|Interesing books. Myths of the Norsemen - CHAPTER IX: FREY|
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CHAPTER IX: FREY
The God of Fairyland
Frey, or Fro, as he was called in Germany, was the son of Niцrd and
Nerthus, or of Niцrd and Skadi, and was born in Vana-heim. He therefore
belonged to the race of the Vanas, the divinities of water and air,
but was warmly welcomed in Asgard when he came thither as hostage
with his father. As it was customary among the Northern nations to
bestow some valuable gift upon a child when he cut his first tooth,
the Жsir gave the infant Frey the beautiful realm of Alf-heim or
Fairyland, the home of the Light Elves.
"Alf-heim the gods to Frey
Gave in days of yore
For a tooth gift."
Sжmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).
Here Frey, the god of the golden sunshine and the warm summer
showers, took up his abode, charmed with the society of the elves
and fairies, who implicitly obeyed his every order, and at a sign
from him flitted to and fro, doing all the good in their power,
for they were pre-eminently beneficent spirits.
Frey also received from the gods a marvellous sword (an emblem of the
sunbeams), which had the power of fighting successfully, and of its
own accord, as soon as it was drawn from its sheath. Frey wielded
this principally against the frost giants, whom he hated almost as
much as did Thor, and because he carried this glittering weapon,
he has sometimes been confounded with the sword-god Tyr or Saxnot.
"With a short-shafted hammer fights conquering Thor;
Frey's own sword but an ell long is made."
Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).
The dwarfs from Svart-alfa-heim gave Frey the golden-bristled boar
Gullin-bursti (the golden-bristled), a personification of the sun. The
radiant bristles of this animal were considered symbolical either
of the solar rays, of the golden grain, which at his bidding waved
over the harvest fields of Midgard, or of agriculture; for the boar
(by tearing up the ground with his sharp tusk) was supposed to have
first taught mankind how to plough.
"There was Frey, and sat
On the gold-bristled boar, who first, they say,
Plowed the brown earth, and made it green for Frey."
Lovers of Gudrun (William Morris).
Frey sometimes rode astride of this marvellous boar, whose speed was
very great, and at other times harnessed him to his golden chariot,
which was said to contain the fruits and flowers which he lavishly
scattered abroad over the face of the earth.
Frey was, moreover, the proud possessor not only of the dauntless steed
Blodug-hofi, which would dash through fire and water at his command,
but also of the magic ship Skidbladnir, a personification of the
clouds. This vessel, sailing over land and sea, was always wafted
along by favourable winds, and was so elastic that, while it could
assume large enough proportions to carry the gods, their steeds,
and all their equipments, it could also be folded up like a napkin
and thrust into a pocket.
Went in days of old
Skidbladnir to form,
Of ships the best,
For the bright Frey,
Niцrd's benign son."
Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).
The Wooing of Gerda
It is related in one of the lays of the Edda that Frey once ventured
to ascend Odin's throne Hlidskialf, from which exalted seat his gaze
ranged over the wide earth. Looking towards the frozen North, he saw
a beautiful young maiden enter the house of the frost giant Gymir,
and as she raised her hand to lift the latch her radiant beauty
illuminated sea and sky.
A moment later, this lovely creature, whose name was Gerda, and who
is considered as a personification of the flashing Northern lights,
vanished within her father's house, and Frey pensively wended his
way back to Alfheim, his heart oppressed with longing to make this
fair maiden his wife. Being deeply in love, he was melancholy and
absent-minded in the extreme, and began to behave so strangely that
his father, Niцrd, became greatly alarmed about his health, and bade
his favourite servant, Skirnir, discover the cause of this sudden
change. After much persuasion, Skirnir finally won from Frey an account
of his ascent of Hlidskialf, and of the fair vision he had seen. He
confessed his love and also his utter despair, for as Gerda was the
daughter of Gymir and Angur-boda, and a relative of the murdered
giant Thiassi, he feared she would never view his suit with favour.
"In Gymer's court I saw her move,
The maid who fires my breast with love;
Her snow-white arms and bosom fair
Shone lovely, kindling sea and air.
Dear is she to my wishes, more
Than e'er was maid to youth before;
But gods and elves, I wot it well,
Forbid that we together dwell."
Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).
Skirnir, however, replied consolingly that he could see no reason why
his master should take a despondent view of the case, and he offered
to go and woo the maiden in his name, providing Frey would lend him his
steed for the journey, and give him his glittering sword for reward.
