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Freyr is a very important god in Old Norse religion; not so much in Norse Mythology as one might suppose, for there he actually appears in only one story, but very much in the cult.

Freyr is a member of the Vanir, the male fertility god and god of love. He is the brother to Freya, solar deity, and son to Niord. Along with Odin and Thor he was one of the most popular gods, and received many offerings - according to Adam of Bremen, these three gods had their images in the temple of Upsala. Freyr's servant, Beyla, was the goddess of bees and/or dairy. He also had a boar named Slídhrugtanni or Gullinborsti, and a ship named Skidbladnir (Skídhbladhnir), built by Dvalin, a dwarf.

Freyr's name means 'master', 'lord', 'the supreme'. Snorri Sturluson describes him as being handsome, powerful, merciful and kind, and calls him "God of the World" (veraldar gódh). Freyr has control of the weather, both rain and sunshine, thus the fertility of the earth. Prayers were also offered to Freyr for a good future, peace and prosperity.

As a fertility god, Freyr was often depicted with a prominent sexual organ; his cult included songs and actions which shocked contemporary and later Christians, who condemned them as indecent, which they of course were not to the participants in the cult themselves.

After the war between Aesir and Vanir, Freyr together with his father and sister were sent to the former as peace hostages (and these three are actually the only Vanir, in the strict sense of the word, known by name).

Freyr lived in Álfheim, "Elf-home", a name which indicates a possible connection between Vanir and Elves, possibly with his wife, the giantess Gerdur (Gerdhr) - if she is his wife; the myths are not quite clear whether their union was a lasting marriage or just a temporary meeting.

He saw her first when he sat on Odin's throne, Hlidskjálf. He looked north, saw Gerdur and fell so much in love that he was no longer able to speak or eat or sleep. Freyr's henchman, Skírnir, went to Jotunheim where Gerdur lived and brought her to Freyr. As a reward, Skirnir was given Freyr's sword which fought by itself.

That would not have been too bad, since Skirnir was after all on the right side; but shortly afterwards, the sword had to be given to the giants as payment for Freyr's privilege of meeting Gerdur (and even then only after Skirnir had menaced Gerdur with the most extreme suffering both in this life and the next, if she didn't agree). As a consequence, Freyr has no sword with which to fight, and he will die at Ragnarok (at the hands of Surt), possibly killed with his own sword, when the world ends. This courtship is dealt with extensively in the poem Skírnismál.

The Swedish kings counted Freyr as one of their ancestors. In Iceland, Freyr was second only to Thor in popularity. Some last vestiges of the offerings to Freyr still survive on the Swedish Christmas table in the form of the Christmas Ham, so great was his importance.

He was also known with the name Ing/Yng and Ingui/Yngvi, as witnessed in the Old English Runic Poem and the fact that the Swedish royal dynasty was known as the Ynglings. This is supported by Tacitus, who wrote in his "Germania" about the Germans: "In their ancient songs, their only way of remembering or recording the past they celebrate an earth-born god Tuisco, and his son Mannus, as the origin of their race, as their founders. To Mannus they assign three sons, from whose names, they say, the coast tribes are called Ingaevones; those of the interior, Herminones; all the rest, Istaevones." It may be interesting to note that there is a clearly related prename, "Ingo", which is quite common in Germany even today.

Other spellings

It is important to note that there is a whole line of Freyr lore that exists under other heiti or nicknames of his. The most important of these is "Frodi" (which can mean "fruitful", "extravagant", "fat", or "wise", all of which have some application to Freyr), and King Frodi is especially treated in Book Five of Saxo, though there are echoes throughout Saxo's Ancient History Of The Danes, which is a history of old Danish and Icelandic mythic poems. There are also traces of his lore in the Robin Hood tales and May Games.

