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The Goddesses — Frigg — Jord — Freyja — Saga — Eir — Gefjon — Var — Vor — Syn — Snotra — Idun — Nanna — Sif

The goddesses — Frigg — Jord — Freyja

Among the goddesses there are likewise, besides Odin's wife Frigg, twelve or thirteen of the highest rank, namely: Freyja, Saga, Eir, Gefjon, Sjofn, Lofn, Var, Vor, Syn, Lin, Snotra, Fulla, and Gna; all of these are enumerated together in Snorri's Edda. Fulla and Gna, [26} and to a certain degree Lin as well, are merely handmaidens of Frigg; in their stead may therefore be placed Idun, Nanna, and Sif, all of whom are far more important. Next in order come Sigyn, Gerd, and Skadi, who however are of Giant race; and thereafter some of the daughters of the gods and the goddesses. Jord and Rind are also counted among the goddesses.

Frigg is the daughter of Fjorgynn; [1] she is the wife of Odin, the mother of Balder, and chief among the goddesses. Her house is the splendid Fensalir. The goddesses Lin, Fulla, and Gna are closely associated with her. Lin is set to guard those of mankind whom Frigg desires to preserve from harm. Fulla, a maiden with long flowing hair and a golden chaplet about her brow, carries Frigg's hand casket, keeps watch and ward over her shoes, and shares her secrets. Gna runs errands for Frigg through the various worlds, especially in matters requiring despatch, in which instances she rides the horse Hofvarpnir, who races through the air and over the waters. Something is to be learned of the cult of Frigg by means of Norwegian and Swedish place names, [2] and her name occurs also among German and English tribes. [3] The Frigg of the Eddas was no doubt derived from an ancient goddess of earth or of fertility, according to the testimony of both her own name and her father's. [4] Further evidence is to be discovered in the manifest connection between Frigg, [27} daughter of Fjorgynn, and Jord, Thor's mother, who bears the additional name Fjorgyn.

Freyja, of the race of the Vanir, is a daughter of Njord and a sister of Frey. As the story reads she was, at the treaty of peace with the Vanir, delivered over by them and-accepted by the Æsir among the goddesses. She was wedded to Od, but he left her and went out into foreign lands; she often wept over him, wept golden tears. Her daughters, Noss and Gersemi, were so beautiful that from them all precious gems have taken their names; and from Freyja the designation freyja or frúva [5] is likewise said to have been formed. Freyja was in the habit of driving a cart drawn by two cats; and she had in her possession the magnificent necklace called Brisingamen. [6] She dwelt in Folkvang, in the great hall named Sessrymnir. Of all the heroes who fell in battle, half became her portion; it was her right to choose them, and to her they came in Folkvang. She had special authority in the relations of love, yet she was not the only goddess of love to whom men had recourse; Sjofn had the power to kindle love between men and women, and Lofn to help those who loved each other but who met with difficulties in winning the beloved.

Freyja had several names. She was called Vanadis because she came of the race of the Vanir. At one time she set out in search of Od, on which occasion she adopted various names, as follows: Mardol, Horn (or Hærn?), Gefn, and Syr.

  1. See note.
  2. See § 86 of the original Norwegian text.
  3. See note.
  4. More on this point in the note.
  5. Meaning "lady."
  6. See p 79. [28}

On the goddesses — Frigg — Jord — Freyja

Page 27, line 29 — Frigg was known also among the Germans. Thus the historian of the Longobards, Paulus Diaconus, gives us to understand that this people worshipped Odin's wife by the name of Frea (more correctly Fria, which is to be met with elsewhere as the phonetic equivalent of Frigg). We read that when the Longobards at one time were making war upon the Vandals, Wodan promised the victory to that one of the contending tribes upon whom his eyes first fell at the rising of the sun. Gambara, the foremost woman among the Longobards, prayed Frea, Wodan's wife, for aid; and Frea made answer advising the Longobard women to draw their hair down at both sides of their faces, bind it under their chins after the fashion of beards, and thus arrayed to take their station outside the casement through which Wodan was accustomed to look forth toward the East; so doing they would be certain to come within range of his vision. Wodan caught sight of them and asked, "Who are these Longbeards?" Whereupon Frea bade him keep his promise and award the victory to the Longobards (the "longbeards"; cf. German Bart).

