Odin/Odr and Frigg/Freyja
Posted by Fredsvenn on October 29, 2015
In Germanic mythology, Odin (from Old Norse Óðinn) is a widely attested god. In Norse mythology, whence most surviving information about the god stems, Odin is associated with healing, death, royalty, the gallows, knowledge, battle, sorcery, poetry, frenzy, and the runic alphabet, and is the husband of the goddess Frigg.
The Old Norse theonym Óðinn (popularly anglicized as Odin) and its cognates, including Old English Wōden, Old Saxon Wōden, and Old High German Wuotan, derive from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic theonym *wōđanaz.
The masculine noun *wōđanaz developed from the Proto-Germanic adjective *wōđaz, related to Latin vātēs and Old Irish fáith, both meaning ‘seer, prophet’. Adjectives stemming from *wōđaz include Gothic woþs ‘possessed’, Old Norse óðr, ‘mad, frantic, furious’, and Old English wōd ‘mad’.
The adjective *wōđaz (or *wōđō) was further substantivized, leading to Old Norse óðr ‘mind, wit, soul, sense’, Old English ellen-wōd ‘zeal’, Middle Dutch woet ‘madness’, and Old High German wuot ‘thrill, violent agitation’.
Additionally the Old Norse noun æði ‘rage, fury’ and Old High German wuotī ‘madness’ derive from the feminine noun *wōđīn, from *wōđaz. The weak verb *wōđjanan, also derived from *wōđaz, gave rise to Old Norse æða ‘to rage’, Old English wēdan ‘to be mad, furious’, Old Saxon wōdian ‘to rage’, and Old High German wuoten ‘to be insane, to rage’.
The weekday name Wednesday derives from Old English. Cognate terms are found in other Germanic languages, such as Old High German wōdnesdæg, Middle Low German wōdensdach (Dutch Woensdag), and Old Norse Óðinsdagr (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Onsdag). All of these terms derive from Proto-Germanic *Wodensdag, itself a Germanic interpretation of Latin Dies Mercurii (“Day of Mercury”).
Odin has been a frequent subject of study in Germanic studies and numerous theories surround the god. Some of these focuses on Odin’s particular relation to other figures, such as that Freyja’s husband Óðr appear to be something of an etymological doublet of the god, whereas the goddess Frigg, Odin’s wife, is in many ways similar to Freyja.
Óðr (Old Norse for the “Divine Madness, frantic, furious, vehement, eager”, as a noun “mind, feeling” and also “song, poetry”; Orchard (1997) gives “the frenzied one”) or Óð, sometimes angliziced as Odr or Od, is a figure associated with the major goddess Freyja. The Old Norse noun óðr may be the origin of the theonym Óðinn (Anglicized as Odin), and it means “mind”, “soul” or “spirit”.
A number of theories have been proposed about Óðr, and that he generally is somehow a hypostasis of the deity Odin due to their similarities. He is often theorized as somehow connected to Odin (Old Norse: Óðinn), the head of the Óðr Æsir in Norse mythology, by way of etymological similarities between the two names (Lindow states that the linguistic relationship is identical to that of Ullr and Ullin – often considered as variant names of a single god), and the fact that both are described as going on long journeys, though Lindow points out that Snorri is careful to keep them apart.
Enki (Sumerian: EN.KI(G)) is a god in Sumerian mythology, later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. He was originally patron god of the city of Eridu, but later the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians. He was the deity of crafts (gašam); mischief; water, seawater, lakewater (a, aba, ab), intelligence (gestú, literally “ear”) and creation (Nudimmud: nu, likeness, dim mud, make beer).
The planet Mercury was in Sumerian times identified with Enki. He was also associated with the planet Mercury in the Sumerian astrological system. His symbols included a goat and a fish, which later combined into a single beast, the goat Capricorn, recognised as the Zodiacal constellation Capricornus. He was associated with the southern band of constellations called stars of Ea, but also with the constellation AŠ-IKU, the Field (Square of Pegasus). Beginning around the second millennium BCE, he was sometimes referred to in writing by the numeric ideogram for “40,” occasionally referred to as his “sacred number.”
The main temple to Enki is called E-abzu, meaning “abzu temple” (also E-en-gur-a, meaning “house of the subterranean waters”), a ziggurat temple surrounded by Euphratean marshlands near the ancient Persian Gulf coastline at Eridu. He was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization. His image is a double-helix snake, or the Caduceus, sometimes confused with the Rod of Asclepius used to symbolize medicine. He is often shown with the horned crown of divinity dressed in the skin of a carp.
