Freya and Frigg, by Stephen Grundy

by Stephen Grundy

Although most of Scandinavia’s myths focus on the deeds of those two great gods Óðinn and þórr, nevertheless there are at least two female figures who play a fairly prominent role in the Eddas: Freyja and Frigg. The two of them seem to have little in common: Frigg appears as Óðinn’s wife, patroness of the home, and a relative model of social virtue. It might be somewhat rash to state that Frigg is the Mother Goddess of the north, but she is certainly a maternal figure in the myth in which she plays the most active part—the story of Balder’s death, where she tries to protect him from all harm. The kenning Friggjar niðjar (descendants of Frigg) is used for the gods in general in Egill Skalla-Grímsson’s Sonatorrek—written in the mid- to late tenth century—so her maternal character is clear (Jónsson 1967–73: B I, 34). Freyja, on the other hand, is sexually very free and active. Many of her activities, such as the practice of seiðr (magic), put her firmly outside the sphere of normal society; she might be called the ‘wild woman’ of Northern myth.

However, Frigg and Freyja share certain characteristics which cast doubt on the original distinction between them. Both of them have falcon cloaks, which each of them lends to Loki in a time of need, and both are possessors of jewellery obtained by unchastity. Frigg is well documented as Óðinn’s wife, not only in the Old Norse materials, but also in the Origio gentis Langobardorum (Waitz 1873:2–3), while Snorri describes Freyja as the wife of Óðr, who often wandered on long journeys and left her weeping to search for him. Snorri does not identify Óðr with Óðinn but, as pointed out by Jan de Vries among others, there is little doubt that the two were originally the same: a similar doublet appears with the names of the gods Ullr and Ullin (1956:II, 104). The name Óðinn is simply an adjectival form of Óðr (see Britt Mari Näsström, p. 69 below), suggesting, as de Vries stated, that Óðr was most probably the elder form (1931:33). This in turn suggests that Snorri’s account may have unknowingly preserved an older myth of Freyja as the wife of Óðr, or that Snorri, in his desire to present a coherent and systematic mythology, used the two forms to emphasize the distinction between Frigg, the wife of Óðinn, and Freyja, the wife of someone else.

The problem of whether Frigg and Freyja may have been a single goddess originally is a difficult one, made more so by the scantiness of pre-Viking Age references to Germanic goddesses, and the diverse quality of the sources. The best that can be done is to survey the arguments for and against their identity, and to see how well each can be supported.

The most telling similarity between Frigg and Freyja lies in the tales of them bartering their bodies for jewellery. In Sorla þáttr, Freyja is Óðinn’s faithless mistress, who sold her body to four dwarves for a remarkable necklace, which Loki then steals at Óðinn’s command (Flateyjarbók 1860: I, 275–6). In Saxo’s Gesta Danorum, Frigga suffers the embraces of a servant so that he will take the gold from the statue of Othinus (Óðinn) for her own jewellery, whereupon the god departs in anger at the double insult to his image and his bed (Saxo/Olrik 1931:XXV). It seems clear that either a single myth has been duplicated for Óðinn’s two women, or else Óðinn’s original wife has been separated into two goddesses, both of whom retain the attribute of the necklace and its associated infidelity with a person or persons of lower social status—a particularly obnoxious act.

Although both versions were written down by antiquarians, and neither can be considered totally reliable, some elements of the Sorla þáttr version of the story can be verified as stemming from the heathen period. In the ninth century poem Haustlöng, þjóðólfr ór Hvini calls Loki ‘thief of Brísingamen’ (Finnur Jónsson 1967–73:16) and in Húsdrápa, Úlfr Úggason describes Heimdallr battling with Loki over a jewel, which Snorri claims is Brísingamen (ibid.: 128). Snorri also mentions that Heimdallr can be called ‘recoverer of Freyja’s necklace’, though he does not cite a particular skald’s usage (1966:1, 264). The Sorla þáttr account ends differently from the tale described by Snorri; the necklace incident is related as a prelude to the tale of the Everlasting Battle on Hoy, which Freyja instigates at Óðinn’s command to recover her necklace. Since this version appears nowhere else, and the relative antiquity of the alternative version is attested, it seems probable that the Sorla þáttr composer instigated the battle as a penance to bridge these two ancient stories. Certainly, in the oldest account of this battle—that of the ninth-century Bragi inn gamli—there is no reference to godly intervention (Jónsson 1967–73: BI, 1–4). However, there is no reason to doubt the basic tale of the winning and theft of the necklace; and since the Brísingamen is attributed to Freyja wherever it is mentioned, the authenticity of the myth as a story of Freyja is difficult to doubt.