It is only Snorri who calls Frigg the daughter of Fjorgynn. He seems to have misunderstood a passage in the Eddic poem Lokasenna, in which Frigg is denominated Fjorgyns mœr, that is, "Fjorgyn's maiden." This expression is probably to be rendered "Fjorgyn's beloved," in which case Fjorgynn is a name for Odin. [299} Linguistically the name of the god, Fjorgynn, is closely related to the name of the goddess, Fjorgyn (mother of Thor) = Jord (Odin's wife). The name of Thor's mother is related to the Lithuanian Perkūnas, who like Thor, is a god of thunder. All this points to the probability that the supreme deity had an earth-goddess to wife; in other words, that Frigg originally was identical with Jord (Fjorgyn). It is a general opinion that the goddess name Fjorgyn was the more primitive, and that the god name Fjorgynn was a relatively late derivation from the other. Besides Fjorgyn, Thor's mother also had the name Hloðyn (so understood by Finnur Jónsson; other scholars give it as Hlóðyn). According to Snorri's Edda, Jord is the daughter of Anar, or Onar, and Night.

Frigg (Old German Frîa, Frîja) has been connected with the verb frjá, "to love." Her name thus designates her as the beloved of the supreme divinity, and so the same relationship appears here as that between the primal heaven-god Tyr and "Mother Earth" (Nerthus, Njord, see note to p. 16). These divine pairs are identical in nature, and with them is associated also a divine pair of whom the wife has been called Freyja. Freyja originally had the meaning "'housewife," "mistress"; the name has been formed from the word for "lord" which is known in the name of the god Frey (see note top. 16). It is thus not the word frue (housewife) which is derived from Freyja, as Snorri says; just the reverse is the case.

In addition to Frigg and Freyja, we know from place names (Swedish Hœrnavi, that is Hœrn's vi, or sanctuary) also a third feminine divinity, namely Horn (Hørn?), which according to Snorri is another name for Freyja. Possibly this name for a goddess is derived from the word for "flax" (horr), in which case we are concerned with a goddess of fertility who is designated after a particular function. These goddess names open for us a vista into most primitive conditions: The goddess of earth or of fertility is the only one of the feminine divinities who was the object of general, public worship. She was worshipped under a number of different designations, locally circumscribed in use. The situation was another with reference to the masculine divinities. They were more numerous, and they were more widely known in that the public worship of them was connected with central localities.

The cult of Freyja was popular, if we may believe the evidence [300} of a large number of place names. [1] She is regarded as a mighty goddess; like Odin she chooses those who are to fall and to come to her in Folkvang (that is, "the field of the warriors"), where she inhabits the hall Sessrymnir ("which has many seats"). Moreover, tradition relates that Freyja was a great sorceress; she practiced a lower form of sorcery (Modern Norw. seid), which was considered beneath the dignity of a man. The name Freyja does not occur outside the Northern countries. Among the Germans and the English the names corresponding to Freyja are Frîa, Frîg, the counterpart of the Venus of the Romans. Thence Old German Frîatac (our "Friday"), Anglo-Saxon Frîgedœg = Latin Veneris dies (French vendredi).

As to the subordinate goddesses little information can be given. Hnoss and Gersemi are words well known in the ancient language, having the meaning "treasure," "jewel." Hlín occurs also as a name for Frigg herself. The name of Gna's horse, Hófvarpnir, means "one who tosses his hoofs" (feet). Sjofn is connected with sefi and sjafni, "love." Snorri explains Lofn as having to do with lof, "leave," "permission," because she permits the lovers to win each other; but the word has a closer relationship to Gothic lubains or with Old Norse ljúfr (German lieb), "dear."

  1. See § 86 of the Norwegian original. —Translator's note.

Saga — Eir — Gefjon — Var — Vor — Synsnotra

In the array of goddesses in the Prose Edda, Saga is found next after Frigg; possibly Saga is only another name for Frigg. Her house is known as Sækkvabek; [1] cool waves wash over her dwelling, and here Odin and she drink each day from crocks of gold. Some generations since, it was a common opinion that she was the goddess of history, "saga"; but it is certain that her name was Sága and not Saga (with a short vowel). No more reasonable explanation has been proposed than that the name may have been formed from a root found in at sjá (Gothic saihwan) and thus has the meaning: she who sees — and knows — all things, in common with Odin. [2] Eir is the goddess of healing, her name having originally been the common noun eir, "mercy." Gefjon, according to Snorri's Edda, was a maiden, to whom came after death all who died maids. Odin says of her in Lokasenna that she knows the fates as well as himself. It thus seems as if Gefjon, like Saga, corresponds to Odin's wife Frigg. There is another myth having to do with a Gefjon who was one of Odin's following. She asked king Gylfi of Sweden for as much land as she could plow around in one day, and he promised her the gift. She accordingly transformed her sons into oxen, put them before the plow, and with them she plowed loose all the land that once [29} lay where now lies Lake Mälaren. This parcel of earth she drew out into the Baltic, and the land is now called Zealand; there she made her home, and there she was wedded to Odin's son Scyld. Var [3] hears the oaths of fidelity that men and women make to each other. Hence, if report be true, these promises are known as várar, and Var punishes those who break them. Vor [4] is endowed with prudence; she searches into all things so that nothing remains hidden from her. Syn "guards the door of the hall" and prevents the unworthy from entering; she also hinders men from bearing false witness in courts of law; thence, says Snorri, we get syn, "the act of denying" (at synja). Snotra is wise and decorous of manner. [5]

