Who else is Frigg?
by Jessica Pape-Green
[This post was originally posted to WordPress and may have formatting errors as a result to being moved here.]
Hello, best witches. It was Friday yesterday, so it was time to write about Frigg, the goddess I currently devote to. But I'm sick AF, so the post went up today instead.
If you're new here, hello, I'm Jess and I'm a Friggswoman as well as a witch and the main writer for this blog, which belongs to my wife (Kendra) and I. I've begun scheduling writing to devotional days (Thursday for Thor & Friday for Frigg), partly to get content on this blog in a timely manner and partly because I'm currently too sick for workouts, housework, or most other devotional activities. I'm currently working through the 30 Days of Deity Devotion blogging challenge which originated on Tumblr, and honestly, that's the main pagan content happening on this blog right now. Normally, we stick to witch topics.
ANYHOO, we're on day 8 of the challenge with writing about Frigg, and the assignment is "variations on this deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.)" Which I think is the perfect time to dive into the Frigg-Freyja controversy (and other times Frigg is conflated with other gods). I thought about also running through other versions of Frigg and the division/evolution of Proto-Indo-European and Germanic gods, but this post is long enough. Feel free and let me know if you want to see a post about that.
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Are Freyja and Frigg the same person?
The short answer is no. The slightly less short answer is "It's complicated." But you didn't come here for me to tell you what to think, did you? So allow me some time to lay out my argument and get into the details.
There is a small faction, primarily in the academic community but there's a few in the pagan community who also hold to it, of people who believe to varying degrees of certainty that Frigg and Frejya are the same goddess. And, honestly, I haven't seen an argument that wasn't incredibly feeble among them.
That's not me being defensive. I would honestly love to see the evidence. So what if I currently believe that they are separate goddesses who I have already interacted with separately? You show me a decent argument for this being historically valid, I can easily accommodate it into my beliefs. So, by all means, argue with me. (Though please continue reading first. I think you'll find it enlightening.)
But so far, the arguments I've heard are mixtures of the following:
- The names are quite similar.
- They are both woman goddesses who do woman things. How many of those could you need?
- They're both "goddesses of love and beauty."
- Their husbands are similar.
- Freyja doesn't (historically) exist outside of Scandinavia, but Frigg does.
- Conflation is somehow more legitimate that Individuation.
- "I personally can't tell the difference."/"Their mythologies are the same."
So, let's address these each, one-by-one.
The names are similar
To the ear and eye of your average native speaker of modern English, yes, they do seem remarkably similar. Frigg has been rendered as "Frigg," "Frig," "Frige," "Frija," and "Frea." Freyja has been rendered as "Freyja," "Freya," "Freja," "Freia," and "Freyia." Wow, those sure look similar don't they? Especially the "Frija" and "Frea" ones! Surely, they could be for the same person?
However, the etymology of these names can be traced to separate origins. All of those Frigg examples? They trace back to "Frijaz," meaning "beloved" - a common theme of name for babies across a multitude of languages and locations and also easily a nickname for a spouse. All of those Freyja examples? They trace back to "Frawjon," an honorific for a lady. It is less likely, though not impossible to be a given name, implying that the popularity of the given name "Freyja" was in reference to the goddess herself. Furthermore, when you actually know shit all about linguistics, you find that "Frija" does not sound like "Freja," and "Frea" does not sound like "Freia," and as well, they all come from different times and locations.
"Frija" and "Frea" come from Old High German and Langobardic, where a goddess like Freyja didn't exist. But her name did. It existed as the honoric title "Frouwa" ("Frau" in modern German). If attestations of Freyja were merely calling Frigg by her formal title, why would this not continue in German? Why would Frouwa not exist as a name for the goddess?
