Thinking about Ragnarok and imminent doom for the past couple of days?
With all the buzz created by the latest God of War game, we don’t even blame you. With the continued rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and popular video game franchises featuring icy gods of yore from up north, it is only fair to daydream about picking up your axe and plunging headfirst into new worlds to slay an entire pantheon of gods.
But hey, hold up.
For all we know, Ragnarok could be years away, so what’s the hurry?
Come sit by the campfire, enjoy this hunk of toasted bread, and take a moment to enjoy this year’s harvest. Speaking of harvests, we’ve all heard of deities from countless pantheons taking care of a truly essential industry of life: agriculture.
From Demeter in Greek mythology to Osiris in Egyptian tales, you’ve heard of the best of the bunch in history taking care of manufacturing food. In addition, you might’ve also heard of gods specializing in looking over fertility and ensuring peace.
In Norse mythology, this was none other than Freyr, the Norse god of fertility, harvest, virility and peace.
A true polymath indeed.
As winter approaches us, it is only fair that we travel up north and see precisely how the old Norse faith revolved around Freyr in terms of peace and how his role impacted the Nordic people.
Who Is Freyr?
Simply put, Freyr was the Norse god of fertility and the harvest. Though this humbles the deity to an extent, providing protection over these two highly essential aspects of life was very much in Freyr’s hands.
Freyr was also associated with sunshine, a huge catalyst for good harvests. Alongside this, he represented prosperity, virility, fair weather, favourable breeze and peace, all of which were essential to the Norse realm.
Basically, he was the guy behind the simple things in life due to his association with nature and the gearwheels of the universe. But don’t underestimate him; though he was initially from the Vanir tribe, he was accepted into the Aesir. So it’d actually be a smart move to expect a wave of wrath from him if you ever get on his nerves.
Freyr stood as one of the more well-known Germanic deities and Norse gods due to his impact on northern society and his eventual fate, which we will discuss soon.
Was Freyr Aesir?
That is actually a great question.
However, if you are still getting familiar with what the Aesir and Vanir actually mean, here’s all of it. Before the current pantheon of gods existed (including your usual – Odin, Thor, Baldr), the world was ruled by ice giants known as the Jotunn. The first of the Jotunns was Ymir, who solidified his eternal rule as the first-ever CEO of all the beings in the world.
After a cow decided to lick the salt off some stones, the Jotunn’s rule was broken by the birth of three Aesirs: Vili, Ve and the all-daddy himself: Odin. What followed was a gruesome war between the Aesir and the Jotunns. With Ymir’s death, the Jotunns fell, and the throne fell into the buttcheeks of the new Norse gods.
These gods were further divided into two tribes. One was, of course, the Aesir, and the other was Vanir. The Aesir depended on brute force to get what they wanted; basically, a league of supernatural warriors slicing and dicing their way through their enemies to ensure peace.
On the other hand, the Vanir were a more peaceful bunch. Unlike the Aesir, the Vanir relied on using magic and more pacifist approaches to fighting their war. This reflected their somewhat grounded lifestyle, where they focused on strengthening their connection with nature instead of devoting their resources to conquests.
Freyr was a part of the Vanir. But after a particular incident (more on that later), he was traded off to the Aesir, where he blended in perfectly and cemented his place as the fertility god in Norse mythology.
Meet Freyr’s Family
As you might have guessed, Freyr sure did have a family full of celebrities.
He was the offspring of other Germanic deities, though one of his parents was unnamed. You see, Freyr was the son of the sea god, Njörðr, who was also a well-known god in the Vanir. However, Njörðr was said to have engaged in an incestuous relationship (Zeus would’ve been proud) with his sister. However, this claim was thrown out by none other than Loki, so we should take it with a grain of salt.
Though this specific sister was unnamed, she is nonetheless attested in Poetic Edda, a collection of old Norse-era poems. Njörðr is also identified with Nerthus, though their genders are different. Nerthus was an ancient Germanic deity associated with water.
Regardless Njörðr and the unnamed woman gave birth to Freyr and his sister, Freyja. That’s right, Freyja, the Norse god of beauty and death, was Freyr’s sibling. Moreover, she was Freyr’s female counterpart and also his twin. That should give you an accurate idea of what Freyr was like, as Freyja has been the ongoing subject of many recent pop culture franchises.
Upon his marriage with the giantess Gerðr, Freyr was blessed with a son named Fjölnir, who would go on to succeed him as king in the future.
Freyr and Freyja
Freyr and Freyja are best described as two parts of the same coin. Being twins, they both shared similar characteristics, which was well noted by the Vanir.