  1. From søkkr or søkkvi, "a state of depression," as in the idiom liggja í søkk or í søkkva; possibly another designation for Fensalir (p 26).
  2. Concerning Frigg, cf. p 26.
  3. Vár, "a promise," "an oath"; related to German wahr, "true."
  4. Originally a form of the adjective varr, "wary," "attentive."
  5. From snotr, "wise ", "having knowledge of fitting behavior," "winsome."

On Saga — Eir — Gefjon — Var — Vor — Syn — Snotra

Page 29, line 14 — None of these goddesses seems to have been the object of independent worship, with the possible exception of Gefjon (see, as to her and her plowing, Axel Olrik's article in Danske studier 1910, p 1 ff.). The name Gefjon is connected with the verb gefa, "to give," or even more closely with Gothic gabei, "riches," gabeigs, "rich"; cf. Old Norse gofugr, "excellent," in Norwegian dialects govug, "liberal." Corresponding divinities have been pointed out as having been found among the Germans; in Latin inscriptions from the lower regions of the Rhine occur related names of goddesses: matronae Gabiae, Junones Gabiae. — The myth concerning Gefjon and the origin of Zealand and Mälaren is to be met with both in the Heimskringla (Ynglinga Saga, chapter 5) and in the introduction to Gylfaginning in Snorri's Edda. In both of these passages occurs a quotation from [301} a verse of Bragi the Old: "Gladly Gefjon drew the increase of Denmark (Zealand) from generous Gylfi, so that smoke rose from the swift-moving beasts of burden."

Idun — Nanna — Sif

Little is known of Idun, Nanna, and Sif. Idun, the wife of Bragi, had in her possession the most priceless treasures of the Æsir, certain apples that restored youth to those who ate of them. Without them the Æsir would have become old and feeble. For this reason they were fearful of losing Idun, so that on one occasion when she had been carried off by the Giant Thjazi [1] they were in the most dire straits. Idun was designated as the "Goddess of Brunnaker's Bench," presumably the name of the dwelling where she and [30} Bragi were housed. Nanna, daughter of Nep, was the wife of Balder, whom she so loved that her heart broke at his death. Sif was the wife of Thor. She had been wedded before, to whom we do not know; and she was the mother of Ull, who is called the stepson of Thor. Sif was fair and had gold hair fashioned for her by cunning Dwarfs. Her name, meaning "kindred," "relationship," indicates that she was thought of as the protector of homes, just as Thor was the protector of Midgard. [2] Sigyn, Skadi, and Gerd have already been discussed.

  1. See p 53.
  2. See p 11.

On Idun — Nanna — Sif

Page 30, line 11 — Idunn is connected with -, "again"; she is the one who "renews," "rejuvenates." The myth concerning her apples seems to have been derived from the classic myth of the Apples of Hesperides; see Sophus Bugge, in Arkiv för nordisk filologi V, p 1 ff. It is not certain whether traces of the cult of Idun are demonstrable in place names (cf. A. Olrik, Danske studier 1910, p 23 ff., on the name of the Danish island Ithænø, now Enø). Nanna, connected with nenna (Gothic nanþjan) is linguistically "the brave," "the persevering." Sif is the same as the common noun sif (see above), Gothic sibja, Anglo-Saxon sib, German Sippe (from it: Sippschaft).

In the Skáldskaparmál of Snorri's Edda (I, 556) there is a list of the goddesses. Here are named Frigg, Freyja, Fulla, Snotra, Gerd, Gefjon, Gna, Lofn, Skadi, Jord, Idun, Ilm, Bil, "Njorun," Lin, Nanna, Noss, Rind, Sjofn, Sun, Saga, Sigyn, Vor, Var, Syn, Thrud, and Ran. Two of the number, Ilm and Njorun, are not known otherwise except in skaldic paraphrases, which are not very enlightening. Ilm is more likely to be a Valkyrie than a goddess.


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