Frey (ON Freyr), son of Njord, probably by his sister, is like him one of the Vanir but reckoned among the Æsir. He is “the bold son of Njord”; his “mighty son”; his “noble son.”1 Among the Æsir he is “the most renowned,” “foremost of the gods,” whom no man hateth,” “the first of all the heroes in the gods’ house.”2 His name, which corresponds to Gothic frauja, OHG frô, and AS fréa, means “lord,” and was thus at first a title. Snorri says of him that, like his sister Freyja, he is fair of face and mighty. He rules over rain and sunshine and also over the increase of the earth. Good is it to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace, for he can give peace and prosperity to men. He is god of the fruitful season and of the gifts of wealth. Thus Frey is closely akin to Njord in his functions. It is also said of him that “he harms not maids, nor men’s wives, and frees the bound from their fetters.” He is also “the battle-bold Frey.”3

Frey’s seat is in Alfheim, the land of the Alfar or elves, given him by the gods as a “tooth-gift” in ancient times, i.e., a present to a child on cutting its first tooth. “As the elves are especially connected with the furthering of vegetable life (the places on the turf where they have danced betray themselves by the richness of the grass), so the god of fruitfulness is naturally their overlord.”4

His possessions are Skidbladnir, “swiftest and best of ships,” and made with great skill of craftsmanship by dwarfs. It was given to Frey, perhaps because he, one of the Vanir, had to do with ship-faring. It is the ideal magic ship, so large that all the gods may man it with their weapons and armaments.


As soon as its sails are hoisted, wherever it is going it has a fair wind, like certain ships in the Sagas. When not in use it can be folded up and put in the pouch.5 Possibly this ship betokens the clouds. Frey’s sword fights of itself or if a worthy hero wields it.6 His horse, Blodughofi, can go through “the dark and flickering flames.”7 To him also is ascribed the ring Draupnir which multiplies itself — a symbol of fertility appropriate to Frey.8 His chariot, in which he drives at Balder’s funeral, is drawn by the boar Gullinbursti, “Gold bristles,” or Slidrugtanni, “Fearful tusk,” or, according to the Husdrapa of Ulf Uggason, Frey rode on the boar itself. This boar was made by dwarfs and could run through air and water better than any horse; the glow from its mane and bristles was so great that, wherever the boar was, no matter how dark the night, there would be sufficient light. It is also called Hildisvini, “Battle swine,” “which shines with bristles of gold.”9

Frey’s boar is undoubtedly connected with the offering to him of boars in sacrifice, especially the sónargöltr, “atonement boar,” on the eve of the Yule festival. The largest boar was given to Frey, and it was so holy that when it was led into the hall, oaths were sworn and vows made while the hand was laid over its bristles. The purpose of the sacrifice was to cause the god to be favourable to the New Year. According to the Hervarar-saga king Heidrek offered the boar to Frey, but an earlier reference does not connect the sónargöltr with Frey.10 A survival of the sacrifice is found in the cakes baked in Sweden at Yule in the form of a boar. Whether all the references to the boar in Teutonic folk-custom or story collected by Grimm are connected with the cult of Frey is doubtful. The ceremonial bringing-in of a boar’s head at Christmas banquets in England, still surviving at Queen’s College, Oxford, cannot be definitely shown to point to a cult of Frey among the Saxons.11 According to Tacitus the Aestii worshipped the Mater deum, and wore as an emblem of that superstition the forms of boars, which took the place of arms or other protection and guaranteed victory.12


Some have seen in this native goddess Freyja who, in Hyndluljod, rides a boar with golden bristles. The custom of wearing a boar’s image or helmets in that form as protectives was common among the Anglo-Saxons, as their poetry shows, as well as in Germany. It need not necessarily point to a cult of Frey, but to a wider belief in the swine as a sacred or magic animal.13

Frey’s servants are Skirnir, prominent in Skirnismal, and Byggvir and his wife Beyla, both of whom opposed Loki at Ægir’s banquet and were addressed contemptuously by him.

