In non-Njord news, here’s my take on deconstructing how we understand the Brisingamen myth. (Also posted in full at Patheos here.)
One of Njord’s main myths–you could argue that it is the most important of His myths–describes how he married Skadi, the daughter of an ice jotun. The myth follows the myth of “The Theft of Idunna’s Apples” in the Skáldskaparmál from Snorri’s Prose Edda.
First, a summary of the theft of Idunn’s Apples:
Odin, Loki and Hœnir were out journeying. Hungry, they came across a herd of oxen, killed one, and started cooking it. However, it refused to cook. The jotun Thjazi, disguised as an eagle, offered to help make the fire cook properly if they left him have some of the ox as well. They agreed. The food was finally cooked and Thjazi flew down and started devouring the ox. Realizing that the eagle would eat the their entire meal, Loki hit it with a staff. The staff stuck to the eagle and to Loki’s hand, and the jotun flew back toward Jotunheim, dragging Loki behind him and bumping him on trees and boulders as he went. Loki realized he had been tricked and offered to do whatever Thjazi required of him. Thjazi tasked him with going back to Asgard and stealing Idunn and her apples of Immortality for him.
Loki went back to Asgard with Odin and Hoenir. He lured Idun out of Asgard with tales of a new kind of apple tree, and Thjazi, in eagle form, swooped down and carried her off. Eventually the gods began to age, and they noticed that Idun and her apples of immortality are missing. When they found out that Loki was the last one who was seen with Idun, they threatened him with bodily harm until he agreed to get her back. Loki borrowed Freya’s falcon cloak and flew to Jotunheim. He found Idun, changed her into a walnut, and flew back with her, with Thjazi hot on his heels. As Loki flew back into Asgard, the rest of the Aesir sent up a huge fire wall, which Thjazi then flew into and died.
Then, with this context, the story of Njord and Skadi begins:
Skadi, an accomplished hunter, learns that her father, Thjazi, has been killed by the Aesir. She packs up her weapons and storms up to Asgard’s walls, demanding retribution. The gods offer Skadi her choice of the hand in marriage of any of the Aesir present. She agrees to this but also demands that one of them must make her laugh. None succeed at this until Loki ties his balls to the beard of a nanny goat and hilarity ensues. At that point, even Skadi has to laugh.
However, the gods put a restriction on how Skadi was to chose her husband. She was only allowed to see his feet. She chooses the whitest, brightest feet, assuming that those feet must belong to Baldur, Odin and Frigga’s son and Asgard’s shining glory. Instead, she ended up with Njord, god of the sea and commerce, father of Freyr and Freya. They first went to live at her father’s home in Jotunheim. However, the howling of the wolves and the wind were too loud for Njord to sleep, and after nine nights they left. Next they went to his home at Noatun, but Skadi could not sleep there due to the loud crying of the seagulls, and flashing of the sun on the waves irritated her. They agreed to live separately, and parted amicably, and each at his or her own hall.
Reposting because it’s that time of year, and because I now work with the Raven as well as the Falcon….
A few years ago, I came across this short story by Seanan McGuire. I had seen it around, and several people strongly suggested that I read it, but when I took a look at it, it seemed mostly to be about football. While I actually have a lot of fond memories of high school football games (I played in the marching band), what I didn’t get was the connection was to Freya. Luckily I made myself reread it, and it’s been one of my favorite short stories ever since.
If you work with a God whose realm includes death or battle, I recommend that you read it. If you work with the Norse gods or the Morrigan, in particular, I recommend that you read it. Who knew mythology had anything to do with football?
(You can find the entire short story here. I’m also posting the entire thing below the cut, because I never trust that links will last.)
So, in the Thrymskvida (that one myth where Thor dresses up as a bride), Thor and Loki’s first thought upon learning that the Hammer had been stolen by a jotun and would only be returned if Freya became his bride was to make Freya marry him. You know, for the good of all and all that. Her response?
Freya snorted with fierce rage,
The hall shook and shuddered about them,
Broken to bits was the Brising Necklace:
‘In the eyes of the gods a whore I should seem,
If I journeyed with you to Gianthome.’ 🙂 That’s my Lady.
