The Hearth Goddess of Ireland
In Irish mythological cycles, Brighid (or Brighit), whose name is derived from the Celtic brig or “exalted one”, is the daughter of the Dagda, and therefore one of the Tuatha de Dannan. Her two sisters were also called Brighid, and were associated with healing and crafts. The three Brighids were typically treated as three aspects of a single deity, making her a classic Celtic triple goddess.
Patron and Protector
Brighid was the patron of poets and bards, as well as healers and magicians. She was especially honored when it came to matters of prophecy and divination. She was honored with a sacred flame maintained by a group of priestesses, and her sanctuary at Kildare, Ireland, later became the home of the Christian variant of Brighid, St. Brigid of Kildare. Kildare is also the location of one of several sacred wells in the Celtic regions, many of which are connected to Brighid. Even today, it’s not uncommon to see ribbons and other offerings tied to trees near a well as a petition to this healing goddess.
Lisa Lawrence writes in Pagan Imagery in the Early Lives of Brigit: A Transformation from Goddess to Saint?, part of the Harvard Celtic Studies Colloquium, that it is Brighid’s role as sacred to both Christianity and Paganism that makes her so hard to figure out. She cites fire as a common thread to both Brighid the saint and Brighid the goddess:
“When two religious systems interact, a shared symbol can provide a bridge from one religious idea to another. During a period of conversion, an archetypical symbol such as fire may acquire a new referent, while not being entirely emptied of a previous one. For example, the fire that clearly signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit in Saint Brigit may continue to signify pagan conceptions of religious power.”
There are a variety of ways to celebrate the many aspects of Brighid at Imbolc. If you’re part of a group practice or a coven, why not try honoring her with a group ceremoy? You can also incorporate prayers to Brighid into your rites and rituals for the season. Having trouble figuring out what direction you’re headed? Ask Brighid for assistance and guidance with a crossroads-themed divination rite.
Brighid’s Many Forms
In northern Britain, Brighid’s counterpart was Brigantia, a warlike figure of the Brigantes tribe near Yorkshire, England. She is similar to the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman Minerva. Later, as Christianity moved into the Celtic lands, St. Brigid was the daughter of a Pictish slave who was baptized by St. Patrick, and founded a community of nuns at Kildare.
In addition to her position as a goddess of magic, Brighid was known to watch over women in childbirth, and thus evolved into a goddess of hearth and home. Today, many Pagans honor her on February 2, which has become known as Imbolc or Candlemas.
Winter Cymres at the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, calls her a “complex and contradictory” sort of deity. Specifically,
“She possesses an unusual status as a Sun Goddess Who hangs Her Cloak upon the rays of the Sun and whose dwelling-place radiates light as if on fire. Brigid took over the Cult of the Ewes formerly held by the Goddess Lassar, who also is a Sun Goddess and who made the transition, in the Isles, from Goddess to saint. In this way Brigid’s connection to Imbolc is completed, as the worship of Lassar diminished, only to be revived later in Christian sainthood.”
One commonly found symbol of Brighid is her green mantle, or cloak. In Gaelic, the mantle is known as the brat Bhride. The legend has it that Brighid was the daughter of a Pictish chieftain who went to Ireland to learn from St. Patrick. In one story, the girl who later became St. Brighid went to the King of Leinster, and petitioned him for land so she could build an abbey. The King, who still held to the old Pagan practices of Ireland, told her he’d be happy to give her as much land as she could cover with her cloak. Naturally, her cloak grew and grew until it covered as much property as Brighid needed, and she got her abbey. Thanks to her roles as both a Pagan goddess and a Christian saint, Brighid is often seen as being of both worlds; a bridge between the old ways and the new.
In Celtic Pagan stories, Brighid’s mantle carries with it blessings and powers of healing. Many people believe that if you place a piece of cloth out upon your hearth at Imbolc, Brighid will bless it in the night. Use the same cloth as your mantle each year, and it will gain strength and power each time Brighid passes by. The mantle can be used to comfort and heal a sick person, and to provide protection for women in labor. A newborn baby can be wrapped in the mantle to help them sleep through the night without fussing.
To make a Brighid’s mantle of your own, find a piece of green cloth long enough to comfortably wrap around your shoulders. Leave it on your doorstep on the night of Imbolc, and Brighid will bless it for you. In the morning, wrap yourself in her healing energy. You can also make a Brighid’s cross or a Bride’s Bed to celebrate her this time of year.
Brighid and Imbolc
Like many Pagan holidays, Imbolc has a Celtic connection, although it wasn’t celebrated in non-Gaelic Celtic societies. The early Celts celebrated a purification festival by honoring Brighid. In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, Brighid was viewed as a sister of Cailleach Bheur, a woman with mystical powers who was older than the land itself. In modern Wicca and Paganism, Brighid is sometimes viewed as the maiden aspect of the maiden/mother/crone cycle, although it might be more accurate for her to be the mother, given her connection with home and childbirth.
Celtic Goddess Brigid and the Story of the Enduring Deity
Over the centuries, the stories of two women named Brigid (or Brigit or Bride or Brighid) have become intertwined in an intricate Celtic knot of myth and miracle. The Celtic Goddess Brigid and the Catholic Saint Brigid of Kildare both personified similar spiritual practices of their times in Ireland. Many scholars believe that the two are the same mythological person. The saint was necessary to mollify the native Irish population while not falling within the realm of worship of Pagan gods and goddesses. The transition from goddess to saint allowed Brigid to survive throughout the Christianizing world. At this time, the worship of a pantheon of gods – and any religious or spiritual belief system that existed outside of Christianity – was no longer acceptable in Europe.
Celtic Goddess Brigid
The Celtic goddess Brigid is one of the most venerated deities in the Pagan Irish pantheon. The name Brigid means exalted one, while her most ancient Gaelic name, Breo-Saighead, means fiery power or fiery arrow. As a solar goddess, she embodies the element of fire and is commonly depicted with rays of light or fire emanating from her head. Irish mythology relates that she was born at sunrise of Dagda, the earth god, and Boann, the goddess of fertility. They belonged to an ancient tribe of gods, called Tuatha Dé Danann (people of the Goddess Danu), who practiced magic. After they lost their mysterious islands in the west, they traveled to Ireland in the misty clouds and settled there.
When Brigid was born she had flames shooting out from her head, and through them, she was united with the cosmos. As a baby, Brigid drank the milk of a sacred cow that came from the spirit world.
Worshippers sometimes call Brigid the “Triple Goddess” for her fires of the hearth, inspiration, and the forge. She is a powerful being and through her fires, she is the patroness of healing arts, fertility, poetry, music, prophecy, agriculture, and smithcraft. Many people also call her the Goddess of the Well, as she also has ties to the element of water. The well is sacred because it stems from the womb of the earth, and Brigid is also Mother Earth or the Mother Goddess. Her association with the sacred cow reflects the Celtic reliance on the animal for sustenance; milk was an important theme throughout the year, especially during the cold winter months when hardship threatened.
Worship of the Celtic goddess Brigid was widespread among Celts of Ireland, the highlands and islands of Scotland, and also of Western Europe. Amongst the warring clans, Brigid was a unifying theme and common bond. However, in the 5th century, the goddess faced an immense wave of religious change and pressures that swept through her devotees. She had to evolve, otherwise, her followers would have to banish her from their lives.
Saint Brigid of Kildare
As Christianity spread throughout the Celtic lands, many properties of the older religions were Christianized rather than eliminated. Brigid was an integral part of the lives of Celts, and the solution was to create a version of her that would fit into the Catholic religion. Hence, a new story emerged.
St. Brigid of Kildare was “born” around 450 AD to a Pagan family. Her family converted to Christianity with the help of St. Patrick, an equally important saint in Ireland. The Lord inspired Brigid as a young girl and her generosity and compassion reflected her unusual virtue. She gave everything away to the poor. So overly charitable was the young girl that her own father, Dubhthach, a chieftain of Leinster, wanted to give or sell her away because she had gifted the impoverished with many of his valued possessions.