By contrast, whatever tale of the Norse gods lay behind Saxo’s version of the infidelity story, it must have undergone considerable alteration to appear in the form in which he presented it. Certainly there are no other instances of gods despoiling one another’s shrines anywhere else in the Norse corpus, and this seems a wholly unlikely element of authentic myth. It may also be noted that Saxo does not seem to have known of the existence of Freyja, although he mentions her male twin, Freyr, a number of times. Given his tendency to moralize at every turn, it seems unlikely that he would have left such a fruitful field as Freyja’s sexuality unploughed had he known of her; whereas it is probable that the author of Sorla þáttr, who does not mention Frigg, did at least know the antiquarian pantheon as presented by Snorri. He certainly does not say at any point that Freyja is Óðinn’s wife; only that Óðinn ‘loved Freyja greatly because she was fairest of all women at that time’ (Flateyjarbók 1860:II, ch. 228, p. 275). In fact, Saxo is by no means a reliable source for Norse myth, although his source-material was extremely wide-ranging and in some instances, such as the story of Balder, seems to have preserved valid alternative accounts of the myths known from Iceland. Such elements of authenticity as survived in his work did so in spite of the process of transmission and his extremely heavy editorial hand. Thus, although the possibility that Saxo’s account of Frigg’s infidelity was based on a genuine heathen legend cannot be altogether rejected, it cannot be considered as substantiative evidence in and of itself.

Snorri, writing some two hundred years after the conversion of Iceland, has no doubt that Frigg and Freyja are two different goddesses, but matches them as equals in oddly ambiguous terms: ‘Frigg is the most excellent… Freyja is the most glorious together with Frigg; she was wedded to that man who is called Óðr (Snorri 1966:I, 114). Since Snorri is often suspected of giving to the myths of his heathen ancestors a structure and specificity which they may have originally lacked, he might also be suspected of clarifying a previously opaque division between the two chief goddesses (or names or aspects of a single goddess) of the Northern folk. However, the mid-twelfth-century skald Einarr Skúlason referred to Freyja as ‘Óðs beðvina’ (Óðinn’s bed-friend) in his Øxarflokkr (Jónsson 1967–73: BI, 449); and ‘Óðs mær’ (Óðinn’s maid) is given to the giants in Voluspá 25 (Neckel and Kühn 1962:6) a description also found for Freyja in Snorri’s account of the building of the walls of Asgarðr and in þrymskviða. This suggests that the distinction between ‘wife of Óðr’ and ‘wife of Óðinn’ existed at least as early as the conversion of Iceland, if the general opinion that Voluspá dates from roughly 1000 CE is correct. Further, the name Óðr is nowhere identified as a by-name of Óðinn; it does not appear in the þulur (lists of poetic names), nor anywhere else apart from the connection with Freyja. The absence from the þulur and related materials such as the list of Óðinn-names in Grímnismál might be explained by the obvious relationship with Óðinn; however, the name Óðinn itself is listed among the rest of Óðinns heiti (by-names) as are other doublets such as Herjan and Herjaföðr, or Sigfoðr and Siggautr. The absence of the name Óðinn from kennings except in the context of Freyja at least suggests that Óðr was not a common name for Óðinn. It is conceivable that Óðr might have been invented as a separate figure in the Christian period; but this is implausible since the independent Wod also survives in Wild Hunt folklore as far south as Switzerland. This evidence thus seems to suggest that the distinction between the ‘wife of Óðr’ and the ‘wife of Óðinn’ may be archaic: that is, pre-dating the Viking Age.