Overjoyed at the prospect of winning the beautiful Gerda, Frey
willingly handed Skirnir the flashing sword, and gave him permission to
use his horse. But he quickly relapsed into the state of reverie which
had become usual with him since falling in love, and thus he did not
notice that Skirnir was still hovering near him, nor did he perceive
him cunningly steal the reflection of his face from the surface of the
brook near which he was seated, and imprison it in his drinking horn,
with intent "to pour it out in Gerda's cup, and by its beauty win
the heart of the giantess for the lord" for whom he was about to go
a-wooing. Provided with this portrait, with eleven golden apples, and
with the magic ring Draupnir, Skirnir now rode off to Jцtun-heim, to
fulfil his embassy. As he came near Gymir's dwelling he heard the loud
and persistent howling of his watch-dogs, which were personifications
of the wintry winds. A shepherd, guarding his flock in the vicinity,
told him, in answer to his inquiry, that it would be impossible to
approach the house, on account of the flaming barrier which surrounded
it; but Skirnir, knowing that Blodug-hofi would dash through any fire,
merely set spurs to his steed, and, riding up unscathed to the giant's
door, was soon ushered into the presence of the lovely Gerda.
To induce the fair maiden to lend a favourable ear to his master's
proposals, Skirnir showed her the stolen portrait, and proffered the
golden apples and magic ring, which, however, she haughtily refused
to accept, declaring that her father had gold enough and to spare.
"I take not, I, that wondrous ring,
Though it from Balder's pile you bring
Gold lack not I, in Gymer's bower;
Enough for me my father's dower."
Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).
Indignant at her scorn, Skirnir now threatened to decapitate her with
his magic sword, but as this did not in the least frighten the maiden,
and she calmly defied him, he had recourse to magic arts. Cutting
runes in his stick, he told her that unless she yielded ere the spell
was ended, she would be condemned either to eternal celibacy, or to
marry some aged frost giant whom she could never love.
Terrified into submission by the frightful description of her cheerless
future in case she persisted in her refusal, Gerda finally consented
to become Frey's wife, and dismissed Skirnir, promising to meet her
future spouse on the ninth night, in the land of Buri, the green grove,
where she would dispel his sadness and make him happy.
"Burri is hight the seat of love;
Nine nights elapsed, in that known grove
Shall brave Niorder's gallant boy
From Gerda take the kiss of joy."
Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).
Delighted with his success, Skirnir hurried back to Alf-heim, where
Frey came eagerly to learn the result of his journey. When he learned
that Gerda had consented to become his wife, his face grew radiant
with joy; but when Skirnir informed him that he would have to wait
nine nights ere he could behold his promised bride, he turned sadly
away, declaring the time would appear interminable.
"Long is one night, and longer twain;
But how for three endure my pain?
A month of rapture sooner flies
Than half one night of wishful sighs."
Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).
In spite of this loverlike despondency, however, the time of waiting
came to an end, and Frey joyfully hastened to the green grove, where,
true to her appointment, he found Gerda, and she became his happy wife,
and proudly sat upon his throne beside him.
"Frey to wife had Gerd;
She was Gymir's daughter,
From Jцtuns sprung."
Sжmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).
According to some mythologists, Gerda is not a personification of the
aurora borealis, but of the earth, which, hard, cold, and unyielding,
resists the spring-god's proffers of adornment and fruitfulness (the
apples and ring), defies the flashing sunbeams (Frey's sword), and
only consents to receive his kiss when it learns that it will else be
doomed to perpetual barrenness, or given over entirely into the power
of the giants (ice and snow). The nine nights of waiting are typical
of the nine winter months, at the end of which the earth becomes the
bride of the sun, in the groves where the trees are budding forth
into leaf and blossom.
Frey and Gerda, we are told, became the parents of a son called
Fiolnir, whose birth consoled Gerda for the loss of her brother
Beli. The latter had attacked Frey and had been slain by him, although
the sun-god, deprived of his matchless sword, had been obliged to
defend himself with a stag horn which he hastily snatched from the
wall of his dwelling.
Besides the faithful Skirnir, Frey had two other attendants, a
married couple, Beyggvir and Beyla, the personifications of mill
refuse and manure, which two ingredients, being used in agriculture
for fertilising purposes, were therefore considered Frey's faithful
servants, in spite of their unpleasant qualities.
The historical Frey
Snorro-Sturleson, in his "Heimskringla," or chronicle of the ancient
kings of Norway, states that Frey was an historical personage who bore
the name of Ingvi-Frey, and ruled in Upsala after the death of the
semi-historical Odin and Niцrd. Under his rule the people enjoyed such
prosperity and peace that they declared their king must be a god. They
therefore began to invoke him as such, carrying their enthusiastic
admiration to such lengths that when he died the priests, not daring
to reveal the fact, laid him in a great mound instead of burning his
body, as had been customary until then. They then informed the people
that Frey--whose name was the Northern synonym for "master"--had
"gone into the mound," an expression which eventually became the
Northman's phrase for death.