St. Brigid’s Church of the Oak Tree
The king recognized her holiness and gave her a plot of land where she built a church under an oak tree. It was called Kill-dara (cill dara) meaning church of the oak tree (the area is now called Kildare). Seven girls soon followed her to Kill-dara and they started a convent at the tree.
This is one of the ways Brigid sanctified the Pagan with the Christian: The oak was sacred to the druids, and in the inner sanctuary of the Church was a perpetual flame, another religious symbol of the druid faith, as well as the Christian. Gerald of Wales (13th century) noted that the fire was perpetually maintained by 20 nuns of her community. This continued until 1220 when it was extinguished. Gerald noted that the fire was surrounded by a circle of bushes, which no man was allowed to enter.
Female worshippers tended to Brigid’s sacred fire for many hundreds of years. Other sources indicate that 19 maidens rotated over 19 days to keep the fire lit, and then on the 20th day, Goddess Brigid tended the fire herself.
The Legends of St. Brigid
According to the same story, St. Brigid of Kildare had many mystical powers, performed many miracles and healed innumerous sick people. Thus, the colorful tales about the goddess-saint quickly spread to other lands. Her popularity grew in Celtic devotions to the point where she became closely associated with the Virgin Mary and Jesus. In fact, other names for her was “Mary of the Gaels” and “Foster Mother of Jesus,” and myths placed her centuries earlier than her “known” 5th-century life. Those myths described her as the midwife attending Mary or as the wife or daughter of the innkeeper who had no room for Mary and Joseph.
The story of Saint Brigid tells us that she passed away in the year 523.
The Celebration of the Goddess and Saint
The hardest evidence of a mixture of the goddess and the saint is the date of February 1st. This is the Celtic festival day of Imbolc, which was an important event that included much worship of the goddess Brigid. That same date is when the annual Saint Brigid Feast Day takes place. The Irish still celebrate this day. As part of the festivities, they make Saint Brigid’s crosses (St. Brigid) of rushes or reeds (Goddess Brigid) and put them in houses for protection and luck (both). The cross, one of Brigid’s most important symbols, looks very much like the swastika motif, which ancient proto-Germanic people used as a symbol of life, fortune, and blessings.
Resurgence of Paganism
Hundreds of years passed since the Celtic goddess Brigid converted to sainthood. And yet, her worshippers had maintained many of her goddess qualities. Because Ireland was separate from mainland Europe, they were able to keep some their own culture and practices intact. Therefore, even the nature of their worship still had Pagan aspects.
Wells of Resistance
Pagan roots still exist today at many Irish wells that Christians had dedicated to St. Brigid. Those wells were originally connected with the Celtic goddess Brigid. As noted, she is also the Goddess of the Well, which is historically very sacred as the womb of Mother Earth from which flows life-giving waters. The most significant wells are those that exist near a large tree, as there is deep reverence and old mythology about world trees and wells. Even today, the wells have pre-Christian significance.
For example, worshippers mostly visit between dusk and dawn. This is the time of day when the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and of spirits is thinnest. The Irish annual pilgrimage to many of Brigid’s wells falls on the first Sunday in August. This day is a pre-Christian Gaelic holiday called Lughnasadh, after the god Lugh. Lughnasadh is one of the four seasonal holidays of the ancient Celts, and celebrations abound in honor of Lugh and the fall harvest.
The Burning Flames That Endure
Brigid started as the Great Goddess, exalted and inseparable from the everyday activities of the Celts. Although the Church rewrote her story, they were never able to completely supplant the tenacious goddess. Each Brigid reflected the essential spiritual values of her era, whether Pagan or Christian. She still endures so strongly that it is now impossible to tell where the goddess ends and the saint begins.
In 1993 a group of female followers re-lit Brigid’s fire, and her spirit still burns fervently in hearts and minds, as she continues to move through time as the enduring Celtic Goddess of the flame.
Patti Wigington, ThoughtCo.com
“Celtic Goddess, Christian Saint”, Celtic Heritage, February/March 1997.
St. Brigid’s Well
Wicca Spirituality, “Brigid: Goddess of the Flame and of the Well”
Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries
Co-authored by Kim Lin
Historic Mysteries, Discovering the Secrets of Our World
The Goddess of Love
Freya is the Goddess of love in Norse mythology, but she is also associated with sex, lust, beauty, sorcery, fertility, gold, war and death. The name Freya (in Old Norse “Freyja)” means “lady”, and can also be spelled (Freya, Freija, Frejya, Freyia, Fröja, Frøya, Frøjya, Freia, Freja, Frua, and Freiya). She does not originate from the Aesir but she is from the Vanir, she and two other Gods were sent to the Aesir by the Vanir as a token of truce, in return, the Aesir also sent two Gods to the Vanir. Freya became an honorable member of the Aesir after the war between the Aesir and Vanir ended.
Freya is the daughter of Njord and his sister Nerthus, and she has a twin brother named Freyr. Freya is married to the God Odr, but he somehow disappeared but it might be Odin, she has two children with Odr, their names are Hnoss and Gersimi. Some of the weekdays in Norse mythology originate from some of the Gods and Goddesses, and Freya might be associated with the day Friday, but there are conflicting sources so it could also be the Goddess Frigg.
Freya the beautiful
Freya is incredibly beautiful and she has many admirers, not just among the Gods and Goddesses but also among the dwarves and giants. She loves jewelry and other fine materials and she has quite often used her beauty to get the jewelry she desires. a big passion for poems and loves to sit and listen to songs for many hours. Freya has an unusual gift when she cries her tears turns into amber or gold.
Freya is living in Asgard (the home of the Gods), the name of her house is Sessrumnir and it is located by the field Fólkvangr which means “field of the host”, “people field” or “army field” It is a place where half of the people who die in a battle go for the afterlife, while Odin will receive the other half. Freya is always given the first choice among the brave warriors after she had picked the ones she wanted, the rest were sent to Odin.
Three animals and some feathers
Freya loves to travel and she would sometimes take a ride in her chariot pulled by two black or gray cats. But she was also able to fly, by using her cloak of falcon feathers, which she willingly loaned out to the other Gods and Goddesses in Asgard, when they needed to fly to one of the worlds in a hurry. Freya also has a boar named Hildisvini “battle swine” which she rides when she is not using her cat-drawn chariot. It is also said to be Freya’s human lover, Ottar in disguise, and that is the reason why Loki consistently accuses her of being immoral by riding her lover in public.
The story of Psyche tells of a mortal woman taken to a mysterious castle to be married to a fierce dragon. Her husband comes to her in the middle of the night, and she falls in love with him. Told she must never look upon his face, she disobeys this injunction and finds that her husband is really Eros, the god of love; when he awakes, he flies away, leaving her forever.
Psyche roams far and wide trying to find Eros. She goes to his mother, Aphrodite, who gives her four tasks to complete, each seeming impossible. The final task requires her to descend into Hades and retrieve a box of beauty.
Through the process of meeting the challenges of her tasks and integrating her experiences Psyche grows from an innocent young girl into a mature goddess. Psyche is a rich reminder of our imperative to grow; she reminds us that the process of life takes us into dark places as well as light, just as the butterfly emerges from the dark chrysalis into the light.
For more information here is the link I did for a general search for her: Further Information
Toe see images of Psyche from a general search on bing,com please click this link: Images Pysche
CELTIC GODDESS OF HEALING
Airmid, also known as Airmed or Airmeith, is the Celtic Goddess of the Healing Arts. She was also a member of the Tuatha De Danaan, the most ancient race of deities in Ireland and just as they did, she had great magickal powers. When the Goddess Danu first created the Tuatha De Danaan, she made sure that its members were very powerful gods, filled with great wisdom and skilled in every possible area of expertise.
Some people believe that the Tuatha De Danaan was comprised of Druids, who were extremely knowledgeable in both prophecy and magick. When the members of the Tuatha De Danaan decided to study something, not only did they simply learn about it, they actually went much farther, by deeply immersing themselves in that particular field to the point where they became the greatest experts in the world. They believed strongly in the three components of life: the Earth, the Mysteries, and the Spirit realm and that they were all of equal importance.
