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Knowing Freya. Part 5: Lovers

The lore tells us Freya loves Her Husband greatly and searches for Him far and wide whenever He disappears again. It also tells us stories about Her having lovers and a number of sexual escapades. Some would say the two are inherently contradictory but who are we to tell Deities They can’t have an open marriage?

It’s also important to take into account the sources of these stories and whether or not we should take them seriously. Who wrote them? When and why? One well-known story about Freya’s affairs is a good example of the importance of knowing the source material and the reason it was written. I’m talking about the story of how She acquired Brisingamen.

I was planning on writing a separate post on it but I figured I can’t really write about Freya’s lovers within bringing up this story. Anyway, it goes like this:

Freya, who in this story is presented as a human concubine to the also human king Odin, stumbles upon a cave where four dark elves (also called dwarfs) are working on crafting a beautiful necklace. Taken by the jewellery’s great beauty, Freya tries to give them gold for it. But the dark elves do not want gold, they want her to spend one night with each of them. She agrees and after fulfilling her end of the deal, gets the necklace known as Brisingamen.

This is the part most have heard about. Some Heathen have used it to promote the idea that the Gods approve of sex work, others have used it to basically call our Divine Lady Freya materialistic, shallow and disloyal. Both seem completely oblivious to the fact that the story originates in a 14th century Christian propaganda piece known as the Sörla þáttr. The rest of the story, by the way, says that when human Odin finds out about what his concubine has done, he makes her cause violence and strife among kings and lords until Ragnarök. But then a Christian king comes and breaks the curse.

Regardless, it is also important to remember that the Deities are not corporal entities and so even if the story was inspired by a genuine one the ancient Norse believed, it would probably be more symbolical than literal. It would personally bother me as little as Freya having Freyr as a lover, since ‘sex’ and ‘brother’ can’t possibly mean the same for Them as it does for physical beings.

‘The Ancestry of Ottar’ by W.G. Collingwood

Freya is also described as having many lovers in other sources. One example is the Lokasenna, where Loki claims that She has had every elf and God present as lover. She calls Him a liar and says that He should be quiet before the Gods kick Him out. He then goes on to say that the Gods once caught Her and Freyr together in bed. This is not denied and when Njord speaks in Her defense, says basically that there is nothing wrong with a married Lady having a bit of fun on the side.

That a Goddess as strongly associated with sex and fertility would have lovers – whether many or a few – isn’t really that surprising. What I’m more interested in is what does it mean for someone to be Freya’s lover? And what does it mean that She (supposedly) gives Her love so freely?

Here is the part where I go into speculation. I’m not making any claims of this being authoritative.

In many religions, there is a tradition of a Divine/spirit lover or spouse. The most well-known example is of course Catholic nuns, who marry Jesus. Other examples can be found all over the world, from the blolo bian/blolo bla of Baule religion to the Miko of Shinto who marry kami spirits. And interestingly enough, there are references in the lore of humans being Freya’s beloved.

One of them is Odr, who is in some sources called a man and in others a God. Why the discrepancy? Perhaps Odr was a man who at one point was raised to God status? Who knows? But it’s interesting that a human is considered to be Freya’s husband.

Another example is Ottar, who in the Lay of Hyndla asks the help of Freya to uncover his genealogy. He is in this story called Her lover and near the end of the poem the Giantess Hyndla says that Freya has many lovers who have ‘crawled beneath your apron’ and She likens Freya to a horny she-goat.

The hero Svipdagr is yet another human described as Freya’s lover. Artwork: ‘Freyja greets Svipdagr’ by John Bauer.

In modern Heathenry, you’ll find godspouses who marry Freya and from what I’m told it’s not unusual for hetero and bi men who work with Freya to have Her become their Spirit Wife.
It could be the case for some lesbian and bi women too. I’ve heard there is supposed to be a story in one saga about Freya having a female lover, but I can’t for the life of me find it. Feel free to drop a comment if you know what saga it is. 

Anyway, here’s my personal, unverified theory: Freya’s promiscuity is an allegory for a romantic form of Divine connection which She shares with many Gods, spirits and humans. Being, according to the sources, the most approachable of all the Asynjor, it wouldn’t be surprising that She would form bonds with Her devotees and maybe some of those relationships could take on romantic characteristics. Perhaps because of Her strong connection with love and sexuality, this Divine romantic love could happen more often with Freya than with other Deities, hence Her reputation.

This is kind of weird for me to think about since Freya to me is more of a maternal figure. But I think it fits and it would be an interesting historical precedent to the godspouse/spirit spouse phenomenon within the Norse Pagan tradition.

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