Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

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Terrified into submission by the frightful description of her cheerless future in case she persisted in her refusal, Gerda finally consented to become Frey’s wife, and dismissed Skirnir, promising to meet her future spouse on the ninth night, in the land of Buri, the green grove, where she would dispel his sadness and make him happy.

“Burri is hight the seat of love;

Nine nights elapsed, in that known grove

Shall brave Niorder’s gallant boy

From Gerda take the kiss of joy.”

Skirner’s Lay (Herbert’s tr.).

Delighted with his success, Skirnir hurried back to Alf-heim, where Frey came eagerly to learn the result of his journey. When he learned that Gerda had consented to become his wife, his face grew radiant with joy; but when Skirnir informed him that he would have to wait nine nights ere he could behold his promised bride, he turned sadly away, declaring the time would appear interminable. [122]

“Long is one night, and longer twain;

But how for three endure my pain?

A month of rapture sooner flies

Than half one night of wishful sighs.”

Skirner’s Lay (Herbert’s tr.).

In spite of this loverlike despondency, however, the time of waiting came to an end, and Frey joyfully hastened to the green grove, where, true to her appointment, he found Gerda, and she became his happy wife, and proudly sat upon his throne beside him.

“Frey to wife had Gerd;

She was Gymir’s daughter,

From Jötuns sprung.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

According to some mythologists, Gerda is not a personification of the aurora borealis, but of the earth, which, hard, cold, and unyielding, resists the spring-god’s proffers of adornment and fruitfulness (the apples and ring), defies the flashing sunbeams (Frey’s sword), and only consents to receive his kiss when it learns that it will else be doomed to perpetual barrenness, or given over entirely into the power of the giants (ice and snow). The nine nights of waiting are typical of the nine winter months, at the end of which the earth becomes the bride of the sun, in the groves where the trees are budding forth into leaf and blossom.

Frey and Gerda, we are told, became the parents of a son called Fiolnir, whose birth consoled Gerda for the loss of her brother Beli. The latter had attacked Frey and had been slain by him, although the sun-god, deprived of his matchless sword, had been obliged to defend himself with a stag horn which he hastily snatched from the wall of his dwelling.

Besides the faithful Skirnir, Frey had two other [123]attendants, a married couple, Beyggvir and Beyla, the personifications of mill refuse and manure, which two ingredients, being used in agriculture for fertilising purposes, were therefore considered Frey’s faithful servants, in spite of their unpleasant qualities.

The historical Frey

Snorro-Sturleson, in his “Heimskringla,” or chronicle of the ancient kings of Norway, states that Frey was an historical personage who bore the name of Ingvi-Frey, and ruled in Upsala after the death of the semi-historical Odin and Niörd. Under his rule the people enjoyed such prosperity and peace that they declared their king must be a god. They therefore began to invoke him as such, carrying their enthusiastic admiration to such lengths that when he died the priests, not daring to reveal the fact, laid him in a great mound instead of burning his body, as had been customary until then. They then informed the people that Frey—whose name was the Northern synonym for “master”—had “gone into the mound,” an expression which eventually became the Northman’s phrase for death.