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Freyr

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Freyr

Freyr or Frey is one of the most important gods of Norse religion. The name is conjectured to derive from the Proto-Norse *frawjaz, "lord." Freyr was associated with sacral kingship, virility and prosperity, with sunshine and fair weather, and was pictured as a phallic fertility god; Freyr is said to "bestow peace and pleasure on mortals." Freyr, sometimes referred to as Yngvi-Freyr, was especially associated with Sweden and seen as an ancestor of the Swedish royal house.

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In the Icelandic books the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, Freyr is presented as one of the Vanir, the son of the sea god Njörðr, as well as the twin brother of the goddess Freyja. The gods gave him Álfheimr, the realm of the Elves, as a teething present. He rides the shining dwarf-made boar Gullinbursti and possesses the ship Skíðblaðnir which always has a favorable breeze and can be folded together and carried in a pouch when it is not being used. He has the servants Skírnir, Byggvir and Beyla.

The most extensive surviving Freyr myth relates Freyr's falling in love with the female jötunn Gerðr. Eventually, she becomes his wife but first Freyr has to give away his magic sword which fights on its own "if wise be he who wields it." Although deprived of this weapon, Freyr defeats the jötunn Beli with an antler. However, lacking his sword, Freyr will be killed by the fire jötunn Surtr during the events of Ragnarök.

Like other Germanic deities, veneration of Freyr is revived in the modern period in Heathenry.

Adam of Bremen

Written around 1080, one of the oldest written sources on pre-Christian Scandinavian religious practices is Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum. Adam claimed to have access to first-hand accounts on pagan practices in Sweden. He refers to Freyr with the Latinized name Fricco and mentions that an image of him at Skara was destroyed by the Christian missionary, Bishop Egino. His description of the Temple at Uppsala gives some details on the god.

Later in the account Adam states that when a marriage is performed a libation is made to the image of Fricco.

Historians are divided on the reliability of Adam's account. While he is close in time to the events he describes he has a clear agenda to emphasize the role of the Archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen in the Christianization of Scandinavia. His timeframe for the Christianization of Sweden conflicts with other sources, such as runic inscriptions and archaeological evidence does not confirm the presence of a large temple at Uppsala. On the other hand, the existence of phallic idols was confirmed in 1904 with a find at Rällinge in Södermanland.

Prose Edda

When Snorri Sturluson was writing in 13th century Iceland, the indigenous Germanic gods were still remembered although they had not been openly worshiped for more than two centuries.

Gylfaginning

In the Gylfaginning section of his Prose Edda, Snorri introduces Freyr as one of the major gods.

This description has similarities to the older account by Adam of Bremen but the differences are interesting. Adam assigns control of the weather and produce of the fields to Thor but Snorri says that Freyr rules over those areas. Snorri also omits any explicitly sexual references in Freyr's description. Those discrepancies can be explained in several ways. It is possible that the Norse gods did not have exactly the same roles in Icelandic and Swedish paganism but it must also be remembered that Adam and Snorri were writing with different goals in mind. Either Snorri or Adam may also have had distorted information.

The only extended myth related about Freyr in the Prose Edda is the story of his marriage.

The woman is Gerðr, a beautiful giantess. Freyr immediately falls in love with her and becomes depressed and taciturn. After a period of brooding, he consents to talk to Skírnir, his foot-page. He tells Skírnir that he has fallen in love with a beautiful woman and thinks he will die if he cannot have her. He asks Skírnir to go and woo her for him.

The loss of Freyr's sword has consequences. According to the Prose Edda, Freyr had to fight Beli without his sword and slew him with an antler. But the result at Ragnarök, the end of the world, will be much more serious. Freyr is fated to fight the fire-giant Surtr and since he does not have his sword he will be defeated.

Even after the loss of his weapon Freyr still has two magical artifacts, both of them dwarf-made. One is the ship Skíðblaðnir, which will have favoring breeze wherever its owner wants to go and can also be folded together like a napkin and carried in a pouch. The other is the boar Gullinbursti whose mane glows to illuminate the way for his owner. No myths involving Skíðblaðnir have come down to us but Snorri relates that Freyr rode to Baldr's funeral in a wagon pulled by Gullinbursti.

Skaldic poetry

Freyr is referred to several times in skaldic poetry. In Húsdrápa, partially preserved in the Prose Edda, he is said to ride a boar to Baldr's funeral.

In a poem by Egill Skalla-Grímsson, Freyr is called upon along with Njörðr to drive Eric Bloodaxe from Norway. The same skald mentions in Arinbjarnarkviða that his friend has been blessed by the two gods.

Nafnaþulur

In Nafnaþulur Freyr is said to ride the horse Blóðughófi (Bloody Hoof).

Poetic Edda

Freyr is mentioned in several of the poems in the Poetic Edda. The information there is largely consistent with that of the Prose Edda while each collection has some details not found in the other.

Völuspá

Völuspá, the best known of the Eddic poems, describes the final confrontation between Freyr and Surtr during Ragnarök.