During the War between the Aesir (the protector-warrior gods) and the Vanir (the peace and fertility gods), chaos broke out on earth, and the giants were able to invade Midgard. Frodi helped fight off many of these giants, using his magical powers ; Saxo transforms this into a pseudo-history. When you read underneath the lines, a kind of guerilla warfare from beneath emerges with many very interesting themes : Frodi "dies" and is reborn twice (Saxo says he "feigned his death", but he was actually put into a tomb or barrow), he divides a huge river into several smaller streams, he crossdresses in order to infiltrate a town, and he demonstrates a tendency to make the earth cave in beneath his opponents. Here we see themes of death and resurrection, ability to identify with the feminine, a penchant for working from beneath and turning what was below the earth to above the earth, and an ability to work with the land such that the waters evenly distribute fertility to peoples.

It is very likely that Frodi had to make his forays against the invading, ruling giants from wilderness areas or the forest, and this is where the Robin Hood material enters in. Robin Hood, like Freyr, is a figure of merriment, joy, freedom, liberation, and even sexual innuendo, as the May Games played with sexuality as a theme of the fertility of summer. It's true that Freyr was never associated with the bow and arrow, but he was King of the Elves, and elves are associated with bows and arrows, so as the legends got transformed under Christian centuries, it would be logical for people to remember that the leader of a group of bowmen living in the forest and making forays on the tyrants in the towns would himself be a bowman as well.

Like Frodi, Robin has a tendency to win by losing, a kind of Germanic ahimsa or judo: when Robin gets whipped by an opponent, then they bow down before him. Overall, there are several themes which show resonance with the myths of Jesus, and indeed, in early poetry of the conversion, Jesus is often referred to as "Frey". While this does mean "lord" (amongst other meanings, including "free"), there were at least two other words they could have used, including "dryhten" and "balder", and thus we must assume that there were some felt parallels amongst the folk. This is magnified by the fact that in several early Christian churches, sacred dildos have been found inside the altars, and Freyr was a phallic god similar to Liber (as well as Priapus). This shows that the "Jesus" early folk converts may have been worshipping may have been a different figure than commonly assumed.

The parallels, when we take into account the above lore, are considerable : both figures are said to free all captives; both figures are said to have died, been placed in a barrow or tomb, and risen again, both figures are associated with agricultural lore (Jesus tells very earthy, farming parables ; Freyr is Lord of the Plow and of the Boar who plows in the earth), both figures work from beneath and try to turn the social soil as it were (Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Frodi's taking the ground out from beneath opponents so they are below and the soil above, Robin's tendency to win by going down); Jesus represents love and peace while Freyr represents frith (a concept analogous but not identical to peace), love and merriment ; Jesus abandons the violence of the zealots, and Freyr gives up his sword for love ; and both have been called the "Lord of the Dance". Of course no assertion is made that these two are identical by any means, but there are some striking similarities that probably would have been felt by the Old Folk. Given that Jesus was often paired up with Mary Magdalene, who was portrayed as a sexually free woman (and may be reflected in Maid Marion), in Medieval times, Jesus and Mary amongst the common folk may merely have been the latest incarnations of Frey and Freya.

A considerable remnant of Freyr's cultic practices survived under the guise of saints such as Saint Blaise (see especially Pamela Berger's The Goddess Obscured, pp. 81 - 84), who was a patron saint of plowmen, seeding time, fertility, and fecundity, Saint Leonard in Germany, who was the patron of freeing prisoners and of farm animals, and Saint Guignole and Saint Foutin, who were openly phallic saints and even had wooden phalluses attached to their statues, which people would rub to increase their fertility!! In many of these, a cart or wagon was carried around the districts with a representative of the saint riding therein, to bless the land with fertility, and these processions were accompanied by a bacchanalic revelry, just as Freyr's cartrides once were.

Animals sacred to Freyr included the stag and the boar. Like these animals, he could be very peaceful and gentle, and also very fierce when provoked. These reflect two sides of Freyr : Freyr the Gentle Lord of Mirth and Harvests, and Freyr as Frodi the Liberator, who can be quite fierce, one might even say revolutionary, in the defense of freedom. The formation known as the "battle boar" was dedicated to this spirit of his. At the end of time, he will fight with Stag's Antlers. (Which brings to mind the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.)