Well, let's consider why Freyja was ever a name for a goddess in the first place. While variations of the word "frawjon" exist across PIE-origin languages, a goddess with that word for a name only exists in Scandinavia. One theory is that the gods are named in accordance with primary aspect. This certainly holds true for Odin (primary aspect the madness of inspiration), Frigg (primary aspect being a valued wife), Thor (primary aspect thunder), Freyr (primary aspect being an important dude), and so on and so on. Another theory is that perhaps her name was considered so holy that she could only be referred to by title. I personally find this unlikely since we know Odin's name, but it is worth considering. After all, she is a priestess of the Vanir, and the power she's attested to have is immense - one would want to always be flattering toward her. If one believed this explanation, it would be an obvious argument against Freyja and Frigg being the same person, as we do know Frigg's name. But, as I said, I don't think it holds a lot of water. The only similar thing I can recall in other mythologies is the Abrahamic god. I'm just not aware of a single instance of this sort of thing happening in polytheistic religions, though I welcome education on the topic.
But here's another interesting theory: the Vanir syncretization theory. Here's a fun fact: You know how Freyja doesn't exist outside of Scandinavia? Neither do the Vanir. Sometimes a god thought to be a member of the Vanir does, but the Vanir as a group and the Æsir - Vanir war do not exist anywhere but Scandinavia. It's not super clear via surviving texts where the fuck the Vanir came from. The answer is always simply "Vanaheim." While there is some description of the Æsir - Vanir war, the motivation isn't clear. It's notable that there is a definite sense of otherness about the Vanir which marks them out as powerful, often with abilities nnot possessed by the Æsir. Those Æsir who do have such abilities are compared to Vanir. While the Æsir were more exceptional than the common man, their general lack of otherness made them seem less powerful to the Nordic perspective. To the Norse perspective you will see that most non-Norse are suspected of having magic because of their intrinsic otherness.
So the theory exists (not widely or wholly accepted due to lack of strong evidence, but it is generally considered possible) that the Vanir used to be someone else's gods. Perhaps they were the gods of an indigenous group other than the Saami, or perhaps they were the gods of a different culture of European migrants. But the theory is that these groups met, clashed over land and resources, were evenly matched, and eventually came to a compromise that united them - just like in the Æsir - Vanir war. When these sort of things happen to humans, it usually leads to Syncretization or Conflation. Conflation is when you say "Freyja and Frigg are both important goddesses, so from now on I'm going to refer to them as the same person because that makes sense to me." Syncretization is when two peoples now live together and don't want argue about religion anymore. (Okay, more accurately, when two peoples integrate enough that two cultures start to look a bit more like one culture and ideas are traded back and forth until they're indistinguishable.)
You can see examples all over the world, but some examples from the more familiar western European contexts would be: Irish gods becoming legendary human heroes after Christian conversion, Celtic pagan gods becoming Catholic saints, Snorri and his contemporaries trying to turn the Æsir into Roman hero forefathers, pagan gods being reinterpreted as mortal "giants," elves being conflated with dwarves and eventually becoming the modern helpers of Saint Nicolas during Christmas, which is definitely about the birth of Jesus and not about how scary the middle of winter is and how we desperately need to reinforce community bonds as our food begins to run out and the wolves begin encroach.
If Freyja had originally belonged to a separate culture that then so fully joined with the Norse peoples as to disappear from isolated context and not even really be remembered by the time people started writing things down - It would explain why she doesn't exist elsewhere; Germans and Langobards never met her. It would explain her having a title for the name; it may have sounded similar to the original, or the original may have simply been forgotten. It would explain why some of her attributes and jurisdictions overlap with those of certain Æsir but her stories do not.
But jfc, this section is long enough. LET'S MOVE ON!
How many goddesses of "doing woman things" do you need?
This argument comes from the fact that both Frigg and Freyja spin and weave, are keepers of their husbands keys, made mead, have attestations that revolve around being wives, are noble women, and know magic. And yes, yes they are.
Because they're both women.
And I can't help noting that outside of the Greco-Roman problem, the vast majority of these European deity conflation arguments are aimed at goddesses. If a goddess is described as beautiful, she becomes a "goddess of beauty" and how many of those could you need? If a goddess is described as a good weaver, she becomes the "goddess of textiles" and how many of those could you need?
