Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Freyja Brings Fertility

Freyja (sometimes anglicized as Freya) is a major goddess in Germanic paganism, particularly in its late form, Norse paganism, where numerous surviving tales either involve or feature her. Because the best documented source of this religious tradition, the Norse Mythology, was transmitted and altered by Christian medieval historians, the actual role, heathen practices and worship of the goddess are uncertain.

While there are some sources suggesting that Freyja was called on to bring fruitfulness to fields or wombs, in the Eddas, she was portrayed as a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. Freyja is described as the fairest of all goddesses, and people prayed to her for happiness in love.

Freyja was also associated with war, battle, death, magic, prophecy, and wealth. She is cited as receiving half of the dead lost in battle in her hall Fólkvangr, whereas Odin would receive the other half at Valhalla. And the origin of Seid was ascribed to Freyja.

Frigg and Freyja are the two principal goddesses in Norse religion, and described as the highest amongst the Asynjur. Freyja is the goddess most honoured after or along with Frigg, and her worship seems to have been even the more prevalent and important of the two. In the Droplaugarsona Saga, it is described that in a temple at Ölvusvatn, Iceland, statues of Frigg and Freyja have been seated upon higher thrones opposite those of Thor and Freyr. These statues were arrayed in drapery and ornaments of gold and silver.

In Heimskringla, Freyja is also presented as a mythological Princess of Sweden. Her father Njörðr is seen as the second mythological King of Sweden, and her brother Freyr is the third. Freyr and Freyja's mother is Njörðr's sister (who has been often linked to the ancient Germanic goddess Nerthus), as it is a custom of the Vanir and allowed by their laws

Further in Heimskringla, it is written that many temples and statues of native pagan gods and goddesses were raided and destroyed by Olaf Tryggvason and Saint Olaf during the gradual and violent process of the Christianization of Scandinavia. During and after the extent that the process of Christianization was complete, Freyja and many things associated with her were demonized by the growing influence of Christian missionaries. After Christian influence was cemented in law, traces of belief went increasingly underground into mainly rural areas, surviving into modern times in Germanic folklore and most recently reconstructed to varying degrees in Germanic neopaganism.

Freja - common Danish and literary Swedish form.
Frya - Frisian form
Frea - History of the Langobards
Frøya, Fröa - common Norwegian, and rural Swedish form.
Fröe - a Danish form
Froijenborg - Swedish folk song, in which she is referred to as the fair sun "den väna solen" (Vana: from "Vanir", means beautiful [31])
Friia, Frīa - second Merseburg Charm
Frija - variant of Friia
Reija - Finnish form

Freya (and its variant forms) is a common Scandinavian female name. In 2005, the name Freja was the 5th most popular given name for Danish girls born that year. The following year, 2006, the name became even more popular in Denmark, having risen to the 3rd most popular given name for girls born in 2006; but it dropped to 4th place in 2007. The name Freya was the 23rd (in 2006) and 25th (in 2007) most common given name for baby girls in England and Wales

Many farms in Norway have Frøy- as the first element in their names, and the most common are the name Frøyland (13 farms). But whether Frøy- in these names are referring to the goddess Freyja (or the god Freyr) is questionable and uncertain. The first element in the name Frøyjuhof, in Udenes parish, are however most probably the genitive case of the name Freyja. (The last element is hof 'temple', and a church was built on the farm in the Middle Ages, which indicates the spot as an old holy place.) The same name, Frøyjuhof, also occur in the parishes Hole and Stjørdal. There are also two islands named Frøya in Norway.

In the parish of Seim, in the county of Hordaland, Norway, lies the farm Ryland (Norse Rýgjarland). The first element is the genitive case of rýgr 'lady' (identical with the meaning of the name Freyja, see above). Since the neighbouring farms have the names Hopland (Norse Hofland 'temple land') and Totland (Norse Þórsland 'Thor's land') it is possible that rýgr (lady) here are referring to a goddess. (And in that case most probably Freyja.) A sideform of the word (rýgja) may occur in the name of the Norwegian municipality Rygge.

There's Horn in Iceland and Hoorn in Holland, various places in the German lands are called Freiburg (burg meaning something like settlement).

Several plants were named after Freyja, such as Freyja's tears and Freyja's hair (Polygala vulgaris), but after the introduction of Christianity, they were renamed after the Virgin Mary, suggesting her closest homologue in Christianity.

