Freyr Yngve | Lord of Peace and Plenty | Norse Gods

Freyr 

Freá, Fro, Yngvi, Ing, Ingui, *Fraujaz Ingwaz

Although sometimes described as a “fertility god,” Freyr is far more than that.

He is the founder of holy royal lineages, the leader of armies, and the lord of the dead in their mounds. 

He is the giver of sunlight and rain and all that is needed for the crops to grow.

Freyr unites these different aspects of being into a radiant whole; he is a god of kingship and labor, dark earth and shining sky, life and death, and the turning of the seasons in their cycle. 

His great gift is ár ok friðr, “peace and plenty.”

Yngve Freyr

The Lord

The name, or title, “Freyr” is usually thought to mean “lord.”

Since the 1990s, scholars have been carrying on a debate about how best to characterize the relationship of pre-Christian people to Freyr. 

  Was he primarily a god of kingship, who provides prosperity and abundance as one of his royal functions?

  Or, was he first and foremost a god of fertility, who became associated with rulership because ensuring good harvests was part of the ruler’s job?

The answer seemed to be not one or the other but both at different times and in different places  – in some regions, especially Sweden, he was strongly associated with the line of kings. In others, he seems to have been viewed more as a god who brought prosperity through good harvests.

Yngve

In addition to the title (or name) Freyr, the god was also known by the name (or title) Ing / Yng / Yngvi.. In Old Norse texts, he is sometimes called Yngvi-Freyr (Ynglinga saga 10) or Ingunar-Freyr (Lokasenna 43). 

 Tacitus reports that Denmark and the surrounding area was populated by tribes collectively called the Ingaevones (Germania 2), which is usually considered to mean something like “the people of Ing.”

 

Symbols of Freyr

The Boar

 One poetic word for “boar” is vaningi, “descendant of the Vanir” (Skáldskaparmál 75, verse 513), and Freyr himself is referred to as vaningi in Skírnismál 37.

Snorri states Freyr rides a boar named Gullinbursti (“Gold-Bristled”) or Slíðrugtanni (“Cutting-Tusked”), and it is one of the treasures forged by the dwarves for the gods at Loki’s behest. The boar could “run through air and water, night and day, better than any horse, and it could never get so dark, at night or in worlds of darkness, that there would be not enough light wherever he traveled, his bristles gave off so much light” (Skáldskaparmál 35).

The Stallion

The stallion is associated with both sexual potency and warriorship. Like the boar, horses have a special connection to Freyr as well as to Heathen religion in general. The eating of horseflesh was one of the Heathen customs that was specifically allowed to continue when Iceland converted to Christianity (Íslendingabók 7), presumably because horse-sacrifices were especially holy in Heathen times (cf. the blót in Hákonar saga goða 17). 

Certain horses were dedicated to Freyr, and it’s possible that they were not ridden because they were set apart as future sacrifices. The version of Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar preserved in Flateyjarbók (vol. 1, ch. 322, p. 401) mentions that Freyr’s temple in Trondheim kept a herd of horses sacred to Freyr. When the Christian king Olaf attacks the temple and destroys the idol of Freyr, he begins by riding the herd stallion, seemingly as an act of desecration.

The Stag and the Bull 

In the myth about Freyr and Gerd, Freyr gives away his sword to Skírnir and therefore uses a stag’s antler as his weapon when he kills Beli (Gylfaginning 37). The word Snorri uses for “stag” is hjǫrtr (cognate to archaic English “hart”), which specifically means a mature male red deer. The hart is a powerful and noble animal, closely related to the North American elk (wapiti). Some Heathens today feel that the stag links Freyr to the powers of untamed nature; in this view, Freyr is not only a god of human society, but also of the woodland and its creatures.

Freyr is also associated with bulls as animals of sacrifice.

Ynglinga saga 15 and Brandkrossa þáttr 1 mention bulls or oxen sacrificed to Freyr. In Víga-Glúms saga 9, Thorkel brings an ox to Freyr’s temple with the request that Glúmr, who has driven him from his land, will in turn be driven out. The ox bellows and drops dead, and this is taken as a sign that Freyr has accepted both the gift and Thorkel’s request. Glúmr is indeed driven away later in the saga.