This is an extremely narrow view of who deities are, which largely originates from monotheistic narrative. If the Christian god is the god of everything, and you can't have multiple gods of everything because that doesn't make sense, then everyone has to have a very specific role without overlap or it won't make sense. It also comes, honestly, from not having any skin in the game. Writing Athena as simply a goddess of wisdom makes a historian's job a lot easier. Less accurate, but who cares? Athena is also a goddess of beauty and of war. But hey, isn't Aphrodite beauty and Aries war? Yes. Because gods are people.
There isn't a single polytheist in any living religion that worships simple concepts. They all tell complex stories of complex deities. You don't go to Athena because you want to be smart and Aphrodite because you want to be prettier and Aries because you want to fight. You go to the person or persons whose stories most accurately reflect your goals.
Frigg and Freyja are both devoted spouses and mothers, but Freyja's story is largely outside of her home while Frigg's is largely within it. Frigg had many children in her family who were not born by her. When I want to learn the lessons I wasn't taught of becoming the manager of a house of adopted kin, it was clearly Frigg who I needed.
But why do they have such similar skillsets then? Because the named overlapping skills are something intrinsic to being a woman in Norse society. Every woman, from thralls to nobility, knew how to prepare various fibres for spinning, how to spin those fibres, how to weave, sew, nailbind (a sort of knitting), and cook. Most women brewed the ale or mead for the family, usually the head of house. Every wife of a man with property kept his keys. And, by attestations, it seems that most women were married while it was not uncommon for men to be single. (It is thought that baby girls may have been exposed, leading to more men than women. This rarity is what gave women more rights than usual for the time.)
Why don't we suspect every god whose primary attribute is being fighter of being the same? Because being a fighter wasn't special. Even if you weren't a Viking raider and didn't have the wealth for a nice sword, if you were assigned male at birth, you were very likely raised with the ability to fight and defend yourself, your family, and your stuff. It's the same with domestic arts. When these skills are common to all women, it's not remotely confounding that they're found in many goddesses as well. To think that Freyja did not spin and weave was to think that she was somehow bad at being a woman. In fact, the only goddesses not mentioned to have those skills are the ones with few surviving attestations in the first place. It is very likely that if we had more than a few sentences of attestation about them, we would probably find out that they also spin and weave and do everything else normal for women at the time.
They're both goddesses of love and beauty.
No, they're not. Look, I kind of covered this point in the previous section, but to make a point of it: No one is the god/goddess of [thing]. Mythology just doesn't work that way.
If you went back in time and asked some pre-Christian Norse people who was the goddess of love, they might say Freyja. She was as known for her devotion to Odr as she was for getting around, so it kind of works however you want to interpret "love." Or the individual you are talking to might say the goddess of love is... whichever goddess whose love story they personally like the most. Hell, for all we know, they would say a goddess we don't even know about because she doesn't have any surviving attestations.
If you time traveled and asked a random Pre-Christian Norse person who was the goddess of beauty, they might say Freyja. It is equally likely they would say Sif. (And we're not going to accuse Odin and Thor of sharing a wife, are we?) It is also possible they would name any of a slew of Jötunn and Vanir women who were known for their beauty. Someone might even say "Goddess? Clearly, Baldr is the prettiest of the gods."
And to be honest, while Frigg's very name puts emphasis on her loving relationship, so she might be seen as a "goddess of love." But her beauty is rarely (if ever - I am unable to pull up any examples at the moment) attested. While Sif and Freyja and several other goddesses and jötunn have their beauty gone on about at length, it's not really a point with Frigg. As far as I can tell, the assumption that she's extremely beautiful comes from the idiotic idea that being very beautiful is the only thing that could have made her beloved. If you knew the lore well, you'd know that mere beauty would not be good enough for Odin. It's her character that is beloved, as well it should be.
Their husbands are similar.
Now, finally, we have an argument that at least makes sense. For all intents and purposes "Oðr" and "Oðinn" are the same name, which is very interesting. Let's look more closely, shall we?
I feel like I can assume we are all familiar with Odin the all-father, leader of the Æsir, trickster and professional clever asshole. While he does spend a lot of time wandering to acquire knowledge from Jötunn, Vanir, and even the dead, he also gets up to plenty at home. For every story of him wandering, there's another of him in Asgard. He is very well-attested in his character and his lore.
