It has been a challenging exercise for me to describe and classify Freyr’s recorded associations. This has shown me that each of Freyr’s domains is inextricable from the greater whole. Elves, mounds, kingship, boars, fertility, prosperity— these semantic categories coalesce to portray the many facets of Ingui-Freyr.
In my opinion, Freyr’s relationship to elves is very much an extension of his connection to sacral kingship and the mound. Elves are quite mysterious in the lore we do have. However, they tend to be associated with the land and ancestors. For instance, Olaf Gudrødsson was worshipped as the Geirstad-alf after his death (see Keyser 230, citing Þáttr Ólafs Geirstaða Alfs).
In Kormak’s Saga, a Christian tale, Kormac is advised to perform a blot for the elves on a hill (see The Saga of Cormac the Skald). While this source may not be a reliable account of pagan worship, it is somewhat convincing of the connection between hills and hill-like structures (i.e. mounds) and elves. Worshipped as the divine progenitor of the Swedes and of the Ynglinga people, Freyr is himself a kind of ancestor, potentially of similar stock to the elves (see Ynglinga 11). That having been said, spirit taxonomy is never simple in Norse mythology. The only thing we know is that elves are spirits of some variety and that Freyr’s leadership over them suggests he is a ruler of some spirit host.
Pagans would sit on burial mounds or on the sacred hills and mountains where the dead were thought to reside, meditating until communication with the dead could be obtained. Their darkness is the darkness of the unknown, that which is not seen by the living, of the hidden reality that is death.
—Maria Kvilhaug, “Alfablot”
For me, the concept of the “mound” is inseparable from death, wealth, and fertility. Scholars such as Richard Keyser (1854), Ellis/Davidson (1943) have argued for mounds as sites of communion with supernatural powers (elves and/or ancestors). A mound is a place that holds the bones of the dead, the treasure they accumulated, as well as the potential for new growth. The mound is a sacred place which is deeply associated with the spirits of the land, the dead, and elves—spirits which may not necessarily be taxonomically distinct. Freyr’s connection to the mound is established by the account of his death and internment in a “great mound” as well as his connection to elves, who are mound-dwellers (see Ynglinga 11; see Grimnismal 5).
For me, the mound is a powerful icon of death and rebirth. It is an expression of Freyr’s more chthonic side. The mound can also be seen as a liminal site, because while it rises above the surface of flat land, its semantic power is in its subterranean quality. Consequently, the mound is both above and under ground as well as between life and death.
It was a boar with bristles of gold […] To Frey [Brokk] gave the boar, remarking that night or day it could race across the sky and over sea better than any other mount. Furthermore, night would never be so murky nor the worlds of darkness so shadowy that the boar would not provide light wherever it went, so bright was the shining of its bristles.
—Skaldskaparmal 35, Byock translation
Freyr’s connection to the boar is well-established not only through his ownership of Gullinbursti (see Skaldskaparmal 35) but also through his connection to the sacrificial Yule boar (see “The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek” ch.10). According to William Reaves, “pigs are not only fertile, producing many young, but are fierce fighters which bear tusks, which are likened to weapons. The wild boar is a scavenger and will eat corpses; not surprisingly, it acquired a symbolic association with death. They are also rooting animals, which symbolically connects them with the plow, making them appropriate symbols of the Vanir who once defeated the more powerful Aesir in war (Völuspá 23-24). Clearly, there is a close connection between the Vanir gods, death, war, fertility and the symbol of the boar” (Reaves 16).
For me, the boar represents protection, virility, fertility, war, sacrifice, and the harvest, associations which are vital to my understanding of Freyr.
When it became known to the Swedes that Frey was dead, and yet peace and good seasons continued, they believed that it must be so as long as Frey remained in Sweden; and therefore they would not burn his remains, but called him the god of this world, and afterwards offered continually blood-sacrifices to him, principally for peace and good seasons.