At the Doom of the gods Frey contends with Surt and falls, because he lacks his sword which he had given to Skirnir.14 Reference is made to Frey’s slaying of Beli, not with his sword, but with his fist or the horn of a hart. Hence he is called “adversary of Beli,” “Beli’s hater,” or “fair slayer.” Beli may be the brother of Gerd, of whom Frey was enamoured, for she speaks of him as her brother’s murderer.15

Like Njord, Frey is accused by Loki of having a sister-wife, Freyja, the only reference to this save in the Ynglinga-saga.16 Both Skirnismal and Snorri give the story of his love for the giant’s daughter Gerd, called his wife in Hyndluljod: “Gerd, Frey’s spouse, was Gymir’s daughter; Orboda bore her to the old giant.”17 Orboda was one of the Hill-giants”race. Snorri calls Gymir a man, but he was certainly a giant. His daughter was fairest of women. One day Frey sat himself on Hlidskjalf and looked over the worlds, even to Jötunheim, where he saw a woman raising her hands to open the door of a house. Brightness gleamed from her arms over sea, sky, and all worlds. Frey was filled with melancholy, represented by Snorri as a punishment for sitting in Odin’s seat, but in Skirnismal there is no word of this, and perhaps this seat was Frey’s originally, not Odin’s. Skadi (or Njord, according to an emendation of the text and also in Snorri’s version) sent for Skirnir and bade him ask Frey for whose sake he was so melancholy. Skirnir feared that he would get evil answers from him, but he questioned him


boldly and learned the cause. He was deeply in love with Gerd, yet “none of the Æsir or Alfar will grant that we may live together.” He asked Skirnir to go and woo her for him and bring her to him. Skirnir asked for Frey’s horse and magic sword, and with these set off. He spoke to the horse, saying that it was dark and now it was time to travel across the wild fells, over the giants’ land. Either they would return together or the powerful giant would take them. Then he reached Jötunheim and Gymir’s dwelling, guarded by dogs. On a hill sat a herdsman who, when Skirnir asked for speech with Gerd, said that this could never be. Meanwhile within the dwelling Gerd heard a noise, and learned from her servant that a man had dismounted at the gate. She bade the servant bring him in, though she feared that he was her brother’s slayer. When he entered, she asked him if he was one of the Alfar, of the Æsir’s sons, or of the wise Vanir, since he had come through the flickering flame to her abode. He said that he was none of these, and offered her golden apples if she would say that Frey was dearest to her. She refused them, saying that she would never be Frey’s. He offered her the ring Draupnir: this also she refused. Then he threatened to behead her, but she was unmoved and told him that he might fight Gymir if he liked. Skirnir replied that the sword would kill her father, and threatened her with the magic power of his staff and with curses. She will go where men will nevermore see her. On the eagle’s hill she will sit, facing Hel, and her meat will be loathsome to her. Even the Frost-giant Hrimnir will stare at her and she will become better known than Heimdall. Grief and terror will afflict her in the giants’ land, and she will dwell with a three-headed giant. Odin is angry with her; Frey will hate her; the gods’ wrath will be upon her. Skirnir bade all Jötuns, all Frost-giants, the sons of Suttung, and the Æsir hear how he forbade her ever to know the joy of love. Hrimgrimnir is the giant who will have her beneath near the doors of Hel, and to the Frost-giants’ halls she will daily crawl in misery. Then he wrote four runes, by


which she would know unquenched desire, though he would cut them out again if she relented.

As a result of these curses Gerd yielded, though she said that she had never thought to love one of the Vanir. She bade Skirnir tell Frey to meet her nine nights hence in the secret wood called Barri, where she will be his. On hearing this from Skirnir Frey said: “One night is long, two are longer, how can I bear three? Often has a month seemed less to me than half a night of longing now.”

Gerd is included among the Asynjur by Snorri, and Loki taunts Frey at Ægir’s banquet with buying her with gold, selling his sword at the same time. Hence when Muspell’s sons come riding he will have no sword.18 The “flickering flame,” vafrlogi, by which Gerd’s abode is surrounded, is a magic defence against intrusion, and only by magic or supernatural means can a hero go through it. It is found thrice in the Eddic poems. The second reference to it is in Svipdagsmal where it surrounds the hall where Menglod is secured. Svipdag makes his way through it to her, his destined bride. The third reference is in Sigrdrifumal, where Brynhild is held in a magic sleep imposed by Odin, in a hall on a mountain surrounded by fire. Through it Sigurd makes his way.

