Frigg: The Norse Goddess of Motherhood and Fertility

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One of the most well-known and powerful Norse gods, Frigg, wife of Odin, was the goddess of motherhood and fertility. Often confused with the goddess Freya or Freyja, Frigg’s roots lay in Germanic mythology as was the case with so many of the Norse gods and goddesses. Typically enough, most of the mythology surrounding Frigg revolves around the men in her life, that is, her husband, her lovers, and her sons. It does not mean that Frigg was considered secondary in position to Odin or not as powerful. It is simply interesting that none of the mythology we have about Frigg is devoid of the presence of these men. 

But Frigg was much more than simply a mother and a wife. What exactly was her province? What were her powers? Where did she come from? What was her significance in Norse mythology? These are some of the questions we must ask ourselves.

Who Was Frigg?

Frigg, like her husband Odin and son Balder, was one of the Aesir. The Aesir were the gods of the most important Norse pantheon, the other one being the Vanir. While Odin, Frigg, and their sons belonged to the Aesir, other Norse deities like Freyr and Freyja were believed to be part of the Vanir. The two pantheons are believed to have waged a war against each other, much like the Titanomachy of Greek mythology.

Frigg was not just a mother goddess but also a mother herself. That actually seems to have been her most significant role in Norse mythology. Her devotion to her son Balder and the lengths she seems to have gone to to protect and look after him is well known. Her powers of divination and clairvoyance also served to play a role in the tale of Frigg protecting her son.

What Does It Mean to Be a Mother Goddess?

Most ancient cultures have a practice of worshiping a mother goddess, who is also usually associated with fertility and marriage. Praying to these goddesses was believed to ensure being blessed by children and safe childbirth. Most of Frigg’s most devoted worshipers would most likely have been women. 

In many cases, a mother goddess is also supposed to be the personification of the Earth itself, thus symbolizing the fertility of the earth and the act of creation. Frigg was not herself considered the Earth mother, but she was said to be the daughter of Fjörgynn, the male form of the Earth goddess Fjörgyn. Since Earth goddesses were often the consorts of gods of the Sky, this makes the pairing of Frigg and Odin, who rode the skies, especially apt.

Other Mother and Fertility Goddesses

Mother and fertility goddesses abound in different mythologies around the world. In ancient Greek religion, the primordial Earth mother Gaia is the mother and grandmother of not only the Greek deities but many of the supernatural creatures known to us. There is also Rhea, the mother of Zeus, and Hera, the wife of Zeus, who are considered a mother goddess and a goddess of fertility and marriage respectively. 

The Roman Juno, the counterpart of Hera and the queen of the Roman gods, also plays a similar role. Nut among the Egyptian gods, Pachamama in Incan mythology, and Parvati among the Hindu gods are a few other examples of important goddesses who play similar roles in the cultures they are worshiped by.

Frigg’s Role as Mother, Wife, and Matchmaker

One of the most important stories in which Frigg plays a role, as per the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, is in the case of the death of Balder. While there are many mentions of the goddess as being a very powerful force, it is in these stories that she plays an active role. And in them she is very much the figure of the protective mother who will go to the ends of the earth for her beloved son, to bring him back from death itself.

Another aspect of Frigg was her ability to settle matches for people, given her position as a fertility goddess. This seems to have been of much less importance as we are never really shown her actually doing this. Most of her time seems to have been taken up in besting Odin at wagers. Frigg’s clairvoyance, the power that she possesses to glimpse the future, would presumably have been useful for this activity. But Frigg’s clairvoyance is not infallible, as we see in the Prose Edda.

Origins of the Goddess Frigg in Norse Mythology

While Frigg was certainly one of the most important deities in Norse religion, especially during the late Viking Age, the origins of Frigg go further back, to the Germanic tribes. Common theories nowadays suggest that the original Germanic deity was split into two forms, the goddesses Frigg and Freyja, who seem to share many similarities.   

Germanic Roots

Frigg, like the similar sounding old Norse Freyja, descends from older Germanic mythology, a newer form of the goddess Frija, meaning ‘beloved.’ Frija was one of the continental Germanic gods whose influence then spread far and wide, the proto-Germanic mother goddess who predated the more popular incarnations that we are familiar with today. 

It is confusing why the Norse people decided to split this deity into two separate goddesses, since Frigg and Freya seem to occupy very similar positions and share many characteristics. No other Germanic tribe has this strange split. Unfortunately, so far, no reasoning behind this has been discovered. But it is clear nevertheless that Frigg, like many of the other Norse gods and goddesses, came from a wider Germanic culture that the Scandinavians adapted and worked into their own mythology.

Etymology

The name of the Norse goddess is derived from the Proto-Germanic word ‘frijjo,’ meaning ‘beloved.’ Interestingly enough, this sounds very similar to the Sanskrit ‘priya’ and the Avestan ‘frya,’ both of which mean ‘loved’ or ‘dear.’