Not until three years later did the people, who had continued paying
their taxes to the king by pouring gold, silver, and copper coin
into the mound through three different openings, discover that Frey
was dead. As their peace and prosperity had remained undisturbed,
they decreed that his corpse should never be burned, and they thus
inaugurated the custom of mound-burial, which in due time supplanted
the funeral pyre in many places. One of the three mounds near Gamla
Upsala still bears this god's name. His statues were placed in the
great temple there, and his name was duly mentioned in all solemn
oaths, of which the usual formula was, "So help me Frey, Niцrd,
and the Almighty Asa" (Odin).
Worship of Frey
No weapons were ever admitted in Frey's temples, the most celebrated
of which were at Throndhjeim in Norway, and at Thvera in Iceland. In
these temples oxen or horses were offered in sacrifice to him, a heavy
gold ring being dipped in the victim's blood ere the above-mentioned
oath was solemnly taken upon it.
Frey's statues, like those of all the other Northern divinities,
were roughly hewn blocks of wood, and the last of these sacred images
seems to have been destroyed by Olaf the Saint, who, as we have seen,
forcibly converted many of his subjects. Besides being god of sunshine,
fruitfulness, peace, and prosperity, Frey was considered the patron
of horses and horsemen, and the deliverer of all captives.
"Frey is the best
Of all the chiefs
Among the gods.
He causes not tears
To maids or mothers:
His desire is to loosen the fetters
Of those enchained."
Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).
The Yule Feast
One month of every year, the Yule month, or Thor's month, was
considered sacred to Frey as well as to Thor, and began on the longest
night of the year, which bore the name of Mother Night. This month
was a time of feasting and rejoicing, for it heralded the return of
the sun. The festival was called Yule (wheel) because the sun was
supposed to resemble a wheel rapidly revolving across the sky. This
resemblance gave rise to a singular custom in England, Germany, and
along the banks of the Moselle. Until within late years, the people
were wont to assemble yearly upon a mountain, to set fire to a huge
wooden wheel, twined with straw, which, all ablaze, was then sent
rolling down the hill, to plunge with a hiss into the water.
"Some others get a rotten Wheele, all worn and cast aside,
Which, covered round about with strawe and tow, they closely hide;
And caryed to some mountaines top, being all with fire light,
They hurle it down with violence, when darke appears the night;
Resembling much the sunne, that from the Heavens down should fal,
A strange and monstrous sight it seemes, and fearful to them all;
But they suppose their mischiefs are all likewise throwne to hell,
And that, from harmes and dangers now, in safetie here they dwell."
All the Northern races considered the Yule feast the greatest of
the year, and were wont to celebrate it with dancing, feasting,
and drinking, each god being pledged by name. The first Christian
missionaries, perceiving the extreme popularity of this feast, thought
it best to encourage drinking to the health of the Lord and his twelve
apostles when they first began to convert the Northern heathens. In
honour of Frey, boar's flesh was eaten on this occasion. Crowned
with laurel and rosemary, the animal's head was brought into the
banqueting-hall with much ceremony--a custom long after observed,
as the following lines will show:
"Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
The boar's head in hand bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary;
I pray you all sing merrily,
Qui estis in convivio."
Queen's College Carol, Oxford.
The father of the family laid his hand on the sacred dish, which was
called "the boar of atonement," swearing he would be faithful to his
family, and would fulfil all his obligations--an example which was
followed by all present, from the highest to the lowest. This dish
could be carved only by a man of unblemished reputation and tried
courage, for the boar's head was a sacred emblem which was supposed
to inspire every one with fear. For that reason a boar's head was
frequently used as ornament for the helmets of Northern kings and
heroes whose bravery was unquestioned.
As Frey's name of Fro is phonetically the same as the word used in
German for gladness, he was considered the patron of every joy,
and was invariably invoked by married couples who wished to live
in harmony. Those who succeeded in doing so for a certain length of
time were publicly rewarded by the gift of a piece of boar's flesh,
for which in later times, the English and Viennese substituted a
flitch of bacon or a ham.
"You shall swear, by custom of confession,
If ever you made nuptial transgression,
Be you either married man or wife:
If you have brawls or contentious strife;
Or otherwise, at bed or at board,
Offended each other in deed or word;
Or, since the parish clerk said Amen,
You wish'd yourselves unmarried again;
Or, in a twelvemonth and a day
Repented not in thought any way,
But continued true in thought and desire,
As when you join'd hands in the quire.
If to these conditions, with all feare,
Of your own accord you will freely sweare,
A whole gammon of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it hence with love and good leave:
For this our custom at Dunmow well known--
Though the pleasure be ours, the bacon's your own."