However, their life was soon due to change because of Freyja. You see, Freyja had mastered a darker form of magic known as Seiðr. Her experience with Seiðr brought nothing but advantages to whoever redeemed her services.
Upon reaching Asgard (where the Aesir lived) in disguise, the Aesir immediately felt the powerful effects of Seiðr. Overcome by the sudden urge to control the magic, the Aesir funded the disguised Freyja’s work in hopes of increasing their own gold reserves.
However, their ambitions led them astray, and their greed plunged Asgard into chaos. Using the disguised Freyja as a scapegoat and pinning the blame on her, the Aesir attempted to kill her. But as Freyja was a master of magic, she was reborn from the ashes like a girl boss every time they killed her, which triggered the Aesir’s fight or flight response.
And, of course, they chose to fight.
The Aesir vs The Vanir
Their clash snowballed into a raging fight between the Aesir and the Vanir. Freyr and Freyja fought together as a dynamic duo, effectively pushing back the onslaught of Odin’s forces. Eventually, the tribes agreed to a truce where the two sides would interchange a couple of their gods as a sign of good gesture and tribute.
The Aesir sent out Mimir and Hoenir, while the Vanir sent out Freyr and Freyja. And that was how Freyr blended in with the Aesir with his own sister, soon becoming integral parts of the pantheon.
Though another brawl between the Aesir and the Vanir soon followed this, that is a story for another day. Just know that the story provides the context for why Mimir from “God of War” is simply a head.
You would expect the fertility god of Norse mythology to have some dashing on-screen presence, and you would undoubtedly be correct.
Freyr is a god that flexes his testosterone levels like a man in his gym pump. Though he doesn’t drip with that gym wear, Freyr is depicted more humbly. He is described to be a handsome man with defined edges, including a chiselled body and facial structure.
Masculine and muscular, Freyr chooses to wear farming clothes rather than an armour, as it is his way of expressing ‘you are what you wear.’ Farming is more challenging than being at war as you would swing a sword to win a battle, but you would swing a scythe to feed a nation, reflecting Freyr perfectly.
Besides having a muscular body, Freyr is also seen in the frame possessing his magic sword and a golden boar. The boar was named “Gullinbursti,” which translates to “golden bristles” because it glowed in the dark.
Freyr was also said to have a mighty beard flowing from his chin which greatly complimented his chiselled body and signified his virility.
Since Freyr was a god of somewhat subliminal things such as prosperity and virility, his symbols could be interpreted from a variety of things.
For example, the wind was one of his symbols because he had Skíðblaðnir, a divine ship that could produce its own wind to sail forward. The ship could even be pocketed at will by folding it and one could’ve even have carried it in a pouch.
Besides the ship Skíðblaðnir symbolizing fair wind in his stead, Freyr also symbolized sunshine and fair weather because he was the god of the latter. Due to Gullinbursti glowing in the dark being by his side and representing dawn, boars were also associated with Freyr and symbolized war and fertility.
An elk’s antlers can also be traced back to him as Freyr used the antler to fight with the Jotunn Beli in the absence of his sword. This represented his more pacifist side and showcased his true Vanir nature. Hence, antlers symbolized peace in regard to him.
Freyr and his Horses
In his spare time, Freyr spent time with his animals. You have already heard about Gullinbursti, but Freyr also tended to his own share of horses.
In fact, he kept quite a lot of them back in his sanctuary in Trondheim. The relationship between Freyr and his horses can also be seen in texts such as Hrafnkel’s saga, written in other languages.
The most significant of his horses, though, was named “Blóðughófi,” which literally translates to “bloody hoof”; a pretty badass name for a horse. Blóðughófi is mentioned in the old Norse text “Kálfsvísa” as follows:
“Dagr rode Drösull,
And Dvalinn rode Módnir;
Haki rode Fákr;
The Slayer of Beli
And Skævadr was ridden
By the Ruler of Haddings”
Note that Freyr is referred to here as “The Slayer of Beli,” which is an ode to his fight against the Jotunn Beli, where he emerges victorious.
Freyr and his sword are perhaps one of the most famous myths about him. You see, Freyr’s sword was no kitchen knife; it was a sword embued with magic and struck fear into the enemies’ hearts before it was even brandished.
His sword was named “Sumarbrander,” translated from Old Norse into “summer sword.” This was aptly named as summer meant the onset of peace and a bountiful harvest after a treacherous winter.