And so Thor ended up dressing up as Freya-the-Bride and fooling the jotun instead, which, while uncomfortable for Thor, worked out well for everyone in the end. The point I would like to make here is that Thor and Loki (and all of the rest) did not attempt to figure out a way for Freya to avoid marrying the jotun or otherwise try to protect her from having to deal with this situation. Instead, the dynamic duo that is Thor and Loki demanded that She Do This Thing, and were stumped when She said no. Plan B did not come about until after Freya had shut them down, unequivocally, all on her own. (And, to their credit, none of the Aesir attempted to argue with Her or change Her mind about it. Instead, they brainstormed a new solution.) And anyway, did they honestly think She would have said yes?
It makes me wonder, though. Would the Gods have acted the same way had it been Sif, or Idunna, or Frigga on the line? Or maybe one of Frigga’s handmaidens? Was it just because Freya was (effectively) single that they thought they could demand this of Her? Or maybe it just made for a better story? Who knows. All I know is that this small but key part for this myth is one of the main sources of information that we have about Freya’s personality. So, regardless of the reason that it is included in the story, I’m glad somebody wrote it down.
Thor got his hammer Mjölnir (and the matching glove), Odin got his arm-ring Draupnir (which drops nice new gold armbands every nine days), and Freyr got his golden boar Gullinbursti–all for free–because Loki played two groups of dwarves off of each other. (He was making up for having cut off all of Sif’s hair, true; but dude–totally double dealing.) Likewise, in that same deal, Odin received his spear Gungnir and Freyr receives his ship Skíðblaðnir (which is the fastest of ships and can be folded up very small, like a piece of cloth), and Sif received actual gold hair.
These symbols, particularly Thor’s hammer and Odin’s spear, are key signifiers for these gods. What did they do to earn them? In classic Norse deity fashion, they did nada. Nothing. Loki pulled the prank and Loki did the work to fix it, and as a side effect the Gods received some pretty cool shit. On the other hand, Freya has Brisignamen as her key symbol, but She was not given the Brising necklace for free. She made the deal, she paid the price. She earned it.
Kinda makes you think. Who’s more badass here–the male deities, or Freya?
Last week my main Heathen group, which is focused on the Vanir, did a myth embodiment of the Skirnismal, aka how Freyr won his jotun wife Gerd. This exercise is one that we’d done twice previously–first with the myth describing the Marriage of Njord and Skadi, and second with the myth of how Freya won Brisingamen. Both times the activity yielded up some great insights into the Gods involved as well as a lot of hilarity. (And how often does one activity give you both of these things, I ask?)
One of the things that I think this type of exercise does best is to fully flesh out the characters–in our case last week, the Gods Freyr and Skadi; the Jotun (Godddess-to-be?) Gerd; and the eponymous Skirnir, who, as we found out, is neither Aesir nor Vanir nor jotun nor alf. (Actually, nobody knows quite what he is; though we do know he’s one of Freyr’s oldest friends, and also his servant). This myth showcases Freyr at his youngest, most immature self–moody, passionate, and self-centered. Not being that close to Freyr myself, I hadn’t had much reason to work through my own issues with this myth. My biggest issue with the Skirnismal, and the reason that I had put off doing this myth as long as we did, had always been that in the myth, it really does look like Freyr (through Skirnir) is threatening Gerd with some bodily and psychological harm should she decide not to marry him, and what is up with that? (The threats are both cruel and highly creative.) It’s coercion at the very least, and, personally, I didn’t see any way around dealing with that aspect of the myth.
However, this coercion aspect is actually what makes it the perfect fodder for myth embodiment. The whole point, in fact, is to try to understand the motivations and point of views of all concerned. (This technique is also successfully used to help families and communities heal themselves after tragedy or trauma. It’s amazing what putting yourself in another’s shoes will do for healing a relationship.) So, I did some research, had some great discussions around it with a few Freyrspeople, and went boldly on with the embodiment.
