Odin and Frigg

That the gods form a family is self-evident in their leadership. Odin is the All-Father, as well as their ruler. The gods together are esteemed “Frigg’s progeny” (Friggjar niðja) in a skaldic kenning by Egill Skalla-grímsson in Sonatorrek 2. As previously demonstrated, numerous poetic references designate the Earth as Odin’s wife and Thor’s mother, and throughout Germanic history we find traces of a powerful Earth-Mother from the earliest records to the close of the ancient heathen era and beyond. Yet, despite the diverse designations for this figure, Odin is consistently shown to have only one legal wife. Whenever he appears, Frigga most frequently stands at his side. Moreover, while evidence for Odin’s wife Frigg and his wife the Earth are contemporary and congruous— occurring at the same time in the same places and genres— they are never shown together. (The same cannot be said of Frigg and Freyja who are frequently equated by scholars. They sit side-by-side in Lokasenna and are invoked together in Oddrúnargrátr 9.) Like Diana Prince and Wonder Woman, we never see Frigg and Jörd side-by-side. Still their common identity should come as no surprise. The conclusion is so obvious in fact that many scholars of past centuries took it for granted that Odin’s wife Frigg and Mother Earth were one and the same. As early as 1771, James Macpherson writing in An Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland, states:

“The Angli, in the days of Tacitus, worshiped the Earth under the name of Hertha [Nerthus]; and it was the same divinity who afterwards obtained the title of Frea, the spouse of the great Odin.”
The New American Cyclopaedia (1856) s.v. Hertha, expands on this, stating:

“The Scandinavians called her Jord; according to them she was daughter of Annar and of Night, sister of Dagur or Day by the mother's side, wife of Odin, and mother of Thor, and thought to be the same as Frigga.”

In his book Dawn of History (1878), Charles F. Keary observes: “The earth-mother of the Teutons was Frigg, the wife of Odin; but perhaps when Frigg's natural character was forgotten, Hertha (Earth) became separated into another personage.”
He expands on this four years later in Outlines of Primitive Belief Among the Indo-European Races:

“Here, as among Greeks and Romans, the great patron of the peasant folk was the earth goddess. In Tacitus the divinity appears under the name of Nerthus. … Other German names which seem to belong more or less to the same divinity are Harke, Holda, Perchta, Bertha. We must class with these beings the Norse Frigg (German Freka). Her I have already taken as an example of the way in which the earth goddess may lose her distinctive character and put on that of the heaven god through becoming his wife. Hera, we saw, did this in the Greek pantheon, and Frigg does the same in the Northern. She is not a conspicuous character in the Scandinavian mythology. To Frigg, Freyja bears the same relationship that Persephone bears to Demeter; wherefore we may say that Frigg, Freyr, and Freyja correspond to Demeter, Dionysus, and Persephone, and more closely still to the Ceres, Liber, and Libera of the Romans.”
While this view may be unfamiliar to readers in the twenty-first century, the notion that Frigg represents the Germanic Earth-Mother, known under a variety of names, is certainly not a new one.
… Frigg soliciting oaths from all things implies she is Mother Earth.
Terrestrial things are subject to her influence. In Gylfaginning 49-50, Snorri tells the most complete version of the Baldur story. It begins in medias res, where we first find Frigg bidding all earthly things to do her son Baldur no harm after dire dreams predict his death. Frigg alone excludes the most fragile of flora, the waxy mistletoe, which does not take root in earth, but grows overhead as a parasite on trees.

…In the narrative, Frigg’s role as Mother Earth is self-evident. Not once, but twice, she requests all terrestrial things do her bidding. She sends messengers out all over the whole world demanding oaths of them, first to do her son no harm, then to ask all things, alive and inanimate, to weep for his return. The initial list, however, contains one large and glaring omission, beings with human form. Frigg only acquires oaths of animals, plants and minerals, things clearly under the authority of Mother Earth. The second time, all living things including men are asked to weep, undercutting Snorri’s statement “just as you will have seen these things weep when they come out of frost and into heat,” which only applies to inanimate objects, i.e. “the earth and the stones and every metal” which thaw in the spring. The gifts Frigg receives from the underworld point in the same direction. Baldur’s wife Nanna sends a linen garment from the underworld back with Hermod, to beautify Frigg along with a finger ring for her handmaiden Fulla. Both gifts carry weight as symbols.