Freyr in Medieval Germanic Heroic Literature

The Tale of Freyr and Gerd 

The only major myth centered on Freyr involves his pursuit of a jötun-- [AS6] maiden. The story is recorded in the Eddic poem Skírnismál and is also summarized by Snorri in Gylfaginning 37.

The story begins when Freyr, seated on Odin’s seat Hliðskjálf, glimpses Gerd from afar and falls desperately in love with her. Freyr is so troubled by his hopeless love that he withdraws from the company of the gods and laments, “Of Æsir and alfs, none wishes us to be together” (Skírnismál 7).

He sends his servant Skírnir to win Gerd’s hand for him. To help Skírnir get past trolls and ride through a ring of fire that surrounds Gerd’s home, Freyr gives him his horse and his magic sword that can fight by itself. 

Skírnir first tries to buy Gerd’s consent by offering her golden apples and the ring Draupnir, which creates eight more rings like it every nine nights.

She refuses contemptuously, in part because she implies that Freyr has killed her brother. We are not told who her brother is, but Freyr is said elsewhere to have killed the jotun Beli, so it is possible that Beli is Gerd’s brother.

The courtship now takes a sinister turn: Skirnir threatens Gerd with Freyr’s sword. When this fails to intimidate her, he threatens her with magical curses: she shall refuse food and become a spectacle to all beings, creeping to the hall of the frost-thurses. She will be condemned to live beneath Nágrindr, “Corpse Gate,” as the bride of a three-headed troll, with nothing but goat urine to drink. She will suffer ergi ok oeði ok óþola, “lust [AS7] and madness and unbearable craving.” Skírnir begins to carve a thurs-rune (ᚦ) and three more runes onto a wand to bring the curse into effect.

This threat finally overcomes Gerd’s resistance: she welcomes Skírnir and agrees to meet Freyr in nine nights’ time at the grove Barri (either “Barley” or “Conifer Grove”; see Simek, Dictionary, p. 32).

What does this story even mean?

On the face of it, the story is disturbing, since Gerd is coerced into marriage by the threat of a magical assault on her own mind. It also contradicts Lokasenna 37, where Tyr claims that Freyr “makes no girl cry nor any man’s wife, and he releases everyone from bonds.”

But apparently this “magical curse” threat was perhaps more well known, fourteenth-century rune-carved stick from the Bryggen district of Bergen, Norway, threatens a woman with ylgjar ergi ok óþola, a “she-wolf’s perversion and intolerable longing,” unless she reciprocates the carver’s desire (McKinnell, Simek, and Düwel, Runes, Magic and Religion, pp. 131–132); the terms ergi and óþola are identical to the words used in Skírnir’s curse. 

Similar spells are found in Icelandic books of magic (Macleod and Mees, Runic Amulets, pp. 34–39), which suggests that this type of magical compulsion remained part of Scandinavian culture well past the Heathen period.

It’s impossible to know which parts of this are part of the genuine early Freyr and Gerd cycle and which are later additions to suit the tastes of medieval audiences. But suffice to say this idea of “guy uses magic to charm the girl” is a common medieval trope which plays on assumptions about women and their agency. Anytime a woman asserts agency in a medieval drama, it’s presented as something fundamentally “unwomanly.” A man dominating a woman and subverting her agency was considered good and manly.

Just like in other poems and stories, the action is driven by the beliefs and values of the people who wrote them and not by the actions of the Gods.

But some Heathens today use the courtship of Freyr and Gerd as a story cycle for the Holidays from Yule to Ostara. Where Freyr and Gerd meet, court each other at Midwinter, fall in love (Disting), are kept apart (Lent), and eventually marry at Ostara. 

As we don’t have any real justification for why we celebrate any Holidays at all, this one seems just as good as any.

Freyr Lord of Barley and Beer

 One indication of Freyr’s connection with ár is his two servants, a married couple named Byggvir and Beyla. Both are mentioned in the Eddic poem Lokasenna[AS3] , and Sundqvist suggests that being attended by two servants at the feast is a marker of Freyr’s aristocratic status, as is Byggvir’s boast about his master’s hall and lineage in Lokasenna 43 (“Freyr,” p. 1216). Beyond this, both servants have names that connect them to agricultural production.