Airmid was the daughter of Diancecht, the God of Medicine, and the Chief Physician and Magician of the Tuatha De Danaan. She also had four brothers: Miach, Cian, Cethe, and Cu, and they all followed closely in their father’s footsteps. Airmid also had a sister named Etan, who was a poet who was also married to Oghma. Coming from that kind of a heritage, there can be little doubt that Airmid and her brothers excelled in the healing arts.
When the Fir Bolgs first arrived in Ireland, the Tuatha De Danaan fought against them in a great war, protecting its people and land from invasion. During the first battle, the Tuatha defeated the Fir Bolgs and killed their king, Eocchid MacEric. Nuada, the King of the Tuatha De Danaan was also seriously injured in that battle when his arm became severed from his body.
Since Diancecht was the Chief Physician of the Tuatha De Danaan, he was immediately called upon to attend to Nuada’s wounds, and he brought Airmid and Miach with him to assist. While Diancecht was working upon Nuada, it became increasingly clear that Airmid’s and Miach’s skills as healers were much greater then those of their father.
While Diancecht had decided to replace Nuada’s severed arm with one that he had constructed from silver, Airmid was actually able to regenerate the King’s own arm to perfect working order. Then Miach, using his amazing surgical skills, took the regenerated arm and re-attached it to the King’s body. These actions were extremely important to the Tuatha De Danaan and especially to Nauda, because according to its laws, no one could ever be its king, whose body was not completely whole. If Nuada’s arm had not been re-attached to his body, through Airmid and Miach’s amazing skills, then his reign as King would have ended.
Airmid, Miach and Diancecht built the Well of Slaine in Ireland, which was also known as the Well of Health. They then caste spells over it, so that the well’s magickal waters could not only restore life to those warriors who had been killed in battle; it could actually return them all to perfect health. When a wounded warrior was brought to the well his body was immediately immersed in its waters, which not only brought him back to life, but also made him well enough to return to the battle.
However, during the second Battle of Moytura, things did not go well for the Tuatha De Danaan because their enemies had filled the Well of Slaine with stones. That made it impossible for them to bring their warriors bodies back to life, and the well soon became known as the “Heapstown Cairn.”
Airmid’s brother Miach was an extremely talented healer, and when Diancecht realized that his son’s abilities were so greatly superior to his own he became extremely jealous. Soon, that jealousy began to turn into rage, and that rage became so great that he drew his sword and slashed Miach quite badly. Miach, however, using his superior medical knowledge and magickal skills, immediately healed the wound.
That just made Diancecht’s anger grow even greater, and for a second time he drew his sword, this time cutting Miach through to the bone. Just as quickly, however, Miach was able to heal himself once more.
It was at that point that Diancecht finally lost what little control he had left over his rage and, once again taking his sword in his hand, he sliced directly into his son’s brain tissue. What happened then was truly miraculous. Miach showed himself to be the outstanding physician that he was, and he actually was able to heal himself one more time.
Finally, it became extremely clear that Diancecht’s hatred of his son had reached the point of no return. Slowly, Diancecht drew his sword and then, for the final time, he struck his son in the head, this time severing Miach’s brain completely from his skull. It was then that Diancecht just walked away, leaving his wounded son who was no longer able to heal himself lying there on the ground to die. Legend has it, that when Diancecht looked down upon his dying son, he never once exhibited even the slightest bit of remorse.
Airmid also had great magickal powers and herb craft was her specialty. Miach had taught her well, and she knew the different uses of each and every plant. When Airmid buried her brother it was with great sorrow. She missed him dearly, since they had always been so very close, and she frequently would go to visit his grave. One day, when she arrived at Miach’s grave, she was amazed to find 365 healing herbs growing on and around his grave, with one herb for every joint and organ of his body.
Methodically, Airmid began to gather up the herbs. Then, quite amazingly, the herbs began to speak to her, telling her of the full range of their healing powers. Airmid then took the herbs and separated each from the other. Then she arranged them systematically upon her cloak, each according to its own particular use or special properties. With the knowledge she had gained from the herbs, she then proceeded to use it to heal people who needed medical attention.
Amazingly, Diancecht’s obsessive hatred for his son did not end with Miach’s death. Still consumed by his enormous rage, Diancecht went over to Airmid’s cloak and overturned it, scattering all the herbs into the wind; thereby making certain that no one except Airmid would ever know the use of the herbs’ healing properties or the secret of how to achieve immortality which was made possible through the herbs proper use.
Even though Diancecht was her father, Airmid found herself unable to have any feelings for him, and refused to have anything to do with him. In fact, she found it so impossible to even go anywhere near him, that she travelled far away to a place where she would never have to see him again.
It is believed that Airmid still works as a Physician, high in the mountains of Ireland, spending much of her time healing Faeries, Elves and humans; bringing them all back to good health through her practical knowledge and amazing magickal skills.
Celtic Goddess of Healing, Plants and Herbs
Airmid was a Celtic Goddess of the healing arts especially dealing with herbs and plants. She was the daughter of Dian Cecht who was the God of Medicine and chief physician to the Tuatha de Danann, the Gods of Ireland. Airmid had four brothers Miach, Cian, Cu and Cethe who also followed the path of healing and medicine.
The Tuatha de Danann went to war with the Fir Bolgs when they invaded Ireland.
The king of the Tuatha de Danann, Nuada, was injured in battle and his arm had been severed. According to the laws it was said that no man could be king whose body was not whole, so Nuada immediately called on his physician, Dian Cecht. The physician brought his daughter Airmid and his son Miach with him since they were both skilled healers.
Dian Cecht had planned to reconstruct a new arm for Nuada made of silver but since Airmid was known for her regenerative skills she was able to create an arm made of human flesh.
Miach was known for his surgical skills and he was able to attach the new arm to Nuadas body so that it looked like he had never lost an arm in the first place. So great was Miachs surgical skills that his father became jealous and in a fit of envious rage he grabbed a sword and cut off Miachs head.
Airmid was beside herself with grief after losing her brother.
She buried him and made a cairn of stones over his grave. She visited his grave to mourn his loss everyday for a year. Than one day when she went to sit at his grave she came upon 365 different herbs growing on top and all around his burial site. She laid out her cloak to gather all the herbs and as she gently plucked them from the fertile earth they whispered their unique healing properties to her. There was an herb for each joint, organ and bone in the body.
Her father Dian Cecht, still jealous of his sons vast knowledge, found Airmid and overturned her cloak scattering the herbs to the wind so that no one but she would know of the healing herbs secrets.
Thankfully, Airmid had already committed everything to memory and could regrow all the herbs to continue her and her brothers healing work. Airmid was called upon when men and women were hurt during battle. She was also said to be a healer for the fairies and other magical creatures of the forests and mountains of Ireland.
Airmid can be called upon today for any healing work you are doing.
Or any herbal medicine preparations. She can also be called on while you’re gardening and planting as she will watch over the plants and lend them her healing powers and magic.
In the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, and Heimskringla, Hel is referred to as a daughter of Loki. In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, Hel is described as having been appointed by the god Odin as ruler of the realm of Niflheim. In the same source, her appearance is described as half blue and half flesh-colored and further as having a gloomy, downcast appearance. The Prose Edda details that Hel rules over vast mansions with many servants in her underworld realm and plays a key role in the attempted resurrection of the god Baldr.
Scholarly theories have been proposed about Hel’s potential connections to figures appearing in the 11th-century Old English Gospel of Nicodemus and Old Norse Bartholomeus saga postola, that she may have been considered a goddess with potential Indo-European parallels in Bhavani, Kali, and Mahakali or that Hel may have become a being only as a late personification of the location of the same name.
The gods had abducted Hel and her brothers from Angrboda’s hall. They cast her in the underworld, into which she distributes those who are sent to her; the wicked and those who died of sickness or old age. Her hall in Helheim is called Eljudnir, Home of the Dead. Her manservant is Ganglati and her maidservant is Ganglot (which both can be translated as “tardy”). She has a knife called “Famine”, a plate called “Hunger”, a bed called “Disease”, and bed curtains called “Misfortune”.
