Frigga, Frige, Fricka, Frija, Frea, *Frijjo
Far from being the shrewish archwife of Wagner’s operas, the Frigg we discover in the old lore is patient, multi-aspected, and above all, powerful. She is a radiant figure who well deserves her status as First Lady of the Æsir.
Motherly Frigga, you who
You who bear the world’s
woe in your embrace,
You who comfort Odin, you
who nourish all things. . . .
—Edvard Grieg, from the unfinished opera Olav Tryggvason
The name “Frigg” comes from an old root from which we also derive words like “free” and “freedom” and the PIE root word for this means “love.” Thus the name “Frigg”, at its root, means “the beloved” or “beloved one.”
Whose Great Goddess is it anyway?
Several scholars have suggested that Frigg and Freyja were originally worshiped as the same Goddess.
The continental Germanic equivalents of Frigg’s name, such as Langobardic Frea, Old High German Frija, or early Middle English Frææ, look like Norse Freyja.
Both are connected to Odin in the literature: Freyja is said to be married to Óðr, whose name is identical with the root of Odin’s name. In Sǫrla ﬂáttr, Freyja commits adultery with dwarves to get precious jewelry (transl. Waggoner, “Tales from the Flateyjarbók VI, Part I,” pp. 26-27); in Saxo’s History of the Danes, Odin’s wife commits adultery with a servant to get gold for her jewelry (I.25-26, transl. Fisher, pp. 25-26).
It’s important to remember that when we think about pre-Christian Heathenry, we are pulling from source material that could be hundreds of years apart in places that are hundreds of kilometers apart. While some Gods and Goddesses worship and conception might be more consistent across those distances, some perceptions change.
Modern Heathens are not in agreement either, though the most common view you’ll see is that Frigg and Freyja are two different Goddesses. The view that Frigga and Freyja are two aspects of the same deity, or that one is an “avatar” of the other, is decidedly the minority view in modern Norse Paganism.
Symbols of Frigg
The most common symbol associated with Frigg in modern times is the key. Keys mean wealth (you only need them if you have valuable stuff that others might want to take), and they symbolize the right to manage a household’s resources and control how that wealth is to be used. Rígsþula 21 and ﬁrymskvi›a 16, 19 specifically mention a bride wearing or carrying keys. In ﬁór›ar saga kakala, one of the sagas included in Sturlunga saga, Steinvǫr Sighvatsdóttir incites her husband to take vengeance by threatening to take up weapons herself and make him wear her keys (Guðbrandr Vigfússon, ed., Sturlunga Saga, vol. 2, p. 6)—clearly her keys are as much a badge of her role and responsibility as his sword is for him.
Spindles, distaffs, and looms are also emblems of Frigg, representing both her ability to provide for a household and her ability to shape wyrd.
Flax (Linum usitasissimum) has already been mentioned as a fiber plant, and given Frigg’s role as a spinning goddess, it may well be associated with her. Its blue flowers make it a lovely ornamental plant.
Frigga in Medieval Germanic Heroic Literature
The role of Frigga, much like the role of Freyja, are both constrained by Medieval Germanic understandings of gender roles. But where Frigga appears to mostly conform to the idealized woman’s role in the literature, Freyja seems delighted to violate it.
The role Frigga played in the literature is much like the roles women played in other tales in medieval literature.
Frigg the Lady Sovereign
In his lament “Sonatorrek,” Egil Skallagrimsson refers to all the gods of Asgard as Friggjar niðjar, “Frigg’s descendants” (ÍF 2, p. 247). This
In the myths that have come down to us, her usual role is to protect her children or favorites, as seen in Grímnismál, the myth of Balder’s death, and the story of the Langobards’ naming. Her role mirrors that of women in the sagas, who defend their own families—whether by advising their husbands, urging their husbands to avenge wrongs, or conducting their own diplomacy. This sometimes sets her at cross purposes with Odin, who frequently disregards social rules that conflict with his own agenda.