Byggvir

Byggvir means “barley.” Loki insults Byggvir by telling him that he must und kvernum klaka, “chatter under the grindstones,” and that he hides in the straw when there’s fighting to be done (Lokasenna 44-46). Thus, Byggvir can be viewed as a personification of barley grains.

Beyla

 Beyla’s name is something of a puzzle. It has been derived from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic *biu-ilo, “little bee” (Dumézil, pp. 102- 105). On the other hand, it could be related to Old Norse baula, a word for “cow.” Loki calls Beyla ǫll dritin, literally “all shitty” (Lokasenna 56), which would fit someone who works with cows, but not so much someone associated with bees.

If Beyla does indeed mean “bee,” then Byggvir and Beyla could be understood as the givers of the basic materials for brewing: grain for ale, honey for mead. 

On the other hand, if her name is related to cows, the two could be associated with the foods that supplied the basic diet for most Scandinavians: grain and milk.

Freyr the Lord of Nourishment and Joy

What was beer to pre-christian people? It was nourishing. It was a joy. Brewing and fermentation was a kind of magic to people whereby normal ingredients were transformed into something special–something that whole families would rely on for their daily nourishment. Additionally, the alcohol would make people feel a bit funny and happy. That couldn’t have been too bad, either.

Freyr the King and Lord of the World

 Snorri euhemerized the gods in Ynglinga saga; that is, he treated them as humans who were so impressive and powerful that other people worshiped them as gods. According to the saga, Njord was king of the Swedes, and his son Freyr became king after him. Freyr’s reign was remembered as particularly blessed (Ynglinga saga 10): 

He was called the lord of the Swedes. . . . He was blessed with friends and good harvests like his father. In his days, the peace of Fróði began. There were also good harvests throughout all the lands. The Swedes attributed that to Freyr. He was all the more honored than other gods because in his days the people of the land were richer than before, thanks to peace and good harvests.

Freyr is presented here as an ideal king whose reign was remembered as a kind of Golden Age. Ynglinga saga 10 also says that Freyr was remembered as “Veraldargoð”, which means something like “god of the world,” “god of a man’s lifespan”, and “god of the era of the human species.”

Lord of Peace and Plenty

Even according to the accounts that explain it as euhemerism, Freyr was worshiped by the Swedes for bringing peace (friðr) and good harvests (ár). Prosperity and peace also characterize the reign of King Fróði of Denmark; as mentioned previously, Fróði himself is often identified with Freyr.

Good harvests and peace—ár ok friðr—are consistently associated both with Freyr and with “good kings.” In Gylfaginning 24, Snorri says that Freyr governs rain and sunshine and the produce of the earth, so it is good to hail him til árs ok friðar, “for good harvests and peace.” Snorri’s Hákonar saga góða tells of a feast where toasts were drunk to Njord and his son Freyr til árs ok friðar (14). These blessings were the gifts of Freyr, and it was up to the king to ensure that the land received them.

As Olov Sundqvist writes, “The king had a responsibility for the people’s welfare by ensuring that their relationship with the gods was maintained. If the king watched over the cult and cultic places, and minded his military duties, he was able to provide a good year and peace (ár ok friðr) for his people” (“On Freyr,” pp. 24–25).

Because ár and friðr are so important to understanding Freyr, it’s worth looking at them in more depth.

Ár

Ár is related to our word “year”, but in this case it means specifically a “good year,” that is, an abundant harvest at the end of the growing season.

 It is sometimes translated as “good seasons,” “prosperity” or “plenty”; it implies that the annual cycle of growth has come to a successful and bountiful conclusion. 

The Norwegian Rune Poem links ár with Fróði (another name for Freyr):

ᛅ Ár er gumna góðe; get ek at ǫrr var Fróðe.

Harvest is good for men; I say that Fróði was generous. 

The Old English Rune Poem expands the idea that harvest is the result of generosity by making it clear that ár is a divine gift (Hallsall, The Old English Rune Poem, pp. 28-29; transl. Sheffield, Long Branches, p. 133):

ᛄ byþ gumena hiht, ðon God lǣteþ, hālig heofones cyning, hrūsan syllan beorhte blēda beornum and ðearfum.