—Ynglinga Saga, Laing translation
For Freyr, peace and prosperity are intimately intertwined. He is explicitly connected to “peace and good seasons” (Ynglinga 13). He is also generally depicted as good-hearted and as bringing gladness, with Tyr attesting that “no maid he makes to weep/no wife of man,/and from bonds looses all” (Lokasenna 37). He is also referred to as “god of the good year” and “giver of wealth” (Skaldskaparmal). Freyr also willingly relinquishes his sword to woo Gerðr, leaving him weaponless at Ragnarok (Skirnismal 9). This could symbolize the necessity of putting aside weapons for peace, prosperity, and fertility (represented here by marital love).
Reaves establishes peace as being connected to Freyr’s power as a fertility deity, arguing that “successful agriculture depends on peace.” As such, Freyr seems to be the god who blesses farmers with the peace they need to work their crops, though he is bold in battle when necessary.
[Freyr] is not merely the fertility god of a farming population, but possesses all of the prerequisites of an ideal king: virility, military prowess, and wealth, the attributes required to obtain and keep a throne.
—William P. Reaves, “The Cult of Freyr and Freyja”
In the Ynglinga Saga, Freyr is described as a king so great that his subjects pretended he was still alive (see Ynglinga 11-13). It is unclear whether this account is a complete euhemerization or a bastardization of an apotheosis myth. Considering Freyr is said in the Grimnismal to have been given kingship over Alfheim as an infant, we can probably assume the former, though it is entirely possible that the conflicting accounts are merely regional variations (see Grimnismal 5). Yngve’s/Ingui’s name is often deeply associated with royal lineages as well (see Beowulf ll.1042; Reaves 5-6; Sundqvist 18-19).
The ability to guarantee the fertility of the land was an important quality of early Scandinavian rulers. As Freyr was lord of the harvest, the Swedes believed that the success or the failure of crops depended on their king and his relationship to the gods.
—William P. Reaves, “The Cult of Freyr and Freyja”
The recovered objects typically identified as Freyr depict the god with a massive phallus (Reaves 8-9; see Sodermanland figure). This iconography suggests his identification as a virile figure. Fertility and virility are also evocative of his kingship, as good rule was seen as having an effect on the health of the land (see Reaves 6). Freyr’s connection to fertility is not only theoretical but direct. Lands were often named for him, “such as Freysakr, Freysland, and Freysvin.” (Reaves 3). The kenning, árguð ‘harvest god,’ also reflects his active fertility role (Skáldskaparmál 7). Likewise, Freyr is said to “rul[e] over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace” (Gylfaginning 24, Brodeur tr.).
[Call] him the son of Njord, the brother of Freyja, god of the Vanir, the descendant of the Vanir, and one of the Vanir, the god of a good year, and the giver of wealth… He is called the foe of Beli… and the possessor of the boat Skidbladnir and the boar Gullinbursti
—”Kennings for the Gods,” Skaldskaparmal, Russell Poole translation in Byock’s Prose Edda
Veraldar goð ‘god of the world’ (Ynglinga 13)
Árguð ‘harvest god’ (Skáldskaparmál7)
Fégjafi ‘wealth giver’ (Skáldskaparmál7)
Hǫfðingi ‘Lord, chieftain’ (Gylfaginning 36)
Hinn Ágætasti af Ásum ‘the most glorious of the Æsir’ (Gylfaginning24)
Ása jaðarr ‘protector of the Aesir’ (Lokasenna 35)
Blótguð ‘sacrificial God’ (Ǫgmundar þáttr dytts)
Vaningi ‘son of the Vanir’ (Skirnismal 37)
Belja dólgr ‘enemy of Beli’ (Haleygjatal 5)
Bani Belja ‘the slayer of Beli’ (Voluspa 53)
Folkvaldi Goða ‘field-marshal of the gods’ (Skirnismal 3)
Ǫflugr Atriði ‘the mighty attacking rider’ (Þorsgrimsþula)
Ballriði ‘bold rider’ (Lokasenna 37)
These many associations suggest a complicated vision of Ingui-Freyr’s nature. To me, Freyr is intimately associated with death as much as life, and I connect mostly to his chthonic side, expressed through the mound, boar, and his lordship over elves. Yet, Freyr’s domains show us that death and life are never completely distinct. The virility of the boar is necessary for its sacrifice at Yule, and though swine “plow” fields, they can also destroy them. Likewise, the mound is a site for death but also for new life, holding within it fertile soil as well as the bones of the dead…
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