However, the most remarkable quality about Sumarbrander was that it could actually fight on its own without a wielder. This proved highly effective in battle as Freyr could seamlessly cut through his enemies without moving a finger if he didn’t want to.
This overpowered nature of Sumarbrander could’ve also been why it was yoinked straight out of the hands of Freyr and into the hands of his sworn enemy in Ragnarok (more later).
But one thing is for sure, Freyr’s sword Sumarbrander is a significant symbol that ties straight back to him. It also brings us right to one of the most enchanting chapters of his life: Gerðr.
Gerðr and Freyr
Freyr Sees Gerðr
While lazing around the Yggdrasil (the world tree around which all the worlds orbit), Freyr experienced one of the most defining moments of his life: falling in love.
Freyr came across the mountain Jotunn, Gerðr. Norse mythology describes her as one of the most beautiful beings in all the worlds. Her beauty is highlighted in the Poetic Edda, where it is mentioned:
“And toward this house went a woman; when she raised her hands and opened the door before her, brightness gleamed from her hands, both over sky and sea, and all the worlds were illumined of her.”
That did it for Freyr.
Freyr (thoroughly whipped for this enchanting giantess) decided to make her his. So he sent one of his subordinates, Skirnir, to Jötunheimr as his wingman to win Gerðr over. He made sure to stock Skirnir with gifts so Gerðr would have no choice but to fall for him just like he had for her.
However, Freyr also understood that Gerðr lived in Jötunheimr. Hence, preparations had to be made to ensure Skirnir got through the magical protection within the realm. So he geared Skirnir up with a divine horse and commanded him to win Gerðr over.
However, Skirnir had his own demands.
The Loss of Sumarbrander
As the task was dangerous, Skirnir demanded that Freyr hand Sumarbrander over to him so he could penetrate the magical protection of Jötunheimr. Reluctant but lovesick for Gerðr, Freyr gave up the ownership of his magic sword, unaware of the dire consequences that it would have in the future.
This is showcased, once again, in the Poetic Edda as follows:
“Then Skírnir answered thus: he would go on his errand, but Freyr should give him his own sword-which is so good that it fights of itself;- and Freyr did not refuse but gave it to him. Then Skírnir went forth and wooed the woman for him, and received her promise, and nine nights later she was to come to the place called Barrey, and then go to the bridal with Freyr.”
Even though Freyr lost his beloved sword that day, he still had two magical objects remaining; his handy ship and the golden boar. On top of that, he had won the favour of Gerðr, who would soon become his wife and become pregnant with his son, Fjölnir.
To celebrate the wedding and the birth of Freyr and Gerðr’s new son, Odin gifted Freyr with Alfheimr, the land of the light elves, as a teething present. It was here that Freyr spent his days happily with the love of his life Gerðr.
However, since he had to sacrifice Sumarbrander, he never came across it again. Freyr had to tinker with random objects, utilizing them as makeshift weapons instead.
The Fight Against Beli
While Freyr did live his days out in Alfheim with little chaos, there was one exception.
Though it is uncertain why Freyr took on a fight against a literal Jotunn in his backyard, it might have been because the Jotunn had come to prey on his family and cause harm. This Jotunn was named Beli, and their fight was highlighted in the “Gylfaginning,” a 13th-century Prose Edda.
Due to the loss of Sumarbrander, Freyr found himself outmatched by the Jotunn. However, he luckily managed to gather himself and stab the giant with the antler of an elk. Freyr defeats Beli, and peace is restored.
However, it left him with scars and wondering how the sacrifice of Sumarbrander could affect him in the future.
Spoiler alert: it’s not going to end well.
The god of virility has been the subject of many small myths from a myriad of Nordic countries. However, one tale or two stands out the most besides the primary ones due to their close involvement with Freyr.
Loki Blames Freyr
In this myth, the legitimacy of Freyr’s birth is questioned by Loki, as mentioned before. Loki is one of the most famous trickster gods of yore, so his hatching up a plan to plot the downfall of his fellow colleagues doesn’t seem out of place.
In the “Lokasenna,” a Prose Edda, Loki goes all out against the Vanir. In fact, Loki accuses them of engaging in incestuous relationships and directly challenges Freyr by stating he was born out of incest when his father had intercourse with his unnamed sister.
He even accuses Freyja of having an affair with her twin brother Freyr and denounces both. This angers the big papa god Tyr as he rumbles from his abode and comes to Freyr’s defence. He says, as mentioned in the Lokasenna Prose Edda:
“Frey is the best
out of all the exalted gods
in the Aesirs’ courts:
no maid he makes to weep,
no wife of man,
and from bonds loses all.”