Frey was sometimes called Ingvi-Frey or Ingunar-Frey, a name connected with that of Ingw, the tribal ancestor or eponymous hero of the Ingvaeones, the group of tribes dwelling in Schleswig-Holstein, from whom sprang the Saxons, Anglo-Saxons, and Frisians. Ingunar is either a distorted form of Ingvi or the genitive of a feminine Ingun, possibly Frey’s unnamed mother or his consort. The name would mean “Frey of Ingun” or “Lord (Husband) of Ingun.” The Ynglings, the earliest race of the kings of Sweden, regarded themselves as descendants of Frey, called Yngvi in the Ynglinga-saga. “They were kindred of the god Frey” or “held him to be the founder of their race,” says Saxo, speaking of Swedish heroes.19 Yngvi’s people were the Swedes. There are, however, two


genealogies. One is that of the Saga, which begins with Njord, then Frey or Yngvi. The other is that of the Islendinga-bók, which begins with Yngvi, who is followed by Njord, Frey, etc. Whether Yngvi and Frey were actually different mythic personages, and if so, why they became merged in each other, cannot be determined. Perhaps the connexion lay in the fact that the king of the Ingwines or East Danes was called Frea Ingwina; their tribal ancestor was Ing. Ing first dwelt with the East Danes, and then crossed the sea, his wagon following him.20 Ing is the same as Yngvi, and as Frey means “lord,” Yngvi may have been the personal name of the god. The Ingvaeones of Tacitus, who dwelt in the coast region between the North Sea and the Baltic, are to be traced back to Yngvi or Frey, their tribal deity. Their region was also the seat of the Nerthus cult. Thus the cult of Yngvi-Frey passed thence to Sweden, where its chief seat was Upsala.

In his account of the Hadding saga, Saxo says that this mythic hero was attacked on one occasion by a sea-monster which he slew. But as he was exulting in his deed, a woman appeared who said that he would suffer the wrath of the gods, for his sacrilegious hands had slain one of them in disguised form. So Hadding,” slayer of a benignant god,” in order to appease the deities, sacrificed dusky victims to Frey at an annual feast, which he left posterity to follow. This rite was called by the Swedes Fröblot, “sacrifice to Frey.” Saxo also says that Frey, “satrap of the gods,” took up his abode not far from Upsala, where he exchanged for a ghastly and infamous sin-offering the old custom of prayer by sacrifice which had been used for many generations. He paid to the gods abominable offerings by beginning to sacrifice human victims.21 The Hakonar-saga also says that Frey raised a great temple at Upsala and set his capital there, endowing it with all his revenues, lands, and movables.22

The Ynglinga-saga calls Frey a rich and generous lord under whom peace and fruitfulness abounded. He took the realm after Njord and was “lord of the Swedes.” The “Peace of


Frodi” began in his time and good years in all lands, which the Swedes ascribe to Frey. He raised a temple at Upsala and was held dearer than the other gods, because the people were wealthier in his days. Gerd was his wife, and he was called Yngvi and his kindred were the Ynglings. When he died he was put in a barrow with a door and three windows, and the Swedes were told that he was still alive. He was guarded there for three winters, and gold was put through one of the windows, silver through the second, and copper through the third. Peace reigned during these three years. When at last the Swedes learned that he was dead, they would not burn him, but called him “god of the world” and sacrificed to him for plenteous years, thinking that while his body was in Sweden, peace and plenty would abound.23

The “Peace of Frodi” is often spoken of in Northern literature. Frodi was an early Danish king, more mythic than real, and in his time this Peace began — a kind of golden age. Snorri says that during it no man injured another, even if that other were his brother’s or father’s slayer. No thief or robber was known, and a gold ring lay long untouched on Jalang’s heath. This was at the time when Augustus reigned at Rome. The Peace came to an end when two giant maids, Fenja and Menja, ground out of a magic mill a host against Frodi, who was slain. They did this because he forced them to grind out gold. This myth of a golden age was doubtless connected with the cult and person of Frey, whose name is to be found in that of Snorri’s king Frodi and the several kings of that name in Saxo.24

Behind all these euhemeristic notices of Frey lies the evidence that his cult had been carried into Sweden from elsewhere, and that there this god, who is said to have himself introduced the cult and arranged the sacrifices, had a prominent place. He was called blotgud Svia, “the sacrificial god of Sweden,” and Sviagod, “god of the Swedes.” It is clear also that Frey was regarded as a god of fertility and that human



Upper figure, to right. Ithyphallic squatting image, probably of Frey, intended to be carried in its owner’s purse and buried with him. From Södermanland, Sweden, tenth century. Lower design, to right. One of several golden plates representing the sacred marriage of a god of fertility (possibly Frey) and a goddess. Found in the neighbourhood of the farm of Fröjsland (“land of Frey”), south-west Norway. See p. 116. Design on left. The sacred marriage depicted on a tenth century runic stone, the figures represented separately because of the form of the stone. From the same district as the gold plate.