Just a note to let people know I’ve added “The Marriage of Njord and Skadi” example to my Myth Embodiment section. It’s available here: Njord and Skadi.
When trouble lurks, turn toward Me for help. I and your disir, of spirit and blood, will aid you. Call on us, your ancestresses, for power and support. A gift begets a gift. Love, Freya
This is one of those times, like when She conveys messages in runes and/or rune poems, when I remember that Freya is a Nordic goddess. Not that I could ever forget, mind you, but a much of what She does and says is similar to many other love Goddesses. Today, however, is apparently a lesson on the importance of Disir. Dis (plural: disir) are, in the most general sense, female ancestor spirits.
The Old Norse/Germanic cultures had an extremely rich and complex understanding of the various non-corporeal entities present in their world. Unfortunately for us Recon-ish types, the lines between the different types of entities were blurry and highly mutable. Even the most experienced academics have a hard time laying down clean, compartmentalized categories and definitions–see Kveldulf Gundarsson’s work on Elves, Wights, and Trolls, for example. Human culture, both then and now, is just messy.
Disir are one of most commonly referenced spirits in the surviving literature. One of Freya’s roles is as the Vanadis–the main Dis of the Vanir, Her tribe of Gods. These ancestor spirits are often seen as being protective entities (unlike draugr or other “unstable dead”). They act as protectors in several ways. One, they could just generally be around for you to call on for luck or guidance, as in, “Let’s ask/pray to our disir for help”. Two, they could morph into something along the lines of a Valkyrie, helping to send battlefetters against their family’s enemies or appearing right before the family member dies (think Celtic banshee/”washer at the well” type) . Three, they would become something along the lines of a flygia (a complex entity I’ll discuss at some point later on). In this case, she is an ancestor spirit that manifests itself visually (and sometimes physically) as human female and attaches herself to one of the living family members, usually a hero of some kind. In this last case, apparently a hero needs to officially accept Her as his dis, otherwise she goes back into the spirit realm and waits for the next generation of heroes to come along. There are a coupe of examples of this version of a dis becoming the hero’s lover, and one example of this kind of relationship happening over the course of three different lifespans–who are essentially the same two people, just reincarnated.
(So yes, Norse culture has some REALLY COOL, MULTILAYERED STUFF going on, people! One of the many reasons I’m interested in Norse recon and not Wicca. Just sayin’.)
In any event, to sum up this lesson on the Disir: Freya says to go talk to them and rely on them. Personally, I have found working with my ancestors (both the disir and alfar) to be a huge source of power and comfort. Despite Asatru’s huge emphasis on honoring our ancestors, I didn’t really start to build that into my spiritual practice until this past year, and man–I am really wishing I did so much earlier. As a fellow priestess says, we (those of us alive today) are the sole focus of our ancestor’s attention. We are the ones who are still alive and can do things, and generally, our ancestors want us to win and will gladly throw any help they can our way. It’s a shame to ignore help so freely offered.
Easily one of my favorite myths. Freya’s fury; Thor in drag; Loki as Thor’s wrangler. Hilarity ensues.
I originally tried to find an good modern retelling of this myth, but they were all “off” somehow–either Freya willing went with Thor and Loki; or Loki was portrayed as evil; or Thor whined and pouted the whole time. I went back to the source text itself (or an English translation thereof), and found that the original was so much better than these retellings, it would be a crying shame not to use it.
The Hurler woke, went wild with rage,
For, suddenly, he missed his sacred Hammer:
He tore his beard, tossed his red locks,
Groped about but could grasp nothing.
Thus, then did Thor speak: ‘Loki, Loki, listen well.
Unmarked by men, unmarked by gods,
Someone has stolen my sacred Hammer!’
(also posted here)
The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris. A book of fiction heavily based on the Norse myths; “the myths through Loki’s point of view”. (Think Wicked and Maleficent).
(Though this book is ostensibly about Loki, it does cover most of the Norse myths. However, the author’s portrayal of Freya–and that of the rest of the Gods–leaves a lot to be desired.)
From my review of it on Amazon: