Sunday, March 14, 2010

Freya's Odal

Freya has a large, landed estate in heaven called "The Meadow of the Folk" [1]. This is a tremendous farmstead surrounded by an enclosure of flickering flame that it itself alive and intelligent [2], letting in only the deserving, and as it gleams against the golden walls spreads a golden sheen upon all the lands therein. Here she ræður og ríki hefur, "rules and holds power"[3]. Within this immense meadow is a mountain, upon which grow healing herbs [4], and considered beloved to Freya. Upon the mountain sits a grand and beautiful palace with broad and ample seats [5] which is called "Good Cheer" [6] and brightens all who see it with smiles [7]. She chooses which of the fallen shall come and sit in this regal hall of hers [8], although amongst the living it will forever be known only by hearsay or as in a dream [9]. In this palace, she sits fast upon a throne [10], below which powerful goddesses, including the herbal physician of the Gods named Eir, sit at her knee and attend her [11], meeting in council to help settle disputes [12]. Here she is known as "The Bride Praised by All the Nations" [13], and glows bright like the sun [14]. The mountain upon which her Palace of Good Cheer sits is filled with such healing herbs that it is a delight to all who are sick or sore, and those women who can climb it are made whole no matter what ails them [15]. It is implied that women might send forth their souls in seid to visit Freya here and learn healing herbs to make sicknesses whole [16]. The Goddesses who attend Freya in her palace are capable of saving any one who worships them by delivering them from perilous situations or out of the bondage of ogres [17].

The Goddesses who attend her have names which indicate their qualities and that which they rule over. Their names include Protector, She-Who-Shelters-the-Rageful, She-Who-Wards-the-Nation, Bright, Blithe, Peaceful, and Mild [18].

Freya is not to be gainsayed. She shares half the dead with Odin himself, powerful goddesses sit at her knee and advise her in council, and even Thor cannot tell her what to do. In Thrymskvida 14, when he tried to do so, Reið varð þá Freyja ok fnasaði, allr ása salr undir bifðisk, "(So) wrathful did Freya become that she snorted with rage and all the halls of the Aesir shook beneath her." Where she rules, let none try to give her command, for she is undisputed here. So shall it be till the end of things. And for all time shall she be praised. Blessed are they who glimpse even in dream those wondrous halls! Blessed are lovers who find their mates beneath her loving gaze!


[1] Gylfaginning 24 : Hon á þann bæ á himni, er Fólkvangr heitir, "She has that estate in heaven, which is called Folkvang ["Meadow of the Folk"] ; Grimnisal 14, Fólkvangr ... þar Freyja ræðr sessa kostum í sal, "Mead of the Folk ... there Freya rules, choosing seats in the hall."

[2] Fjolsvinnsmal 31 : salur ... er slunginn er vísum vafurloga, "hall which is encircled by the wise wavering-flame".

[3] Fjolsvinnsmal 8.

[4] Fjolsvinnsmal 35 - 36 : bjarg heitir ... Lyfjaberg, "the mountain is called ... The Mountain of Healing Herbs".

[5] Gylfaginning 24 : Salr hennar Sessrúmnir, hann er mikill ok fagr, "Her hall is Ample/Spacious/Broad-Seated, and it is mighty and fair."

[6] Fjolsvinnsmal 31 - 32 : salur heitir ... Hýr, "The hall is called "Good Cheer" / "Friendly" / "Pleasant" / "Mild" / "Smiling"."

[7] Ibid.

[8] Gylfaginning 24 : á hon hálfan val, en hálfan Óðinn, "to her half the fallen, and half to Odin" ; Grimnisal 14, hálfan val hún kýss hverjan dag, "half the fallen she chooses every day".

[9] Fjolsvinnsmal 32, auðranns þess munu um aldur hafa frétt eina firar, "This wealthy-house shall forever be had by hearsay alone amongst people." Frétt can also refer to inquiring of the Gods about the future, and thus has a prophetic or dreamlike sense to it ; thus, "shall forever be had by hearsay or prophecy alone amongst (living) people."

[10] Fjolsvinnsmal 35, bjarg ... er eg sé brúði ... þruma, "the rock ... where I see the bride ... sitting."

[11] Fjolsvinnsmal 37 - 38, meyjar ... er fyr Menglaðar knjám sitja sáttar saman ... heitir ... Eir..., "maidens ... who in front of Menglad's knee sit together peacefully ... are called ... [amongst other names] Eir" ; Gylfaginning 35, Eir ... er læknir beztr, "Eir ["Mild/Gentle/Honorable", cognate of Anglo-Saxon ár, "honor/respect/reverence/kindness/mercy/help/favor"] is the best of (herbal) physicians".

[12] Fjolsvinnsmal 37, meyjar ... er fyr Menglaðar knjám sitja sáttar saman, "the maidens ... who in front of Menglad's knee sit and settle disputes together". Sáttar can mean that they sit together peacefully, or that they settle disputes together ; the word literally means to settle or come to an agreement.

[13] Fjolsvinnsmal 35, brúði á þjóðmæra, "Bride By Nation(s) Praised".

[14] Fjolsvinnsmal 42, hin sólbjarta brúður, "the Sun-Bright Bride".

[15] Fjolsvinnsmal 36, Lyfjaberg það heitir, en það hefur lengi verið sjúkum og sárum gaman; heil verður hver, þótt hafi árs sótt, ef það klífur, kona, "Mountain of Healing Herbs that is called, and it has long been comfort and joy to the sick and sore ; any woman who climbs that will become whole (well), even if she has the year-sickness." (Year-sickness can mean sick for a whole year, but obviously alludes to pregnancy and having a good labour. It should also be pointed out for the record that while the main meaning is probably referring to midwifing that brings about a successful labour, in context, a woman sick with the year-sickness of pregnancy may also refer to a woman who is pregnant against her wishes, in which case there may be an implication that some of the herbs growing on that mountain could be abortifacients ; it certainly would be in keeping with the dual function of folk-midwives, who delivered wanted babies and aborted unwanted ones.)