Considered the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic, Enki was characterized as the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian), the freshwater sea or groundwater located within the earth.
In the later Babylonian epic Enûma Eliš, Abzu, the “begetter of the gods”, is inert and sleepy but finds his peace disturbed by the younger gods, so sets out to destroy them. His grandson Enki, chosen to represent the younger gods, puts a spell on Abzu “casting him into a deep sleep”, thereby confining him deep underground. Enki subsequently sets up his home “in the depths of the Abzu.” Enki thus takes on all of the functions of the Abzu, including his fertilising powers as lord of the waters and lord of semen.
Odin has a particular relation to the figure of Loki, which some scholars have described as that of a trickster god, and the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr.
In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphisation which exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour.
Tricksters are archetypal characters who appear in the myths of many different cultures. Lewis Hyde describes the Trickster as a “boundary-crosser”. The Trickster crosses both physical and often breaks societal rules. Tricksters “…violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis.”
All cultures have tales of the Trickster, a crafty creature who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. In some Greek myths Hermes plays the Trickster. He is the patron of thieves and the inventor of lying, a gift he passed on to Autolycus, who in turn passed it on to Odysseus. In Slavic folktales, the trickster and the culture hero are often combined. In The Trickster and the Paranormal, G.P. Hansen lists Mercury in Roman mythology.
Breaking the silence, Loki says that, thirsty, he had come to these halls from a long way away to ask the gods for a drink of “the famous mead.” Calling the gods arrogant, Loki asks why they are unable to speak and demands that they assign him a seat and a place for him at the feast, or tell him to leave.
The skaldic god Bragi is the first to respond to Loki by telling him that Loki will not have a seat and place assigned to him by the gods at the feast, for the gods know what men they should invite. Loki does not respond to Bragi directly, but instead directs his attention to Odin, and states: Do you remember, Odin, when in bygone days we mixed our blood together? You said you would never drink ale unless it was brought to both of us.
Odin then asks his silent son Víðarr to sit up, so that Loki (here referred to as the “wolf’s father”) may sit at the feast, and so that he may not speak words of blame to the gods in Ægir’s hall. Víðarr stands and pours a drink for Loki.
Frigg, a major goddess and Odin’s wife, says that what Loki and Odin did in the ancient past should not be spoken of in front of others, and that ancient matters should always remain hidden.
When they described the gods of Celtic and Germanic tribes, rather than considering them separate deities, the Romans interpreted them as local manifestations or aspects of their own gods, a cultural trait called the interpretatio Romana.
Mercury in particular was reported as becoming extremely popular among the nations the Roman Empire conquered; Julius Caesar wrote of Mercury being the most popular god in Britain and Gaul, regarded as the inventor of all the arts.
This is probably because in the Roman syncretism, Mercury was equated with the Celtic god Lugus, and in this aspect was commonly accompanied by the Celtic goddess Rosmerta. Although Lugus may originally have been a deity of light or the sun (though this is disputed), similar to the Roman Apollo, his importance as a god of trade made him more comparable to Mercury, and Apollo was instead equated with the Celtic deity Belenus.
Romans associated Mercury with the Germanic god Wotan, by interpretatio Romana; 1st-century Roman writer Tacitus identifies him as the chief god of the Germanic peoples.
Freyja (Old Norse for “(the) Lady”) is a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death. She is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot pulled by two cats, keeps the boar Hildisvíni by her side, possesses a cloak of falcon feathers, and, by her husband Óðr, is the mother of two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi.
Freyja rules over her heavenly afterlife field Fólkvangr and there receives half of those that die in battle, whereas the other half go to the god Odin’s hall, Valhalla. Within Fólkvangr is her hall, Sessrúmnir. Freyja assists other deities by allowing them to use her feathered cloak, is invoked in matters of fertility and love, and is frequently sought after by powerful jötnar who wish to make her their wife.
In the Poetic Edda poem Hyndluljóð, a figure by the name of Nanna is listed as the daughter of Nökkvi and as a relative of Óttar, also known as Óttar the Simple. This figure may or may not be the same Nanna as Baldr’s wife.
Óttar is a protégé of the goddess Freyja. He appeared in Hyndluljóð (the Lay of Hyndla), a poem in the Poetic Edda. In this tale, Óttar is said to be very pious to the goddesses. He built a shrine of stones, a hörgr, and on it made many offerings to Freyja. The goddess answered his prayers and went on a journey to help him find his pedigree.