[Ger] is the joy of men, when God allows— holy king of Heaven/the heavens— the earth to give bright produce to the powerful and the needy.

Friðr

Freyr’s other great gift, friðr (typically anglicized as “frith”), is usually translated “peace,” but it is more than just the absence of strife. “An unspoken state of affairs in which evil is not outlawed because it is unthinkable” would be a more accurate way to think of it.

Frith is derived from the PIE root *priyas, “one’s own” (as is the name Frigg, by the way). Frith differs from a passive state of “peace” because frith may have to be vigorously defended against outside disruption. The peace that Freyr guarantees is a holy peace, a sacred peace it was an offense against the gods to break. Freyr was called on for frith in general, but he seems to be especially concerned with frith in his holy places and with the upholding of sacred oaths.

Freyr Today

We worship Freyr Yngve today for much the same reason people worshiped him in days gone by: we pray for peace and plenty. We pray not just for success in our own ventures, but for a world of peace: without want, without need and without suffering.

Freyr the Abundant Lord of Peace and Plenty

The worshippers of Freyr Yngve pray for an end to war and strife, as they had for centuries before the conversion. Freyr devotees in general share the Abundant Lord’s aversion to avarice and strive to personally demonstrate his generosity.

You will often see Freyr’s people engaged in hobbies like gardening or growing vegetables, but this is a single aspect of His being. On a deeper level, Freyr isn’t what grows from the soil, Freyr is the promise the soil has to bring for enough to nourish all of us. It isn’t in the fact that you have some kind of “green thumb” but in what you intend to do with your gifts–whatever they may be. 

Calling Freyr a “fertility God” is far too simplistic. Fertility in the soil is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Freyr isn’t just “growth.” Freyr is the promise of not just “fertility” but an abundant world that provides for everyone.

Freyr the Holy Protector and Guardian against Strife

Freyr is seen by Heathens today as the protector of holy spaces and the guarantor of peace within those spaces. An offense against the peace of Freyr is seen as an offense against the God Himself and his devotees will respond accordingly. With the one hand, Freyr brings abundance from the earth, and with the other he wards away strife

On a more personal level, Jordsvin suggests (“Ingvi-Freyr in Ancient and Contemporary Heathenism,” p. 10):

Freyr is a very good choice to invoke for good luck, protection, and peace. He can help you provide for home and family. He is a good friend for horse-lovers, travelers, hunters, and animal breeders. He is a relatively easy and safe God to invoke. His personality is pleasant, and he brings good things. Pine makes a good incense to use in his workings. Appropriate colors are greens, gold and brown. His presence is very “sunny” and readily felt, and will often inspire feelings of fun, optimism, and happiness.

Freyr the High Priest

Along with Njord, Freyr is named in the literature as a “priest” or “blotsman.” Following this, some of Freyr’s worshipers see him as a High Priest just as others see Freyja as a High Priestess of Heathenry. 

The reason for this is varied, but if we think about the kinds of basic gifts we ask from the Gods, it is Freyr’s gifts that come most readily to mind: peace and plenty. Even when not praying to Freyr directly, many Heathens will pray for those gifts. Peace and plenty might even be thought of as the “original gift” the Gods gave to us, and those gifts are Freyr’s gifts.

Where one might pray to Thor to destroy the obstacles in your path, or Loki to transform obstacles into good fortune, one prays to Freyr for a world in which the obstacle is unthinkable. The obstacle dissolves and darkness disappears in the face of fertile fields, bursting sunlight and open skies–a place where you feel safe, whole and at peace.

This article and others like it are only possible through the work and support of our membership

The Troth is an all-volunteer organization that is supported by donations and membership fees. If you found this article helpful, and want to support our work to educate people on our faith, you can donate here to help fund work like this and more. And if you share our vision of inclusive Heathenry and want to participate in our mission, then you may want to consider joining our organization as a member today. You will get access to even more resources, workshops, our Discord Server and membership publications as well as a vote in our elections.

This article was created with substantial excerpts from Our Troth Vol. 2 which was edited by Ben Waggoner and has been used here with the editor's permission. This article also contains substantial contributions from the insights and practices of many members of The Troth, whether quoted directly or unquoted. If you want to read the full book, please find our publications page here.