[16] Ibid. Since the mountain of herbs must be klífur, "climbed", we think here of the seið-hjallr, the "hill of incantation". Hjallr, related to hjalli, "hill", "shelf or ledge in a mountain's side" (and here we might think of Hlidskjalf, Odin's throne from which he can see out over all the worlds : Gylfaginning 17, Þar er enn mikill staðr, er Valaskjálf heitir. Þann stað á Óðinn ... ok þar er Hliðskjálfin í þessum sal, þat hásæti, er svá heitir, ok þá er Alföðr sitr í því sæti, þá sér hann of alla heima, 'there is a mighty stead which is called Valaskjalf. That stead belongs to Odin ... and there in this hall is that high-seat which is called Mountain-Ledge, and when All-Father sits there in the seat, then he can see over all the world." [Valaskjalf may mean, "Ledge of the Volvas", or even "Ledge of the Fallen", but it can also mean "The Shaking Volvas" ; Hlidskjalf almost certainly means "Mountain-Ledge or Bench" and is cognate with our word "shelf", but it could also mean "The Shaking Mountain"]), is a kind of artificial hill or elevation created with a frame of timber to erect a scaffolding on top of which witches climbed to perform their spells. Thus, if women are urged to climb the mountain of healing herbs in order to heal themselves, this may allude to the seið practice of climbing up onto a high scaffolding which was supposed to represent a hill or high place. If this is the case, then it would follow that Lyfjaberg is the archetype for the Brocken or Blocksberg Mountain in Germany. "The best-known and most frequented Sabbath was undoubtedly that held on the Brocken, or Blocksberg, in the Hartz Mountains. This region forms part of the Black Forest, and is one of the wildest and msot savage of Northern Germany. ... The renown of the Brocken Sabbath was so considerable that, in the middle of the eighteenth century, geographers who drew maps of this region never failed to show witches riding on broom-handles on their way to the central point upon the dedicated mountain." (Grillot de Givry, Witchcraft, Magic, and Alchemy, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1931, Orlando, Florida, p. 72.) "Walpurgis Night, on the Eve of May Day, was when the witches held their mountain revels ... The Brocken peak in Germany ... was a favourite rendezvous." (Venetia Newall, An Egg At Easter : A Folklore Study, Routledge, London, 1971/1984, p.88.) "The scene of this well-known legend, the Brocken, or Blocksberg, is the loftiest summit of that range of mountains on the confines of Hanover, called the Hartz, extending about seventy miles in length, and twenty in breadth. On this spot, according to the story, the witches and sorcerers of the whole earth hold their sabbath once a-year, upon the eve of May-day." (James Hamilton, Excelsior : Helps to Progress in Religion, Science, and Literature, Volume 5, James Nisbet and Company, London, 1856, p.18.) In Sweden, the mountain was called Blakula or Blokula. In 1669 at Mora, in Sweden, a board of inquiry investigated a number of alleged witches, who confessed (under torture), that, "...They rode through the air to Blokula ... They rode through the air on all kinds of animals, and sometimes on men, or on spits and staves. ... After which the banquet began ... cabbage broth, bacon, oatmeal-porridge, milk, butter, and cheese ... After the banquet there was a dance ... play[ing] all kind of beautiful pieces on the harp ..." (Joseph Ennemoser, au., William Howitt, tr., The History of Magic, Volume 2, Henry G. Bohn, London, 1854, p. 180.) "'They ride up Blocksberg on the first of May, and in 12 days must dance the snow away; then Spring begins,' Kuhn in Hpt's Zts. 5.483. Here they appear as elflike, godlike maids. ... Witches' Mountains are : the Bruckelsperg, Wolf's Zts. 1, 6 ; several Blocksbergs in Holstein, Mullenh. p. 564 ; Brockensburg, Dittm. Sassenrecht 159. GDS. 532 ; the unholdenperg near Passau occurs already in MB 28b, 170.465, 'At the end of the Hilss, as thou nearest the Duier (Duinger) wood, is a mountain very high and bare, named uf den bloszen zellen, whereon it is given out that witches hold their dances on Walpurgis night, even as on Mt Brocken in the Harz,' Zeiler's Topogr. ducat. Brunsv. et Luneb. p. 97...." (Jacob Grimm, au., James Steven Stallybrass, tr., Teutonic Mythology, Volume 4, George Bell and Sons, London, 1888, pp. 1619 - 1620 ; Grimm goes on listing these witches' mountains ad nauseam for another large paragraph.) "The Blocksberg, where German as well as Norwegian witches gather for their great Sabbaths on the Eve of May Day (Walpurgis Night) and Midsummer Eve, is commonly identified with the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountains. But in Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and probably elsewhere, villages have their own local Blocksberg, which is generally a hill or open place in the neighbourhood ; a number of places in Pomerania go by the name of the Blocksberg.": (Sir James George Frazer, Balder the Beautiful, Volume 1, BiblioBazaar, 1913/2006, p.331.) And what of Walpurgis Night, May 1, on which these witching ceremonies were to take place on the high mountain? It is named for Saint Walpurgis or Walburga, a name which means "Mountain of the Fallen" or "Mountain of the Prophetess" (cf. Valaskjalf), and her folklore is worthy of note as well. Walburga is described "as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head ; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle..." Pursued by evil assailants, a farmer took compassion on her and hid her in his grain. "The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain."(E.L. Drei Gaugöttinen Rochholz, Walburg, Verena und Gertrud, als deutsche Kirchenheilige. Sittenbilder aus germanischen Frauenleben, Verlag von Friedrich Fischer, Leipzig, 1870, p. 26-27.) This miracle-story is exhaustively documented in Pamela Berger's The Goddess Obscured : Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint (Beacon Press, Boston, 1985), and virtually identifies Walburga with a Patron of Grain. Indeed, we find her associated with crops."Through the intercession of Walburg full barns are secured..." (Lina Eckenstein, Woman Under Monasticism : Chapters on Saint-Lore and Convent Life Between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1896, p. 26.) "Walburga ... Patroness of Crops ; Invoked against Coughs, Frenzy, and the Plague. ... Walburga was a Woman of Power, skilled in the practice of medicine and a bit of an herbalist. She once cured a girl possessed of a ravenous appetite by feeding her three ears of grain --- with which she is depicted in sacred art." (Sean Kelley, Rosemary Rogers, Saints Preserve Us!, Random House, Inc., New York, 1993, p. 287.) The folk-figure popularly invoked in the saint has little to do with one of Boniface's female colleagues. "This woman Waltpurgis has been the subject of many conjectures ; writers generally do not hesitate to affirm that the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald is identical with the saint who was so widely reverenced. But St Waltpurgis, popularly called Walburg, is associated with customs and traditions which so clearly bear a heathen and profane character in the Netherlands and in North Germany that it seems improbable that these associations should have clustered round the name of a Christian woman and a nun. In the face of the existing evidence one of two conclusions must be adopted. Either the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald really bore the name Waltpurgis, and the monk Wolfhard who wrote an account of a saint of that name whose relics were venerated at Eichstatt (between 882 and 912) took advantage of the coincidence of name and claimed that the Walburg, who bears the character of a pseudo-saint, and the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald were identical ; or else, desirous to account for the veneration of relics which were commonly connected with the name Walburg, he found it natural and reasonable to hold that Walburg had belonged to the circle of Boniface, and identified her with the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald." (Eckenstein, op cit., p. 139.) "It is sufficient here to point out that there is little likeness between the sober-minded women-missionaries of Boniface's circle and the woman-saint who is localised under such different aspects, sometimes as a saint whose bones exude oil of miraculous power, sometimes as a valkyrie who anoints warriors for battle, sometimes as a witch who on the first of May leads forth her train to nightly riot on hill tops." (Eckenstein, op cit., p. 25.) It is interesting to note that a potsherd from the 2cd century A.D. mentions, after a list of soldiers, a Waluburg. Se[m]noni Sibylla, "Waluberg, Prophetess of the Semnoni tribe." (Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology.) The folk-figure was certainly not named after her, but she may have taken the name in fact after the folk-figure. The first part of her name is most certainly cognate with volva, and thus her name, Waluberg, may be completely cognate with Valaskjalf, in both instances meaning Mountain of the Volvas. The folk-figure, however, has been solidly connected to patronage of agriculture as well as healing, and additionally demonstrates prophetic power in her mirror which showed the future (as well as her spindle, which is an implement of the Norns). A figure with a heiti which meant the Volva on the Mount, who was connected with agricultural fertility, healing, and prophecy, amongst the Gods at least could only refer to Freya, who is pictured on a Mountain of Healing Herbs, who is the sister of Frey who ræðr fyrir ... ávexti jarðar, ok ... árs (Gylfaginning 24), "rules over the fruits of the earth, and good harvests", and who is known to practice the Art of Seiðr. The magical mountains of witchcraft, on the other hand, remind us of the Venusberg. Geiler of Kaiserberg gave a Lenten sermon on witchcraft in the late fifteenth century that makes explicit reference to the Venusberg. "Geiler also discusses the Venusberg in his sermon on the Furious Horde in the Die Emeis. There he claims that the ride to the Venusberg, where one is said to find the good life, beautiful women, dancing and the lady Venus, is in fact nothing other than a product of diabolical imagination ('Teuffels gespenst'). And he quotes a passage from Nider's Formicarius, in which Nider tells of a knight who thought he was travelling to the Venusberg ; and when he awoke, he found himself 'in a lake of shit'. That, claims Nider, was the 'fraw venusberg'. ... As Sach's Florentine doctor imagined that he would be carried on a black beast to the Venusberg [in his Der doctor in Venus-perg, a popular poem that was either an reflection or an inflection of a similar story told by Boccaccio in 1353 (Decameron VIII.9)], so the vagierer [wanderers] were described as travelling through the air on calves to the Venusberg in the Cimbrian Chronicle of 1565. Indeed the so-called Heuberg, the place where witches were said to meet in much of southern Germany, was often identical with the location of the Venusberg." (Charles Zika, Exorcising Our Demons : Magic, Witchcraft, and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe, Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2003, p. 367.)Carlo Ginzburg evinces testimony from Zuan delle Piatte, a man sentenced as a witch in the early 1500s, who alleged that he had gone to the "'mount of Venus where lived Donna Herodias', to be initiated into the society of witches. ... Together with ['Donna Venus'] Zuan delle Piatte had gone to the Sabbath, where he had also found the 'woman of the good game'. ... Zuan declared that he had gone 'with that woman (Venus) and her company on a Thursday night of the Ember week of Christmas riding black horses through the air and in five hours they had circled the entire world.'" (Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies : Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, Random House, Inc., Chicago, 1989/1991, pp. 108- 109.) Ginzburg correctly points out that with this, the narrative of the Venusberg has flowed into the Canon Episcopi trope, the foundation of medieval witchcraft and the core around which the diabolical stereotype of the Sabbat was constructed. "A century later, in 1630, an enchanter from Hesse, Diel Breull, confessed that for several years he had gone in spirit, during the Ember weeks, to the Venusberg, where 'fraw Holt' (Holda or Holle, another of the goddess's personifications) had shown him the dead and their sufferings, reflected in a basin full of water : splended horses, men engaged in banqueting or sitting among the flames." (Ibid.) Holda is demonstrably Frigg, but as Frigg summons all the spirits of things to her as in a seid ceremony where the nattura are called up, and as Frigg is Freya's mother, it is natural they would be connected in this regard. What matters in this connection is the perennial theme of visionary and prophetic experiences associated with a mountain belonging to the Goddess of Love. All of this we find folded up here in Fjolsvinnsmal, as all Eddic poetry enfolds encyclopedic folk-knowledge.

[17] Fjolsvinnsmal 40, [Bjarga] sumar, hvar er menn blóta þær á stallhelgum stað; ei svo hátt forað kemur að hölda sonum, hvern þær úr nauðum nema, "Some protect any people who worship them at the holy altar-stead ; ever they arrange it so the sons of men escape dangerous-situations/abyss/pit/ogres/monsters, everyone of them taken out of their desperate and dire straits."

[18] Fjolsvinnsmal 38, Hlíf heitir, önnur Hlífþrasa, þriðja Þjóðvarta, Björt og Blíð, Blíður, Fríð, Eir...,"They are called Protector/Shelter/Cover/Shield, the second Protector-Rage [thus, Protecting the Rageful, or Ragefully Protective, like a lion with her cubs], the third Nation-Warder [amending varta to varða ; if varta, then "Wart of the Nation" (?), a not very complimentary name, although varta may be related to vartan, the threads that hold together the woof in a loom, which would make this asynja something like "She Who Holds The Nation(s) Together" ; vartari is a kind of fish, rendering "Nation-Fish" (?). Varta can also represent the gunwale of a ship, in which case her name is equivalent to someone who has got the back or rear of the nation, defending it from attackers], Bright and Blithe, Blithe, Peaceful, Mild..."

all translations copyright 2010 by Siegfried Goodfellow


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