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Freyr

Freyr

Freyr is one of the main gods of Norse mythology belonging to the Vanir race.

He is associated with prosperity, and according to several sources he commands the rain and the rays of the Sun, making him a god of fertility - all the more so as he is sometimes represented in ancient art with his phallus erect.

His myth is known thanks to the Eddas, texts of Norse mythology written in the thirteenth century from older sources, which make Freyr a Vanir god, brother of Freya, the goddess of love, and the son of Njörd.

In his most famous myth, he observes the worlds from Odin's throne, and sees the giantess Gerd, with whom he falls desperately in love. He then sends his squire to the land of the giants to convince her to marry him. Freyr is finally killed by Surt during the prophetic battle of Ragnarök.

Freyr is also a protagonist in the Geste des Danois, where he is called Frø, and the Saga des Ynglingar, where he is also called Yngvi or Ygnvi-Freyr, strongly evhemeristic texts written respectively in the xi and xii centuries.

The earliest mention of him dates from the tenth century, when Adam of Bremen names him Fricco and describes his cult. His cult is also mentioned in many Icelandic sagas, but these works were written a few centuries after the Christianization of Iceland, so they should be taken with caution.

If few myths about Freyr have come down to us, the importance of the god is attested by the statements of primary sources and his recurrence in the toponymy of the Nordic countries.

Many scholars believe that Freyr, along with Odin and Thor, was part of the main divine triad. A famous god, Freyr is referenced in many areas of popular culture. He is notably a character under the spelling Froh in the opera Rhine Gold by Richard Wagner.

Etymology

The name Freyr means "lord" in Old Norse. Its feminine form corresponds to the name of its sister, Freya. Freyr comes from the proto-Germanic *fraujaz also meaning "lord".

Freyr is also called Yngvi, see Yngvi-Freyr. The etymology of Yngvi is very disputed. According to Snorri Sturluson, Freyr is the ancestor of the Swedish royal dynasty of Ynglingar, who inherited his name.

Some scholars argue that Yngvi has its origins in the god Ing (from Proto-Germanic *Ingwaz), the ancestor of the Germanic people of the Ingaevones. Yngvi-Freyr would then correspond to *Ingwia-fraujaz, or "lord of the ingaevones".

Fricco, the name for Freyr reported by Adam of Bremen, is of uncertain etymology. It is possible that it derives from *friðkan which means "lover" or "loving".

Characteristics

In Norse religion, Freyr is the male counterpart of the goddess Freya, his sister. Through eroticism and sexuality they were directly linked to fertility. Their names are generally interpreted as derived from the Proto-Germanic words lord and lady, ruler and ruled, suggesting that the gods were once perceived as so powerful that they could not be addressed by their proper names.

Both are children of the Vanir god Njord, but the myths also suggest that Freyr and Freya were lovers and/or husband and wife. This is a feature not uncommon to fertility cults; a notion that presumably rested more on symbolic values than on the incestuous relationship.

Snorri Sturluson describes Freyr as very handsome and fair of appearance, as powerful, forgiving, kind, and he calls him the World God (veraldar goð). Freyr rules the weather and the growth of the year, i.e. both rain and sunshine for the crop of the field and one could pray to Freyr for a good future, for peace and for prosperity and progress. Like Njord, Freyr is called the progenitor of habits and the god of habits, as well as the god of years and the giver of wealth. It is told in sagas about horses that have been devoted to Freyr. They were called Frejfaxes.

viking-jewelry

In myths and poems, Frey was endowed with the following attributes:

His home was Alfheim, (elf + home i.e. home of the elves). The elves were collective gods who were also associated with burial mounds and the ancestors. 

His ship Skídhbladhnir was built by the sons of the dwarf Ivaldi, it could sail on land, always had a tailwind and could be folded like a piece of cloth and put in a pocket. It connects him with his father.

Freyr's sword that could cut itself.
Freyr owned the boar Gullinborsti, which, when harnessed to his cart, could run through the air and over the sea. The boar illuminates everything with its golden bristles.

Frey's horse was called Blodughofi (with bloody hooves).

His servants were the married couple Byggvir and Bejla (associated with mead brewing). They were of elven race.

Worship

Freyr was mainly worshipped in the Mälar region of Sweden, in Norway and in Iceland. In Denmark he appeared under the name Frø, but the remains of him are much rarer than in the previously mentioned areas.

In the Viking Age, Freyr was much more important in religion than his father Njord, whose role in the fertility cult was probably much greater in Iron Age religion.

Archaeological remains and written sources suggest that Frey, like fertility gods from other cultures, is depicted with an erect limb. The ceremonies included songs and actions that Christians considered indecent. We have only vague hints about the nature of the rituals. The Norwegian archaeologist Oddgeir Hoftun thinks it likely that sexual references or direct actions were involved.

The sexual act has undoubtedly formed the pattern for much of the ceremonial symbolism in the pre-Christian cult. Hoftun also believes that sexual rituals have been greatly downplayed by scholarship. But 13th-century fairy-tale literature also seems to be characterised by what he describes as the same Christian sexual shame.

Myths

Freyr, like his sister and father, belonged to the Vanir race, but lived with the Aesir as a peace hostage after the war between the two groups of gods. The fact that his dwelling is also called Alfheim suggests a connection between the Vanir and the elves; both are also associated with fertility. Along with Odin and Thor, he was a prominent deity in the ancient Norse cults. Freyr is destroyed by the giant Surt during Ragnarök with his blazing sword.

Freyr and Gerd

Freyr appears very sparingly in recorded writings - the most prominent story is that of him and Gerd. Snorri describes him as beautiful, powerful and merciful, and calls him veraldar guð - "the god of the world" and Gerd as "a radiantly beautiful maiden".

On Skirner's initiative, Freyr sends his sword and a horse to Jotunheim, the land of the giants, to propose to Gerd, but the gifts are rejected by the goddess. Only when Skirner threatens her with curses does she agree to meet Freyr at Barrö after nine nights.

Yngve-Freyr

Frej is also mentioned as the ancestor of the Swedish royal dynasty Ynglingaätten and is then called Yngve-Freyr by Snorre, suggesting that Yngve or Yngvi may have been an older name for Freyr.

It is possible that such a king may have existed, and formed some sort of basis for the myth of Freyr but whether the god Freyr or the king Yngve is the more real of the two cannot be determined today by historical science.

Christian sources

Adam of Bremen states that Odin, Thor and Freyr (called Fricco, possibly from the Saxon "frōio") each had an effigy in the temple at Uppsala. Adam had received his information second-hand from Christian travellers; he himself never set foot in Uppsala. As a fertility god, Frey was often depicted with prominent phalluses.

Phallus figures in Scandinavia are a proven fact, both during the Viking Age, but also from the Bronze Age. The cult included songs and actions that outraged contemporary Christians, who condemned the cult as misbehavior.