Freya (Old Norse Freyja, “Lady”) is one of the preeminent goddesses in Norse mythology. She’s a member of the Vanir tribe of deities, but became a member of the Aesir gods after the Aesir-Vanir War. Her brother Freyr also became a member of the Aesir.
Freyja is the Norse goddess of love, fertility, beauty and fine material possessions. She is passionate and thrill-seeking and is often a “wild spirit” among the Aesir. Contrastingly, Freyja is also the archetype of the völva, a practitioner of seidr, a form of Norse magic and divination. It was Freyja who first taught the sedir to Odin, and eventually human witches learned the practice to. Her power over desire and prosperity, her knowledge and power are almost without equal – except Odin.
Freyja presides over the afterlife realm Folkvangr where she chooses half of the warriors slain in battle who dwell in her Hall, while Odin takes the first half of fallen warriors to dwell in Valhalla with him. Her role as battle leader and followed by the band of Valkyries who help decide the fates of men in battle.
Seidr is a form of pre-Christian Norse magic and shamanism that involves discerning the course of fate and working to bring about change – often by symbolically weaving new events into being. This power is incredibly useful in bringing about changes in human life.
In the Viking Age, the völva was an itinerant seeress and sorceress who traveled from town to town performing commissioned acts of seidr in exchange for lodging, food, and often other forms of compensation including clothing or anything she might need. Like other northern Eurasian shamans, her social status was highly ambiguous – she was exalted, needed, feared and scorned.
Freyja’s role amongst the gods is stated in the Ynglinga Saga with indirect hints elsewhere in the Eddas and sagas. In one tale, Freyja possesses falcon plumed cloak that allows the wearer to shift their shape into that of a falcon.
In the Germanic “politico-theological conception” based on the mythological model provided by the divine pair Frija and Woðanaz – deities who later became linked as Freyja/Frigg and Odin. In this Germanic concept, Woðanaz is the warband’s chieftain and Frija is its veleda (völva).
While late Old Norse literary sources form the basis of current knowledge of pre-Christian Germanic religions portray Freya and Frigg as being -at least nominally- distinct goddesses but the similarities between them run deep. Their differences are superficial and can potentially be explained by the Norse and Germanic tribes sharing close trade and marriage ties with Freya and Frigg split sometime before the conversion of Iceland to Christianity (around the year 1000 CE).
Freyja and Frigg are similarly accused of infidelity to their (similar) husbands. Alongside several mentions of free Freyja’s sexual practices in the Lokasenna and the Ynglinga Saga, Odin was once exiled from Asgard with his brothers Vili and Ve left in command. The two brothers apparently slept regularly with Frigg until Odin’s return. Many scholars have tried to differentiate between Freyja and Frigg by asserting that the former is more promiscuous and less steadfast than the latter.
Frigg is depicted as a völva herself. Once again in Lokasenna, after Loki slanders Frigg for her infidelity, Freyja warns him that Frigg knows the fate of all beings – a threat to perform seidr. Frigg’s weaving activities are likely an allusion to this role as well as the Norns are known to weave the fate of gods and men.
The name Freyja translates to “Lady” which is a title rather than a true name. In the Viking Age, Scandinavian and Icelandic wealthy women were sometimes called freyjur, the plural of freyja. The name “Frigg” means “beloved.” Frigg’s name therefore links her to love and desire which are areas that Freyja presides. Both goddesses fulfil the roles of the other: Frigg’s name is similar to the Freyja’s attributes.
Freyja’s most famous possession is her necklace the Brisingr forged by the dwarfs. While in the underground kingdom of the dwarfs, Freyja saw them create a necklace and she asked the dwarfs to give it to her. They refused at first but eventually gave it to her and the influence of her sexuality. Brisingr was once stolen by Loki but recovered by the god Heimdallr.
Freyja also has two large grey cats assumed to be lynxes which pull her chariot. Her role as the goddess of fertility is also shared with her brother Freyr and their shared close connection to the earth and the prosperity of crops. Her seemingly dual role as a battle goddess places her at the axes of life and death.