The Pride of the Vanir
The most famous deities from the Vanir clan of the Norse gods were the children of Njord—Frey and Freyja. Both siblings were fertility gods, although they manifested their powers in different ways. Frey had influence over the heat of the sun and the refreshment of the rain—making him especially important to farmers who needed help with their harvests. Freyja exercised her influence more within the realm of love, and could, if she was so inclined, provide her followers with prosperity in their households. Although the Vanir were a one-time rival of the main clan of Norse divinities, known as the Æsir (Odin, Thor etc…), the two sides eventually made peace and became so close that the name “Æsir” became a label that could be used to describe all of the gods that kept their homes in Asgard, including Frey and Freyja.
Frey and Freyja were described as being among the most beautiful of the Norse gods. Yet, with their beauty also came brawn. Freyja, despite being a goddess of household fertility and happiness, also had a ferocious side. Whenever she decided to join a battle, she was said to claim half of the resulting dead to join her inside her hall at Folkvangar, the Warriors’ Fields. The rest of the worthy souls that she left behind would go to Odin’s host of warriors in Valhalla. Freyja was also a goddess of unique style—she was said to have ridden in a chariot pulled by two large cats.
Frey, too, was more than he seemed. Despite being a fertility god that could control the weather, Frey also had a selection of supernatural items that made him a more than formidable divinity. Whereas his sister had a chariot pulled by cats, Frey had his own chariot that was hauled by a golden boar. This gilded creature was a gift from two dwarves named Eitri and Brokk. It was said that the boar’s bristles emitted a light bright enough to overcome any darkness. Also in Frey’s possession was the greatest ship available in the Norse mythological world—Skidbladnir. This ship, also crafted by dwarves, was large enough to house all of the gods and their weaponry, yet also had the miraculous ability to be folded up when not in use, so as to be stored in a pouch or a pocket. Furthermore, the ship always had a favorable wind, which would blow in the direction of wherever the captain wanted to sail. Even with all of these incredible items, Frey’s most precious possession was his trusty sword. This supernatural weapon was basically Frey’s bodyguard. The sword could expertly dispatch multiple threats without Fray having to use up any of his own energy. Simply put, as long as he had his sword, Frey was virtually invincible.
A Sacrifice For Love—As told by Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241)
On a fateful day, Frey ascended to the top of Hlidskjalf, a watchtower near the center of Asgard. From his vantage point on the tower, the god of sun and rain looked to the north and saw an enormous, beautiful home that belonged to a family of mountain giants. The residence was magnificent, even by the standards set in Asgard. Either inside the house or absent from the property were the giants Gymir and Aurboda, yet their daughter, Gerd, was presently in front of the home, about to approach the door.
As soon as Frey laid his eyes on the young giantess, he was drawn to her grace and beauty. Yet, it was when Gerd lifted her arm to unlock her door that Frey became completely and utterly smitten. With awestruck eyes, Frey watched as his own rays of sunlight reflected against the delicate skin of Gerd’s raised arm, magnifying the radiance of the air, land and sea that lay around her home. She literally and figuratively brightened Frey’s world.
The god immediately knew she was the one for him and that he would sacrifice anything to have her by his side. Yet, something kept him from approaching her; perhaps, he had a premonition lurking in the back of his mind—in attaining her love, he would eventually forfeit his life in an otherwise avoidable death. Whatever the cause, Frey turned away from her and rejoined the rest of the gods in Asgard to suffer in silence.
To those around him, Frey looked like the manifestation of sorrow. He kept himself in quiet isolation ever since he came back from Hlidskjalf. Even worse, he was too distressed to eat or drink, and too tormented to sleep. The situation became so dire that Frey’s father, Njord, took it upon himself to intervene on his son’s behalf. He summoned his depressed god’s assistant, Skirnir, and asked him about what was plaguing Frey. When Skirnir denied having any knowledge of his master’s affliction, Njord tasked the man with investigating the issue. Skirnir was wary of prodding Frey for answers while the god was in such a gloomy state, but he ultimately accepted the job.
When Skirnir mustered enough courage to try and converse with Frey, he found that the lonely god was surprisingly willing to talk. Frey explained that he had seen a beautiful woman to the north of Asgard and had come to the conclusion that he wanted her to be his bride. The god finished his emotional outburst with the claim that Gerd’s absence was so painful to him that he would surely die if his wish were not soon made a reality.
Having finally spoken his mind, Frey decided to act on his emotions. He asked Skirnir to go to Gerd and inquire into what she thought of a marriage proposal between herself and the god of the rain and sun. Skirnir agreed to carry out the task, but demanded a heavy price in return. He would do the job for nothing less than Frey’s famous sword. How could a measly sword be worth more than love?
Frey agreed to the bargain and Skirnir left to deliver the message. Gerd eventually consented to marry the lovesick god, although the amount of persuasion or coercion required to ultimately convince her varied from source to source. The two were married at a place called Barey, possibly as early as nine days after Skirnir delivered Frey’s proposal to Gerd.
Frey’s union with Gerd—or more concisely, his deal with Skirnir—would eventually lead to the demise of this fertility god. There are two prophetic accounts of his future death. In the first account, Frey is foretold to die in a battle against a giant named Beli. Even though the giant wields no typical weaponry, he is predicted to slay Frey with the antler of a stag. Another version of Frey’s death is predicted to occur at the last battle of the gods on the day of Ragnarok. Frey is predicted to be one of the first victims slain by the fire giant, Surt, who will reportedly then spread a sea of flames over the world during the end times. In both of these instances, Frey would have likely survived if only he had not given away his miraculous sword. Even so, if the fate-deciding norns had decreed that Frey would die, not even his powerful sword would save him when his time came.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Top picture attributions: (Gerd by W. G. Collingwood (c. 1908) and Frey from Journey Through Bookland (c. 1920) in front of sunburst through a cloudy sky via pxhere.com, all [Public Domain] via Creative Commons or pxhere.com)