Brand's Popular Antiquities.
At the village of Dunmow in Essex, the ancient custom is still
observed. In Vienna the ham or flitch of bacon was hung over the
city gate, whence the successful candidate was expected to bring
it down, after he had satisfied the judges that he lived in peace
with his wife, but was not under petticoat rule. It is said that in
Vienna this ham remained for a long time unclaimed until at last
a worthy burgher presented himself before the judges, bearing his
wife's written affidavit that they had been married twelve years and
had never disagreed--a statement which was confirmed by all their
neighbours. The judges, satisfied with the proofs laid before them,
told the candidate that the prize was his, and that he only need
climb the ladder placed beneath it and bring it down. Rejoicing at
having secured such a fine ham, the man speedily mounted the ladder;
but as he was about to reach for the prize he noticed that the ham,
exposed to the noonday sun, was beginning to melt, and that a drop
of fat threatened to fall upon his Sunday coat. Hastily beating a
retreat, he pulled off his coat, jocosely remarking that his wife
would scold him roundly were he to stain it, a confession which made
the bystanders roar with laughter, and which cost him his ham.
Another Yuletide custom was the burning of a huge log, which had to
last through the night, otherwise it was considered a very bad omen
indeed. The charred remains of this log were carefully collected,
and treasured up for the purpose of setting fire to the log of the
"With the last yeeres brand
Light the new block, and
For good successe in his spending,
On your psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a-tending."
This festival was so popular in Scandinavia, where it was celebrated in
January, that King Olaf, seeing how dear it was to the Northern heart,
transferred most of its observances to Christmas day, thereby doing
much to reconcile the ignorant people to their change of religion.
As god of peace and prosperity, Frey is supposed to have reappeared
upon earth many times, and to have ruled the Swedes under the name
of Ingvi-Frey, whence his descendants were called Inglings. He also
governed the Danes under the name of Fridleef. In Denmark he is said
to have married the beautiful maiden Freygerda, whom he had rescued
from a dragon. By her he had a son named Frodi, who, in due time,
succeeded him as king.
Frodi ruled Denmark in the days when there was "peace throughout
the world," that is to say, just at the time when Christ was born
in Bethlehem of Judea; and because all his subjects lived in amity,
he was generally known as Peace Frodi.
How the Sea became salt
It is related that Frodi once received from Hengi-kiaptr a pair of
magic millstones, called Grotti, which were so ponderous that none
of his servants nor even his strongest warriors could turn them. The
king was aware that the mill was enchanted and would grind anything
he wished, so he was very anxious indeed to set it to work, and,
during a visit to Sweden, he saw and purchased as slaves the two
giantesses Menia and Fenia, whose powerful muscles and frames had
attracted his attention.
On his return home, Peace Frodi led his new servants to the mill,
and bade them turn the grindstones and grind out gold, peace, and
prosperity, and they immediately fulfilled his wishes. Cheerfully
the women worked on, hour after hour, until the king's coffers were
overflowing with gold, and prosperity and peace were rife throughout
"Let us grind riches to Frothi!
Let us grind him, happy
In plenty of substance,
On our gladdening Quern."
Grotta-Savngr (Longfellow's tr.).
But when Menia and Fenia would fain have rested awhile, the king,
whose greed had been excited, bade them work on. In spite of their
entreaties he forced them to labour hour after hour, allowing them
only as much time to rest as was required for the singing of a verse
in a song, until exasperated by his cruelty, the giantesses resolved
at length to have revenge. One night while Frodi slept they changed
their song, and, instead of prosperity and peace, they grimly began
to grind an armed host, whereby they induced the Viking Mysinger to
land with a large body of troops. While the spell was working the
Danes continued in slumber, and thus they were completely surprised
by the Viking host, who slew them all.
"An army must come
And burn the town
For the prince."
Grotta Savngr (Longfellow's tr.).
Mysinger took the magic millstones Grotti and the two slaves and put
them on board his vessel, bidding the women grind salt, which was
a very valuable staple of commerce at that time. The women obeyed,
and their millstones went round, grinding salt in abundance; but
the Viking, as cruel as Frodi, would give the poor women no rest,
wherefore a heavy punishment overtook him and his followers. Such an
immense quantity of salt was ground by the magic millstones that in
the end its weight sunk the ship and all on board.
The ponderous stones sank into the sea in the Pentland Firth, or
off the north-western coast of Norway, making a deep round hole,
and the waters, rushing into the vortex and gurgling in the holes
in the centre of the stones, produced the great whirlpool which is
known as the Maelstrom. As for the salt it soon melted; but such was
the immense quantity ground by the giantesses that it permeated all
the waters of the sea, which have ever since been very salt.