Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 70

Freya’s Necklace

Being goddess of beauty, Freya, naturally, was very fond of the toilet, of glittering adornments, and of precious jewels. One day, while she was in Svart-alfa-heim, the underground kingdom, she saw four dwarfs fashioning the most wonderful necklace she had ever seen. Almost beside herself with longing to possess this treasure, which was called Brisinga-men, and was an emblem of the stars, or of the fruitfulness of the earth, Freya implored the dwarfs to give it to her; but they obstinately refused to do so unless she would promise to grant them her favour. Having secured the necklace at this price, Freya hastened to put it on, and its beauty so enhanced her charms that she wore it night [135]and day, and only occasionally could be persuaded to lend it to the other divinities. Thor, however, wore this necklace when he personated Freya in Jötun-heim, and Loki coveted and would have stolen it, had it not been for the watchfulness of Heimdall.

Freya was also the proud possessor of a falcon garb, or falcon plumes, which enabled the wearer to flit through the air as a bird; and this garment was so invaluable that it was twice borrowed by Loki, and was used by Freya herself when she went in search of the missing Odur.

“Freya one day

Falcon wings took, and through space hied away;

Northward and southward she sought her

Dearly-loved Odur.”

Frithiof Saga, Tegnér (Stephens’s tr.).

As Freya was also considered the goddess of fruitfulness, she was sometimes represented as riding about with her brother Frey in the chariot drawn by the golden-bristled boar, scattering, with lavish hands, fruits and flowers to gladden the hearts of mankind. She had a chariot of her own, however, in which she generally travelled. This was drawn by cats, her favourite animals, the emblems of caressing fondness and sensuality, or the personifications of fecundity.

“Then came dark-bearded Niörd, and after him

Freyia, thin robed, about her ankles slim

The gray cats playing.”

Lovers of Gudrun (William Morris).

Frey and Freya were held in such high honour throughout the North that their names, in modified forms, are still used for “master” and “mistress,” and one day of the week is called Freya’s day, or Friday, by the English-speaking race. Freya’s temples were very numerous indeed, and were long maintained by her [136]votaries, the last, in Magdeburg, Germany, being destroyed by order of Charlemagne.

Story of Ottar and Angantyr

The Northern people were wont to invoke Freya not only for success in love, prosperity, and increase, but also, at times, for aid and protection. This she vouchsafed to all who served her truly, as appeared in the story of Ottar and Angantyr, two men who, after disputing for some time concerning their rights to a certain piece of property, laid their quarrel before the Thing. That popular assembly decreed that the man who could prove that he had the longest line of noble ancestors should be declared the winner, and a special day was appointed to investigate the genealogy of each claimant.

Ottar, unable to remember the names of more than a few of his progenitors, offered sacrifices to Freya, entreating her aid. The goddess graciously heard his prayer, and appearing before him, she changed him into a boar, and rode off upon his back to the dwelling of the sorceress Hyndla, a most renowned witch. By threats and entreaties, Freya compelled the old woman to trace Ottar’s genealogy back to Odin, and to name every individual in turn, with a synopsis of his achievements. Then, fearing lest her votary’s memory should be unable to retain so many details, Freya further compelled Hyndla to brew a potion of remembrance, which she gave him to drink.

“He shall drink

Delicious draughts.

All the gods I pray

To favour Ottar.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.). [137]

Thus prepared, Ottar presented himself before the Thing on the appointed day, and glibly reciting his pedigree, he named so many more ancestors than Angantyr could recollect, that he was easily awarded possession of the property he coveted.

“A duty ’tis to act

So that the young prince

His paternal heritage may have

After his kindred.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

The Husbands of Freya

Freya was so beautiful that all the gods, giants, and dwarfs longed for her love and in turn tried to secure her as wife. But Freya scorned the ugly giants and refused even Thrym, when urged to accept him by Loki and Thor. She was not so obdurate where the gods themselves were concerned, if the various mythologists are to be believed, for as the personification of the earth she is said to have wedded Odin (the sky), Frey (the fruitful rain), Odur (the sunshine), &c., until it seems as if she deserved the accusation hurled against her by the arch-fiend Loki, of having loved and wedded all the gods in turn.

Worship of Freya

It was customary on solemn occasions to drink Freya’s health with that of the other gods, and when Christianity was introduced in the North this toast was transferred to the Virgin or to St. Gertrude; Freya herself, like all the heathen divinities, was declared a demon or witch, and banished to the mountain peaks of Norway, Sweden, or Germany, where the Brocken is pointed out as her special abode, and the general trysting-place of her demon train on Valpurgisnacht. [138]