sacrifices were offered in his cult. As in other fertility cults, that of Frey was connected with generation. Adam of Bremen says that at Upsala the image of Fricco (Frey), who bestowed peace and joy on men, stood beside those of Odin and Thor, and was invested with ingenti priapo — an obvious symbol of the god’s influence on fertility. He also says that, at the nine years’ festival, unseemly songs were sung during the sacrifices.25 We do not know that this was a Frey festival, but if so, the notice would correspond to what Saxo says of the sacrifices at Upsala, that Starkad, who had lived for seven years with the sons of Frey, left that place because he was so disgusted with the effeminate gestures, the play of the mimes, and the ringing of bells. Saxo also declares that the legendary Fro, king of Sweden, put the wives of Siward’s kinsfolk in a brothel and delivered them to public outrage. If Fro is Frey, this might be a memory of the erotic aspects of his cult.26 The only myth of Frey reported in the Eddas — his love-sickness for Gerd and his strong desire for her -points to the nature of his personality and worship.

Frey’s image was taken in a wagon through the land at the close of winter, under the care of a priestess, who was regarded as his wife and was set over his sacred place. From Upsala the procession traversed the land, and was everywhere received with joy and with sacrifices, in expectation of a fruitful year. A curious story is told of this in the Olafs-saga Tryggvasonar by a Christian saga-man. Gunnar Helming had fled from Norway to escape the consequences of a suspected crime. In those days there were great sacrifices to the gods, and Frey had long received more than the others. His image was so enchanted that he used to speak to the people out of it. Gunnar, having come to Sweden, placed himself under Frey’s protection. The priestess received him, though the god did not seem favourable to him, and, at the time of the procession, she bade Gunnar come and feast with Frey and her. Gunnar went with the servants of the god, who abandoned the wagon during a snow-storm in the hills. Gunnar led it, but, feeling tired, climbed into it.


After a time the priestess bade him go and lead the wagon, for Frey was against him. He obeyed, but soon after resumed his seat, saying that he would risk standing up against Frey if he opposed him. He wrestled with the god, and, being nearly overcome, he thought that if he conquered, he would return to Norway and accept the Christian faith. The evil spirit which, according to the narrative, was in the image, now abandoned it. Gunnar broke the image and himself personated the god. At the place where a feast was prepared in expectation of the visit, the people marvelled that the god and his priestess should have come through the storm, still more that he should come among them and drink like men! The time was spent in feasting, but the counterfeit Frey would accept no offerings save those of gold, silver, and fine garments. In time the priestess became pregnant, and this, with the fine weather, was regarded as a good omen for a fruitful year. The news of the power of the Swedish god spread far and wide. King Olaf of Norway heard of it, and, suspecting the truth, sent Gunnar’s brother to Sweden. He found Gunnar who, with priestess and treasure, returned to Norway and was baptized.27

The resemblance of this procession to that of Nerthus and her priest, as recorded eight centuries before by Tacitus, is striking, and suggests the connexion of Frey and Nerthus as deities of fertility, Nerthus, perhaps, being wife or mother of Frey. Not improbably priest and goddess or god and priestess were believed to celebrate the “sacred marriage” during this festival time in order to promote fertility. In the Nerthus rite a woman would represent the goddess; in the Frey rite a man would represent the god. In the story, Gunnar acts as the god and as husband of the priestess. The story would thus be reminiscent of actual custom, with priest and priestess as god and goddess. Evidence of such a ritual in prehistoric times in Norway has been collected by Prof. Magnus Olsen, the rite surviving in folk-custom and being represented on engraved gold plates which had been buried in the earth. Such a ritual may lie be


hind the story in Skirnismal. Skirnir is by some regarded as merely Frey himself, whether or not he is to be taken as the surviving memory of the mortal who took the part of the god in the folk-drama, the god himself being also represented by an effigy for which “the rôle of Gerd’s seeker was too active.”28 Frey’s priestess is called a “temple-priestess,” but he had also priests.29