It is apt that Frigg, known for her fierce love for her children and for being the goddess of marriage, should have a name that should mean ‘loved.’ As one can assume that she was especially dear to the women of the era, the name also denotes her power among mortals.

In modern times, th -a suffix is sometimes added to the name in writing, thus making the name of the goddess ‘Frigga.’ The -a suffix can be used to show femininity.

Other Languages

Among the other Germanic tribes and germanic peoples, Frija was the old High German name of the goddess from which Frigg developed. Other names for Frigg would be the Old English Frig, the Old Frisian Fria, or the Old Saxon Fri. All of these languages descended from the Proto-Germanic language and the similarities are striking.

Frigg in turn gave her name to one of the days of the week, a word that is still used in English today.

Friday

The word ‘Friday’ comes from an old English word, ‘Frigedaeg,’ which literally means ‘day of Frigg.’ While the planets in the solar system and the names of the months in English have Latin and Roman roots, the days of the week hark back to the Germanic roots of the English people. 

Another such example that would be immediately familiar to us is Thursday, named after the god of thunder, Thor.

Attributes and Iconography

While Frigg was never really called Queen of the Norse Gods, as the wife of Odin that is what she essentially was. Artwork from the 19th century repeatedly portrays the goddess Frigg sitting on a throne. One example of this is Frigg and her Attendants by Carl Emil Doepler. Frigg is also the only one of the gods allowed to sit on Odin’s high seat Hlidskjalf, which looks out over the universe.

Frigg was also supposed to be a seeress, a volva. This involved not only seeing the fates of others but also to work to bring about changes in that future. Thus, Frigg’s clairvoyance was useful not simply as a passive power but as visions that she could work towards or work against. This did not always work out positively for her, as was the case with her son’s death. 

Frigg also owned falcon plumes which helped her or other gods shapeshift into the form of falcons and fly about at their will. She was associated with the art of spinning, as the spinner of fates and the threads of life. 

The Poetic Edda poem Völuspá stated that Frigg dwells in Fensalir, a realm full of water and marshy lands. Völuspá talks about how Frigg wept for Baldr in Fensalir. This image of the mother goddess Frigg weeping for her dead son is one of the most powerful in the book.

Family

Family, as we have already seen, was important to Frigg. Her sons and her husband are significant parts of the stories that she appears in and she cannot be extricated from them. Not only that, Frigg also had several stepsons as a result of her marriage to Odin. 

Daughter of a Giant

In the Gylfaginning section of the Prose Edda, Frigg is referred to by the Old Norse Fjörgynsdóttir, meaning ‘daughter of Fjörgynn.’ The feminine form of Fjörgyn is supposed to be the personification of the Earth and the mother of Thor while the masculine form of Fjörgynn is said to be the father of Frigg. It is not clear what exactly that means for the relationship of Frigg and Thor themselves other than as stepson and stepmother.

Consort of Odin

Frigg, as the wife of Odin, was equivalent to being the queen of Asgard. Her relationship with her husband is portrayed as being one of equals, as she is said to be the only other person who can occupy his high seat. 

While it does seem that Odin and Frigg’s relationship was not exactly one where they were only faithful to each other, it does seem as if there was affection between them. He seems to have respect for his wife and Frigg is portrayed often as being smarter than him, as she defeats him in their wagers.

The two had two children together.

Children

Odin and Frigg’s son Baldr or Balder was called the gleaming god because he was considered the best, the warmest, the most joyous and beautiful of all the Norse deities. A light always seemed to shine from him and he was loved the most.

Their other son was the blind god Hodr who was tricked by the god Loki to kill his brother Baldr and suffered greatly for this horrific mishap by being killed in turn. 

Frigg and Thor

While some writers mistakenly refer to Thor as Frigg’s son, Thor was actually the son of Odin and the giantess Fjörgyn (also called Jörð). While she was not his mother, there is no evidence that there was any bad blood or jealousy on either of their parts. They would probably have spent significant amounts of time together in Asgard together, although Frigg did have her own realm, Fensalir.

Associations with Other Goddesses

Since Frigg, like many of the Norse goddesses, came from the religion and traditions of the Germanic peoples, she can be regarded as a descendant of Frija, the old Germanic goddess of love. But Frigg is not the only one to have associations with the older deity. Another such goddess is Freyja, also from Norse myths.

Frigg and Freyja

The goddess Freyja or Freya has a lot of similarities with Frigg, which lends credence to the theory that the Nordic people split the common Germanic goddess into two entities. Since the Scandanavians were the only ones  to do this, one has to wonder why. This is especially puzzling considering that the natures, province, and powers of the two goddesses seem to overlap so much. They might as well have been the same goddess, although they are not. These are not simply names for one deity but actually two distinct goddesses.