Some scholars have preferred a slightly different translation, in which the sun shines "from the sword of the gods". The idea is that the sword which Surtr slays Freyr with is the "sword of the gods" which Freyr had earlier bargained away for Gerðr. This would add a further layer of tragedy to the myth. Sigurður Nordal argued for this view but the possibility represented by Ursula Dronke's translation above is equally possible.

Grímnismál

Grímnismál, a poem which largely consists of miscellaneous information about the gods, mentions Freyr's abode.

A tooth-gift was a gift given to an infant on the cutting of the first tooth. Since Alfheimr or Álfheimr means "World of Álfar (Elves)" the fact that Freyr should own it is one of the indications of a connection between the Vanir and the obscure Álfar. Grímnismál also mentions that the sons of Ívaldi made Skíðblaðnir for Freyr and that it is the best of ships.

Lokasenna

In the poem Lokasenna, Loki accuses the gods of various misdeeds. He criticizes the Vanir for incest, saying that Njörðr had Freyr with his sister. He also states that the gods discovered Freyr and Freyja having sex together. The god Týr speaks up in Freyr's defense.

Lokasenna also mentions that Freyr has servants called Byggvir and Beyla. They seem to have been associated with the making of bread.

Skírnismál

The courtship of Freyr and Gerðr is dealt with extensively in the poem Skírnismál. Freyr is depressed after seeing Gerðr. Njörðr and Skaði ask Skírnir to go and talk with him. Freyr reveals the cause of his grief and asks Skírnir to go to Jötunheimr to woo Gerðr for him. Freyr gives Skírnir a steed and his magical sword for the journey.

When Skírnir finds Gerðr he starts by offering her treasures if she will marry Freyr. When she declines he gets her consent by threatening her with destructive magic.

Ynglinga saga

Snorri Sturluson starts his epic history of the kings of Norway with Ynglinga saga, a euhemerized account of the Norse gods. Here Odin and the Æsir are men from Asia who gain power through their prowess in war and Odin's skills. But when Odin attacks the Vanir he bites off more than he can chew and peace is negotiated after the destructive and indecisive Æsir-Vanir War. Hostages are exchanged to seal the peace deal and the Vanir send Freyr and Njörðr to live with the Æsir. At this point the saga, like Lokasenna, mentions that incest was practised among the Vanir.

Odin makes Njörðr and Freyr priests of sacrifices and they become influential leaders. Odin goes on to conquer the North and settles in Sweden where he rules as king, collects taxes and maintains sacrifices. After Odin's death, Njörðr takes the throne. During his rule there is peace and good harvest and the Swedes come to believe that Njörðr controls these things. Eventually Njörðr falls ill and dies.

Freyr had a son named Fjölnir, who succeeds him as king and rules during the continuing period of peace and good seasons. Fjölnir's descendants are enumerated in Ynglingatal which describes the mythological kings of Sweden.

Ögmundar þáttr dytts

The 14th century Icelandic Ögmundar þáttr dytts contains a tradition of how Freyr was transported in a wagon and administered by a priestess, in Sweden. Freyr's role as a fertility god needed a female counterpart in a divine couple (McKinnell's translation 1987):

Great heathen sacrifices were held there at that time, and for a long while Frey had been the god who was worshipped most there — and so much power had been gained by Frey’s statue that the devil used to speak to people out of the mouth of the idol, and a young and beautiful woman had been obtained to serve Frey. It was the faith of the local people that Frey was alive, as seemed to some extent to be the case, and they thought he would need to have a sexual relationship with his wife; along with Frey she was to have complete control over the temple settlement and all that belonged to it.

In this short story, a man named Gunnar was suspected of manslaughter and escaped to Sweden, where Gunnar became acquainted with this young priestess. He helped her drive Freyr's wagon with the god effigy in it, but the god did not appreciate Gunnar and so attacked him and would have killed Gunnar if he had not promised himself to return to the Christian faith if he would make it back to Norway. When Gunnar had promised this, a demon jumped out of the god effigy and so Freyr was nothing but a piece of wood. Gunnar destroyed the wooden idol and dressed himself as Freyr, then Gunnar and the priestess travelled across Sweden where people were happy to see the god visiting them. After a while he made the priestess pregnant, but this was seen by the Swedes as confirmation that Freyr was truly a fertility god and not a scam. Finally, Gunnar had to flee back to Norway with his young bride and had her baptized at the court of Olaf Tryggvason.

Gesta Danorum

The 12th Century Danish Gesta Danorum describes Freyr, under the name Frø, as the "viceroy of the gods".

That Freyr had a cult at Uppsala is well confirmed from other sources. The reference to the change in sacrificial ritual may also reflect some historical memory. There is archaeological evidence for an increase in human sacrifices in the late Viking Age though among the Norse gods human sacrifice is most often linked to Odin. Another reference to Frø and sacrifices is found earlier in the work, where the beginning of an annual blót to him is related. King Hadingus is cursed after killing a divine being and atones for his crime with a sacrifice.