The Old Norse feminine proper noun Hel is identical to the name of the location over which she rules, Old Norse Hel. The word has cognates in all branches of the Germanic languages, including Old English hell (and thus Modern English hell), Old Frisian helle, Old Saxon hellia, Old High German hella, and Gothic halja. All forms ultimately derive from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic feminine noun *xaljō or *haljō (‘concealed place, the underworld’). In turn, the Proto-Germanic form derives from the o-grade form of the Proto-Indo-European root *kel-, *kol-: ‘to cover, conceal, save’.
The term is etymologically related to Modern English hall and therefore also Valhalla, an afterlife ‘hall of the slain’ in Norse Mythology. Hall and its numerous Germanic cognates derive from Proto-Germanic *hallō ‘covered place, hall’, from Proto-Indo-European *kol-.
Related early Germanic terms and concepts include Proto-Germanic *xalja-rūnō(n), a feminine compound noun, and *xalja-wītjan, a neutral compound noun. This form is reconstructed from the Latinized Gothic plural noun *haliurunnae (attested by Jordanes; according to philologist Vladimir Orel, meaning ‘witches’), Old English helle-rúne (‘sorceress, necromancer’, according to Orel), and Old High German helli-rūna ‘magic’. The compound is composed of two elements: *xaljō (*haljō) and *rūnō, the Proto-Germanic precursor to Modern English rune. The second element in the Gothic haliurunnae may however instead be an agent noun from the verb rinnan (“to run, go”), which would make its literal meaning “one who travels to the netherworld”.)
Proto-Germanic *xalja-wītjan (or *halja-wītjan) is reconstructed from Old Norse hel-víti ‘hell’, Old English helle-wíte ‘hell-torment, hell’, Old Saxon helli-wīti ‘hell’, and the Middle High German feminine noun helle-wīze. The compound is a compound of *xaljō (discussed above) and *wītjan (reconstructed from forms such as Old English witt ‘right mind, wits’, Old Saxon gewit ‘understanding’, and Gothic un-witi ‘foolishness, understanding’).
The Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, features various poems that mention Hel. In the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá, Hel’s realm is referred to as the “Halls of Hel.” In stanza 31 of Grímnismál, Hel is listed as living beneath one of three roots growing from the world tree Yggdrasil. In Fáfnismál, the hero Sigurd stands before the mortally wounded body of the dragon Fáfnir, and states that Fáfnir lies in pieces, where “Hel can take” him. In Atlamál, the phrases “Hel has half of us” and “sent off to Hel” are used in reference to death, though it could be a reference to the location and not the being, if not both. In stanza 4 of Baldrs draumar, Odin rides towards the “high hall of Hel.”
Hel may also be alluded to in Hamðismál. Death is periphrased as “joy of the troll-woman” (or “ogress”) and ostensibly it is Hel being referred to as the troll-woman or the ogre (flagð), although it may otherwise be some unspecified dís. The Poetic Edda also mentions that travelers to Hel must pass by her guardian hound Garmr.
Hel is referred to in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In chapter 34 of the book Gylfaginning, Hel is listed by High as one of the three children of Loki and Angrboða; the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and Hel. High continues that, once the gods found that these three children are being brought up in the land of Jötunheimr, and when the gods “traced prophecies that from these siblings great mischief and disaster would arise for them” then the gods expected a lot of trouble from the three children, partially due to the nature of the mother of the children, yet worse so due to the nature of their father.
High says that Odin sent the gods to gather the children and bring them to him. Upon their arrival, Odin threw Jörmungandr into “that deep sea that lies round all lands,” Odin threw Hel into Niflheim, and bestowed upon her authority over nine worlds, in that she must “administer board and lodging to those sent to her, and that is those who die of sickness or old age.” High details that in this realm Hel has “great Mansions” with extremely high walls and immense gates, a hall called Éljúðnir, a dish called “Hunger,” a knife called “Famine,” the servant Ganglati (Old Norse “lazy walker”), the serving-maid Ganglöt (also “lazy walker”), the entrance threshold “Stumbling-block,” the bed “Sick-bed,” and the curtains “Gleaming-bale.” High describes Hel as “half black and half flesh-coloured,” adding that this makes her easily recognizable, and furthermore that Hel is “rather downcast and fierce-looking.”
In chapter 49, High describes the events surrounding the death of the god Baldr. The goddess Frigg asks who among the Æsir will earn “all her love and favour” by riding to Hel, the location, to try to find Baldr, and offer Hel herself a ransom. The god Hermóðr volunteers and sets off upon the eight-legged horse Sleipnir to Hel. Hermóðr arrives in Hel’s hall, finds his brother Baldr there, and stays the night. The next morning, Hermóðr begs Hel to allow Baldr to ride home with him, and tells her about the great weeping the Æsir have done upon Baldr’s death. Hel says the love people have for Baldr that Hermóðr has claimed must be tested, stating:
- “If all things in the world, alive or dead, weep for him, then he will be allowed to return to the Æsir. If anyone speaks against him or refuses to cry, then he will remain with Hel.”
Later in the chapter, after the female jötunn Þökk refuses to weep for the dead Baldr, she responds in verse, ending with “let Hel hold what she has.” In chapter 51, High describes the events of Ragnarök, and details that when Loki arrives at the field Vígríðr “all of Hel’s people” will arrive with him.
In chapter 5 of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, Hel is mentioned in a kenning for Baldr (“Hel’s companion”). In chapter 16, “Hel’s […] relative or father” is given as a kenning for Loki. In chapter 50, Hel is referenced (“to join the company of the quite monstrous wolf’s sister”) in the skaldic poem Ragnarsdrápa.
In the Heimskringla book Ynglinga saga, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, Hel is referred to, though never by name. In chapter 17, the king Dyggvi dies of sickness. A poem from the 9th-century Ynglingatal that forms the basis of Ynglinga saga is then quoted that describes Hel’s taking of Dyggvi:
- I doubt not
- but Dyggvi’s corpse
- Hel does hold
- to whore with him;
- for Ulf’s sib
- a scion of kings
- by right should
- caress in death:
- to love lured
- Loki’s sister
- Yngvi’s heir
- o’er all Sweden.
In chapter 45, a section from Ynglingatal is given which refers to Hel as “howes’-warder” (meaning “guardian of the graves”) and as taking King Halfdan Hvitbeinn from life. In chapter 46, King Eystein Halfdansson dies by being knocked overboard by a sail yard. A section from Ynglingatal follows, describing that Eystein “fared to” Hel (referred to as “Býleistr’s-brother’s-daughter”). In chapter 47, the deceased Eystein’s son King Halfdan dies of an illness, and the excerpt provided in the chapter describes his fate thereafter, a portion of which references Hel:
- Loki’s child
- from life summoned
- to her thing
- the third liege-lord,
- when Halfdan
- of Holtar farm
- left the life
- allotted to him.
In a stanza from Ynglingatal recorded in chapter 72 of the Heimskringla book Saga of Harald Sigurdsson, “given to Hel” is again used as a phrase to referring to death.
The Icelanders’ saga Egils saga contains the poem Sonatorrek. The saga attributes the poem to 10th century skald Egill Skallagrímsson, and writes that it was composed by Egill after the death of his son Gunnar. The final stanza of the poem contains a mention of Hel, though not by name:
- Now my course is tough:
- Death, close sister
- of Odin’s enemy
- stands on the ness:
- with resolution
- and without remorse
- I will gladly
- await my own.
In the account of Baldr’s death in Saxo Grammaticus’ early 13th century work Gesta Danorum, the dying Baldr has a dream visitation from Proserpina (here translated as “the goddess of death”):
The following night the goddess of death appeared to him in a dream standing at his side, and declared that in three days time she would clasp him in her arms. It was no idle vision, for after three days the acute pain of his injury brought his end.
Scholars have assumed that Saxo used Proserpina as a goddess equivalent to the Norse Hel.
The Morrígan or Mórrígan, also known as Morrígu, is a figure from Irish mythology. The name is Mór-Ríoghain in Modern Irish. It has been translated as “great queen”, “phantom queen” or “queen of phantoms”.
