Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Freyr is a very important god in Old Norse religion; not so much in Norse mythology as one might suppose, for there he actually appears in only one surviving story, but very much in the cult.
Freyr is a member of the Vanir, the male fertility god and god of love. He is normally the brother to Freya and son to Njord. Along with Odin and Thor he was one of the most popular gods, and received many offerings - according to Adam of Bremen, these three gods had their images in the Temple at Uppsala. Freyr's servant, Beyla, was the goddess of bees and/or dairy. He also had a boar named Slídhrugtanni or Gullinborsti, and a ship named Skidbladnir (Skídhbladhnir), built by Dvalin, a dwarf.
Snorri Sturluson describes him as being handsome, powerful, merciful and kind, and calls him "God of the World" (veraldar gođ). Freyr has control of the weather, both rain and sunshine, thus the fertility of the earth. Prayers were also offered to Freyr for a good future, peace and prosperity.
As a fertility god, Freyr was often depicted with a prominent sexual organ; his cult included songs and actions which shocked contemporary and later Christians, who condemned them as indecent, which they of course were not to the participants in the cult themselves.
After the war between Aesir and Vanir, Freyr together with his father and sister were sent to the former as peace hostages (and these three are actually the only Vanir, in the strict sense of the word, known by name).
Freyr lived in Álfheim, "Elf-home", a name which indicates a possible connection between Vanir and Elves, possibly with his wife, the giantess Gerd (Gerđ)—if she is his wife; the myths are not quite clear whether their union was a lasting marriage or just a temporary meeting. However, in Heimskringla we learn that they had a son named Fjölnir, who became an early Swedish king.
Freyr saw Gerd first when he sat on Odin's throne, Hlidskjálf. He looked north, saw Gerd and fell so much in love that he was no longer able to speak or eat or sleep. Freyr's henchman, Skírnir, went to Jotunheim where Gerd lived and brought her to Freyr. As a reward, Skirnir was given Freyr's sword which fought by itself.
That would not have been too bad, since Skirnir was after all on the right side; but shortly afterwards, the sword had to be given to the giants as payment for Freyr's privilege of meeting Gerd (and even then only after Skirnir had menaced Gerd with the most extreme suffering both in this life and the next, if she didn't agree). As a consequence, Freyr has no sword with which to fight, and he will die at Ragnarok (at the hands of Surt), possibly killed with his own sword, when the world ends. This courtship is dealt with extensively in the poem Skírnismál.
The Swedish kings counted Freyr as one of their ancestors. In Iceland, Freyr was second only to Thor in popularity. Some last vestiges of the offerings to Freyr still survive on the Swedish Christmas table in the form of the Christmas Ham, so great was his importance.
A strophe of the Anglo Saxon Rune Poem (circa 1100) records that:
- Ing was first among the East Danes seen by men
and 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 Frey'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 Frey' 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. "Yngve" has been a popular name in Sweden, and it may be interesting to note that there is a clearly related prename, "Ingo", which is quite common in Germany even today. "Ingó" and "Inga" are also very common names in Iceland.
Traditions related to Freyr may also appear connected with the legendary Danish king Fródi (which can mean "peaceful" and "free", both of which have application to Freyr). King Fródi is especially treated in Book Five of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum and in the Ynglinga saga.
Dumézil (1973, Appendix I) cites a Faroese ballad recorded in 1840 about Odin and his son Veraldur. It is believed that this Veraldur is also Frey, as per Snorri's statement that Frey was veraldar góđ as mentioned above.
In this ballad Veraldur, Odin's son, sets off to Zealand to seek the king's daughter in marriage despite Odin's warnings. The king of Zealand mislikes Veraldur and tricks him into falling into a brewing vat in a "hall of stone" where Veraldur drowns. When Odin hears the news, he decides to die and go to Asgard where his followers will be also be welcomed after death.
The tale is similar to that of the death of Fjölnir son of Frey who accidentally fell into a vat of mead and drowned while paying a friendly visit to Fridfródi the ruler of Zealand. This is told in the Ynglinga saga. Saxo Grammaticus also relates (Gesta Danorum, Book 1) how King Hunding of Sweden believed a rumor that King Hadding of Denmark had died and held his obsequies with ceremony, including an enormous vat of ale. Hunding himself served the ale, but accidentally stumbled and fell into the vat, choked, and drowned. When word of this came to King Hadding of this unfortunate death, King Hadding publicly hanged himself.
Possible Later Survivals
According to Pamela Berger (pp. 81–84), some of Freyr's cultic practices survived under the guise of saints such as Saint Blaise, who was a patron saint of plowmen, seeding time, fertility, and fecundity, Saint Leonard in Germany, who was the patron of freeing prisoners and of farm animals, and Saint Guignole and Saint Foutin, who were openly phallic saints and even had wooden phalluses attached to their statues, which people would rub to increase their fertility. For some saints, a cart or wagon was carried around the districts with a representative of the saint riding therein, to bless the land with fertility, and these processions were accompanied by a bacchanalic revelry, just as carts with Freyr's image once were.
- Common Danish, Swedish and Norwegian form: Frej, Frö or Frřy, sometimes Fröj
- Frequent alternate English form: Frey
- German form: Fro or Froh (R. Wagner)
Bibliography and external links
For general sources see Norse Mythology.
- Berger, Pamela (1985). The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0807067237.
- Dumézil, Georges (1973). From Myth to Fiction: The Saga of Hadingus. Trans. Derek Coltman. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226169723.
- Gimle: Hedniska ballader: Balladen om Oden och Veraldur (Frö) (Text of the ballad of Veraldur).
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