… The eddic poem Lokasenna informs us that Freyr was the offspring of an incestuous union. He is the child of Njörd and the sea-god’s own unnamed sister. In strophe 36 of that poem, Loki says:

"Hættu nú, Njörðr,
haf þú á hófi þik,
munk-a ek því leyna lengr:
við systur þinni
gaztu slíkan mög,
ok er-a þó vánu verr."

“Cease now, Njörd!
contain yourself;
I will no longer keep it secret:
With your sister
you had such a son;
and he is hardly worse than you.”

Ynglingasaga ch. 4 affirms this relationship, stating that “while Njörd lived with the Vanir he had his sister as wife, because that was the custom among them. Their children were Freyr and Freyja. But among the Aesir it was forbidden to marry so close akin.” Thus, when Njörd came to live among the Aesir, he could no longer keep his sister as his wife. Unfortunately, Njörd’s sister remains unnamed in our fragmentary sources, although the original audience must have known who she was. Possible candidates have been suggested, including Njärð, a feminine form of the name found only in the East Nordic area under such place-names as Närlunda, and Njörun, a “goddess-name” used as a base in some kennings and so included in a list of ásynjur in the þular attached to Snorri’s Edda. But, among scholars who have hazarded a guess historically, most have identified Njörd’s unnamed sister as Nerthus, “that is, Mother Earth”, since the two names are etymologically related.
…While we cannot determine the name of Njörd’s sister with certainty, we do discover a brother of the earth-goddess whose name may prove relevant to our investigation. In Gylfaginning 10, Snorri informs us that Jörd’s brother was called Auðr, a name that means “wealth.” As a mythic personality, Auðr is likewise unknown. However, we find auðr as a characteristic attribute of Njörd. In a proverbial expression from Vatsdaela Saga 47, a wealthy man is said to be auðigr sem Njörðr:

Þá mælti Þróttólfr: “Eigi skiptir þat högum til, at Húnrøðr, góðr drengr, skal vera félauss orðinn ok hlotit þat mest af okkr, en þræll hans, Skúmr, skal orðinn auðigr sem Njörðr.

Then Throttolf said, ‘It is not as it should be that Hunrod, a good man, should have become penniless, mostly on our account, while his slave Skum grows as rich as Njörd.’

In her commentary on Lokasenna, Ursula Dronke (1997) observed: “The sea is a rich giver, and Njörðr, its god, is proverbially wealthy.” In Gylfaginning 23, Snorri informs us that Njörd “rules over the motion of the wind and moderates the sea and fire. Men pray to him for good voyages and fishing. He is so rich and wealthy that he can grant wealth of land or possessions to those that pray to him.” In addition, the Codex Regius manuscript of Gylfaginning 10 contains a significant variant. There the name Auðr reads Uðr, a proper name equivalent to Unnr, which means “wave.” Richard North (1997) has pointed out that in the Codex Regius, Codex Trajectinus, and Codex Wormianus manuscripts of Snorri’s Edda, the name Idunn is spelled iðvðr, in which –vðr is a fourteenth century spelling of –unnr (‘wave’). Thus the name of Jörd’s brother may be interpreted as either “wealth” or “wave,” names which apply equally to Njörd as a god of rich coastal harbors. So, although the name of Njörd’s sister is lost to us, we have strong circumstantial evidence that Njörd (aka Auðr, Uðr, Unnr) was Jörd’s brother. If indeed Jörd is also a byname of Frigg, we can surmise that Njörd and Frigg are siblings. At once this explains the apparent relationship between the names Njörd and Nerthus. Indeed they are a pair as many scholars have theorized, not unlike their own children, Freyr and Freyja. As Njörd’s sister, Frigg is not only the mother of Freyr and Freyja, but also the mother of Odin’s sons, Baldur and Thor. Thus, she is truly the Mother of the Gods.

