- Pronunciation: FRAY-ur
- Other names: Yngvi, Frey
- Parents: Njord and Skadi
- Powers: God of fertility and peace
The gods of the ancient world are often neither good nor evil but, as with human beings, they are fallible and can sometimes do bad things. The Norse god Freyr is no different, but if there ever was a competition for most beloved deity, Freyr would stand a good chance of walking away with the prize.
Who is Freyr?
Freyr is a member of the Vanir tribe. There are two tribes of gods in Norse mythology, the Vanir and the Aesir. The Vanir are generally considered fertility gods, while the Aesir are known as warrior gods.
As such, it makes sense that Freyr is known as a god of fertility and peace. He is also strongly associated with the sun, which gives us a good idea of his importance. Across many cultures, sun gods tend to be at, or close to, the top of their respective pantheons.
Freyr is described in old poems as being first among the gods when it came to reputation. Apparently, no one disliked him among all the people.
Freyr is usually depicted as a virile, muscular man with long flowing hair. Often, he is carrying a sword and he is almost always accompanied by his gigantic golden-bristled boar, Gullinbursti. Since Freyr is both the son of the ocean god and himself the sun god, we can see both of those themes in artwork that depicts him. Some images will show him holding an antler, since in one of his myths he is forced to give his sword away and must make do with an antler instead. As a god of fertility, Freyr is sometimes shown as a man who is very well-endowed.
Like nearly all of the Norse gods, Freyr is part giant – in this case, on his mother’s side. He’s the son of the frost giantess, Skadi, and the god of the sea, Njord. He is also the twin brother of his equally beautiful and famous sister Freyja. His sister rules over much that Freyr does, but additionally presides over death and war.
Some accounts do not identify Skadi as Freyr’s mother, but rather as the unnamed sister of Njord. In that case, Freyr’s mother would also be his aunt, but that sort of marriage was not at all uncommon among the gods.
After Freyr was born, he was given a gift to commemorate his first tooth, which is a Norse tradition. That gift was Alfheim, one of the nine worlds in the branches of Yggdrasil and home to the elves. It’s not clear if this actually makes Freyr the ruler of Alfheim, but it certainly was his home.
Over the course of his life, Freyr came into possession of many treasures, much as you’d expect for a god of wealth.
One of his greatest treasures was his ship, Skithblathnir. This ship was an amazing magical vessel that always had a favorable wind, no matter what. That, however, was not its greatest trick: Skithblathnir could be folded up into a tiny object that could fit inside a bag. This amazing ship let Freyr travel the seas easily. On land he wasn’t forced to go on foot, either. He had a magnificent chariot drawn by boars that brought peace wherever it went.
One of the most famous stories in Freyr’s history tells us how he fell in love. After the war between the Aesir and the Vanir was over, Freyr became one of the hostages who joined the Aesir. One day, he decided to sit on Odin’s throne, which had the power to show the user anything in the nine worlds of Yggdrasil.
From there, he could see the frost giant Gerd. Freyr was instantly smitten. He sent one of his servants, named Skirnir, to seek out Gerd and propose that she become his wife. He had to do this by going to her father, Gymir’s, hall so that he could be asked for permission to wed.
This was a pretty dangerous trip, so Skirnir asked his lord Freyr for the necessary equipment to complete his mission. Skirnir took many of his master’s magical treasures, including his horse and his sword. He also took gifts to present to Gerd. Skirnir was given golden apples and a golden armband with which to try and woo Gerd.
Though it was a tough journey, Skirnir eventually managed to stand before Gerd and make the proposal on behalf of Freyer. Unfortunately, Gerd was unswayed by the offerings of gifts. She was also unfazed by his threat to behead her with Freyr’s sword. Finally, he managed to get her to agree by cursing her with magic cast with his master’s sword. It’s under this threat that she finally swears her love to Freyr.
Skirnir returned to Freyr to give him the news that Gerd would meet him and marry him. The sword, however, stayed with Skirnir, a price that Freyr gladly paid despite the fact that it would leave him without protection when the end of the world, Ragnarok, came to pass. This decision meant that Freyr knowingly doomed himself to death, but he deemed this a better fate than a life without Gerd.
Since he is such a prominent god in Norse mythology there are extensive writings about him and his deeds. As with most Norse mythology, we can read about him in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda. There are many archeological forms of evidence that Freyr has been worshipped, and the oldest written record dates to about the year 1125.
Worship of Freyr is especially associated with Sweden, so much so that it is believed the Swedish royal house directly descends from him. Clearly, he is woven deeply into the culture and history of the Scandinavian and Germanic people, a radiant god whose presence can still be felt today in the art and stories of that part of the world.