Though that doesn’t entirely shut Loki up, it makes him stop temporarily.
Don’t mess with Freyr, or else daddy Tyr will come to mess you up.
Freyr and Alfheim
As mentioned before, Alfheim was gifted to Freyr by Odin as a teething present for his son and as an ode to his wedding with Gerðr.
The “Grímnismál” subtly explains why Alfheim (the realm of the light elves) was chosen by the Aesir to be gifted to Freyr. If Alfheim could be ruled by a deity from the pantheon, a connection could be established between the gods and the light elves. The elves were extraordinarily obscure and were skilled in smithcraft.
However, the elves were also proficient in weaving magical fabric, which could be helpful for the gods if the need for it arose.
Basically, it was a study mission dispatched to Freyr by Odin. Bet he had no complaints about that, as he was literally getting to rule over an entire realm.
Alfheim being handed over to Freyr in the form of a present was highlighted in the “Grímnismál” as follows:
“Alfheim the gods to Freyr
gave in days of yore
for a tooth-gift.”
Freyr and Ragnarok
After all this, you might think Freyr has a happy ending. After all, he rules over Alfheim, has one of the most beautiful beings in the world as his wife and is in good standing with all other gods.
Indeed, this must end well for him, right?
Unfortunately, Freyr’s love comes back to bite him with dire consequences. As Ragnarok approaches, the end of the world is nigh. Ragnarok is when all the deities of Norse mythology meet their inevitable fate. Freyr is no exception.
Remember how Freyr gave up Sumarbrander? The fact that he gave up his most valuable weapon and will no longer be in possession of it when the apocalypse arrives is a dire prospect. It is said that Freyr will fall to Surtr, the fire Jotunn when Ragnarok finally comes.
It is also thought that the weapon Surtr will use is Sumarbrander itself, which makes the tale all the more tragic. Imagine getting slain by the blade you once mastered.
Freyr will die battling Surtr due to the absence of Sumarbrander, and that one wrong choice he made years earlier will return to haunt him on his deathbed. After slaying Freyr, Surtr will engulf Midgard’s entirety with his flames, destroying the entire world.
Freyr in Other Countries
Freyr is a major god in Norse mythology, so its only natural that he is featured (by name or by a small story) in tales from countless countries.
Freyr has appeared all over northern Europe. There are subtle mentions of Freyr integrated within their mythological history from Sweden to Iceland, Denmark to Norway.
For example, Freyr appears in a massive chunk of Norwegian names: ranging from temples to farms to entire cities. Freyr also appears in the Danish “Gesta Danorum” as Frø, dubbed as the “Viceroy of the Gods.”
What Remains of Freyr
After the rise of Christianity in Europe, the stories of Norse gods faded into the pages of history. Though they might seem lost, flashes of Freyr’s memories spring up from time to time.
Freyr has also appeared in gold foils from the early Viking Age. In addition, Freyr was depicted in a statuette as an old bearded man sitting cross-legged with an erect phallus, signifying his virility. He was also seen in a tapestry alongside Thor and Odin.
Moreover, Freyr lives on through popular culture, where he has been recently immortalized in the popular video game “God of War: Ragnarok” (2022).
Though Freyr’s hearty personality has been watered down a bit and his backstory has been altered, the focal point of his character remains really strong in the game.
This inclusion will undoubtedly make him relevant again and bring him on par with the other gods in terms of popularity.
Bread. Wind. Prosperity.
These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect Nordic god.
Freyr was a god who blessed the very land that the people were living on. They reared animals, cultivated crops and created settlements, all so they could advance together as a society.
This meant winning the favour of Freyr because he was simply in charge of all of it. Because somewhere within all that period of chaos, one looked to the skies for bountiful harvests, the onset of fertility and the promise of peace.
And there he was, Freyr, smiling and looking right back at them.
Davidson, H. R. Ellis (1990). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
Adam of Bremen (edited by G. Waitz) (1876). Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum. Berlin. Available online Translation of the section on the Temple at Uppsala available at The Temple at Old Uppsala: Adam of Bremen
Sundqvist, Olof (2020). “Freyr.” In The Pre-Christian Religions of the North: History and Structures, vol. 3, ch. 43, pp. 1195-1245. Ed. by Jens Peter Schjødt, John Lindow, and Andres Andrén. 4 vols. Turnhout: Brepols.
Dronke, Ursula (1997). The Poetic Edda: Mythological poems. Oxford University Press, USA.