… The Old Norse sources certainly do not lack evidence that Frigg is the Earth-Mother. According to Völuspá 33, Frigg makes her home in Fensalir, the “halls of the fen.” A fen is a low-lying wetland, an odd domicile for the popularly-styled Queen of Heaven to reside. In ancient times, life was thought to spontaneously generate in such places. Before mankind possessed scientific knowledge of reproductive biology, insects, amphibians and other creatures were said to spring fully formed from Earth’s bosom in these fertile places. Like Frau Holle who is at home in ponds and wells, Frigg takes up residence in marshland. There she weeps for her son Baldur’s loss, asking all things to do the same “just as these things weep when they come out of frost and into heat,” during the spring thaw.
As we have seen, the comparison runs much deeper than just linguistic correspondence. In the available sources, the religious wagon procession is most closely connected with Nerthus and Njörd’s son Freyr, and a wide range of evidence supports the veneration of a male-female divine pair associated with fertility across northern Europe.

…At Uppsala, Freyr was called Fricco and depicted with an immense phallus; he presided over marriages. The name Fricco directly connects him to Frick, Frikka, Frekka, which as we have seen are alternate names of Frau Holle, and to Frigga, the beloved wife of Odin.

…Frigg’s relationship as mother to Freyr and Freyja naturally explains their overlapping functions and why they so frequently have been associated and conflated. The confusion between Frigg and Freyja is well-established, however, Frigg and Freyr were also conflated. In Adam of Bremen’s account of the temple at Old Uppsala, he clearly described a male deity named Fricco with an erect phallus. By the mid-1500s, Olaus Magnus identified the same idol as Frigga, whom he depicts carrying a sword and bow, stating, “her image also shamelessly flaunted its sex and for this reason was worshiped among the Goths as Venus was among the Romans.” After 1605, with the publication of Richard Verstegan’s Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, this image of Frigga became the standard, whenever Saxon gods representing the days of the week were pictured.

Apparently aware of the gender disparity between the descriptions of the idol by Adam of Bremen and Olaus Magnus, Verstegan wrote:

“This Idoll represented both sexes, as well man as woman, and as an Hemophrodite is said to have had both the members of a man, and the members of a woman. … Some honoured her for a God and some for a Goddess, but she was ordinarily taken rather for a Goddesse than a God, and was reputed the giver of peace, and plenty, as also the causer, and maker of love, and amity, and of the day. Of her especial adoration we yet retaine the name of Friday.”

In the same spirit, some scholars of the 1960s and 1970s, recognizing the similarity of the names Nerthus and Njörðr, suggested that the female idol described by Tacitus was actually male, transgendered or had switched sex over time.

… As Njörd’s sister-wife, Jörd bore his children, Freyr and Freyja, before becoming Odin’s wife, Frigg (the “Beloved”). That Freyja is Frigg’s daughter makes perfect sense in the context of Norse mythology, where Frigg is the foremost goddess and Freyja, a close second. Because of their similar names and attributes, scholars have sometimes “confused and conflated” them, suggesting that they were once one figure. There is no question that Frigg and Freyja are depicted in similar fashion. Both goddesses are said to own a falcon guise. In Skáldskaparmál, Loki borrows Frigg’s falcon form to journey to the giant Geirröd. In the poem Þrymskviða, Loki borrows Freyja’s to fly to the giant Thrym in search of Thor’s stolen hammer. Frigg and Freyja are both depicted weeping—Frigg for the loss of her son Baldur and Freyja for her lost husband Odr. The names of their spouses also form an obvious parallel. Whereas Frigg is Odin’s wife, Freyja is known as Oðs mey (Od’s girl) in Völuspá 25 and a few skaldic passages, understandably causing several scholars to conclude that Freyja was Odin’s wife. In support of this, both Frigg and Freyja seem to share a similar attitude toward Odin. Like Frigga the wife of Othinus in Saxo’s Danish History Book 1, Odin’s wife Frigg in the prose introduction to Grimnismál and Frea, the wife of Godan, in the seventh century account of how the Lombards (Longobardi) got their name, Freyja is set at odds with Odin in the late Fornaldarsaga, Sörla þáttur. There Odin, a human king, objects to his mistress Freyja prostituting herself to four dwarf-smiths in exchange for a necklace and so sends his man Loki to steal it from her. In Saxo’s Danish History, Book 1, Frigg with the aid of some “smiths” strips gold and bracelets from a statue of Odin incurring his wrath. Margaret Clunies Ross suggests that these narratives are “essentially the same.” The name of Wodan’s wife, Frija, in the Second Merseburg Charm and Frigg’s equation with Venus, the Roman goddess of love, in the Anglo-Saxon transliteration of the weekday Friday are frequently offered as evidence for their identity.
Noticeably, scholars most often cite non-eddic material in support of this theory. Yet, for all of this, Snorri keeps both goddesses, Frigg and Freyja, and their husbands, Odin and Odr respectively, distinct from one another. The same holds true in eddic poetry, where one goddess is named and the other either directly named or alluded to in Völuspá and Grímnismál, while both appear together in Lokasenna. In Oddrunargratr 9, they are both invoked in the same strophe:

"Svá hjalpi þér
hollar véttir,
Frigg ok Freyja
ok fleiri goð,
sem þú feldir mér
fár af höndum."

“May the kind powers,
Frigg and Freyja
and the other gods,
Help you
as you have saved me
from dangerous distress.”

Certainly the Icelandic poets were able to and did distinguish them from one another. Evidence from other times and regions is simply too sparse to determine if this was the case elsewhere, and the Fornaldarsögur, composed at least a century after Snorri’s Edda, are too late to be of value on this point. In this regard, it is worth noting that, while Frigg was known in England from the names of the weekdays and Freyja is seemingly unattested there, her necklace Brisingamen (Brósinga mene) is named in the poem Beowulf at line 1199, suggesting knowledge of Freyja herself. Tacitus’ distinction between the pan-Germanic goddesses: “Nerthus, that is, Mother Earth”, and Isis, known by her emblem the light warship, suggest the same. Like the Egyptian Isis, known to the Romans, Freyja wanders the world weeping for her lost husband and can be identified with a light warship by association with her brother Freyr, the owner of the ship Skidbladnir, which is large enough to hold all the gods equipped for war, and be folded up like a napkin when not in use. Thus, rather than explaining the parallels between Frigg and Freyja as a shared identity or common origin, it is just as plausible to conclude that their similarities derive from their relationship as mother and daughter. Among Frigg’s many sons, Freyja appears to be her only daughter, making their relationship that much closer. The similarity between the names of Frigg’s and Freyja’s husbands is probably intentional on the part of the poets. In Gylfaginning 35, Snorri identifies her husband as “the man called Odr” and says that she long went in search of him, travelling through many lands. That the story of Freyja’s husband appears to be lost, despite a number of poetic references to him, suggests that Odr may be an epithet of a better-known figure, and that Freyja’s husband should be sought under other names. In Hyndluljóð, her lover is called Ottar, which several scholars recognize as Odr. In Book 7 of his histories, Saxo Grammaticus tells the tale of Otharus and Syritha (Ottar and Sýr), widely seen as a reference to Odr and Sýr, a known name of Freyja. In Fjölsvinnsmál, the young hero Svipdag seeks Menglad, the “necklace-lover” frequently identified as Freyja, the owner of Brisinga-men. After a perilous journey, the hero arrives at her castle, shaded by “Mimir’s Tree,” widely recognized as Yggdrassil (st. 20) and is met by the watchman Fjölsviðr, a name of Odin in Grímnismál 47, who brags that he made the place himself from the giant Lier-brimir’s limbs (st. 12) just as Odin and his brothers fashioned the world from the corpse of Ymir, called Brimir in Völuspá 9. Two guard dogs, one of which shares the name of Odin’s wolfhound Geri, stand guard at the gate (st. 14). Like Odr, Svipdag has travelled through many lands. Like Freyja, Menglad has met and lost track of him before. She sits in a languid stupor awaiting his return, as if enchanted. The poet calls her his “fated wife” (st. 42, kvon of kveðin) and she welcomes him “back” with a kiss (st. 49), once he reveals his identity.