The name Friday comes from the Old English frigedæg, meaning the day of Frige the Anglo-Saxon form of Frigg, a West Germanic translation of Latin dies Veneris, "day (of the planet) Venus."

However, in most Germanic languages the day is named after Freyja—such as Frīatag in Old High German, Freitag in Modern German, Freyjudagr in Old Norse, Vrijdag in Dutch, Fredag in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish—but Freyja and Frigg are frequently identified with each other.

The chemical element Vanadium is named after Freyja via her alternative name Vanadís. The Orion constellation was called Frigg's distaff or Freyja's distaff (Frejerock).

Freyja, in her German variant name "Freia", appears in Richard Wagner's massive opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen which includes Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. This has led to many portrayals based on Wagner's interpretation, although some are closer to pre-Wagnerian models. Since Wagner's time, numerous depictions and references have entered popular culture to varying extents. In Wagner's depiction, Freyja is Frigg's sister. She is the goddess of beauty who guards the golden apples. When she was captured by two giants Fasolt and Fafnir, the gods quickly became old and ugly, and Odin had to pay the giants a hefty ransom including the Tarnhelm and the Ring of the Nibelung which he robbed from Alberich to get her back.

Frigg is the highest goddess of the Æsir, while Freyja is the highest goddess of the Vanir. Many arguments have been made both for and against the idea that Frigg and Freyja are really the same goddess, avatars of one another.

Freyja also rides a golden-bristled boar called Hildisvini (Battle-Swine) which appeared only in the poem Hyndluljóð. Later we are told that the boar is her protégé, Óttar, but it seems that Óttar was temporarily disguised as Hildisvini, not that Hildisvini is Óttar. The boar has special associations within Norse Mythology, both relative to the notion of fertility and also as a protective talisman in war.

In Skáldskaparmál, Freyr is described as riding on another golden-bristled boar, Gullinbursti, which may be one and the same with Freyja's.

The battle-bold Freyr rideth
First on the golden-bristled
Barrow-boar to the bale-fire
Of Baldur, and leads the people.

Cat-drawn Chariot
A depiction of Freyja riding a cat-driven chariot and flanked by Italian Renaissance-inspired putti by Swedish painter Nils Blommér.
A depiction of Freyja riding a cat-driven chariot and flanked by Italian Renaissance-inspired putti by Swedish painter Nils Blommér.

Freyja often rides on a chariot drawn by a pair of large cats. She rode this chariot to Baldur's funeral. These cats are called Gib-cats in the Prose Edda. They are often thought to be Norwegian forest cats. Cats are sacred to Freyja, just as wolves are to Odin. "When a bride goes to the wedding in fine weather, they say 'she has fed the cat well,' not offended the favourite of the love-goddess."

Freyja is considered a warrior goddess among her many roles. The chariot also is a warlike attribute and often given to exalted deities only. This does not mean that every exalted Germanic deity must have a wagon, but most of them have special rides. Odin and Heimdallr have horses, Thor has a chariot drawn by goats, Freyr has a boar, but Freyja has both chariot and boar. Minor goddesses such as Gefjun and Iðunn do not even have a palace or hall mentioned.

Freyja owns a cloak of falcon feathers, which can give her the ability to change into the guise of any birds, and to fly between worlds. It is called "hawk's plumage", "falcon skin", or "falcon-feathered cloak" in different translations. The same magical cloak was also assigned to Frigg in some tales.

Brísingamen (Necklace of Flame) is Freyja's famous necklace reputedly made of gold. The necklace is thought to represent the sun's fire and the circle of day and night. According to the notes of Saxo Grammaticus, Brísingamen was among the items given to the gods by Alberich. In some mythological writings, Brísingamen is assigned to Frigg.

In Skáldskaparmál, it is written that women often wore "stone-necklaces" as a part of a woman's apparels, to indicate their social status. That is the reason why woman is periphrased with reference to jewels and agates. Frigg and Freyja are the foremost Norse goddesses, therefore they are portrayed as having precious necklaces. Necklaces also seem to be the favorite gifts in heathen times. When Hildr came to ask her father, King Högni, for peace, she offered him a necklace Skáldskaparmál. In Völuspá, the seeress refused to talk until Odin gave her some golden necklaces.

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