Freya is usually seen as the female fertility god of Norse Mythology but there are no sources suggesting that she was called on to bring fruitfulness to fields or wombs, but, rather, she is a goddess of riches whose tears are gold. She is also goddess of love, sex and attraction, and so was one of the very favourite goddesses. She was the most desirable of all goddesses, and also had the attractive piece of jewellery: Brisingamen, which she bought from four dwarves at the price of four nights of her love. This necklace is sometimes seen today as embodying her power over the material world; the necklace has been the emblem of the earth-goddess since the earliest times. She drives a wagon drawn by two cats. She is the sister of Freyr and the daughter of Niord.
Freya is wild: free with her sexual favours and furious when an attempt is made to marry her off against her will; she is the mistress of Odin and several other gods and men; skilled at the form of ecstatic and malicious magic known as seidhr.
She is also a chooser of half the slain on the battlefield whilst Odin gets the other half, according to Grimnismál:
The ninth Battle-Plain, where bright Freya Decides where the warriors shall sit: Half of the fallen follow the goddess, And half belong to Odin.
This association of Freya with death is underlined in Egils Saga when a woman called Thorgerda threatens to commit suicide in the wake of her brother's death: "I shall not eat until I sup with Freyja".
As a battle-goddess, she rides a boar called Hildisvini the Battle-Swine. In the poem Hyndluljoo we are told that in order to conceal her protegé Ottar the Simple, Freyja transformed him into the guise of a boar. The boar has special associations within Norse Mythology, both relative to the notion of fertility and also as a protective talisman in war. 7th century Swedish helmet plates depict warriors with large boars as their crests, and a boar-crested helmet has survived from Anglo-Saxon time and was retrieved from a tumulus at Benty Grange in Derbyshire. In Beowulf, it is said that a boar on the helmet was there to guard the life of the warrior wearing it.
She was stabbed and burnt three times, but arose from the flame each time and transformed herself into Heith ("the Glorious"), mistress of magic, in a shamanic initiation. This also started the war between the Aesir and the Vanir.
The giants are always trying to take her away from the gods, and it is clear that this would be a great disaster. She was obviously the embodiment of the holy life-force.
- Common Swedish form: Freja
- Common Norwegian form: Frøya
- Old Norse Freyja
- Old English Freo (for which Friday is named)
Other names by which Freya is known:
- Gefn (which itself may be an alternate form of the goddess Gefyon)
- Egil's Saga
- Snorri Sturlusson, The Younger Edda
- H R Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
- E O G Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North
- Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgechichte, 2nd Edition (the seminal work of reference on Germanic and Scandinavian religion).