The Morrígan is mainly associated with war and fate, especially with foretelling doom, death or victory in battle. In this role she often appears as a crow, the badb. She incites warriors to battle and can help bring about victory over their enemies. The Morrígan encourages warriors to do brave deeds, strikes fear into their enemies, and is portrayed washing the bloodstained clothes of those fated to die. She also has some connection with sovereignty, the land and livestock. In modern times she is often called a “war goddess” and has also been seen as a manifestation of the earth- and sovereignty-goddess, chiefly representing the goddess’s role as guardian of the territory and its people.
The Morrígan is often described as a trio of individuals, all sisters, called ‘the three Morrígna’. Membership of the triad varies; sometimes it is given as Badb, Macha and Nemain while elsewhere it is given as Badb, Macha and Anand (the latter is given as another name for the Morrígan). It is believed that these were all names for the same goddess. The three Morrígna are also named as sisters of the three land goddesses Ériu, Banba and Fódla. The Morrígan is said to be the wife of The Dagda, while Badb and Nemain are said to be the wives of Neit.
She is associated with the banshee of later folklore.
There is some disagreement over the meaning of the Morrígan’s name. Mor may derive from an Indo-European root connoting terror or monstrousness, cognate with the Old English maere (which survives in the modern English word “nightmare”) and the Scandinavian mara and the Old East Slavic “mara” (“nightmare”); while rígan translates as ‘queen’. This can be reconstructed in the Proto-Celtic language as *Moro-rīganī-s. Accordingly, Morrígan is often translated as “Phantom Queen”. This is the derivation generally favoured in current scholarship.
In the Middle Irish period the name is often spelled Mórrígan with a lengthening diacritic over the o, seemingly intended to mean “Great Queen” (Old Irish mór, ‘great’; this would derive from a hypothetical Proto-Celtic *Māra Rīganī-s). Whitley Stokes believed this latter spelling was due to a false etymology popular at the time. There have also been attempts by modern writers to link the Morrígan with the Welsh literary figure Morgan le Fay from the Matter of Britain, in whose name mor may derive from Welsh word for “sea”, but the names are derived from different cultures and branches of the Celtic linguistic tree.
Glosses and glossaries
The earliest sources for the Morrígan are glosses in Latin manuscripts, and glossaries (collections of glosses). In a 9th century manuscript containing the Vulgate version of the Book of Isaiah, the word Lamia is used to translate the Hebrew Lilith. A gloss explains this as “a monster in female form, that is, a morrígan“. Cormac’s Glossary (also 9th century), and a gloss in the later manuscript H.3.18, both explain the plural word gudemain (“spectres”) with the plural form morrígna. The 8th century O’Mulconry’s Glossary says that Macha is one of the three morrígna.
The Morrígan’s earliest narrative appearances, in which she is depicted as an individual, are in stories of the Ulster Cycle, where she has an ambiguous relationship with the hero Cú Chulainn. In Táin Bó Regamna (The Cattle Raid of Regamain), Cúchulainn encounters the Morrígan, but does not recognise her, as she drives a heifer from his territory. In response to this perceived challenge, and his ignorance of her role as a sovereignty figure, he insults her. But before he can attack her she becomes a black bird on a nearby branch. Cúchulainn now knows who she is, and tells her that had he known before, they would not have parted in enmity. She notes that whatever he had done would have brought him ill luck. To his response that she cannot harm him, she delivers a series of warnings, foretelling a coming battle in which he will be killed. She tells him, “it is at the guarding of thy death that I am; and I shall be.”
In the Táin Bó Cúailnge queen Medb of Connacht launches an invasion of Ulster to steal the bull Donn Cuailnge; the Morrígan, like Alecto of the Greek Furies, appears to the bull in the form of a crow and warns him to flee. Cúchulainn defends Ulster by fighting a series of single combats at fords against Medb’s champions. In between combats the Morrígan appears to him as a young woman and offers him her love, and her aid in the battle, but he rejects her offer. In response she intervenes in his next combat, first in the form of an eel who trips him, then as a wolf who stampedes cattle across the ford, and finally as a white, red-eared heifer leading the stampede, just as she had warned in their previous encounter. However Cúchulainn wounds her in each form and defeats his opponent despite her interference. Later she appears to him as an old woman bearing the same three wounds that her animal forms sustained, milking a cow. She gives Cúchulainn three drinks of milk. He blesses her with each drink, and her wounds are healed. He regrets blessing her for the three drinks of milk which is apparent in the exchange between the Morrígan and Cúchulainn, “She gave him milk from the third teat, and her leg was healed. ‘You told me once,’ she said,’that you would never heal me.’ ‘Had I known it was you,’ said Cúchulainn, ‘I never would have.'” As the armies gather for the final battle, she prophesies the bloodshed to come.
In one version of Cúchulainn’s death-tale, as Cúchulainn rides to meet his enemies, he encounters the Morrígan as a hag washing his bloody armour in a ford, an omen of his death. Later in the story, mortally wounded, Cúchulainn ties himself to a standing stone with his own entrails so he can die upright, and it is only when a crow lands on his shoulder that his enemies believe he is dead.
The Morrígan also appears in texts of the Mythological Cycle. In the 12th century pseudohistorical compilation Lebor Gabála Érenn she is listed among the Tuatha Dé Danannas one of the daughters of Ernmas, granddaughter of Nuada.
The first three daughters of Ernmas are given as Ériu, Banba, and Fódla. Their names are synonyms for Ireland, and they were married to Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht, and Mac Gréine, the last three Tuatha Dé Danann kings of Ireland. Associated with the land and kingship, they probably represent a triple goddess of sovereignty. Next come Ernmas’s other three daughters: Badb, Macha, and the Morrígan. A quatrain describes the three as wealthy, “springs of craftiness” and “sources of bitter fighting”. The Morrígu’s name is also said to be Anand, and she had three sons, Glon, Gaim, and Coscar. According to Geoffrey Keating‘s 17th century History of Ireland, Ériu, Banba, and Fódla worshipped Badb, Macha, and the Morrígan respectively.
The Morrígan also appears in Cath Maige Tuired “Battle of Mag Tuired”. On Samhain, she keeps a tryst with the Dagda before the battle against the Fomorians. When he meets her she is washing herself, standing with one foot on either side of the river Unius. In some sources she is believed to have created the river. After they have sex, the Morrígan promises to summon the magicians of Ireland to cast spells on behalf of the Tuatha Dé, and to destroy Indech, the Fomorian king, taking from him “the blood of his heart and the kidneys of his valour”. Later, we are told, she would bring two handfuls of his blood and deposit them in the same river (however, we are also told later in the text that Indech was killed by Ogma).
As battle is about to be joined, the Tuatha Dé leader, Lug, asks each what power they bring to the battle. The Morrígan’s reply is difficult to interpret, but involves pursuing, destroying and subduing. When she comes to the battlefield she chants a poem, and immediately the battle breaks and the Fomorians are driven into the sea. After the battle she chants another poem celebrating the victory and prophesying the end of the world.
In another story she lures away the bull of a woman named Odras. Odras then follows the Morrígan to the Otherworld, via the cave of Cruachan. When Odras falls asleep, the Morrígan turns her into a pool of water that fed into the Shannon River.
Nature and role
The Morrígan is often considered a triple goddess, but this triple nature is ambiguous and inconsistent. These triple appearances are partially due to the Celtic significance of threeness. Sometimes she appears as one of three sisters, the daughters of Ernmas: Morrígan, Badb and Macha. Sometimes the trinity consists of Badb, Macha and Anand, collectively known as the Morrígna. Occasionally Nemain or Fea appear in the various combinations. However, the Morrígan can also appear alone, and her name is sometimes used interchangeably with Badb.
The Morrígan is mainly associated with war and fate, and is often interpreted as a “war goddess”. W. M. Hennessy’s “The Ancient Irish Goddess of War”, written in 1870, was influential in establishing this interpretation. Her role often involves premonitions of a particular warrior’s violent death, suggesting a link with the banshee of later folklore. This connection is further noted by Patricia Lysaght: “In certain areas of Ireland this supernatural being is, in addition to the name banshee, also called the badhb“. Her role was to not only be a symbol of imminent death, but to also influence the outcome of war. Most often she did this by appearing as a crow flying overhead and would either inspire fear or courage in the hearts of the warriors. In some cases, she is written to have appeared in visions to those who are destined to die in battle by washing their bloody armor. In this specific role, she is also given the role of foretelling imminent death with a particular emphasis on the individual. There are also a few rare accounts where she would join in the battle itself as a warrior and show her favouritism in a more direct manner.