Oðr, by contrast, we know very little about. All we know is that he was in the habit of wandering off for extended periods (I remember reading that it was to spread inspiration, rather than gather knowledge, but I cannot find that source right now) and coming home for barely any time at all. It's also said that Freyja basically couldn't keep her hands off him and had a very passionate love for him. Despite all the side action she got (which was normal for the era), she was actually a very devoted wife. The longer she went without Oðr, the more she wept. She wept tears of red-gold (which may have been amber). We don't see that reaction from Frigg, who appears to take her husband's absences in stride. Furthermore, Oðr not only spent most of his time away, but it is said that one day he just didn't come back, which was Freyja's greatest grief. Odin and Frigg never had that issue.
Oðr - the word from which Odin's name derives - means the madness of inspiration. More clearly, it's about being creative, something that the Norse considered a mostly benign form of madness and something that came easier with mead. The way Oðr is depicted as spreading stories instead of acquiring them and as being difficult to pin down (and also having no wealth of his own - all the property that Freyja manages is her own) hints that he may have been a poet or bard or some form of Muse-like being. Odin has madness to him, yes, but it has little to do with inspiration. And while the Norse did use "oðr" to mean other sorts of madness, this context was rare usage.
So it is possible that perhaps Oðr and Odin have the same ancient history but were split at some point. I open to this idea. But I don't consider it proof that Freyja and Frigg underwent the same thing. As they have very different characteristics, I think it likely that they were we'd to their husbands after the split, if ever it did exist.
Freyja doesn't (historically) exist outside of Scandinavia, but Frigg does.
We have already acknowledged this truth. Where it arises now is that some people use this as proof that Freyja and Frigg are the same. They think either "Freyja" is a second name that Scandinavians gave to Frigg or that Scandinavians split the Germanic goddess in two. But if this were so, Frija would have Freyja's characteristics, and she simply does not. Frija and Frigg are totally in line with each other: both are housewives who manage and challenge Odin and raise his son/s and have the gift of foretelling, which both keep to themselves. Neither are considered so beautiful as to constantly have people trying to steal them, neither have their vanity made a point of, neither weep for Odin, and neither are known for their side action.
Conflation is somehow more legitimate that Individuation.
Here is the larger attitude which I find annoying. There is a trend I am seeing which has been around for quite some time but is currently taking off among young armchair academics. Most people accept most deities with different names to be different people, and they are overly eager to challenge it. Where more experienced actual academics leading studies and bothering to learn ancient languages to decode the original texts themselves will say "the potential connections are interesting," or "I think it possible that Frigg and Freyja originate from the same ancient proto-goddess" while acknowledging their lack of proof and inability to say for certain that any guess about it is true, these armchair academics like to believe that they have "cracked the code," making themselves smarter and more clever than everyone who believes otherwise. It is common for them to latch onto any barely provable "controversial" evidence to show that they somehow know more and if you refute with more thoroughly researched knowledge, they will call you emotional or unread. They don't have the ability to actually defend their positions.
This is what I find truly insufferable, not the academics who came up with the theory in the first place. The real academics are searching for truth, which I applaud. As said at the beginning of this post, I welcome reasoned and researched evidence. But there are too many of these children looking to feed superiority complexes. It's not just Freyja & Frigg either. I have seen conflating Gullveig and Freyja for no reason other than that they are magic. I've seen Freyja conflated with Diana, and Frigg with Mary. All the time, this goddess is being conflated with that goddess. All to prance about singing "🎶I know something you don't know!🎶"
Please, we have all heard it before. This stance is no more special or unique than it is well-researched. I find it especially telling that such people rarely take the "split from the same proto-goddess" approach that is what's actually being discussed in academia, and instead seem to believe that "Freyja" was another name for Frigg just ass "Grimnir" was another name for Odin. That their drastically different lore was actually believed by the Norse to be about the same person. Which is not only baffling but has absolutely no evidence or even logic to support it.
"I personally can't tell the difference."/"Their mythologies are the same."
This where arguing with such people usually leads me. When they give up on pretending they've done any research and they say that the mythology is identical, interchangeable, too difficult to tell apart to bother getting details right.