Sometimes she gets the better of him; for example, when Gambara, the matriarch of the tribe of Winniles, prays to her for help against the rival Vandals, she tricks Odin into giving victory to the Winniles, who take the new name of Langobards (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards I.viii; transl. Foulke, pp. 16-17).
A fairly common folklore motif is the figure of “Lady Sovereignty:” a woman who embodies the land itself. Whoever would rightfully rule over the land must marry the Lady Sovereignty, which is not always an easy task (Z116; Thompson, Motif-Index, vol. 5, p. 560).
According to Ynglinga saga 3 Óðinn once went away for so long that his two brothers Vili and Vé divided his realm, and both married Frigg. Loki taunts her with this (Lokasenna 26), and Christian commentators were also known to attack her as a goddess of lust and carnality; Ælfric of Eynsham, for example, wrote how the Devil appeared to St. Martin
hwilon on ueneris ﬂære fulan gyden þe men hatað fricg,
“sometimes as Venus, the foul goddess, whom men call Frigg” (Vita S. Martini XXIV.716-717, ed. Skeat, Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, vol. 2, p. 264).35
This is similar to Freyja’s treatment at the hands of Medieval scholars and poets. Though unlike Freyja, the accusations of lewd behavior and the characterization as a sex goddess didn’t appear to be sticky enough to make it through to modern conceptions of the deity.
Frigg the Weaver of Destiny
Unlike the valkyries, Frigg does not take part in battles directly. Her connection with battle is more defensive; her blessings keep warrior and travelers safe, such as her blessing on Odin in Vafþrúðnismál 4:
“Heill (holy / lucky / whole / healthy) may you travel!
Heill may you come back!
Heill be you on your way!”
Frigg’s spinning and weaving complements her role as protector in several ways. Women in the sagas may defend their sons or lovers by making enchanted shirts for them, such as the shirts made by Katla for Oddr (Eyrbyggja saga 18) and Hildigunnr for Einarr (Bar›ar saga Snæfellsáss 6).
But the connection goes deeper: weaving was seen as a metaphor for fate, including the fates of warriors in battle. Weaving equipment included long rods to separate sets of threads (heddle rods) and “weaving swords” to push the weft threads closer together and make the cloth more compact.
Other medieval Christian penitential texts from the Continent condemn “observances” and “consultations” that a woman might make while weaving, and rune inscriptions on spindle-whorls and weaving gear also hint at magic worked while spinning and weaving (Enright, Lady with a Mead Cup, pp. 115-121; Flint, The Rise of Magic, pp. 226-228).
Her role in the mythology reflects the role of mothers in the sagas, who also actively work to defend and support their sons, even working witchcraft or using other underhanded means.
In Vǫlsunga saga, Siggeir’s mother shifts into wolf shape and attacks Sigmundr and his brothers (ch. 5), while Gunnar’s mother Grímhildr brews a drink of forgetfulness for Sigurd to make him forget Brynhild, marry Gudrun, and support her eldest son Gunnar (ch. 26).
Katla in Eyrbyggja saga, Þuríðr in Grettis saga, Ljót in Vatnsdæla saga, and Auðbjǫrg in Gísla saga are just some of the women in the sagas who defend their sons and further their own interests with magic.
Witch-mothers are known to duel each other: in Eyrbyggja saga, Katla defends her son Oddr with illusions, until Odd’s enemy Thorarin enlists his mother Geirrid to break them, while in Har›ar saga ok holmverja, Thorbjorg Kettle and Thorgrima Smith-Woman fight a magical duel that ends up killing both of them.
Frigg acts in this capacity twice in the story of the death of Baldr, where she first makes all things promise not to harm him. Then when she attempts to resurrect him by making all things weep for him. This would have been entirely expected for a powerful witch like Frigg.
