**Don’t forget our 1st Anniversary Happy Hour is this Friday from 5-7 at Butterfly Bar! Everyone’s welcome! RSVP here.**
The month of August has a Heathen holiday called either Freyfaxi, Hlæfmæsse [say laugh-mass but stick an ‘h’ on the beginning: hlaf-mass; it means loaf-mass], or Hlæfæst [say hlaf-fast; it means loaf-feast] which celebrates the beginning of the harvest. There is no specific “correct” date for the Heathen harvest festival; some groups celebrate it at the beginning of the month (to coincide with Lammas), some mid-month, and some on the full moon. GG and I will be celebrating this weekend with a kindred (a Heathen version of a coven), and we’re looking forward to it! As you might be able to guess from the pronunciation of Hlæfmæsse it is related to the Celtic Lammas (also called Lughnasadh [Loo-nuh-suh]) which is also celebrated by Wicca). Slavic/Russian neopaganism celebrates both Zasiuki and Sproshinki, two harvest holidays, during August. And Hellenismos (Greek) celebrates Eleusinia dedicated to Demeter, goddess of the harvest, around this time.
Basically, all of pre-Christian Europe (and the religions descended there-of) is celebrating the harvest season now.*
In Heathenry, we dedicate this holiday to Freyr, one of the highest gods of the North – and a particular favorite of the Swedes, where my family is (mostly) from. Historically the Swedish royal family, the Ynglings, claimed to be descended from him. Freyr is a fascinating character and completely different than the wilder gods he shares Asgard with.
One of the main ideas behind hard polytheism** is the idea of tribal gods – that certain gods associate themselves with certain people, becoming the patron gods of a particular tribe. So Zeus, Posiedon, Aphrodite, etc. are patron gods of the Greek people. Lugh, Morrigan, Bridget, Epona, etc. are gods that watch over the Celts. Isis, Seth, Osiris, Horus, etc, are the tribal gods of the Egyptians. Jehovah is the tribal god of the Jews. Shiva, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Kali, etc are the tribal gods of India. These gods are not in competition with each other for followers; watching over all of humanity is a big job and it works better if you spread the love.
The Northern people extended tribalism and recognized two sets of gods – the Aesir and the Vanir – although they only worshipped the Aesir. According to Norse myth, there was a great war between the Aesir and the Vanir which ended in favor of the Vanir, although it was a tough fight on both sides. The peace treaty included an exchange of hostages, and the Vanir sent the Aesir three of their favorite members – Njörðr (say Nyore-thur, with the “th” like “they”) and his twin children Frejya [Fray-uh] and Freyr. The three Vanir quickly integrated themselves into their new home in Asgard, and the twins Frejya and Freyr became two of the most worshipped deities of the North.
Freyr is a fertility deity, and likenesses of him have been found with the same over-sized man-parts that Priapus, Kokopelli, and other fertility gods from around the world are proud to strut in statuary. So, what do man-parts have to do with the harvest season? Well, in traditional cultures, the fertility of the crops and fertility of humans were similar enough concepts to be spiritually linked. In addition, in northern custom a field’s production (i.e. the fertility of a field) was directly linked to the luck of the town’s chieftan (and hilarity ensues regarding the size of the chief’s…fields). In fact, one of the rare forms of human sacrifice found in Norse history is when years of continued “bad luck” – natural disaster or warring neighbors or whatever – caused a village to rise up and demand their leader offer himself as a sacrifice to appease the gods (thereby making room for a new leader who would hopefully change their luck. Or at least be less crappy at his job).
Because of this tie between the town cheiftans and the luck of the fields, it makes sense that Freyr, a fertility god, was also considered a god of good leadership, encouraging frith and prosperity for a community. While chaotic Odin was appealed to during times of war for his cunning and battle rages, civilized Freyr was turned to during times of peace. In fact, “Freyr” means “Lord” in the British sense of aristocracy (remember that the theory behind an aristocracy is that they will take care of people as benevolent leaders – that they will be “noble” in both senses of the word). In some places, Freyr is known as Yngvi-Freyr, or “Lord Yngvi”, and some historians theorize that the god’s actual name is not Freyr, but Yngvi, but that people called him “Lord” (much as Christians often call their god Lord instead of Jehovah) until Freyr became regarded as his name
Freyr is also ruler of the elves and when he cut his first tooth the other gods gave him Alfheim as a present (Elf-home; J.R.R Tolkien renamed it Eldamar in The Lord of the Rings and it’s the “West” to which the elves all travel at the end). He owns a magical boat called Skíðblaðnir [skeeth-blawth-near] that always has a favorable wind and will fold up to fit in your pocket, and he rides a chariot pulled by a boar called Golden Bristles (because his bristles glow in the dark). And that’s just the coolest name EVER for a pet boar.
The most popular story about Freyr (and my favorite) is told in the poem Skírnismál. [skeer-nis-mall] Freyr sits on Odin’s chair, from which he can see the whole word, and spies Gerðr, a beautiful jötunn (the jötnar were the enemies of the Aesir). He falls madly in love at first sight, and his servant/good friend Skírnir offers to convince Gerðr to marry him in exchange for Freyr’s famous sword that never misses its mark. Freyr readily agrees, and from this point on Freyr fights his battles with a pair of antlers (in fact, his future death at Ragnarok, the Norse Armageddon, is credited as being because he gave up his sword for love). Many people view the story of Gerðr and Freyr to be symbolic of the union of rain (Freyr) and Earth (Gerðr) to make the harvest.
In all the records and histories I’ve seen*** Freyr is beloved as a god that brings fruitfulness and peace, a god who is clever in a fight but more concerned with matters of the heart than the battlefield, a god who teaches wise decisions and strong ties of kinship. It is perfect to honor Freyr at the start of the harvest and ask his blessing as our hard work – be it in the field or in the workplace – bears fruit.
A blessed Hlæfæst to you and yours! (And if you want to ask Freyr to send Texas some rain, that would be much appreciated!!!)
* I have little doubt that a few minutes of research would prove that not just Europe, but the majority of the Pagan northern hemisphere is celebrating the harvest right now, I’m just not as familiar with traditions from other areas of the world.
** Hard polytheism is the kind that believes each god is its own entity, as opposed to soft polytheism which looks at each god is an aspect of a greater whole. Heathenry is typically hard poly.
*** Except the Gesta Danorum which inexplicably has Freyr associated with human sacrifice and prostitution. There’s always one, right? But hey, that’s the book we get the original story of Hamlet from (who’s real name is Amleth – Shakespeare apparently used an annagram – and he doesn’t die in the original story), so it’s got that going for it.
+ Featured image from a Ford Sed blót to Freyr by Achird