The Morrígan is also associated with the land and animals, particularly livestock. Máire Herbert argues that “war per se is not a primary aspect of the role of the goddess”. Herbert suggests that “her activities have a tutelary character. She oversees the land, its stock and its society. Her shape-shifting is an expression of her affinity with the whole living universe”. Patricia Lysaght notes that Cath Maige Tuired depicts the Morrígan as “a protectress of her people’s interests” and it associates her with both war and fertility. According to Prionsias Mac Cana, the goddess in Ireland is “primarily concerned with the prosperity of the land: its fertility, its animal life, and (when it is conceived as a political unit) its security against external forces”. Likewise, Maria Tymoczko writes “The welfare and fertility of a people depend on their security against external aggression” and notes that “Warlike action can thus have a protective aspect”. It is therefore suggested that the Morrígan is a manifestation of the earth- and sovereignty-goddess, chiefly representing the goddess’s role as guardian of the territory and its people. She can be interpreted as providing political or military aid, or protection to the king—acting as a goddess of sovereignty, not necessarily of war.
It has also been suggested that she was closely linked to the fianna and that these groups may have been in some way dedicated to her. These were “bands of youthful warrior-hunters, living on the borders of civilized society and indulging in lawless activities for a time before inheriting property and taking their places as members of settled, landed communities”. If true, her worship may have resembled that of Perchta groups in Germanic areas.
There is a burnt mound site in County Tipperary known as Fulacht na Mór Ríoghna (‘cooking pit of the Mórrígan’). The fulachtaí sites are found in wild areas, and usually associated with outsiders such as the fianna, as well as with the hunting of deer. There may be a link with the three mythical hags who cook the meal of dogflesh that brings the hero Cúchulainn to his doom. The Dá Chich na Morrigna (‘two breasts of the Mórrígan’), a pair of hills in County Meath, suggest to some a role as a tutelary goddess, comparable to Anu, who has her own hills, Dá Chích Anann (‘the breasts of Anu’) in County Kerry. Other goddesses known to have similar hills are Áine and Grian of County Limerick who, in addition to a tutelary function, also have solar attributes.
There have been attempts by some modern authors of fiction to link Morgan le Fay with the Morrígan. Morgan first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Vita Merlini “The Life of Merlin” in the 12th century. In these Arthurian legends, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Morgan is portrayed as an evil hag whose actions set into motion a bloody trail of events that lead the hero into numerous instances of danger. Morgan is also depicted as a seductress, much like the older legends of the goddess and has numerous sexual encounters with Merlin. The character is frequently depicted of wielding power over others to achieve her own purposes, allowing those actions to play out over time, to either the benefit or detriment of other characters.
However, while the creators of the literary character of Morgan may have been somewhat inspired by the much older tales of the goddess, the relationship ends there. Scholars such as Rosalind Clark hold that the names are unrelated, the Welsh “Morgan” (Wales being the source of the Matter of Britain) being derived from root words associated with the sea, while the Irish “Morrígan” has its roots either in a word for “terror” or a word for “greatness”.
Norse Goddess of love, beauty, magic (seidhr), fertility, war and death.
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 an honorary member of the Aesir gods after the Aesir-Vanir War. Her father is Njord. Her mother is unknown, but could be Nerthus. Freyr is her brother. Her husband, named Odr in late Old Norse literature, is certainly none other than Odin, and, accordingly, Freya is ultimately identical with Odin’s wife Frigg (see below for a discussion of this).
Freya is famous for her fondness of love, fertility, beauty, and fine material possessions – and, because of these predilections, she’s considered to be something of the “party girl” of the Aesir. In one of the Eddic poems, for example, Loki accuses Freya (probably accurately) of having slept with all of the gods and elves, including her brother. She’s certainly a passionate seeker after pleasures and thrills, but she’s a lot more than only that. Freya is the archetype of the völva, a professional or semiprofessional practitioner of seidr, the most organized form of Norse magic. It was she who first brought this art to the gods, and, by extension, to humans as well. Given her expertise in controlling and manipulating the desires, health, and prosperity of others, she’s a being whose knowledge and power are almost without equal.
Freya presides over the afterlife realm Folkvang. According to one Old Norse poem, she chooses half of the warriors slain in battle to dwell there. (See Death and the Afterlife.)
Freya the Völva
Seidr is a form of pre-Christian Norse magic and shamanism that involved discerning the course of fate and working within its structure to bring about change, often by symbolically weaving new events into being. This power could potentially be put to any use imaginable, and examples that cover virtually the entire range of the human condition can be found in Old Norse literature.
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 as well. Like other northern Eurasian shamans, her social status was highly ambiguous – she was by turns exalted, feared, longed for, propitiated, celebrated, and scorned.
Freya’s occupying this role amongst the gods is stated directly in the Ynglinga Saga, and indirect hints are dropped elsewhere in the Eddas and sagas. For example, in one tale, we’re informed that Freya possesses falcon plumes that allow their bearer to shift his or her shape into that of a falcon.
During the so-called Völkerwanderung or “Migration Period” – roughly 400-800 CE, and thus the period that immediately preceded the Viking Age – the figure who would later become the völva held a much more institutionally necessary and universally acclaimed role among the Germanic tribes. One of the core societal institutions of the period was the warband, a tightly organized military society presided over by a chieftain and his wife. The wife of the warband’s leader, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, held the title of veleda, and her role in the warband was to foretell the outcome of a suggested plan of action by means of divination and to influence that outcome by means of more active magic, as well as to serve a special cup of liquor that was a powerful symbol of both temporal and spiritual power in the warband’s periodic ritual feasts.
One literary portrait of such a woman comes to us from the medieval Old English epic poem Beowulf, which recounts the deeds of King Hroðgar and his warband in the land that we today know as Denmark. The name of Hroðgar’s queen, Wealhþeow, is almost certainly the Old English equivalent of the Proto-Germanic title that Tacitus latinised as “veleda.” Wealhþeow’s “domestic” actions in the poem – which are, properly understood, enactments of the liquor ritual described above – are indispensable for the upkeep of the unity of the warband and its power structures. The poem, despite its Christian veneer, “hint[s] at the queen’s oracular powers… The Hrothgar/Wealhtheow association as presented in the poem is an echo of an earlier more robust and vigorous politico-theological conception.”
This “politico-theological conception” was based on the mythological model provided by the divine pair Frija and Woðanaz, deities who later evolved into, respectively, Freya/Frigg and Odin. Woðanaz is the warband’s chieftain, and Frija is its veleda. In addition to the structural congruencies outlined above, Wealhþeow and Freya even own a piece of jewelry with the same name: Old English Brosinga mene and Old Norse Brísingamen (both meaning something like “fiery/glowing necklace”). That both figures refer to the same ancient archetype, whether on the human or the divine plane, is certain.
Freya and Frigg
While the late Old Norse literary sources that form the basis of our current knowledge of pre-Christian Germanic religion present Freya and Frigg as being at least nominally distinct goddesses, the similarities between them run deep. Their differences, however, are superficial and can be satisfactorily explained by consulting the history and evolution of the common Germanic goddess whom the Norse were in the process of splitting into Freya and Frigg sometime shortly before the conversion of Scandinavia and Iceland to Christianity (around the year 1000 CE).
As we’ve noted above, the Migration Period goddess who later became Freya was the wife of the god who later became Odin. While somewhat veiled, this is ultimately still the case in Old Norse literature. Freya’s husband is named Óðr, a name which is virtually identical to that of Óðinn (the Old Norse form of “Odin”). Óðr means “ecstasy, inspiration, furor.” Óðinn is simply the word óðr with the masculine definite article (-inn) added onto the end. The two names come from the same word and have the same meaning. Óðr is an obscure and seldom-mentioned character in Old Norse literature. The one passage that tells us anything about his personality or deeds – anything beyond merely listing his name in connection with Freya – comes from the Prose Edda, which states that Óðr is often away on long journeys, and that Freya can often be found weeping tears of red gold over his absence. Many of the surviving tales involving Odin have him traveling far and wide throughout the Nine Worlds, to the point that he’s probably more often away from Asgard than within it. Many of Odin’s numerous bynames allude to his wanderings or are names he assumed to disguise his identity while abroad. Thus, it’s hard to see Freya’s husband as anything but an only nominally distinct extension of Odin.
