of the Slain is referenced more frequently as a goddess of love, and generally depicted barely clothed in entirely too typical Boris Vallejo-esque artistic nonsense.
It should be no surprise that I have an axe to grind on this subject.
My Kindred recently held a blót (ceremony) in honor of Freyja. We include a teaching portion in our blóts because many of our Kindred are fairly new on the path of Heathenry. And, for those of us who have been practicing longer, it’s always good to get a refresher. I thought I would expand and share that teaching portion here, and do my little bit to reveal the deity underneath the pin-up art.
Freyja is the daughter of Njorth, god of the sea, and sister to Freyr, god of peace and plenty: she is one of the Vanir gods. The Norse pantheon includes three main classes of powerful beings: two groups of gods, the Aesir and Vanir, and the Jotnar, primal forces that are variably disposed toward humans. Where the Aesir are associated with the rule of humans and the structuring of society, the Vanir are associated with the green and growing world. They are part of the deep generative magick of the earth’s cycles of fruitfulness and dormancy. The entire family is associated with prosperity and abundance for that reason.
Freyr is associated with the magick of the Alfar – he was given Alfheim as a tooth gift – and focuses his energy on the peace, goodwill, and prosperity of lands under his rule. Freyja, on the other hand, is more oriented toward the magick of the gods and, by extension, of humans.
The lore tells us that Odhinn, the Wanderer, learned much of his magick from Freyja. And, because the Old Man likes to share wisdom when it suits him, taught that magick to humans. It’s important to remember where it all came from, though – seidr as we know it comes from Freyja. It is possible that Freyja’s magick, her seidr, is at the heart of the Aesir/Vanir war that established the Norse pantheon as we know it today. In the Yngling Saga, it is said that Frejya brought seidr to the Aesir (and taught it to the ‘Asaland people’). This can mean a couple different things – she could have brought seidr as a weapon. Or, her bringing of it could have started the war.
In the Voluspa, we encounter Gullveig, a name that means ‘lady’ or ‘golden’ – potentially a kenning for Freyja herself. Gullveig comes to Odhinn’s hall and is speared by the Aesir, then burned three times. Each time, she emerges unscathed. After the third burning, she takes the name Heidr and begins practicing seidr. Heidr means ‘bright’ or ‘clear’ and is semantically related to Gullveig. Which, in turn, shares meaning with the name Freyja.
Both gods associated with seidr are promiscuous, and it appears that the volvas of old may have been similarly inclined, or were suspected to be. The Christian discomfort with sexuality, and in particular with women’s sexuality, means that sex is sometimes all we know of Freyja. It’s important to remember that much of the lore we have was collected in the waning of ancient heathenry, and most often by Christian scholars. There is an inevitable slant to the information we have as a result. Reducing a sovereign sorceress to a harlot is a great way to undermine the pull of the old gods, and to aim criticism at the ‘backwards country folk’ who followed them.
More than anything else, Frejya is a goddess of magick. When Loki, a shapeshifter, needs to travel far and fast, he borrows Freyja’s falcon-feather cloak. When Thor needs to cross-dress to prevent a disastrous and nonconsenting marriage for Freyja to the Jotun Thrym, it is Brisingamen, Freyja’s necklace, that he borrows. We only know a small amount about Brisingamen, but it is unlikely to be mere jewelry. The dwarf-crafted objects the gods treasure in the lore are all magickal – Thor’s hammer, Freyr’s ship, Odhinn’s ring, Sif’s hair – and Brisingamen is most likely the same. The method in which Freyja obtained Brisingamen was focused on in the lore (and a brief mention at that), leaving us a shortage of information about the necklace itself.