Freyja disguised Óttar as her boar Hildisvini (the Battle-Swine) and brought him to the giantess Hyndla, a seeress. There, Freyja forced Hyndla to tell Óttar about his ancestors, as well as to give him a memory potion so that he would remember all he was told.
It has been theorized that the framework of the poem was created for the 12th-century poet to produce a list of mythical heroes’ names. The poem does not connect much to other poems in the Edda, and is often viewed as a semi-historical work. Viktor Rydberg theorized that Óttar is another spelling of the name Óðr.
Along with her brother Freyr (Old Norse the “Lord”), her father Njörðr, and her mother (Njörðr’s sister, unnamed in sources), she is a member of the Vanir. Numerous theories have been proposed for the etymology of Vanir. Scholar R. I. Page says that, while there are no shortages of etymologies for the word, it is tempting to link the word with “Old Norse vinr, ‘friend’, and Latin Venus, ‘goddess of physical love.'”
Frigg (Old Norse), Frija (Old High German), Frea (Langobardic), and Frige (Old English) is a goddess and dwells in the wetland halls of Fensalir. The name of the early English goddess is attested only in the name of the weekday, although frīg (strong feminine) as a common noun meaning “love” (in the singular) or “affections, embraces” (in the plural) is attested in poetry.
In nearly all sources Frigg is described as the wife of the god Odin. She dwells in the wetland halls of Fensalir, is famous for her foreknowledge and wisdom, is associated with the goddesses Fulla, Lofn, Hlín, and Gná, and is ambiguously associated with the Earth, otherwise personified as an apparently separate entity, Jörð (Old Norse “Earth”). The children of Frigg and Odin include the gleaming god Baldr.
Due to numerous similarities, scholars have frequently connected Freyja with the goddess Frigg. Scholars have theorized about whether Freyja and the goddess Frigg ultimately stem from a single goddess common among the Germanic peoples. Both Frigg and Freyja are attested in the name for Friday in many Germanic languages.
The name Friday comes from the Old English Frīġedæġ, meaning the “day of Frige”, and is cognate with Old High German frîatac. Both weekday names are result of interpretatio germanica that occurred at or before the 3rd or 4th century CE, glossing the Latin weekday name dies Veneris ‘Day of Venus’.
It is a result of an old convention associating the Old English goddess Frigg with the Roman goddess Venus, with whom the day is associated in many different cultures. The same holds for Frīatag in Old High German, Freitag in Modern German and vrijdag in Dutch.
The expected cognate name in Old Norse would be *friggjar-dagr. However, the name of Friday in Old Norse is frjá-dagr instead, indicating a loan of the week-day names from Low German. The modern Scandinavian form is Fredag in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, meaning Freyja’s day.
The word for Friday in most Romance languages is derived from Latin dies Veneris or “day of Venus” (a translation of Greek Aphrodites hemera) such as vendredi in French, venerdì in Italian, viernes in Spanish, divendres in Catalan, vennari in Corsican, and vineri in Romanian. This is also reflected in the p-Celtic Welsh language as dydd Gwener.
Like the name of the group of gods to which Freyja belongs, the Vanir, the name Freyja is not attested outside of Scandinavia, as opposed to the name of the goddess Frigg, who is attested as a goddess common among the Germanic peoples, and whose name is reconstructed as Proto-Germanic *Frijjō. Similar proof for the existence of a common Germanic goddess from which Freyja descends does not exist, but scholars have commented that this may simply be due to lack of evidence.
Frigg is the most prominent female member of the Aesir faction of the Germanic gods, and often identified as the spouse of the chief god, Odin. Freya is the most prominent female member of the Vanir faction of the gods, is described as being adept at seid (magic), and is the wife of Ód.
In the pre-Christian period, the Orion constellation was called either Frigg’s distaff or Freyja’s distaff (Swedish Frejerock). Frigg is often associated with weaving, combining the aspects of a love goddess and a domestic goddess. In Sweden and some parts of Germany, the asterism of Orion’s Belt is known as her distaff or spindle.
The power of prophecy is attributed to Frigg, which seems more properly related to the seid (magic or divination) of Freyja. Freyja’s husband, the god Óðr, is frequently absent. She cries tears of red gold for him, and searches for him under assumed names. Freyja’s husband Ód is often away on journeys, like Frigg’s husband Odin.
Gustav Neckel, writing in 1920, connects Freyja to the Phrygian goddess Cybele. According to Neckel, both goddesses can be interpreted as “fertility goddesses” and other potential resemblances have been noted. Some scholars have suggested that the image of Cybele subsequently influenced the iconography of Freyja, the lions drawing the former’s chariot becoming large cats.