Freyja and Frigg are similarly accused of infidelity to their (apparently common) husband. Alongside the several mentions of Freya’s loose sexual practices can be placed the words of the medieval Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, who relates that Frigg slept with a slave on at least one occasion. In Lokasenna and the Ynglinga Saga, Odin was once exiled from Asgard, leaving his brothers Vili and Ve in command. In addition to presiding over the realm, they also regularly slept with Frigg until Odin’s return. Many scholars have tried to differentiate between Freya and Frigg by asserting that the former is more promiscuous and less steadfast than the latter, but these tales suggest otherwise.
Frigg is depicted as a völva herself. Once again in Lokasenna, after Loki slanders Frigg for her infidelity, Freya warns him that Frigg knows the fate of all beings, an intimation of her ability to perform seidr. Frigg’s weaving activities are likely an allusion to this role as well. And, as it turns out, Freya is not the only goddess to own a set of bird-of-prey feathers for shapeshifting – Frigg is also in possession of one.
The word for “Friday” in Germanic languages (including English) is named after Frija, the Proto-Germanic goddess who is the foremother of Freya and Frigg. None of the other Germanic peoples seem to have spoken of Frija as if she were two goddesses; this approach is unique to the Norse sources. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in the Norse sources we find a confusion as to which goddess this day should have as its namesake. Both Freyjudagr (from Freyja) and Frjádagr (from Frigg) are used.
The names of the two goddesses are also particularly interesting in this regard. Freyja, “Lady,” is a title rather than a true name. It’s a cognate of the modern German word Frau, which is used in much the same way as the English title “Mrs.” In the Viking Age, Scandinavian and Icelandic aristocratic women were sometimes called freyjur, the plural of freyja. “Frigg,” meanwhile, comes from an ancient root that means “beloved.” Frigg’s name therefore links her to love and desire, precisely the areas of life over which Freya presides. Here again we can discern the ultimate reducibility of both goddesses to one another: one’s name is identical to the other’s attributes, and the other name is a generic title rather than a unique name.
Clearly, then, the two are ultimately the same goddess. Why, then, are they presented as nominally distinct in the late Old Norse sources? Unfortunately, no one really knows.
Looking for more great information on Norse mythology and religion? While this site provides the ultimate online introduction to the topic, my book The Viking Spirit provides the ultimate introduction to Norse mythology and religion period. I’ve also written a popular list of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books, which you’ll probably find helpful in your pursuit.
Originally Published on Norse Mythology for Smart People
 The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, stanzas 30, 32.
 Snorri Sturluson. Ynglinga Saga 4. In Heimskringla: eða Sögur Noregs Konunga.
 Heide, Eldar. 2006. Spinning Seiðr. In Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes and Interactions. Edited by Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbert, and Catharina Raudvere. p. 166.
 Price, Neil S. 2002. The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. p. 279-328.
 Snorri Sturluson. Ynglinga Saga 4. In Heimskringla: eða Sögur Noregs Konunga.
 Ellis-Davidson, Hilda Roderick. 1964. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. p. 117.
 Tacitus, Cornelius. Germania 8.
 Enright, Michael J. 1996. Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age.
 Ibid. p. 192.
 Ibid. p. 66.
 Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning 35.
 Saxo Grammaticus. The History of the Danes.
 The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, verse 26.
 Snorri Sturluson. Ynglinga Saga 3. In Heimskringla: eða Sögur Noregs Konunga.
 See, for example: Grimm, Jacob. 1882. Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. p. 302.
 The Poetic Edda. Lokasenna, verse 29.
 Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Skáldskaparmál 18-19.
 Ellis-Davidson, Hilda Roderick. 1964. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. p. 111.
 Grimm, Jacob. 1882. Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. p. 300.
 Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. p. 114.
by Emma Groeneveld
Freyja (Old Norse for ‘Lady’, ‘Woman’, or ‘Mistress’) is the best-known and most important goddess in Norse mythology. Beautiful and many-functioned, she features heavily as a fertility goddess stemming from her place in the Vanir family of the gods (the other and main one is the Æsir family) along with her twin brother Freyr and father Njord, and stars in many myths recorded in Old Norse literature as lover or object of lust. She lives in Fólkvangr (‘Field of the People’), rides a carriage drawn by cats, and is connected not just with love and lust but also with wealth, magic, as well as hand-picking half of all fallen warriors on battlefields to go into Odin’s hall of Valhalla – the other half being selected by Odin himself. She likely played an important role in old Scandinavian religion.
Freyja is part of the Vanir family of the gods who handle all things fertility-related, including harvests (her brother Freyr); wind, sea, and wealth (her father Njord); and her own expertise regarding love, lust, and wealth, too. Her mother appears to have been giant-daughter and wife of Njord, Skadi, and while originally Freyja may have been paired in a brother-sister married couple with Freyr, Icelandic mythographer Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE) – our most comprehensive source when it comes to Norse mythology – has her down as wife of Ódr, who she has two daughters with; Hnoss and Gersimi (Gylfaginning, 35). These names both mean something along the lines of ‘preciousness’ or ‘treasure’ and were possibly used in later poetry as manifestations of Freyja herself.
Ódr is said to have gone traipsing around on long journeys, inexplicably leaving Freyja behind, who would then search for him while weeping golden tears; this tale dates back to at least as early as the 10th century CE. He and Odin are commonly thought to have originally been one and the same person, with Ódr functioning as a shortened form of Odin.
One of Freyja’s attributes has already been mentioned: her cat-drawn carriage with which she zooms around the Norse mythological cosmos. Another is a garment – a coat, cloak or dress-like thing – made out of falcon feathers. Possibly, the boar Hildisvíni should also be counted among Freyja’s attributes; the Hyndluljóð poem has her riding said boar, and a boar connection, in general, is made more plausible by the fact that her brother Freyr is also associated with a boar, in his case named Gullinborsti. Sýr, another name of Freyja’s, is sometimes translated as ‘sow’, too, but it also might mean ‘to protect’, ‘to shield,’ in which case it would negate this third boar link. Germanic mythological powerhouse H. R. Ellis Davidson adds another animal: “Horses were certainly associated with the fertility pair Freyr and Freyja, and said to be kept in their holy places” (104). Her last – but not least – attribute is the necklace Brísingamen.
FREYJA’S MANY ROLES
The baseline of Freyja’s various functions comes from her role as fertility goddess as per her Vanir descent. Specifically, her other name Horn (Hǫrn, or Härn) probably comes from Old Norse horr, which means flax or linen. This was an important product which began being cultivated early on in Scandinavia and was thought to ward off evil and give fertility to humankind. Flax manufacture was a female affair, and as bridal dresses were made of linen, Freyja became a sort of defender of love and weddings, too. Another one of her names, Gefn, is Old Norse for ‘giver’, bringing to mind a role as a goddess of plenty.
The handed-down mythology emphasises Freyja’s role in all things related to sexuality (apart from childbirth, with which she seems unconcerned). For one, she often features as an irresistible object of lust, mainly in the eyes of the giants. The giant Thrym, for example, is only cool with returning the hammer he has stolen from Thor if he gets Freyja for his own. Besides her being the ‘price’ of many things – which the other gods try to avoid paying, as such – other myths reinforce Freyja’s supposed free and considerable sexuality. Although Loki in the Lokasenna poem badmouths everyone around him and accuses all the goddesses of various sexual acts, Freyja is reprimanded by Loki as follows:
Be silent, Freyja! | for fully I know thee,
Sinless thou art not thyself;
Of the gods and elves | who are gathered here,
Each one as thy lover has lain. (30)
She also consents to sleep with four dwarves in turn in order for them to hand over the Brísingamen to her and is accused in the Hyndluljóð poem of being the hero Óttar’s lover. Presumably, then, early Scandinavians looked to Freyja in matters of love and lust.
