Myth embodiment: “Freya and the Dwarves” (How Freya Won Brisingamen)

 Myth Embodiment of the Brisingamen Myth

To start out the event, lead a discussion of the surviving lore around this myth.

We don’t actually know that much about the story of how Freya acquired Brisingamen, which makes it a great fodder for the Embodiment exercise. The story can be found in the “Saga of Olaf Tryggvason” in the Flateyjarbok, has been heavily Christianized. Here is a translation of the original version. It had been transcribed by two Christian monks back in the 1300s (three hundred or so years after Iceland was Christianized):

Freyja was a human in Asia and was the favorite concubine of Odin, King of Asialand. When this woman wanted to buy a golden necklace [no name given] forged by four dwarves (named Dvalinn, Alfrik, Berling, and Grer), she offered them gold and silver but they replied that they would only sell it to her if she would lie a night by each of them. She came home afterward with the necklace and kept silent as if nothing happened. But a man called Loki somehow knew it, and came to tell Odin. King Odin commanded Loki to steal the necklace, so Loki turned into a fly to sneak into Freyja’s bower and stole it. When Freyja found her necklace missing, she came to ask king Odin. In exchange for it, Odin ordered her to make two kings, each served by twenty kings, fight forever unless some christened men so brave would dare to enter the battle and slay them. She said yes, and got that necklace back. Under the spell, king Högni and king Heðinn battled for one hundred and forty-three years, as soon as they fell down they had to stand up again and fight on. But in the end, the Christian lord Olaf Tryggvason, who has a great fate and luck, arrived with his christened men, and whoever slain by a Christian would stay dead. Thus the pagan curse was finally dissolved by the arrival of Christianity. After that, the noble man, king Olaf, went back to his realm.

Brodeur, Arthur Gilchrist. (Trans.) The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson (1916). Online at Google Books.

Clearly, Odin was not king of Asialand and Freya was not his favorite concubine. So we need to weed out as much of the Christian overlay on this myth as we can before we even get started.

In my opinion, the bare bones (“just the facts”) of the myth is this: Freya finds out that four dwarves (possibly from the Brising tribe) have made a brilliant and shining necklace (or girdle). Freya searches for and finds the necklace/girdle and the dwarves who made it. She bargains with them for ownership of the necklace, and agrees to spend a night with each of them. After she has fulfilled her bargain, she sneaks back home with the necklace. At some point during this escapade, Loki finds out and tells Odin what happened. Odin asks Loki to steal the necklace from Freya; he does so by changing into a fly and sneaking into her hall. The next morning, Freya finds that her necklace is gone and confronts Odin about it. Odin returns it to her on the condition that she start a war between human kings.

We know from other references in the lore that Freya had a very special necklace (or girdle) called the Brisginamen, which Loki stole from her on a separate occasion and Heimdall reclaimed.

In my opinion, many facets remain to be explored:

How did Freya find out about the necklace? Why did she desire it so much; what was so special about the necklace–was it just beautiful, or did it have magical powers as well? Why did the dwarves ask for one night each, and what happened during those nights? Why did she keep this transaction secret?

How did Loki find out about this transaction? Why did he tell Odin? Why did Odin have Loki steal it from her? Why did Odin care either way what Freya did, or with whom?

How did Freya know to confront Odin about it? What did Odin and Freya say to each other at that confrontation? Why did Odin demand that Freya start wars on between human kings in return for the necklace?

There’s not necessarily a “right” answer to any of these questions. Finding the “right” answer is not the point; the point is in hearing the various opinions and POVs of the people portraying the gods, and forming your own opinion based on what was discussed. The neat part about this kind of exercise is that you’ll come up with a different set of opinions and POVs with each new set of people who do this activity. Or, maybe your opinion on a given element will have changed in the time between exercises; who knows?

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