Sophus Bugge and Hjalmar Falk saw a reflection of the Greek god Adonis in Óðr, Rudolf Much saw a reflection in the god Attis. In Babylonia, the god Tammuz, who originated as a Sumerian shepherd-god Dumuzid or Dumuzi, is the consort of Inanna and, in his Akkadian form, the parallel consort of Ishtar. The Levantine Adonis (“lord”), who was drawn into the Greek pantheon, was considered by Joseph Campbell among others to be another counterpart of Tammuz, son and consort.
In Norse mythology, Hnoss (Old Norse “treasure”) is the daughter of Freyja and Óðr, and sister of Gersemi (Old Norse “treasure”). Ngeshtin-ana is a minor goddess in Sumerian mythology, the so-called “heavenly grape-vine”. The sister of Dumuzi and consort of Ningisida, she is involved in the account of Dumuzi trying to escape his fate at the hands of Inanna and Ereshkigal. Gethsemane (lit. “oil press”) is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, most famous as the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.
Several plants were named after Freyja, such as Freyja’s tears and Freyja’s hair (Polygala vulgaris), but during the process of Christianization, the name of the goddess was replaced with that of the Virgin Mary.
Descent to the underworld
Scholars have theorized about Freyja’s connection to the valkyries, female battlefield choosers of the slain; and her relation to other goddesses and figures in Germanic mythology, including the thrice-burnt and thrice-reborn Gullveig/Heiðr, the goddesses Gefjon, Skaði, Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr and Irpa, Menglöð, and the 1st century CE “Isis” of the Suebi.
Inanna (Akkadian: Ištar) was the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and goddess of the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre. Inanna was associated with the planet Venus. Inanna’s symbol is an eight-pointed star or a rosette. She was associated with lions and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses.
Ishara (išḫara) is an ancient deity of unknown origin from northern modern Syria. She first appeared in Ebla and was incorporated to the Hurrian pantheon from which she found her way to the Hittite pantheon. In Hurrian and Semitic traditions, Išḫara is a love goddess, often identified with Ishtar.
Variants of the name appear as Ašḫara (in a treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with Hita of Elam) and Ušḫara (in Ugarite texts). In Ebla, there were various logographic spellings involving the sign AMA “mother”. In Alalah, her name was written with the Akkadogram IŠTAR plus a phonetic complement -ra, as IŠTAR-ra.
Joseph Campbell, a more recent scholar of comparative mythology, equates Ishtar, Inanna, and Aphrodite, and he draws a parallel between the Egyptian goddess Isis who nurses Horus, and the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess Ishtar who nurses the god Tammuz (Akkadian: Duʾzu, Dūzu; Sumerian: Dumuzid (DUMU.ZI(D), “faithful or true son”), the name of a Sumerian god of food and vegetation, also worshiped in the later Mesopotamian states of Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia.
Like Ishtar, the Greek Aphrodite and the Aramean Northwestern Semitic Astarte were love goddesses. Donald A. Mackenzie, an early popularizer of mythology, draws a parallel between the love goddess Aphrodite and her “dying god” lover Adonis on one hand, and the love goddess Ishtar and her “dying god” lover Tammuz on the other.
In Norse mythology, Nanna Nepsdóttir or simply Nanna is a goddess associated with the god Baldr. Scholars have debated connections between Nanna and other similarly named deities from other cultures and the implications of the goddess’s attestations.
Accounts of Nanna vary greatly by source. After Baldr’s death, Nanna dies of grief. Nanna is placed on Baldr’s ship with his corpse and the two are set aflame and pushed out to sea. In Hel, Baldr and Nanna are united again.
In an attempt to bring back Baldr from the dead, the god Hermóðr, the son of the god Odin, rides to Hel and, upon receiving the hope of resurrection from the being Hel, Nanna gives Hermóðr gifts to give to the goddess Frigg (a robe of linen), the goddess Fulla (a finger-ring), and others (unspecified).
Hermóðr appears distinctly in section 49 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning. There, it is described that the gods were speechless and devastated at the death of Baldr, unable to react due to their grief.
After Baldr’s death Frigg asked the Æsir who amongst them wished “to gain all of her love and favor” by riding the road to Hel. Whoever agreed was to offer Hel a ransom in exchange for Baldr’s return to Asgard. Hermóðr agrees to this and set off with Sleipnir to Hel. Hermóðr rode Odin’s horse Sleipnir for nine nights through deep and dark valleys to the Gjöll bridge covered with shining gold, the bridge being guarded by the maiden Móðguðr ‘Battle-frenzy’ or ‘Battle-tired’.