To make things even better, Freyja is also a goddess of wealth, as attested to by the many poetic references that link her to treasure. Her tears are said to be made of gold, even being synonymous with the material:
Gold is called Freyja’s Tears (…). So sang Skúli Thorsteinsson:
Many a fearless swordsman
Received the Tears of Freyja.
The fact that Freyja’s daughters’ names Hnoss and Gersimi mean ‘preciousness’ or ‘treasure’ could arguably be seen as the “product of poetic convention in which Freyja was recognized as the source of treasure: perhaps as the weeper of golden tears, perhaps as a goddess ruling over wealth” (Billington & Green, 61).
Her connection with magic is also well-known, and Snorri Sturluson relays how it was Freyja who first taught the shamanistic magic called seiðr to the Æsir. Finally, the way Freyja chooses slain warriors to be on her as opposed to Odin’s team carries her into more ferocious spheres, functioning as a goddess of death and perhaps even battle itself. Which god selects you seems to boil down to social or personal status, or perhaps comes from the fact that both the Vanir and the Æsir needed someone to fulfil this role on the battlefield. This link between Freyja and Odin, as well as Odin’s own strong proficiency with magic, helps illustrate how Odin and Ódr, Freyja’s husband, could plausibly have originally been the same person.
MYTHS INVOLVING FREYJA
As evidenced above, there are plenty of myths recorded in the Old Norse sources that are keen to dive into the subject of Freyja. The Hyndluljóð poem emphasises she was more than just a pretty face; in it, Freyja visits wise-woman Hyndla asking her to unravel the hero Óttar’s ancestry, soaking up this knowledge. However, in the Þrymskviða (the ‘Lay of Thrym’, a poem possibly composed in the 12th or 13th century CE and found in the Poetic Edda), her desirability is once again a core theme. The story tells of Thor’s hammer being stolen by the giant Thrym, who will not return the hammer unless he gets his hands on Freyja. Freyja refuses to tag along, however, giving up the Brísingamen to help Thor disguise himself as her. After almost giving things away because Thor gorged himself to such an extent at the wedding banquet so as to raise suspicion – his burning eyes not helping either – Loki luckily smooth-talks his way out of it and ensures they get the hammer back. For good measure, Thor kills Thrym and a bunch of other giants on his way out.
As for other giant-related myths, the giant Hrungnir boasts he would bodily move Valhalla into Jotunheimen (the realm of the giants), sink Asgard (the realm of the gods), and kill all the gods except for Freyja and Sif, who he will take home with him (Skáldskaparmál, 17). In the tale of the Giant Master Builder, a giant offers to build walls around Asgard as long as he gets Freyja, the sun and the moon. Regarding her necklace Brísingamen, which is assigned to Freyja by Late Old Norse sources (13th and 14th centuries CE), the most famous myth concerns its theft (most commonly by Loki) but is preserved in such a fragmentary and tricky way that it is now rather hard to come up with one comprehensive story. The most detailed version is also the youngest and thus not the pinnacle of reliability: the Sǫrla Þáttr, which survives in the 14th century CE Flateyjarbók, describes how Freyja sleeps with four dwarves to get the Brísingamen, and how Odin then forces Loki to steal the necklace from her. Loki enters her bedroom as a fly, stings her so she moves her hand off of the necklace, and grabs it. By contrast, Snorri Sturluson has Loki and Heimdall fighting each other over the necklace (Skáldskaparmál, 8).
CULT OF FREYJA
As a fertility goddess, Freyja would have taken up a central role in old Scandinavian religion, playing a part in the circle of life. J. P. Schjødt explains her special position:
Freyja is one of the few individual goddesses who has had a major role in the more official religious cult (whereas many female deities seen as collectives played a part in both myth and ritual). She incorporates many traits that can be found in fertility goddesses all over the world, among whom is a clear connection also to death. (Brink & Price, 221)
The Old Norse sources do not specifically detail the existence of a cult of Freyja per se, but the large number of place-names in Sweden and Norway related to her name, such as Frøihov (from Freyjuhof, ‘Freyja’s temple’) and Frǫvi (from Freyjuvé, ‘Freyja’s shrine’), show clear worship, perhaps even pointing to a public cult as opposed to the domestic cult one would expect of a goddess of love. It is clear that the people of Iceland on the cusp of conversion to Christianity around the year 1000 CE still had Freyja clearly on their mind. The Íslendingabók states that Hjalti Skeggjason, a supporter of Christianity, was outlawed for blasphemy after calling Freyja a bitch (in this case a female dog, but taken to mean he wanted to call her a whore) at the Althing parliament. She was obviously still important enough for people to not successfully get away with these sorts of things.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emma has studied History & Ancient History. During her Master’s she focused on Herodotus as well as the juicy politics of ancient courts, but more recently she has been immersing herself in everything prehistoric. She both writes and edits for AHE.
Originally published on Ancient History Encyclopedia
On Thursday, August 30,We Celebrate the Goddess Ishtar
The origin of this babylonian-assyrian main goddess was a semitian vegetation- and moon goddess with lower influence, but when these tribes arrived at the land of the sumerian kingdom, her cult reached the sumerian capital Uruk. The sumerian people identified Ishtar easily with their own goddess Inanna. After some time Ishtar became in the second millenium the highest and widest worshipped goddess of the Babylonians. The myths of Inanna became the myths of Ishtar:
Ishtars reign was not depending on a male consort, she reigned absolute on her own and united in her all the aspects of femininity. Her position in the Babylonian pantheon was the highest, but her family relations are a bit confusing: Ishtar was daughter of the moon goddess Ningal and her consort Nanna (akk. Sin), who were the Citygods of Uruk. In other traditions she appears to be the daughter of the sky god Anu, later she also became his wife.
She was also the sister of the sun god Utu/Marduk and the underworld goddess Ereschkigal (“Mistress of the great under”). She appeared in person wearing a zodiac belt together with hunting dogs like Diana or riding on a lion, her holy animal.
She was the Queen of heaven (Scharrat Schame) and the mother, who had born the world and still remained a virgin.
Her consort or husband was Tammuz ( sum.: Dumuzi), river god of Euphrates and Tigris, who was meanwhile also her son and her brother. When the world began, Tammuz (faithful son) came together with Ishtar in the world. She bore him, she made love with him and she remained a virgin. When Tammuz died in the summer and all vegetation died with him, Ishtar was looking for him all over the world. She finally found him in the underworld and brought him back to life (see Celtic believe). Tammuz was reborn and the vegetation could flourish again. Then the ritual-festival of the “Holy Marriage” was celebrated at the time of the autumn equinox, when in the Near-East the first rain fell again.
For the assyrian people she was mainly a war goddess (Lioness of the battle), but also the love and the sexual life belonged to her realm of influence. Moreover she was the Goddess of justice and healing.
This Akkadian/Babylonian Great Goddess represents a later and more complex development of the Sumerian Inanna, and her son/lover Tammuz plays the role of the vegetation-god. She is not only an embodiment of sexuality and fertility, a “Lady of Battle” and a goddess of healing, but it is also she who bestowed the ancient kings with the right to rule over her/their people. Her fame reached into the Hittite and Hurrian lands of Anatolia, to Sumeria, Egypt and to the Assyrians. Here especially – in Assyria and Egypt – she was revered as a goddess of Battle and is depicted with bow, quiver and sword; her prowess is symbolised by her lioness-steed.
In other sacred texts Ishtar is described as having “sweet lips” and a “beautiful figure” and it is clear that she takes much pleasure in love. Significantly, when she descends to the Netherworld all sexual activity ceases everywhere on earth. In this aspect her familiar and symbolic animal is the dove. Ishtar was also thought to rule the menstrual/ovarian cycle.
In the Old Testament her worship is regarded as an abomination, and it is Ishtar’s worshipers and her ishtarishtu (sacred prostitutes) who were to be found even at the doors of the Hebrew god’s great temple, much to the consternation of his priests and prophets.
As well as being renowned for her powers of creation, divine rulership, prophesy and desire, Ishtar was also regarded as a healer and we know that her effigy once was transported all the way to Egypt in order to heal the then sick Amenhotep III.
Shrine for the forgotten Goddesses