I am Heathen, which honestly is not the same as pagan. I am a hard polytheist who understands the gods and goddesses, however imperfectly we understand them, are discrete knowable entities with a nature that springs not from our need, but from their essence. The gods that I have built a relationship with are the gods of my northern European ancestors; those familiar to the Scandinavian or German, rather than the Celt, Frank, Latin, or Pict that is also in my lineage.
We build relationships with them through the gifting cycle because of our need, but I do not honestly think they are born from it, anymore than I think Oxygen is released by plants because we need to breathe it. We need much from them, and I would suggest from the length of the reciprocal gifting relationships we have built between our folk and our gods and goddesses, that they either need or want something from us. I am going to look at one particular goddess, and how she is needed in our age and lands right now. The goddess is Freya; wielder of the Brisengamen, the Van-dis, lady of the slain, and Gullveig the thrice burnt. Due to the terrible scholarship and overly romantic fixations of the Victorians, most remember her as goddess of love and fertility, and forget her role as the only magical peer to Odin, first among witches, and she who receives the first half of all the dead heroes.
Freya is the goddess that many in the modern Heathen community have a hard time embracing for the simple reason that she is such a powerful and unapologetically female goddess. Freya is goddess of love, but it is not the safe love of the marriage bed, but the wild passionate love that falls where it will, and cares not for the cost or conventions. Brisengamen, the necklace that is her token, she had from four magical dwarven smiths who would only give it to her in exchange for her spending a night with each of them.
Ah yes, here we go. The conservatives are already getting edgy. How can our goddess be a slut? She owns her sexuality and uses it like she does any other weapon, like her magic, to accomplish her own ends. Like Odin seducing Gunlod, Freya uses her sexual power to get what could not be bought. She has no shame for this act, any more than Odin does for his. They sought something, and they gained it. They needed the power and knowledge they sought, so where their magic could not gain it for them, seduction and desire could. Sexual power without shame or apology.
Freya cannot be dismissed as a slut, for her sexuality is her own. She owns no master or husband, but loves where and how she chooses. In the Voluspa, Freya is sought by the builders of Asgard’s walls, but she will not trade herself even for the security of Asgard, so Loki is forced to use shapeshifting trickery (that ended with him pregnant with Sleipnir) to keep the wall builder from finishing on time and seeking to collect. Later in the Lay of Thyrm, Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor) is stolen and the giant who has it requires Freya as his bride to return it. With Odin and Thor demanding, she refuses because even in the face of the two most potent Aesir, she has the power to refuse them. Far from being a cheap slut, she is the epitome of a woman who owns her own sexuality, and loves as SHE choses, not as others would tell her she must.
Voluspa remembers her thus; Gullveig the thrice burned. The match to Hor (Odin) in might and magic in the first war (Aesir/Vanir war).
- The war I remember, | the first in the world,
When the gods with spears | had smitten Gollveig,
And in the hall | of Hor had burned her,
Three times burned, | and three times born,
Oft and again, | yet ever she lives.
- Heith they named her | who sought their home,
The wide-seeing witch, | in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched | that were moved by her magic,
To evil women | a joy she was.
The modern Wiccan and their famous creed “an harm none, do as you will” is not the kind of witch Freya was, nor that her followers were. The famous catskin gloves of Freya were the mark of a volva, a seeress, a witch who dared to wield the most primal of magics. Sought for knowledge of the future, or for advantage in battle, there were no restrictions on the magic of Freya about harming none; this is the only peer Odin ever faced in magic, who traded knowledge of Seidr to him for his knowledge of Galdor. Her magic was a war winning tool, and for it Odin was forced to give an equal measure of knowledge and power. Receiving half the einherjar, the honoured dead, it is Freya who choses first. She is goddess of the dead, as much as she is the goddess of the renewing earth.
Freya means Lady, as in the title given to women in leadership positions. Her name became the honorific for women in positions of power or authority. Freya was synonymous with power to her people. This is not a goddess who relies on some big strong god to defend her, but one who weilds power in her own right to her own ends, and whose power is often begged by other gods to assist them towards their own ends.
Two figures are portrayed as leading the Wild Hunt, the fall ride of Odin, and the spring ride of Freya. In each the Wild Hunt is the epitomy of primal magic, of passion, blood and power. The Wild Hunt is possibly the best and most enduring symbol of the magic of madness, of the divine power than admits no constraint, no law, not even reason. Freya (or Holda for our Urglaawe kin) is the goddess of unrestrained passion, of primal power that is unbound by reason or law, simply and inevitably existing as what she is, not fitting neatly into any (or even all) the boxes we want to put her into.
Who is Freya to us today?
Freya is a goddess whose nature reaches deep within us, stretching back to the before times, before the technological civilization, the rule of reason. Freya touches the primal essence of us, that part of us that has never fully been separated from the land, that part of us that has not forgotten how to see and speak with our dead, or the spirits that arise from the life around us. Freya is tough for modern Heathens to deal with because she does not stoop to fit in our little boxes, and some parts of her will pass without hesitation or remorse right through our comfort zones and out the other side. She is what she is, not what we want her to be. Oddly or appropriately enough, that is exactly what we need from her.
When you struggle to deal with PTSD, two of the most popular coping mechanisms are alcohol/drugs, and love. The former stops your mind from remembering, but that latter allows you to lose yourself and connect on a level below thought to life again. One ultimately chips away at your self and becomes one of those coping mechanisms that goes on to kill you, and the other allows you to learn to tie yourself to life when the wounds you have taken are trying to force you to flee from it. Freya is not simply about rejuvenating the earth as part of the growing cycle, she is about the power of passion to fire us; we poor half broken humans. She rekindles the flame in those whose life fires have been brought low because life has taught us that we are either incapable or unworthy of the fires of life and love.
Freya teaches passion, and the passionate use of your power. Freya does not separate the parts of her nature; her sexuality, spirituality, leadership, independence, mystery, knowledge, are all expressed fully not as foolish excess, but as the awe inspiring expression of purity of purpose. The lore does not describe Freya as being a slave to passion, but one whose knowledge and passion are matched, whose primal potency and mysterious knowledge combine. There are those who will say that Freya is sacred female sexuality, but I would say that Freya’s call to own and embrace your sexual self, and your own personal power are not restricted to any gender or orientation.
We live in a world that has grown so complicated and conflicted that we are taught to be guilty for wanting, for enjoying, for striving, for needing, and in some religions even for being born. Freya teaches us to live. To embrace life. Restoring, healing, empowering or just waking us the hell up. Freya may well be the goddess that best allows us to remember to be human, when we have tied ourselves so tightly in social constraints that make that almost impossible.