The available evidence suggests that Svipdag is an Odinic hero and a warrior destined for Valhalla, like Freyja’s lover Ottar in Hyndluljóð (see further). He is probably identical to Odin’s messenger Hermod (Herm-óðr), who along with Bragi welcomes kings into Odin’s hall. From the context of the poem, it appears that he has travelled to the underworld and retrieved a sword kept there, “below the gates of death” (st. 26 fyr nágrindur neðan). This sword is the only weapon which can subdue the golden cock at the top of the tree (cp. Gullinkambi in Völuspá), whose wings conceal the twin delicacies the watch-dogs will accept allowing the stranger to pass (sts 17-32). Since the gates swing open for him and the dogs rush to greet him, it is safe to surmise that he arrives with the weapon from the underworld. Having achieved this singular feat, the young warrior is welcomed by Odin (Fjölsviðr) himself, and wins Freyja for his wife. Freyja’s husband Óðr is thus portrayed as an exemplorary Odinic hero who joins the ranks of the Einherjar as Hermod, Herm-óðr, the foremost hero. As Svipdag (“Swift-day”), he delivers the sword to Asgard and exchanges it for a wife. As Freyr’s man Skirnir (“Shining”), he will deliver the same sword to the giants on behalf of his brother-in-law, again as a bride-price, this time in exchange for the giantess Gerd (Lokasenna 42). Called sól valtíva, “sun of the god (or gods) of the slain” in Völuspá R51, this weapon, once hidden in the underworld and brought up to heaven, can be interpreted as a symbol of the sun, coveted by both gods and giants alike. The parallel imagery of a raised sword entering a walled city, symbolizing the sexual union of a man and woman, is almost too obvious to mention.

… Frigg’s children rank among the highest gods: Thor, the twins Baldur and Höður, and the twins Freyr and Freyja all spring from her womb. This naturally explains the kenning Friggjar niðja, “Frigg’s progeny” used of the gods by the heathen skald Egill Skalla-grímsson in his poem Sonatorrek. Just as Odin is known as Alföðr, “All-father,” Frigg is the All-Mother of Asgard. As Odin's only lawful wife, she is the mother of his most prominent sons: Thor, Baldur and Hödur. As the former sister-wife of Njörd, Frigg is the mother of his famous children: Freyr and Freyja. In effect, Frigg has two husbands: her lawful husband and her brother, both of whom father children by her. With these close connections, Frigg is the epicenter of the divine family dynamic. She is Odin’s equal in all respects, surpassing him in practical power as shown by the outcome of their disputes in Grímnismál and Historia Langobardorum. She is truly the power behind the throne, not even Odin can oppose her. Frigg’s powerful position beside Odin on his throne Hliðskjalf should not come as a surprise. While men and women had separate roles in Old Norse society, the gods gave the sexes equal gifts. The sons of Borr bestowed senses, wit and spirit on Ask and Embla alike. Women are not subordinate to men. The sources, both religious and historical, are rife with strong, independent women. Both men and women appear on the battlefield, as mythological, historical and archaeological evidence affirms. Equality of the sexes was a Germanic reality, long before modern times. This equality also may be seen in the reflexive nature of the names of Vanir deities: Njörd and Nerthus/Jörd, Fjörgynr and Fjörgynn, Freyr and Freyja, Fricco and Frigga. In the archaeological record, we also find pairs of male and female idols, confirming the widespread incorporation of the hieros gamos motif in Germanic religion. No fewer than four sets of these have been recovered from Oberdorla in Thuringia, the Braak Bog from Schleswig-Holstein, and the Wittemoor Timber Trackway in Berne, Lower Saxony.

…The famous male idol from Broddenbjerg, fashioned from a forked tree limb, measures about 40 inches tall and was set on a cairn built at the center of a bog, where it was surrounded by offerings. A rough face was carved on one end to give it a human appearance. The natural form of the wood lent itself to depicting a man with an erection, akin to the idol of Fricco in the temple described by Adam of Bremen. He records the names of a trio of gods worshipped together at Old Uppsala in Sweden. They are Wodan, Thor and Fricco, the latter being a masculine version of the names Frigga and Frekka. The recognition of a divine pair, Fricco and Frigga, adds to an existing pattern of such god names: Freyr and Freyja, Njörð and Nerthus, Fjörgynn and Fjörgynr, Bercht and Berchtold—a phenomenon reflected in the ancient pairs of male and female wooden idols found throughout the same area, and not uncommon in the Indo-European sphere. In Greco-Roman sources, M.L. West notes a Phoibos and Phoibe, Hektaos and Hektate, Janus and Jana, Liber and Libera, Fauna and Faunus, among many others.

Excerpts from the book “Odin’s Wife” by William P. Reaves.