My dear, that is on you, not the mythology. A simple browse of Wikipedia could help if you really wanted to learn. Mythology and historical evidence doesn't retroactively rewrite itself just because you can't keep it straight. If you don't know what you're talking about, then don't speak with the assumption of authority. Wanting to have authority on a subject is not all it takes to have it.
So do I believe Frigg and Freyja to be inherently disconnected? Not necessarily. While I will not stand for conflation, I do think that common origin is possible. I just think there's currently more evidence against it than for it. The biggest evidence is Oðr & Odin, and that can be explained away.
To take the atheistic view, I think ideas grew across time much like language did. Once upon a time, we called all long, slythering creatures "worms." As we studied them more, we came up with more words to describe their differences. Now our language is so large and our cultural ideas so complex that no one would consider a snake, a worm, and a tadpole all the same species. Once upon a time, all our garments were called "clothes" and were fairly simple. As they became more varied and those variances became important to our culture, we created more words for each sort. Now most people can't fathom a shirt and a skirt being seen as "basically the same thing."
In a world where gods arent real, it is easy to see pantheons growing and changing along the same lines as language. Though as I pointed out, frijaz and frawjon were always different words, it's possible that the goddesses baring those names were once the same proto-goddess. Perhaps once upon a time, they're was a Beloved Lady who was fierce, devoted, angry, highly sexual, and deeply grieved. Unfortunately, there's just no surviving evidence of her, if she ever existed at all.
But, as a pagan, how can I think about things from that angle? If I believe in them as separate goddesses now, mustn't I believe them to have always been so? For me, it is easy because I don't find religion and science to be in opposition to each other. Most of the world does not see things this way. For much of history, across most of the world, science was how we came to understand our world - and our gods - better. It was Catholicism that changed this, disliking anything that questioned their version of events, as they saw it as questioning their power. The protestant denominations followed the same example. Every time someone began to rethink Christian world view, it resulted in another denomination split. Never could it be easily shared. Never was someone allowed a simple difference of opinion in their interpretation.
I adapt my belief to my knowledge. Learning more and researching more and finding out I was wrong about something doesn't separate me from my gods. It brings me closer. I first felt inclined toward them when I thought the medieval Norse were all "Vikings" and a Spartan-like warrior culture of doom and gloom. Learning that they are not and their history and lore is so much more complex than that, only made me love it all the more and grow so close to their gods that I began making altars and offerings.
Every pagan has their own answer to the existence of so many mythologies. A rare few believe their mythology is real and other mythologies are not. But most believe in some sort of syncreticization or euhemerization, some believe the mythologies exist as at the same time without overlapping, some believe that they all show different facets of the same truth, some even conflate thousands of deities into one smaller pantheon. There are many different explanations. For me, my personal theory I've been playing with is that gods grow and change the same way concepts and languages do. When humans developed agriculture, they needed agricultural deities to appeal to. As they developed metal work, they needed gods who understood the forge. As roles changed, evolved, split, and grew, so did the gods. For all we know, Tyr and Thor could have once been the same proto-god. But I am not my ancestors, and neither are they.
But all this is a theory. I am of the opinion that it's morally wrong to teach and spread theories as proven truths. While it is possible that Freyja and Frigg share a common origin, we have no way of knowing it to be truth, no evidence that isn't easily explained away. All potential truths should be shared and investigated and dug into - that's how we find real truth. But to say these guesses at potential truth are truth is misleading and miseducating and, I feel, morally bankrupt. There's no reason to behave like that. People who truly love knowledge will love theories for what they are - guesses with evidence to lead you in that direction but no evidence yet to make the truth certain.
Nonetheless, it can be said without a doubt that the figures of Freyja and Frigg, as they existed in Scandinavia, were clearly entirely different people with vastly different lore.
Some academics have hypothesized that Freyja and Frigg may have a common lost origin due to a few sparse similarities, but there is no way to know this for sure. Some people have as a result of result taken to spreading word that Freyja and Frigg are interchangeable, which is demonstrably false, disrespectful, and misogynistic.