The Freyja-Wedding-Cosplay-Thor-and-Loki-hijinks myth is told in the Lay of Thrym in the Poetic Edda. When Thor shows up wearing Brisingamen and dressed as Freyja, Thrym doesn’t ask why his desired spouse is the size of an aurochs. It’s Thor’s behavior that almost gives him away – eating entire animals and drinking three casks of mead. When Thrym tries to lift Thor’s veil, he does not notice a strong brow, beard, or bushy eyebrows – it is the fury blazing from Thor’s eyes that gives him pause. Thor is wearing more than a dress and veil here – he is wearing a magickal object that confers a glamour upon him.
Freyja rides a chariot pulled by two cats, an act of magick if I’ve ever heard of one. She is also often accompanied by the golden boar, Hildisvini, a human lover and protege she transformed for…reasons (read the Poetic Edda if you want that story).
One of the other stories we know about Freyja is of her search for her husband, Odr. She has two daughters by him, Hnoss and Gersemi – both their names are related to the concept of treasure or jewels. Odr is linguistically similar to Odhinn and some scholars believe they are one and the same. In the Prose Edda, we learn that Odr would disappear for long periods of time, and Freyja would wander the world looking for him, weeping tears of amber or red gold as she traveled. This wandering is similar to the volvas (professional seers and magick workers) of old, who traveled from settlement to settlement to perform magick for the folk.
In a recent Odhinn workshop with Seo Helrune, an additional layer to the story of Freyja’s search for Odr was discussed. The word ‘óðr’ also means ‘inspiration.’ We have fragments of stories passed through an imperfect veil – perhaps Freyja searched not for a missing husband, but for inspiration, clarity, or insight. Another act more associated with a wandering sorceress than a wife.
As a death goddess, Freyja rules over Folkvangr, a great field in Vanaheim (the realm of the Vanir) where she receives half the slain in battle. And, she gets first choice of the dead over Odhinn. This has led many people to call her Queen of the Valkyries among other honors. Her hall in Folkvangr is called Sessrumnir. She has many names in the lore: Gefn, Hörn, Mardöll, Sýr, and Vanadís are just some of the monikers we know her by.
So where does the love goddess thing come from? Mostly from the story of how she obtained Brisingamen. This story is told in the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, a tale written and compiled by two Christian priests in the 14th century. The necklace is briefly mentioned mostly to serve the narrative purpose of creating a problem for a Christian to solve. In the story, Freyja tries to buy a necklace forged by four dwarves. The price they set for it is for her to spend a night with each of them, which she does. The rest of the story involves a jealous husband, dueling ghost armies, and then a cessation of the cycle of violence because a Christian shows up.
Unfortunately, the demonization of sexuality added to the political motives of the Christian writers of that Saga means that the best-known tale of Freyja is also one of the most flawed pieces of lore we have, written by people who were deliberately devaluing the mythology of the culture they were converting. So we see a goddess of magick, death, sovereignty, and battle become…a cautionary tale about sex.
That’s why I’m griding this axe.
Or at least giving my keyboard a good workout.
As a pagan that came to heathenry by way of other magickal practices, Freyja is a good goddess for me to make offerings to. She too came from a magickal system outside the Aesir. She too took on the mantle of heathenry of old, becoming part of the fabric of Aesir society. She too did not leave behind the magick she learned before coming to Asgard.
And as a former model and frontwoman of a metal band, I know a bit about being reduced to my body and what I do with it, as well.
My own experience of Freyja is of a deity who places a sword in my hand and teaches me how to set boundaries. She encourages me to learn and practice different kinds of magick. She puts a crown on my head and shows me how to wear it. She kicks my butt when I need it but offers a hand up when I get knocked down.
When it is the weaving of the threads of life you need, Freyja is who to offer to. When it is the awakening of passion within that you need, Freyja is who to offer to. When it is sovereignty and boundary-setting that you need, Freyja is who to offer to. When it is the deep study of magick, trance, possession, and divination you need, Freyja is who to offer to.
Hail Valfreya, Vanadis, Golden Goddess of the Aesir, Valkyrie Queen, and unstoppable sorceress. May these words honor you. May they find the ones who need them.
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