When we read myths and legends, we get reams of text about how awesome the gods are. How clever, how manly, how wise, and we get intricate details about all their deeds and accomplishments. But when it comes to the goddesses? Well, we know their names, and we know generally what their areas of concern were, but more often than not the way they're talked about is that they're just the girls of the pantheon. As if the gods all went out for an epic roarer of a boy's night, and the wives stayed at home waiting for them to come back.
But what if we talked about the goddesses the same way we talked about the gods? If we made it clear that they aren't just the "better halves" of the gods, but that they are to be revered in their own right? That they are figures of power and grace, and that their stories rival (and sometimes eclipse) the tales of the gods in terms of sheer, epic badassness?
That's the goal of the Goddesses of Badassdom series. And in this first installment, we're going to the frozen realms of the Norse to learn you a thing or two about the goddess Freya.
For further updates on this series, make sure to check out my Vocal archive!
Also, those who love cool stuff about the Norse might also enjoy The Varangian Guard: The Vikings Who Protected The Eastern Roman Emperors, as well as What is The Monster in "The Ritual"? (A Mythological Theory).
The Lady Comes To Asgard
Most folks who have read Norse mythology know there are two kinds of gods; the Aesir, and the Vanir. The Aesir are the ones we usually think of, like Thor, Odin, or Heimdall. They were the gods of civilization. Then there were the Vanir. The Vanir were primal, untamed, and in-tune with the elder forces of the world. And Freya (or Freyja, if you want to show off how skilled your tongue is) was the epitome of everything that implied. A potent warrior, an unkillable sorceress, and a force of nature, Freya didn't even have a title. Her name meant, "The Lady," and she did not have to gild that lily to let you know just who you were stepping to.
In the long ago, the Aesir and the Vanir fought a brutal war. When neither side could win, they made peace, and exchanged hostages. So Freya, her brother Frey, and their father Njord came to live in Asgard with the Aesir.
And when the Aesir tried to explain to Freya that there were rules to living among them, she gave them a single, raised eyebrow, and asked if they had the first clue about who the fuck they were talking to. No Vanir, least of all The Lady, was going to spend a single moment worrying about someone else's rules. She would go where she would, fight who she wanted, bed whom she pleased, and if you had a problem with it then it was your problem, and beneath her concern.
The Necklace of Brisings, and Beauty That Wrecks
Freya is a goddess of beauty, but that paltry term doesn't do justice to what she represented. We're not talking about the homecoming queen up on a pedestal, giving a pearly white smile and a demure wave. We're talking the wellspring of that primal thirst you feel down in your lizard brain. We're talking tigers-in-mating-season, storms-on-the-horizon, set-your-life-on-fire-so-she'll-notice-you beauty.
And that was before she acquired Brisingamen.
For those who've never heard the term, Brisingamen was a necklace of golden perfection that took the combined skill, sweat, and raw power of four dwarves in order to make. Freya took one look at it, and demanded to know what their price was. The dwarves said she had to sleep with them. She tossed her hair back, looked down her nose, and gave them a predatory grin. One also imagines she asked if they wanted to go all at once, or one at a time. In the end it cost four nights, one with each crafter, and she had a necklace that made her already weaponized beauty into something untouchable. No one could resist its glamour, be they man, god, or giant.
Mistress of Magic, Queen of The Valkyries
Freya's lack of hesitation, and her willingness to pay a price for what she wanted, was not dissimilar to Odin's trial at Mimir's well. They shared something else, as well; mastery of a very specific kind of magic.
Odin is famous for his knowledge of the runes, but Freya understood the secrets of Seidr. The two of them came to an understanding, each teaching the other the ins and outs of their respective sorceries. There's no saying how the lessons went, or who was faster to learn the other's tricks, but when all was said and done that pool of knowledge made each of them far more potent than they'd been before.
They were connected in another way, though. As anyone who's ever heard of the Norsemen can tell you, one of the most honorable ways to die was in battle. Because if you died in combat, then you would be selected to go to Valhalla, Odin's personal hall, where you could fight all day, feast all night, and live in a warrior's paradise. And when you died it was the valkyries who rode down to collect you to lift you up to your just reward.
The point people often forget, though, is that valkyries weren't Hooters waitresses in boob plate, and they did not answer to Odin. They were Freya's, and they were the recruiters you had to impress if you wanted to play in the big leagues. More to the point, though, only half of all the chosen warriors went to Valhalla... and they were the second-string. Freya got first choice, and the warriors she chose went to her hall Sessrumnir.
I'm going to repeat that, because it bears repeating. The einherjar, the most badass of mortal warriors elevated to fight alongside the gods themselves in the greatest battle the world had ever seen were the ones who didn't make the cut to go to Freya's hall.
Warrior, Mother, Wife, Woman
Though she's often reduced to a bit player in the more popular myths, Freya is constantly putting her foot down on the bullshit that runs rampant throughout Norse mythology (or having "I told you so" moments when people ignore the counsel of the Vanir sorceress who can see the goddamn future!). When Thor's hammer went missing, and the frost giant king demanded Freya as his bride, she told Thor that he'd better put on a wedding dress himself because she sure as shit wasn't going. When Loki had a brilliant idea for how the gods could get their wall built for free, Freya was the one who saw straight through his bullshit. And when it was looking like the gods were going to lose the bet (which would have meant Freya had to marry the giant building their wall), Loki seduced the giant's horse to put its master behind schedule because he knew that if Freya had to marry that giant, then Loki's head was going to be what she demanded as a wedding gift. That is the kind of raw, animal desperation that even Thor's most potent rages never inspired in the trickster god.
Everything wasn't swords and sex for Freya, though a lot of it definitely was. She did take a husband whom she loved named Od, and when she lost him she was devastated. She searched for him, weeping all the while. When her tears touched the ground they became gold, and when they fell in the water they became amber. Even her tears were worth a king's ransom! By the time she found him, though, her husband had become a monster, lost in the depths of the sea. Freya stood by her man no matter what he'd become, though. And when he died he was allowed into Valhalla, even though his death had not been in battle.
Absolutely no one was going to tell Freya that the club rules about how you died were why she couldn't see the man she loved.
Freya bore two children (whose names translated to Jewel and Treasure, so you know they got her looks), and she lived an unapologetic life. She was a leader, a warrior, a mother, a lover, and she did everything her way.
She was a true Goddess of Badassdom.