In the stories of the gods and goddesses of the Angles and Saxons we find two goddesses, Frigga, the wife of Odin and queen of the gods, and Freya, the Goddess of Love. Some people think that Friday was named after Frigga, and others that it was Freya’s day. Since very similar stories are told of each of them, it is quite probable that they were really the same person. The Roman name for the day was Dies Veneris, the day of Venus, who, it will be remembered, was the Goddess of Love, and so corresponded to Freya. The modern French name is taken from the Latin and is vendredi.
Frigga was the Goddess of the Clouds, and, when she was not with her husband Odin, spent her time in spinning clouds. Her spinning-wheel was studded with jewels, and at night could be seen in the sky as the constellation to which the Romans gave the name of Orion’s Belt, as we have seen in the story of Orion.
Frigga was also the Goddess of Spring, and as such was known as Eastre, whom we have already mentioned as giving us the word Easter.
Freya, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, like the Venus of the Romans, received a great welcome when she came to the home of the gods, and was given a special kingdom called Folk Meadow, where was a vast hall known as the Hall of Many Seats. Here she received half of those slain in battle, the other half being entertained by Odin, as we have seen.
Freya is depicted as having blue eyes and golden hair, and often as wearing a robe of feathers, which enabled her to fly through the air like a bird.
The goddess is said to have married Odur, who was probably Odin under another name. Odur once had occasion to leave Freya and travel over the world, and the goddess was broken-hearted at his departure. Her tears fell among the rocks and were changed to gold, while some which fell into the sea were transformed into amber. All nature mourned with her: the trees shed their leaves, the grass withered, and the flowers drooped their heads. At last Freya in her distress set out to find her husband, and, passing through many lands, where her golden tears were afterwards found, came to the sunny south, and there overtook the wandering Odur. As the lovers returned, the fields and the flowers rejoiced with them. The frost and snow fled before them, and the earth became green again as they passed.
“And Freya next came nigh, with golden tears;
The loveliest Goddess she in Heaven, by all
Most honour’d after Frea, Odin’s wife.
Her long ago the wandering Odur took
To mate, but left her to roam distant lands;
Since then she seeks him, and weeps tears of gold.”
MATTHEW ARNOLD–Balder Dead.
This story, of course, reminds us of Ceres and Persephone, and is only another fanciful explanation of summer and winter.
Freya was the proud possessor of a dazzling necklace of gold, which had been made by the dwarfs, and which she wore night and day. On one occasion only did she lend the necklace, when Thor, disguised as Freya, went to the land of the giants to recover his hammer, which had been stolen by the Giant Thrym. Loki, by borrowing Freya’s robe of feathers and flying over the country of the giants, had discovered the thief, but had also found that Thrym would only return the hammer on condition that Freya would become his wife. When Freya heard of the giant’s presumption, she became greatly enraged, and vowed that she would never leave her beloved Odur and go to live in that dreary and desolate land of cold. Heimdall, the guardian of the bridge Bifrost, then suggested that Thor should go to Thrym disguised as Freya, in company with Loki disguised as Freya’s attendant. The gods at last allowed themselves to be persuaded, and Thor, having borrowed Freya’s clothes and necklace and wearing a thick veil, set out with Loki, who was dressed as a handmaiden. On reaching the giant’s palace, they were welcomed by Thrym, who was delighted at the success of his plan, and who led them to the banqueting hall, where a great feast was held. At the end of the feast, Thrym ordered the famous hammer to be brought in, and he himself laid it in his bride’s lap as a marriage gift. Thor’s hand immediately closed over the hammer, and in a few moments Thrym and all the guests invited to the wedding feast lay dead.
Freya was greatly relieved to have her necklace returned in safety, but the evil Loki, attracted by its wonderful beauty, determined to steal it. One night the god, by changing himself into a fly, succeeded in entering Freya’s palace. He then resumed his own shape, and, creeping stealthily to Freya’s bed, gently removed the necklace from the goddess’s neck. The watchful Heimdall, however, had heard Loki’s footsteps, and, looking in the direction of the Folk Meadow, became a witness of the theft. He at once set off in pursuit of Loki, and, overtaking him, drew his sword and was about to kill the thief, when Loki changed himself into a flame. Heimdall immediately changed himself into a cloud, and sent down a shower of rain to put out the fire. Loki then took the form of a bear, and opened his mouth to catch the water. Heimdall also took the form of a bear and attacked Loki, who, finding that he was being overpowered, changed himself yet again, into a seal. Heimdall followed suit, and fought again with Loki, and at length compelled him to give up the necklace, which was returned to Freya.
On another occasion Freya was sought by one of the giants, and it was only by the cunning of Loki and by an act of bad faith on the part of the gods that she was saved. The gods, ever anxious lest the giants should invade Asgard, decided to build a stronghold which would prove impregnable. They received an offer from a stranger, who was willing to undertake the work in return for the sun, the moon, and the goddess Freya. By Loki’s advice they accepted the offer on condition that he should complete the work in one winter, aided only by his horse. To the surprise of the gods the stranger agreed to these conditions, and with the help of his horse, which could haul the heaviest stone, set to work. The gods, who at first felt sure that their conditions had made the task impossible, were alarmed to find as time went on that the stranger was working so quickly that it seemed certain that he would be able to keep his promise. The gods on their side had no intention whatever of keeping their promise, since they could not possibly part with the sun and the moon and the Goddess of Love, and they angrily pointed out to Loki that since it was he who had got them into this difficulty, he must find some way out of it. Loki replied that the gods need have no fear, for with his usual cunning he had thought of a plan whereby the stranger might be made to forfeit his reward. On the last day, when only one stone remained to be dragged into position, Loki changed himself into a horse, and, trotting out from the forest, neighed loudly to attract the attention of the stranger’s horse. Tired of his continual labour and longing for freedom and rest, the horse broke free from its load and galloped after Loki. The stranger, after pursuing it vainly through the forest, at last made his way to Asgard, and, full of anger at the trick which had been played upon him, took on his real shape, for he was a frost-giant, and was about to attack the gods when Thor hurled his hammer at him and killed him.
Frey, the god mentioned in the story of Loki and Sif’s golden hair, was Freya’s brother. He was the God of the Fields, and sacrifices were made to him for the crops. In the early spring his wooden image was driven in a chariot through the countryside, in order that he might bless the fields and bring a fruitful harvest: Frey, as we have seen, became the possessor of a ship which could travel over land and sea, and though large enough to contain all the gods, yet could be folded up like a cloth, and he also possessed a boar with golden bristles. The god often rode on this boar, which was swifter than a horse, and was no doubt a symbol of the sun, which ripened the crops. We find the same idea of sunshine in Frey’s flashing sword, which fought of its own accord as soon as it was drawn from its sheath.
The month of the Angles and Saxons which begins just before our Christmas was sacred to both Frey and Thor, and it was customary at that time, as we have already mentioned, to bind a huge wooden wheel with straw, and, setting fire to it, to roll it down a hill. The wheel was a symbol of the sun, which at that time began to chase away the winter. At this time, too, was held a great feast to all the gods, and the chief meat eaten was a boar’s head, in honour of Frey. The missionaries who first brought Christianity to the Northmen, finding this feast was of great importance and was celebrated by all the people, did not try to do away with it. Instead, they changed it from a heathen to a Christian festival by putting Christ in the place of the Norse gods, and calling it the Feast or Mass of Christ. A similar change was made, it will be remembered, in the case of the Easter festival, held in honour of Eastre or Frigga, the wife of Odin.