One of the chief arguments against a single identity for Frigg and Freyja is that of their pedigrees: Frigg is the daughter of Fjörgynn, a god whose precise nature is unknown: de Vries suggests the probability that this name was a masculine doublet of the feminine Fjörgyn—a name given to þórr’s mother, Earth. Alternatively it could have been the name of an earlier, perhaps pre- Germanic, thunder-god (de Vries 1956:II, 275). Frigg is always counted among the Æsir, never among the Vanir, who are carefully noted as a quite different race of gods. Freyja, however, is firmly classed among the Vanir; she is the twin sister of Freyr, born of Njörðr and Njörðr’s unnamed sister according to Lokasenna 36 (Neckel and Kühn 1962:101). This firmly rooted distinction of race between Freyja and Frigg would seem to establish them as basically different in kind as well as in person. However, the identification of Frigg’s father as Fjörgynn when a feminine Fjörgyn, who seems to be the personified earth, also exists, raises some suspicion when Freyja’s parents are considered. The Old Norse Njörðr is a regular development from the name Nerthus, whom Tacitus in the first century CE described in Germania 40 as Terra Mater (Tacitus/Hutton 1980:196). Much has been made of this apparent change in sex; however, given the well-documented existence of the twins Freyr and Freyja, as well as several other male/female pairs (see below) and the reference to Njörðr getting children on his sister, it is plausible that Njörðr and Nerthus could have represented another such pair. If that is so, and if we accept Tacitus’ description of Nerthus as Mother Earth, then it requires little ingenuity to see the pair Fjörgyn/Fjörgynn as possible alternatives for Nerthus/ Njörðr, and thus to identify Frigg with Freyja. This cannot stand alone as proof that Frigg is of Vanic origin, and there are other difficulties with this association which I will discuss later on; but it does present a substantial hindrance to the use of the As/Van distinction alone in differentiating the two goddesses.

The second major argument against their original identity is that of the two goddesses’ distinctive characterization and functions in the Norse myths. Frigg is a virtual paradigm of wife and mother. Except in Saxo’s tale, she appears to be chaste; no discussion of her lovers or scandalous behaviour has come down to us, although in Lokasenna 26 Loki says to Frigg that she ‘has ever been greedy for men’ (Neckel and Kühn 1962:101) and accuses her of having slept with Óðinn’s brothers, Vili and Vé. Snorri’s account, however, may clarify this accusation: in Ynglinga saga 3, he tells us that Óðinn’s brothers ruled in the god’s absence while he was journeying, and shared Frigg between them, but that Óðinn took his wife back when he returned (Snorri/Finnur 1923). In this case the possession of Frigg seems to be part and parcel of the possession of the realm; therefore she can hardly be blamed for unchastity. Frigg appears as a protective wife in Vafþrúðnismál, which begins with Óðinn asking Frigg’s advice about visiting the giant Vafþrúðnir; she replies that she would rather have him at home, but blesses him when he insists on going (Neckel and Kühn 1962:45). One of Frigg’s by-names is Hlín, the Protector and, as discussed earlier, she appears as the protector of her doomed son, Balder. As seen in the prose to Grímnismál, Frigg may act as a patronness to a chosen human, but her role is a maternal one again—she is Agnarr’s fostermother. Frigg appears specifically as a goddess of maternity in Völsunga saga, where Rerir and his wife call on her for a child. In German folklore, Friday, though otherwise unlucky, is thought the best day for marriages, which de Vries attributes to the influence of Frija (1956:II, 306).

By contrast to Frigg, Freyja is a goddess of considerable and free sexuality: in Lokasenna 30, Loki says of her that she has slept with ‘all gods and elves’ in the hall (Neckel and Kühn 1962:102). The tale of her selling her affections to four dwarves for the Brísingamen has already been mentioned, and when she appears in Hyndluljóðas the patron goddess of the hero Óttarr, she is not his foster-mother, but his lover (Neckel and Kühn). Her patronage is also apparently, like Óðinn’s, as dangerous as it is protective: Hyndla accuses her of riding Óttarr (whom she transformed into a boar) on his valsinni, a journey to be slain. Only once, in Oddrúnargrátr, does she appear as a patroness of childbirth; a prayer to help in giving birth calls on ‘kind wights/Frigg and Freyja/and many gods’ (Neckel and Kühn: 235). This poem, however, is often thought to be among the youngest of the Eddie lays. Jónas Kristjánsson perceives the general influence of Christianity in its lack of power and drama (1988:64), while Hollander comments that the invocation of ‘Frigg and Freyja’ in it is probably a deliberate archaism introduced to give the poem a heathen flavour (1962:279), so that this instance of Freyja as a birth-goddess must be regarded as somewhat spurious. Another of the clearest distinctions between Frigg and Freyja, in their mythic function, is Freyja’s role as the object of attention from giants: according to Snorri, she is part of the price asked by the giant who rebuilds the walls of Asgarðr (1966), and in þrymskviða, the giant þrymr, who has stolen þórr’s hammer, will return it only if he is given Freyja in return (Neckel and Kühn: 112). The implication of these myths is that Freyja is available; Frigg, by contrast, is apparently secure in the position of Óðinn’s wife.