The sacrifice of dark-coloured victims to Freyr has a parallel in Ancient Greek religion where the chthonic fertility deities preferred dark-coloured victims to white ones.

In book 9, Saxo identifies Frø as the "king of Sweden" (rex Suetiae):

The reference to public prostitution may be a memory of fertility cult practices. Such a memory may also be the source of a description in book 6 of the stay of Starcatherus, a follower of Odin, in Sweden.

Yngvi

A strophe of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem (c. 1100) records that:

Ing was first among the East Danes seen by men

This may refer to the origins of the worship of Ingui in the tribal areas that Tacitus mentions in his Germania as being populated by the Inguieonnic tribes. A later Danish chronicler lists Ingui was one of three brothers that the Danish tribes descended from. The strophe also states that "then he (Ingui) went back over the waves, his wagon behind him" which could connect Ingui to earlier conceptions of the wagon processions of Nerthus and the later Scandinavian conceptions of Freyr's wagon journeys.

Ingui is mentioned also in some later Anglo-Saxon literature under varying forms of his name, such as "For what doth Ingeld have to do with Christ" and the variants used in Beowulf to designate the kings as 'leader of the friends of Ing'. The compound Ingui-Frea (OE) and Yngvi-Freyr (ON) likely refer to the connection between the god and the Germanic kings' role as priests during the sacrifices in the pagan period, as Frea and Freyr are titles meaning 'Lord'.

The Swedish royal dynasty was known as the Ynglings from their descent from Yngvi-Freyr. This is supported by Tacitus, who wrote about the Germans: "In their ancient songs, their only way of remembering or recording the past they celebrate an earth-born god Tuisco, and his son Mannus, as the origin of their race, as their founders. To Mannus they assign three sons, from whose names, they say, the coast tribes are called Ingaevones; those of the interior, Herminones; all the rest, Istaevones".

Rällinge statuette

In 1904, a Viking Age statuette identified as a depiction of Freyr was discovered on the farm Rällinge in Lunda, Södermanland parish in the province of Södermanland, Sweden. The depiction features a cross-legged seated, bearded male with an erect penis. He is wearing a pointed cap and stroking his triangular beard. The statue is 9 centimeters tall and is displayed at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities.

Skog tapestry

A part of the Swedish Skog tapestry depicts three figures that has been interpreted as allusions to Odin, Thor, and Freyr, but also as the three Scandinavian holy kings Canute, Eric and Olaf. The figures coincide with 11th century descriptions of statue arrangements recorded by Adam of Bremen at the Temple at Uppsala and written accounts of the gods during the late Viking Age. The tapestry is originally from Hälsingland, Sweden but is now housed at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities.

Gullgubber

Small pieces of gold foil featuring engravings dating from the Migration Period into the early Viking Age (known as gullgubber) have been discovered in various locations in Scandinavia, at one site almost 2,500. The foil pieces have been found largely on the sites of buildings, only rarely in graves. The figures are sometimes single, occasionally an animal, sometimes a man and a woman with a leafy bough between them, facing or embracing one another. The human figures are almost always clothed and are sometimes depicted with their knees bent. Scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson says that it has been suggested that the figures are taking part in a dance, and that they may have been connected with weddings, as well as linked to the Vanir group of gods, representing the notion of a divine marriage, such as in the Poetic Edda poem Skírnismál; the coming together of Gerðr and Freyr.

Toponyms

Norway

  • Freysakr ("Freyr's field") - name of two old farms in Gol and Torpa.
  • Freyshof ("Freyr's temple") - name of two old farms in Hole and Trøgstad.
  • Freysland ("Freyr's land/field") - name of six old farms in Feda, Halse, Førde, Sogndal, Søgne and Torpa.
  • Freyslíð ("Freyr's hill") - name of two old farms in Lunner and Torpa.
  • Freysnes ("Freyr's headland") - name of an old farm in Sandnes.
  • Freyssetr ("Freyr's farm") - name of two old farms in Masfjorden and Soknedal.
  • Freyssteinn ("Freyr's stone") - name of an old farm in Lista.
  • Freysteigr ("Freyr's field") - name of an old farm in Ramnes.
  • Freysvík ("Freyr's inlet/bay") - name of two old farms in Fresvik and Ullensvang.
  • Freysvin ("Freyr's meadow") - name of four old farms in Hole, Lom, Sunnylven and Østre Gausdal.
  • Freysvǫllr ("Freyr's field") - name of an old farm in Sør-Odal.
  • Freysþveit ("Freyr's thwaite") - name of an old farm in Hedrum.
  • Sweden

  • Fröslunda ("Freyr's grove") - Uppland
  • Frösåker ("Freyr's field") - Uppland
  • Frösön ("Freyr's island") - Jämtland
  • Fröseke ("Freyr's oak forest") - Småland
  • Frösve ("Freyr's sanctuary") - Västergötland
  • Frösakull ("Freyr's hill") – Halland
  • Netherlands

  • Franeker ("Freyr's field") - Friesland
  • References

    Freyr Wikipedia


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