Note: This article is intended as personal reflection and not scholarship. While I don’t intentionally mislead or make incorrect assertions, I freely include my own ideas and opinions. Please take it as such. 🙂
Frigg, daughter of Earth (Fjörgynn) and Lady of the Æsir, stays at home while her husband, Odin, travels the nine realms. She knows the whole of the future but won’t say a word, and weaves the clothing of Asgard as she mourns the death of her son Baldr, who was murdered by Loki’s trickery.
Freyja, daughter of the sea (Njörðr) and Lady of the Vanir, is the falcon-cloaked goddess of Folkvangr, leader of the war-happy valkyries, a shamanic witch who’s unafraid to use her sexuality to get what she wants yet mourns her missing husband with tears of amber and gold.
They’re like the Madonna/Whore of the Norse pantheon, the staid versus the fun, but without the sense of moral righteousness for the woman who sits around at home. And without self-righteousness, why be a Madonna? Freyja’s the “It Girl” most of us women want to be, the one whose affairs are legendary and about whom the gossip flows free and fun. Frigg is wise and calm and everything we plan to be when we’re done having fun being sexually assured badasses (i.e. never).
Although…the way they deal with their husbands makes me think twice about being so dismissive of Frigg. Freyja has lost hers–he’s gone wandering and she doesn’t know where he is. She mourns him, crying helplessly as she awaits his return. We know nothing of their relationship other than her sorrow and that they had two children. Meanwhile Frigg’s husband, Odin, pops in and out of the house and Frigg doesn’t appear to care. In fact, unlike Freyja who has no control over her husband’s disappearance, it seems to me like Frigg could keep Odin home. He wanders seeking knowledge–knowledge she already has in her head and refuses to tell him. There’s also a story in the Historia Langobardorum *see chapter 8* in which Frigg (called Frea here; keep reading for more info on that weirdness) tricks Odin into giving victory to the Lombards when he’d already thrown his lot in with the Vandals. It’s the only story I know of in which the wily All-Father is on the receiving end of a trick (not that my knowledge of the Lore is a definitive; there might be others!).
In my head, I always picture Frigg as a few years older than me and Freyja as a few years younger–but this is bunk imposed by modern stereotypes. Please, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve seen nothing in the Lore or elsewhere that says they aren’t identical in age. The closer you look at them, in fact, the more the two have in common. While Frigg is more associated with motherhood, both goddesses have children. While Frigg has numerous step/foster children, including Thor, from Odin’s numerous affairs while he was on the road, only Baldr is consistently regarded as her biological child. Freyja and her husband had at least two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi, but she isn’t associated with any children who aren’t biologically related to her. Both women are in what appear to be open marriages, something both of them are said to have taken advantage of when their husbands were away. And their spouses’ names are as similar as their own–Freyja is married to Od/Óðr (which translates to “Frenzy”) and Frigg to Odin/Óðinn (which translates to “The Frenzy”). Both men are known as wanderers, though Odin has stories in which he is present in Asgard whereas Od is permanently MIA.
The goddesses are so similar, indeed, that some scholars attest them to be the same goddess. Or at least stem from the same more ancient goddess. I don’t personally worship them as one entity, but on a psychological level this idea works for me. Freyja and Frigg are the constant war I face between being the responsible person who gets shit done and the wild, feminist icon society glorifies. But unlike the Madonna/whore dichotomy, I don’t have to pick sides between should and want. I don’t have to choose to be the silent weaver or the sexy warrior. I am woman. I am both. The trick is figuring out how to balance these two sides.
Just the other day I had a conversation with a woman who is all Freyja spirit. She’s a mother with a crazy past and is currently engaged, not to the handsome but unstable father of her children, but to a stable man who takes good care of her and her kids (two daughters, just like Freyja). She spoke to me of her fear of taking the plunge and told me she’d never thought of herself as the marrying type. In her voice was the fear of losing her Freyja-self to Frigg, as if the consistency and responsibility of the marriage bonds would send her careening from one extreme to the other. On the other hand, she knows taking this leap would be the best thing for her children–an assessment that in this particular circumstance I agree with. This woman is a born-again Christian, and I don’t want to challenge that at all, as it is part of her recovery from past bad judgment. But I can’t help but think she’d be well-served by finding a middle-ground model of feminine success, somebody who could be a wildcat in bed and the life of the party–at the occasional party–and also a wise woman who keeps her household running and takes care of her family. Why can’t we be both? I fear if she strives too hard to box herself into a Madonna/Frigg-standard, she’s going to explode and take her kids down with her.
Freyja and Frigg have their own strengths and weaknesses, but taken together they make a compelling dichotomy of the Northern ideas of feminine strength. While their husbands’ names mean basically the same thing, the women’s names have different meanings. Frigg, the stable one, means “beloved” and Freyja, the wild child, means “lady.” I love this reminder that I can be responsible and still adored instead of taken for granted…and that reveling in pleasure doesn’t stop me from being a lady.
What are your experiences with Frigg and Freyja? Do you think society prefers one version of feminine strength over the other?
+ Featured Image: Frigg Spinning the Clouds, by John Charles Dollman