Freyja is also associated with magic in a way that Frigg is not. In Voluspá, a mysterious witch called Gullveig (possibly meaning the intoxication of gold) brings trouble among the Æsir; later she travels under the name of Heiðr, practising seiðr. In Ynglinga saga 4, Snorri says specifically that Freyja first taught this art to the Æsir (ed. Finnur 1923). Whether he had more information than we have or was simply extrapolating from Voluspá we do not know, but little serious argument, if any, has been raised for the identification of Gullveig/ Heiðr with Freyja. Frigg, by contrast, may have the prophetic capabilities which distinguished Germanic women of rank—according to Lokasenna 29 she ‘knows all fates…though she does not herself speak’ (Neckel and Kühn: 102)—but she never practises magic in the Old Norse sources.

Freyja is certainly a goddess of wealth: most skaldic references to her are based on her association with treasure. Gold is Freyja’s tears; a precious object is referred to as her daughter. Einarr Skulason says in Øxaflokkr that ‘Freyr’s niece [either Hnoss or Gersimi] bears her mother’s eyelash-rain’ (Finnur 1967–73: B I, 450) which means ‘there is gold on the precious object’. In ordinary usage both names, Hnoss and Gersimi, Freyja’s daughters according to Snorri’s Edda, meant treasure. This makes it not only possible, but likely, that the identification of these as Freyja’s daughters was a simple product of poetic convention in which Freyja was recognized as the source of treasure: perhaps as the weeper of golden tears, perhaps as a goddess ruling over wealth. The role of a deity of riches is something which Freyja has in common with Óðinn; he possesses the arm-ring Draupnir, which drips eight gold rings of weight equal to its own every ninth night, and Freyja herself mentions in Hyndluljóð2 that he is a giver of gold (Neckel and Kühn: 288); but there are no such tales in relation to Frigg.

In several ways Freyja seems much more like a feminine counterpart of Óðinn than does Frigg: both Freyja and Óðinn generate gold and magicians, both are wanderers and free with their personal favours. Further, Freyja also appears to function as a battle-goddess and goddess of death, which Frigg apparently does not. The name of Freyja’s hall, Fólkvangr, means ‘Army- Plain’; it is, in fact, a battlefield, and Grímnismál 14 tells us that Freyja chooses half the slain every day, while Óðinn has the other half (Neckel and Kühn). Freyja’s particular interest in collecting warriors does seem to imply a role as battle-goddess, as other references to the Norse afterlife imply that the dead go where they are best suited—either to join their kin, or to the hall of the god who corresponds to their social and personal status. The fact that Freyja and Óðinn share a function as apparent equals lends some plausibility to the theory that Freyja might originally have been seen as the wife of Óðinn. However, it must also be noted that the Norse gods often duplicate functions, particularly between the Vanir and the Æsir: for instance, Njörðr and þórr are both called on for good winds at sea; Freyr and Óðinn are both closely associated with kingship and both are battle-gods. Thus the account of Freyja and Óðinn sharing out the slain could also be interpreted as reflecting a function common to both the Vanic and the Æsic pantheons.