Frigg the Hearth Goddess
Frigg is said to live at Fensalir, “Marsh Halls.” Bogs in parts of Scandinavia in the Iron Age were places where sacrifices were left—not just the famous “bog bodies” and weapon-sacrifices, but locks of hair, gold jewelry, and traces of flax and the instruments used to process it (Davidson, Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe, p. 117).
The myths rarely show Frigg as concerned with riches as such, or with fertility of the fields, although there is a place named Friggeråker, “Frigg’s Grain Field,” in Västergötland, Sweden (Brink, “How Uniform was the Old Norse Religion?,” p. 123).
We should be careful not to idealize the role of the women in Old Germanic society.
Except in very rare and remarkable cases, a woman was considered to be the “manager” of a household and never the owner of it. A woman was the possession of her father as his child until she became the possession of her husband as his wife.
The man was the owner and the only person allowed to act in society, and the women, the children and the servants of his household were all his possessions.
If a wife did not keep a good home, or serve as a good hostess, this reflected poorly on her husband’s place in society in the same way it reflects badly on a business owner who appoints a poor manager for his affairs. Women were expected to enforce these standards and if they failed to do so, or in any way attempted to undermine her husband’s authority and position, the husband would assert his ownership and position through force.
Even as we remember that it wasn’t some matriarchal paradise, we should also remember that our own society wasn’t (and in some cases still isn’t) so different in terms of its conception of gender roles and who gets to do what. We are still in a system based primarily on the assumptions of patriarchy.
While some today might be tempted to reverse the myths and say Frigg was the one “really” in charge of everything, we need to remember that any woman who would actually have asserted agency in any real sense where it threatened men would have been dealt with the same way a rebellious slave would have been treated.
At best, any reversal of roles in the literature would have been seen by the audience as an outrageous comic device.
Some also point out that Frigg’s use of magic shows that the Norse people recognized and respected the power of women. To a point, yes: as long as the primary owners and beneficiaries of that power were men. Old Norse society was not a secret matriarchy. Women were not secretly controlling things from behind the scenes.
Frigg the Beloved Sovereign
Rod Landreth used to refer to Frigg as the “CEO of Asgard”. This is completely in keeping with her nature; she is surely a model for the efficient and skillful professional, just as she is for the efficient and skillful homemaker.
Frigga has always been a mistress of organization, but that would not have assisted me in my situation without some heavy-handed metaphor, so she communicated with me through an image I understood more quickly: the environment of the business world.
The skills she taught me got a better job, with a great boss and more work, but with the skills Frigga had taught me I became an invaluable asset to my boss. Every time I finished a project ahead of time and with extra frills I would stop, hail Frigga and once again dedicate my work to her and for her. (“Working with Frigga,” p. 16)
Frigg the Hearth Goddess
Some Heathens see Frigg as a goddess of the hearth, although this is not made explicit in the lore. Emily Kelly writes:
The heart of any home prior to the twentieth century was of course, the hearth. In many European pre-Christian traditions, the hearth belonged to women. Celtic people honored Brigid at the hearth, Balts honored Gabija, and the Romans knew Vesta. It is curious that none or the sources in the Poetic or Prose Eddas feature any image of hearth-worship. Perhaps this is a case of feminine interests, such as hearth-keeping, loaf-baking, spinning and weaving, going unrecorded by male authors.
Or perhaps women’s arts were so commonplace as to be not worth mentioning. Frigg may be the best candidate for this lost “Hearth Goddess” amongst the Asynjur and Vanir goddesses.
Modern Anglo-Saxon practitioners give her the name Frīg-Heorþmōdor, “Frigg hearth-mother,” and often give the first offering to the hearthfire. The very word for “woman” in Old English, hlæfdige, means “bread-kneader,” and the hearth would have been where this bread was baked. It is easy to imagine that Frigg presides over the domestic hearth, just as she presides over the domestic art of spinning, even though she is never explicitly demonstrated as doing either activity in the lore.