Like Njord, Frey was besought to give fair winds to voyagers, and he was frequently named with him and with Thor, e.g., in taking an oath: “So help me Frey, Njord, and the almighty god” (Thor).30 Frey was thus a god of many functions -light, sunshine, fertility, fruitfulness, and fair winds. Sagas speak of sacrifices of bulls to Frey. Libations were also offered or toasts drunk to him along with those to other gods — Odin or Thor, and Njord, Frey’s and Njord’s being for fruitful seasons and peace. Thorkel, who had been driven out by Glum, went to Frey’s temple at Eyafjord in Iceland with a full-grown ox, saying to the god that he had long been his chief toast and had many gifts from him, and that he had repaid them well. Now he gave Frey the ox, asking him to drive out Glum and desiring a token of acceptance of the gift. The ox bellowed and fell dead, and this was regarded by Thorkel as a good sign.31 Some time after, Glum dreamed that a great company came to see Frey, and it seemed to him that he saw the god sitting in their midst. Glum asked the company who they were, and learned that they were his dead kinsmen who were praying to Frey that Glum should not be driven out. Their prayer did not prevail, for Frey was answering them shortly and angrily, and was mindful of Thorkel’s gift. Glum was never Frey’s good friend after that.32

Not only were there large images of Frey, smaller ones were used as amulets. Heid the Volva prophesied to Ingimund about his settlement in an undiscovered western land. He said that he would not go, but she declared that he would, and, as a token, his silver image of Frey would be lost out of his purse


and found when he dug a place in that land for his high-seat pillars. The image was discovered to be missing, and Ingimund sent two Finns to Iceland to discover it. They found it, but could not remove it, for it went from one place to another and they could not take it. So Ingimund was forced to go himself, and when he had set up his pillars, he found the image. It had belonged to a petty Norse king, and had been given to Ingimund by king Harald about 872 A.D.33

Sacred horses were kept in Frey’s temple at Throndhjem, and a curious story is told of a horse, a half-share of which was dedicated to Frey by its owner, Hrafnkell, who migrated to Iceland in the time of Harald. He revered no god more than Frey and dedicated a temple to him. Hence he was called “Frey’s priest,” Freys-godi. He vowed to slay any one who rode this horse. In order to look for sheep, his shepherd Einar mounted it, and by its loud neighings this was made known to Hrafnkell, who slew Einar. The result was a feud between Einar’s people and Hrafnkell, who was banished. His enemies cast the horse, whose name was Freyfaxi, into a stream from a cliff, afterwards known as Freyfaxi’s Cliff. They burned the temple and robbed the images of their decorations. On hearing this, Hrafnkell said: “I think it folly to believe in the gods,” and from that day forward offered no sacrifices.34 We hear of another horse with a white mane called Freyfaxi, belonging to Brand. It was a splendid horse for fighting, and men believed that Brand put his trust in it and worshipped it: hence he was known as Faxabrand.35

The cult of Frey seems to have passed from Sweden, with its centre at Upsala, to Norway. There was an important temple of the god at Throndhjem where the people prayed to him for peace and fruitfulness, and looked for announcements about future events from him.36 When King Olaf commanded the people at Throndhjem in 998 A.D. to break Frey’s image, they refused on the ground that they had served him long and that


he had done well by them, giving them peace and plenty and revealing the future to them.37

From Norway Frey’s cult passed to Iceland with the emigrants in the ninth century, and there they placed themselves under his protection and that of Thor. The story of Ingimund offers an interesting illustration of this, and of the god’s desire for the spread of his cult, which was strongest in the north of the island. Many temples of Frey are mentioned in the Sagas, some of them peculiarly sacred. In Viga-Glums-saga it is told that Glum harboured outlaws at Frey’s temple at Eyafjord. This made the god angry: he withdrew his protection from Glum, and now his luck turned.38

Not only did groups of men or peoples trace descent from Frey, calling themselves his kin or his offspring,39 but individuals regarded themselves as his friends or they were dear to him. The Gisla-saga tells how no snow lodged on the south side of Thorgrim’s barrow, in the north-west of Iceland, nor did it freeze there. So men guessed that this was because Thorgrim had been so dear to Frey that he would not suffer the snow to come between them. Or, as Gisli said: “Frey warms his servant’s grave.” Before his death it was said of Thorgrim that he had intended to hold a festival at the beginning of winter, to greet the winter and to sacrifice to Frey.40

Frey’s high position is seen in his epithets — Veraldar-god, “god of the world”; Folkvaldi-god, “Foremost of the gods.”41 His occupancy of Hlidskjalf in Skirnismal and his possession of the ring Draupnir, elsewhere ascribed to Odin, point to a time when Odin had not yet taken a higher place than Frey in Scandinavia.