Regarding the opposite argument, possible support for the close identity of Frigg and Freyja may be found in the fact that they appear together in only two Eddic poems, Oddrúnagrátr (discussed above) and Lokasenna (Neckel and Kühn). The age of Lokasenna is more open to debate than that of Oddrúnagrátr: on the one hand it has been argued that the satirical treatment of the gods suggests a Christian author; on the other, the language and meter suggest an early date (Kristjánsson/Foote 1988:39), and Gurevich puts forward the theory that this mockery ‘should be interpreted not as a sign of the “twilight” of paganism, but as a mark of its strength’ (1992:167). In either case the poem seems to have preserved a quantity of ancient lore, and cannot be dismissed too lightly. Though the names of the two goddesses are not mentioned together in Grímnismál or Voluspá, these poems do seem to contain references to both deities. In Grímnismál’s extensive categories of gods and their dwellings only Freyja is named directly; but Sága, who drinks with Óðinn in Sökkvabekkr, may be a by-form of Frigg used for alliterative purposes (though Frigg’s own name is used to alliterate with that of her hall, Fensalir, in Voluspá). Hollander suggests that the names of the two halls, Sunkenbenches and Fen-Halls, may be compared (1962:55), and the verse itself suggests a close permanent relationship between Sága and Óðinn: ‘Sökkvabekkr hight the fourth… where Óðinn and Sága drink through all days, glad, out of golden cups’ (Grímnismál verse 7, Neckel and Kühn: 58)). In Voluspá, only Frigg is mentioned by name, but the giving of ‘Óðr’s maid’ to the giants is also described, as is the mysterious witch Gullveig/Heiðr. Snorri recounts the former story with Freyja as the prize; and, as previously mentioned, there is little dispute regarding the theory that Gullveig/Heiðr is also a form of Freyja. The question of the religious orientation of Voluspá’s author is generally considered to be mixed; either he was a heathen affected by Christian millenarian theology, or a Christian still steeped in ancestral lore. This and the poem’s probable date have raised numerous questions regarding its accuracy as a reflection of heathen eschatological belief, but the veracity of the earlier half is seldom called into question.

In skaldic poetry Freyja and Frigg are portrayed as decidedly different persons. Óðinn is Friggs faðmbyggvi (dweller in Frigg’s embrace) in one of the earliest surviving skaldic poems, the early tenth-century Haraldskvæði. And I have already mentioned the late tenth-century kenning, ‘descendants of Frigg’, for the gods. Although both Freyja and Frigg are used as parts of kenning for ‘woman’, the same can be said of all the goddesses and valkyries. Other than that, they do not overlap: Frigg is referred to in terms of her family relationships such as Óðinn’s wife, Baldr’s mother, and mother of the gods; clearly distinct from Freyja, ‘Óðr’s maid’, Njörðr’s daughter and Freyr’s sister. In fact, according to Snorri, Freyja’s Vanic origin is strongly emphasized by such descriptives as ‘Van-Bride’ and ‘Vanad’s’; and Freyja’s most common appearance in skaldic poetry is in kennings for gold, as discussed earlier, whereas Frigg has no such connections.

Therefore, as far as the surviving Old Norse literary materials are concerned, it seems quite clear that Freyja and Frigg were firmly differentiated in antiquarians’ accounts and probably also in the Viking Age. However, this could have been a property of the myth-making process: a tale requires a definite subject, and myth is by no means guaranteed to reflect with total accuracy either common belief or cultic practice. It remains plausible that poets and story-tellers might have exaggerated the distinction between two aspects of Óðinn’s wife to suit their narrative purposes—the more so in those sources I have referred to, which probably stem from the post-heathen period, when the narrative value of the tales in question was more important than the description of actual religious belief. Compounds of Frigg as place-names are relatively few, while there are a great many that appear to be compounds of Freyja. (The difficulty of distinguishing between the name-elements Freyja and Freyr confuses the issue considerably, since we know that Freyr was one of the more popular gods.) At least it can be said that there is no significant regional distinction between Frigg, and Freyja/Freyr compounded place-names, which would otherwise have argued for a common identity between Frigg and Freyja.

