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Who is the Goddess, Freya?

Freya, queen of Vanaheim, expresses deep feminine beauty and strength. She is a very powerful Goddess, known as a Goddess of love, beauty, fertility, magic, war, and death. Her palace is called Folkvang, and she chooses the first of the fallen warriors to join her in preparation for Ragnarok. As a Vane, she has taught her own unique and powerful magic to the Aesir. Her personal chariot is drawn by a team of cats.

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Freya the Völva

Seidr is a form of pre-Christian Norse magic and shamanism concerned with discerning destiny and altering its course by re-weaving part of its web. This power could potentially be put to any use imaginable, and examples that cover virtually the entire range of the human condition can be found in Old Norse literature.

In the Viking Age, the völva was an itinerant seeress and sorceress who traveled from town to town performing commissioned acts of seidr in exchange for lodging, food, and often other forms of compensation as well. Like other northern Eurasian shamans, her social status was highly ambiguous – she was by turns exalted, feared, longed for, propitiated, celebrated, and scorned.

Freya’s occupying this role amongst the gods is stated directly in the Ynglinga Saga, and indirect hints are dropped elsewhere in the Eddas and sagas. For example, in one tale, we’re informed that Freya possesses falcon plumes that allow their bearer to shift his or her shape into that of a falcon.

During the so-called Völkerwanderung or “Migration Period” – roughly 400-800 CE, and thus the period that immediately preceded the Viking Age – the figure who would later become the völva held a much more institutionally necessary and universally acclaimed role among the Germanic tribes. One of the core societal institutions of the period was the warband, a tightly organized military society presided over by a king or chieftain and his wife. The wife of the warband’s leader, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, held the title of veleda, and her role in the warband was to foretell the outcome of a suggested plan of action by means of divination and to influence that outcome by means of more active magic, as well as to serve a special cup of liquor that was a powerful symbol of both temporal and spiritual power in the warband’s periodic ritual feasts.

One literary portrait of such a woman comes to us from the medieval Old English epic poem Beowulf, which recounts the deeds of King Hroðgar and his warband in the land that we today know as Denmark. The name of Hroðgar’s queen, Wealhþeow, is almost certainly the Old English equivalent of the Proto-Germanic title that Tacitus latinised as “veleda.” Wealhþeow’s “domestic” actions in the poem – which are, properly understood, enactments of the liquor ritual described above – are indispensable for the upkeep of the unity of the warband and its power structures. The poem, despite its Christian veneer, “hint[s] at the queen’s oracular powers… The Hrothgar/Wealhtheow association as presented in the poem is an echo of an earlier more robust and vigorous politico-theological conception.”

This “politico-theological conception” was based on the mythological model provided by the divine pair Frija and Woðanaz, deities who later evolved into, respectively, Freya/Frigg and Odin. Woðanaz is the warband’s king or chieftain, and Frija is its veleda. In addition to the structural congruencies outlined above, Wealhþeow and Freya even own a piece of jewelry with the same name: Old English Brosinga mene and Old Norse Brísingamen (both meaning something like “fiery/glowing necklace”). That both figures refer to the same ancient archetype, whether on the human or the divine plane, is certain.

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