Frigg the weaver of destiny
Winifred Hodge Rose has had a very similar vision of Frigg in her spaework. For her, Frigg is not just a practical businesswoman, but one who can use deep understanding of wyrd to develop her plans and strategies:
Frigg is dressed in a red power-suit, standing at the head of the conference table in a Boardroom / Doomstead [place of judgment]. She lays her briefcase on the table, and I see that its combination lock shows runes instead of numbers. I realize that the runes on the lock change, depending on the situation that the Board of Directors is dealing with.
Whichever runes appear on the lock guide them in “unlocking” wise rede and strategies for decisions and actions. As Frigg opens her briefcase I notice her wristwatch. It has no numbers or other figures on it.
Instead, it is a silvery, misty hologram of the Well of Wyrd. Through it she can discern the Well and consult with the Norns, bringing knowledge of orlog, wyrd and scyld to the Boardroom / Doomstead and the directions and actions that are decided upon there.
Meditative Spinning and Weaving Cults
Some modern Heathens have learned how to spin with an actual drop-spindle, as a meditative exercise and a way to connect with Frigg and with distant ancestors, as well as a way to produce useful thread and yarn. Sewing, knitting, crocheting, and other fiber arts can be done as a meditation on Frigg, the other goddesses, and on female ancestors.
Diana Paxson has created communal rituals to Frigg and her maidens that center around ritual weaving on a warp-weighted loom (see “Frigga’s Weaving” in Idunna 86 and “Six Faces of Frigg” in Idunna 118).
Bekah Glasheen writes:
I have a specific amethyst whirl spindle that I use for meditative spinning and dísir-specific contemplation. I sit either outside near my firepit if the weather is favorable, or in my antique rocking chair, and think on the ancestors or Frigg and how women have spun over the years, and the eventual garments made with the wool and linen they used. The distaff at their side, often mistaken for a wizard’s staff, still seems like a staff of magical power, crafting a warm fabric seemingly out of thin air.
Rebecca Sheehan adds:
I spin. I spin when I sit in the High Seat, when I guide the Seeress or Seer, while meditating or praying, when I work solitary devotional or ritual magic, and when I am supporting another’s work. Spinning is an ancient form of crafting and at is most basic level is transformation made manifest. A handful of fluff becomes ordered and united and exponentially stronger than any single fiber. It changes from lowenergy raw material through the kinetic twisting to storage for great potential energy. When two strands are twisted together, that stored energy works in combination to become stronger still. And so the physical and metaphorical both build. . . .
Spinning is a reliable way of drawing in luck and that can be tailored to need. I have on a few occasions had a couple come to me before marrying, and I have them select the fiber for their marriage cords. As they hold it, I have them draw to mind specific thoughts and memories, then while I spin that they can tell me about it or just keep considering it. I do two strands for each person, then ply them into a strand for each. I finish with plying the two strands together and end with a four colored cord made of their intentions individually and together. Magic works best when it is grounded in something we understand. Spinning draws in, binds together, draws out. Spinning is the cycle of existence manifested in this world.
Offerings to Frigg
Annie Arnott has written of how she integrated honoring Frigg into her daily life:
I hold the keys in this household. I am the one who pays the bills, assesses the needs of the household members, takes them to the doctor (finds the doctor first, and that’s tough in this area), drives to the grocery store, figures out how to feed all with the money we have, and budgets and plans to meet our needs on the resources available.
A small image of a goddess of abundance and joy, her lap cluttered with fruit, grain, her belly full, and her face radiant with well-being, I gilded her lines and she became Frigga to me. I found a red handmade book to be our house book, and wrapped a pair of gold sewing scissors on a golden cord around it. For months, I would do the rough work of needs/money/time and medical needs/appointments/ schedule in this book, asking her guidance and courage to make things work, to help my unreliable memory, and ensure my adding was accurate, and that I’d remembered everything needful.
I used this simple shrine and the powerful, building connection to Frigga to guide my intention to act as lady of the house, with dignity and self-respect, and to honor the sacred work of keeping people alive and well. (“Frigg in the Day to Day,” Idunna 118, p. 19)
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