One major and seldom-discussed point is that raised by Adam of Bremen’s account of the heathen temple at Uppsala. According to him, the three great god-images in it were those of þórr, with his sceptre; Wodan, armed for battle, and Fricco, distributing peace and pleasure among men, whose idol is fashioned with a gigantic “priapus”. ‘If plague and famine threaten, a libation is poured to the idol þórr; if war, to Wotan; if marriages are to be celebrated, to Fricco’ (Tschan 1959:207–8). For several reasons the last is generally identified with Freyr. Firstly, þórr, Óðinn and Freyr seem to have been the most popular gods of the Viking Age, both in myth and cult. Freyr is especially associated with Sweden—Uppsala in particular; it is, therefore, natural to assume that his statue would hold one of the three high places at the great temple there. Further, Snorri tells us, in his Edda and in Ynglinga saga, that Freyr is the god to call upon ‘for prosperity and peace’, and that he rules over ‘rain and sunshine, and thus… the produce of the earth’ (1966:I, 96). However, it is impossible to derive the name Fricco from Freyr, for, as Paul Bibire has pointed out to me, Fricco is a regular Latin derivation of what would have been the weak masculine form of Frigg. This raises the possibility that Adam of Bremen, or one of his informants, knew of an Old Norse god called *Friggi. If this god were identical with Freyr, there would be fairly conclusive evidence for an original sole identity for Frigg and Freyja, as it seems extremely unlikely that a goddess would share a name with a god to whom she bore no relationship; or that a single god would be the masculine half of two distinct male/female doublets. As the root word had already ceased to be productive, it is impossible that *Friggi could be a title: it must have been either a personal name, preserved for some centuries, or a secondary formation from the name Frigg. The presence of the doublet relationship is not in itself sufficient proof that *Friggi/Frigg is identical with Freyr/ Freyja; there are other examples, both from the Vanic cult (the probable doublets of Njörðr with Nerthus and Fjörgyn with Fjörgynn) and among the Æsir, where a goddess Zisa— etymological double of Tyr or Ziw—appears to have been worshipped in the area of Augsburg (Grimm/ Stallybrass 1966:I, 291–9). As with his translation of Óðinn as Wodan, Adam would have used German forms when he knew them. Further, he did not attempt to Latinize either þórr or Wodan; therefore it is reasonable to accept his lack of Latinization of *Friggi. However, since the Fricco-type names not only appear in Old High German and were not particularly rare (see Zweite Merseburger Zaubersprach: Braune 1979:89), there is a degree of uncertainty as to whether Adam actually knew a form *Friggi or whether he used Fricco as a German form, from a confused knowledge of the pantheon.

One of the chief arguments in favour of the theory that the name Freyja was a later development of Frigg is the fact that Freyja’s name is not attested anywhere outside Scandinavia, whereas Frigg’s appears in the Origio gentis Langobardorum (see above), in the Old High German Zweite Merseburger Zauberspruch (Braune 1979) and in the Old English Frig-dæg (Friday). It is also possible, though not proven, that the influence recurs in the place-names Freefolk, Frethern, Frobury, Froyle and Friden (Wilson 1992:21). The spread certainly implies that a common Germanic goddess *Frijjo was known. Although it is always dangerous to argue from silence, we can say that there is no evidence for a common Germanic goddess *Fraujon. If Freyja were an ordinary sort of name, or even descriptive, as for example Wodan the furious, and Frija the beloved, this might be taken as suggesting that she was a different figure. However, since the name is a distinct title, the Lady, it is possible that, originally, Freyja had another personal name. From the evidence of the names it is entirely plausible that Óðinn’s wife could have been given the title (and possibly taboo-name) Freyja in Scandinavia. The survival of the feminine form of Freyja as the ordinary title frau until the modern period suggests that the process in Scandinavia did not happen on the continent, and also that an independent goddess Freyja was not known there. (By contrast, fro, and probably the Gothic equivalent, frauja, were almost certainly used not as a specific god’s taboo name but with a definite connotation of religious, as well as secular, authority in the native culture, the former surviving only in certain formulaic expressions and as a plural adjective (Green 1965). In Scandinavia, of course, the titles Freyr and Freyja must have dropped from ordinary use at quite an early date, as they do not appear in a human context (with the sole exception of the half-kenning title húsfreyja, for housewife).

