Freyja (or Freya, Old Norse for ‘Lady’, ‘Woman’, or ‘Mistress’) is one of the most important Gods of the Norse Pantheon, a master of the Seidr magic and a Goddess of fertility, wealth and magic. Coming from the Vanir group of the Gods, her beauty is legendary and described in many sagas. Freyja rides a carriage drawn by two giant grey cats, gifts from Thor. Her twin brother is Freyr, her father is Njord (Njörðr), God of the wind, sea and its riches, and her husband is the almost always absent Óðr.
Freyja’s hall, Sessrúmnir, is located in the plains of Fólkvangr (‘Field of the People’) in Asgard, where half of the honored dead warriors go to feast upon their demise, while the other half goes to Valhalla, Odin’s hall.
There is a slight breeze under my cloak...
The Vanir branch of the Gods preside over fertility in its many forms, including harvests (her brother Freyr) and wind, sea, and sea-originated wealth (her father Njord). As Freyja is the Goddess of love, lust, and wealth, it is easy to understand her importance on the norse pantheon.
She has two daughters with her husband Óðr, named Hnoss and Gersimi, both meaning something along the lines of “preciousness” or “treasure”. Her husband Ódr is said to be constantly away on long journeys, inexplicably leaving Freyja behind, who would then search for him while weeping golden tears.
Besides her cat-drawn carriage, Freyja possesses a cloak made out of falcon feathers that allows her to change her shape into a falcon. Upon her neck, rests the necklace Brísingamen, “the morning star, the rainbow, the moon and the fruitfulness of earth.” Said to be “best ornament under heaven,” it is also a central point in several eddas portraying the Goddess.
Freyja has many names in old folklore, such as Horn (Hǫrn, or Härn), which probably comes from Old Norse horr, which means flax or linen. This was an important product, which began being cultivated early on in Scandinavia and was thought to ward off evil and give fertility to humankind. Flax manufacture was a female affair and, as bridal dresses were made of linen, Freyja became a sort of defender of love and weddings too. Another one of her names, Gefn, is Old Norse for ‘giver’, a reminder of her role as a goddess of plenty.
As a Goddess of wealth, Freyja has many poetic references that link her to treasure. Her tears are said to be made of gold, even being synonymous with the metal. The fact that Freyja’s daughters’ names Hnoss and Gersimi, which mean ‘preciousness’ or ‘treasure’, could arguably be seen as the product of poetic convention in which Freyja was recognized as the source of treasure, the weeper of golden tears, and the Goddess that rules over wealth. As the Goddess of magic, it was Freyja who first taught the Seiðr magic to the Æsir, and Odin often consults with her in matters both magic and mundane.
Freyja is a major God and is a central character in many sagas. The Hyndluljóð poem emphasises her wisdom, while the Þrymskviða (the ‘Lay of Thrym, found in the Poetic Edda), gives her beauty legendary proportions. The latter is the story of Thor’s hammer being stolen by the giant Thrym, who will not return Mjölnir unless he Freyja marries him. Freyja refuses the giant, but lent Thor the Brísingamen. A plot worthy of Loki in which Thor disguises himself as Freyja to recover Mjölnir.
We are going to need more make-up... a LOT more...
Lacking the ability for deception of Loki, Thor was almost unmasked before discovering the location of Mjölnir, which was hidden by the giant Thrym. The only way Thor managed to subdue his rage against the giant was to keep his mouth stuffed with food from the wedding banquet. Luckily, Loki had accompanied Thor and, using his renowned silver tongue, managed to maintain the deception until the giant finally produced Mjölnir, as a gift for his “bride”. Thor immediately snatched back his hammer abandoning his disguise as a bride-to-be, and proceeded to slay Thrym and many other giants who were attending the feast.
Another giant-related saga tells the tale of how the giant Hrungnir boasts that he would bodily move Valhalla into Jotunheimen (the realm of the giants), sink Asgard (the realm of the gods), and kill all the gods except for Freyja and Sif, who he will take home with him (check the post here).
In yet another tale, the Giant Master Builder, a giant offers to build walls around Asgard in one winter, as long as he gets Freyja, the sun and the moon. Loki again saves the day, by assuming the form of a mare and “distracting” the giant’s horse, thus preventing him to finish the walls in the allotted time. Incidentally, that is how Odin’s horse Sleipnir came to be…
Regarding her necklace Brísingamen, the most famous saga concerns its theft by Loki, but the tale is fragmentary. The most detailed version is also the youngest and thus not the pinnacle of reliability: the Sǫrla Þáttr, which survives in the 14th century CE Flateyjarbók, describes how Freyja sleeps with four dwarves to get the Brísingamen, and how Odin then forces Loki to steal the necklace from her. Loki enters her bedroom as a fly, stings her so she moves her hand off of the necklace, and grabs it.
Loki steals Brísingamen
The Old Norse sources do not specifically detail the existence of a cult of Freyja per se, but the large number of place-names in Sweden and Norway related to her name, such as Frøihov (from Freyjuhof, ‘Freyja’s temple’) and Frǫvi (from Freyjuvé, ‘Freyja’s shrine’), show clear worship, perhaps even pointing to a public cult as opposed to the domestic cult one would expect of a goddess of love. It is clear that the people of Iceland, on the cusp of conversion to Christianity around the year 1000 CE, still had Freyja clearly on their mind. The Íslendingabók states that Hjalti Skeggjason, a supporter of Christianity, was outlawed for blasphemy after calling Freyja a bitch (in this case a female dog, but taken to mean he wanted to call her a whore) at the Althing parliament. She was obviously still important enough for people to not successfully get away with these sorts of things.