Upon coming to Hel’s gate, Hermóðr dismounted, tightened Sleipnir’s girth, mounted again, and spurred Sleipnir so that Sleipnir leapt entirely over the gate. So at last Hermóðr came to Hel’s hall and saw Baldr seated in the most honorable seat. Hermóðr begged Hel to release Baldr, citing the great weeping for Baldr among the Æsir. Thereupon Hel announced that Baldr would only be released if all things, dead and alive, wept for him.
Beginning with the summer solstice came a time of mourning in the Ancient Near East, as in the Aegean: the Babylonians marked the decline in daylight hours and the onset of killing summer heat and drought with a six-day “funeral” for the god.
Recent discoveries reconfirm him as an annual life-death-rebirth deity: tablets discovered in 1963 show that Dumuzi was in fact consigned to the Underworld himself, in order to secure Inanna’s release, though the recovered final line reveals that he is to revive for six months of each year.
Ereshkigal’s hatred for Inanna could be referenced in a few other myths. Ereshkigal, too, is bound by the laws of the underworld; she can not leave her kingdom of the underworld to join the other ‘living’ deities, and they can not visit her in the underworld, or else they can never return. Inanna symbolized erotic love and fertility, and contrasts with Ereshkigal.
The story of Inanna’s descent to the underworld is a relatively well-attested and reconstructed composition. Inanna’s reason for visiting the underworld is unclear. The reason she gives to the gatekeeper of the underworld is that she wants to attend the funeral rites of Ereshkigal’s husband, here said to be Gud-gal-ana (“the Bull of Heaven”) in The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was killed by Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The attested laws of the underworld dictate that, with the exception of appointed messengers, those who enter it could never leave.
Inanna dresses elaborately for the visit, with a turban, a wig, a lapis lazuli necklace, beads upon her breast, the ‘pala dress’ (the ladyship garment), mascara, pectoral, a golden ring on her hand, and she held a lapis lazuli measuring rod. These garments are each representations of powerful mes she possesses. Perhaps Inanna’s garments, unsuitable for a funeral, along with Inanna’s haughty behavior, make Ereshkigal suspicious.
Following Ereshkigal’s instructions, the gatekeeper tells Inanna she may enter the first gate of the underworld, but she must hand over her lapis lazuli measuring rod. She asks why, and is told ‘It is just the ways of the Underworld’. She obliges and passes through. Inanna passes through a total of seven gates, at each one removing a piece of clothing or jewelry she had been wearing at the start of her journey, thus stripping her of her power.
When she arrives in front of her sister, she is naked. “After she had crouched down and had her clothes removed, they were carried away. Then she made her sister Erec-ki-gala rise from her throne, and instead she sat on her throne. The Anna, the seven judges, rendered their decision against her. They looked at her – it was the look of death. They spoke to her – it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her – it was the shout of heavy guilt. The afflicted woman was turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook.”
Despite Inanna’s fate, and in contrast to the other individuals who were properly mourning Inanna, Dumuzi was lavishly clothed and resting beneath a tree. Inanna, displeased, decrees that the demons shall take him, using language which echoes the speech Ereshkigal gave while condemning her. Dumuzi is then taken to the underworld.
In other recensions of the story, Dumuzi tries to escape his fate, and is capable of fleeing the demons for a time, as the deities intervene and disguise him in a variety of forms. He is eventually found. However, Dumuzi’s sister, out of love for him, begged to be allowed to take his place. It was then decreed that Dumuzi spent half the year in the underworld, and his sister take the other half.
Inanna, displaying her typically capricious behavior, mourns his time in the underworld. This she reveals in a haunting lament of his deathlike absence from her, for “[he] cannot answer . . . [he] cannot come/ to her calling . . . the young man has gone.” Her own powers, notably those connected with fertility, subsequently wane, to return in full when he returns from the netherworld each six months. This cycle then approximates the shift of seasons.
The etymology of the name of the goddess Nanna is debated. Some scholars have proposed that the name may derive from nanna, meaning “mother”. Scholar Jan de Vries connects the name Nanna to the root *nanþ-, leading to “the daring one”.
Scholar John Lindow theorizes that a common noun may have existed in Old Norse, nanna, that roughly meant “woman”. Scholar John McKinnell notes that the “mother” and *nanþ- derivations may not be distinct, commenting that nanna may have once meant “she who empowers”.