The main difficulty in evaluating the absence of Freyja from most of the Germanic world where Frigg was known is the matching absence of evidence for any of the other deities from her family of gods, the Vanir, in the same areas. The origin of the distinction between the Æsir and the Vanir is uncertain; but whether they are pre-Indo-European deities or Indo-European fertility gods, the tribal division is likely to be ancient, as is the name, which is difficult to analyse etymologically. Finding the Vanic gods themselves outside Scandinavia is problematical. Nerthus, the Terra Mater of the North Sea Germans, whose name or its masculine equivalent developed into ON Njörðr, father of Freyja and Freyr, does not appear south of the North Sea; but the question of whether the god who was given the title, Freyr, in Scandinavia was known elsewhere in the Germanic world is somewhat more thorny. If he is the same god as Ing or *Ingwaz (for which there is a reasonable, though disputed, amount of evidence), he was then known to the Goths—a runic name Enguz appears in the Salzburg-Wiener MS. This name, if not the letter for which it was used, corresponds to that of the Anglo-Saxon rune Ing; and the ‘Rune Poems’ verse for it describes what may be a ritual procession of the sort Tacitus associates with Nerthus, and the Gunnars þáttr Helmings attributes to Freyr (Flateyjarbók 1860). Much ink has been spilled over whether the ‘Phol’ of the Zweite Merseburger Zauberspruch might not also be the same deity as the Old Norse Freyr, but the evidence is too scant to permit a plausible hypothesis. It is also worth noting that, while forms of the word *Ansuz (singular of Æsir) are found in all branches of the Germanic tongue, Vanr appears, as far as we can tell, only in Old Norse.

If the Vanir were known only to the Scandinavians and North Sea Germans (and perhaps to the Goths) it becomes much less likely that the common Germanic *Frijjo was originally one of their number. Further, Freyja and Freyr are difficult to separate: they share a holy animal, the swine (both of them ride a boar called ‘gold-bristled’), and some of their functions, such as the provision of wealth and pleasure are also common to the two of them. And, according to Loki, the attraction that Freyja unwillingly holds for male giants has an opposite parallel in the courtships between the male Vanir and female giants. Freyja is defined by her association with the Vanir, whereas the primary importance of Frigg seems to be through her association with Wodan. This is so in the Old Norse and on the continent, where Frija never appears independently of her husband, and it is a reasonable guess that the cult of Frigg spread with that of Wodan. It is not impossible that the wife of *Wodhanaz had originally been one of the Vanir, and, if so, the process of migration could have separated her from her kin in the beliefs of those tribes which wandered, while leaving the relationship intact in Scandinavia. However, if the separation between Frigg and Freyja were a product of the Germanic migrations, it seems unlikely that the wandering Frigg-persona should then have returned to take over the position of Óðinn’s chief wife in the north. Alternatively, if theories that the cult of Wodan sprang up first in the south and later came to Scandinavia were correct, there would be a strong argument for completely different origins for Frigg and Freyja.

Finally, it must be noted that the Norse Frigg’s characteristics are very closely reflected in the scanty materials we have concerning this goddess on the continent. These are seen in the similarities between the Frea of the Origio gentis Langobardorum, who tricks Godan into betraying his favourites to grant victory to hers, and the Frigg of the prologue to Grímnismál, who tricks Óðinn into destroying his foster-son, who had been the rival of hers. Also, in the Zweite Merseburger Zauberspruch, Frija has a sister whose name, Volla, is identical to that of the Norse goddess, Fulla, whom Snorri describes as Frigg’s handmaiden (1966). Though somewhat more Old Norse material concerning Freyja has survived, she has nothing in common, so far as we can tell, with the continental Frija, except a certain knowledge of magic, which was shared by many of the Germanic deities.

It may never be definitely proved that Frigg and Freyja were originally different goddesses, but I believe that a stronger case can be made for this argument than for its converse; and if it is true, we are then left with the question of explaining the relationship between Freyja and Óðr, which has been one of the strongest points for a sole identity for Frigg and Freyja. It is often forgotten, however, that the early Germanic people occasionally practised polygamy: in Germania 18, Tacitus comments that ‘the very few exceptions [to Germanic monogamy]…consist of those with whom polygamous marriage is eagerly sought for the sake of high birth’ (1980:157). Polygynous marriages are known to have taken place among the Merovingian and Carolingian families; the only Germanic law-code where such relationships were expressly forbidden was that of the Visigoths. In Scandinavia polygyny was likewise rare, but Haraldr inn Hárfagrir, for instance, was married to several wives simultaneously. As the activities of the gods tend to reflect the social norms of their worshippers, it is by no means inconceivable that in the earlier period Óðinn could have rejoiced in Freyja and Frigg simultaneously, and that, as this form of marriage became less common through the Viking Age and after the Christianization of the North, it was therefore less easily recognized among the gods.

One thought on “Freya and Frigg, by Stephen Grundy

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