Freyja belongs to the Vanir, unlike Frigg. But Freyja, like Frigg, was thought to be a volva (a seer) and to have abilities of seeing the future. During 400-800 CE, also known as the Migration Period, stories arose of Freyja as she would later come to be known being linked in marriage with the deity that later evolved into Odin. Thus, according to earlier myth, Freyja even played the role of Odin’s wife although this interpretation disappeared in the later periods. Freyja’s husband was named Odr, which is almost identical to Odin. Both Freyja and Frigg are said to have been unfaithful to their husbands.

So why did the Norse people come up with two goddesses who had essentially the same functions and myths associated with them but were worshiped separately? There is no real answer for this. Apart from their names, they were virtually the same being.  

Frigg’s Maidens

Frigg, when she dwelt in Fensalir while Odin was traveling, was attended by twelve lesser goddesses, called maidens. These maidens are referred to as moons circling her or as a coven. There is very little information about these women, ‘handmaidens’ as Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson calls them. However, the presence of this coterie around Frigg does seem to imply that she had a powerful and supportive court of her own, independent of her status as Odin’s queen.

Mythology 

Most of our information about Frigg comes from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, although there are mentions of her here and there in other sagas. The most important myths about Frigg are about her wagers with Odin, her affairs with others, and her role in Baldr’s tragic death.

Wagers with Odin

The Grímnismál, or the Ballad of Grimnir features a frame story where Odin is shown to be outsmarted by his wife Frigg. Frigg and Odin had each had a young boy they had fostered, brothers Agnar and Geirröth respectively. When the latter became king, Frigg was unhappy. She told Odin that Agnar would be a better king since Geirröth was so miserly and treated his guests so badly. Odin, disagreeing, made a wager with Frigg. He would disguise himself and go to Geirröth’s hall as a guest. 

Frigg sent one of her maidens to Geirröth’s court that a sorcerer would be visiting to bewitch him. Disturbed, when Odin arrived at the court as a traveler named Grimnir, Geirröth had him tortured to make him confess his crimes. 

This story serves to show how Frigg could outsmart Odin and would do it by any means necessary. It also portrayed her as a ruthless mother figure who would always do what she thought was the best for the children in her care, no matter how unscrupulous the means.

Infidelity

Frigg is also known to have indulged in affairs while her husband was away traveling. One very well-known incident is described in Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes) by Saxo Grammaticus. In this, Frigg coveted the gold of a statue of Odin. She sleeps with a slave so that he will help her unmake the statue and bring her the gold. She hopes to keep this from Odin but Odin discovers the truth and is so embarrassed by his wife that he voluntarily exiles himself.

She is also said to have slept with Odin’s brothers Vili and Vé, who were ruling in place of Odin while he was traveling. Loki reveals this publicly to humiliate her but he is warned by Freyja, who tells him to be careful of Frigg who knows the fates of all. 

Death of Balder

Frigg is only mentioned in the Poetic Edda as the wife of Odin and a reference to her ability to see the future is present. However, in the Prose Edda, Frigg plays a prominent part in the tale of Baldr’s death. When Baldr has dreams of danger, Frigg asks all the objects in the world to not hurt Baldr. The only object that does not promise is mistletoe, which is considered too insignificant anyway.

Frigg explains to the other gods and they decide that they should test Baldr’s invincibility by shooting Baldr or throwing spears at him. 

As per the story, Baldr remained unharmed no matter what struck him since no object could hurt Baldr. Displeased, the trickster god Loki decided to intervene. He created a projectile out of mistletoe, either an arrow or a spear. He then presented the mistletoe projectile to the blind god Hodr, who had not been able to participate so far. Thus, Hodr was tricked into killing his brother.

There are touching paintings of this scene. In a 19th century illustration by Lorenz Frølich, Frigg grips her dead son in a Pieta-like pose. Frigg speaks to all the assembled gods and asks who will go to Hel and bring her son back. Hermóðr, another of Baldr’s brothers, agrees to go. Baldr and his wife Nanna’s (who has died of grief) bodies are burnt on the same funeral pyre, an event attended by most of the gods, foremost among whom are Frigg and Odin.

Tragically enough, Hermóðr locates Baldr but fails to bring him back from Hel, again due to the machinations of Loki.

Frigg as a Heathen Goddess

Frigg survives to this day as an object of version in beliefs like Heathenish or Heathenry. These are Germanic belief systems in which the devotees worship deities that predate Christianity. The worship of nature and different gods and goddesses that are the personification of nature and the stages of life are worshiped. This has been a mostly recent phenomenon, leading to the resurgence of many pagan deities that had faded into obscurity with the advent of Christianity in the Western world.

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