Freyja’s home, Folkvangr, is one of the four owned by a goddess. She and Frigg were the preeminent goddesses of the Norse, so it isn’t surprising that each has a home of their own. (Since they share the god Odin as husband/lover, it may be just as well.)
Freyja was the goddess of the Vanir, one of the two groups of gods in the old Norse pantheon. (Frigg was of the Aesir, the other gods.) She is often described as the northern Venus, but this ignores her role as stirrer of strife, especially in the war between the gods. She is closer to goddesses like Anat, powerful in both love and war.
In the Prose Edda, Snorri tells us, “when she rides to battle she gets half the slain, and the other half Odin”. This is sometimes quoted to show that she is chief of the valkyries.
The name Folkvangr can be understood in two different ways. It can mean “People-Plain”, or “Battle-Assembly”.
Folkvang it is called,
and there Freyja decides
the choice of seats in the hall.
Half the slain
she chooses each day
and half belong to Odin.
Her hall is called Sessrumnir, or Many-Seated, described in the Prose Edda as “large and beautiful”. Sessrumnir also appears in a list of ships’ names, and it would make sense either way. (The name of her hall may be a reference to the Norse “ship-burials”: tombs shaped like a boat.)
The verse I quoted above is intriguing because it could be interpreted as Freyja getting first pick of the dead. Or, you could see her as the ultimate valkyrie, choosing those Odin has marked for death, and splitting them with him. (This was the subject of some discussion on the Mythology Stack Exchange a while ago.)
Both names, Folkvangr and Sessrumir, suggest Freyja has many guests. John Lindow, among others, see a parallel to Odin’s aseembly of warriors at Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain. There they practice fighting until Ragnarök comes.
While it is never stated that Freyja is recruiting an army, it is hard to know what else she would be doing with half of all fallen warriors. Memories of her training-ground may lurk in the background: in one myth Freyja casts a spell on two groups of warriors so they will fight forever, until 1) released from the spell by a Christian, or 2) Ragnarök.
The first ending comes from Sorla thattr, a post-Christian text, but the second is from Ragnarsdrapa, a much older poem. (The poem, by Bragi Boddason, does not explicitly state that the woman who keeps the warriors alive is Freyja, calling her Hild, but the description seems to fit.)
This myth touches upon two aspects of Freyja’s character: she is the stirrer of strife (many have seen her as the witch Gullveig in Voluspa) and keeper of the slain. Odin may adopt more roundabout ways to get warriors for his einherjar, but Freyja just sets them to fighting with her magic.
Other Ways In
Egils saga gives us an instance of someone planning to die and go to Freyja: when Egil refuses all food, his daughter says she will join him,
Thorgerd replied in a loud voice, ‘I have had no evening meal, nor will I do so until I join Freyja. I know no better course of action than my father’s. I do not want to live after my father and brother are dead.
(Scudder’s trans: 170)
This seems to suggest you could go to Folkvangr without actually dying in battle, although just as you could be marked for Odin with a spear wound as you lay on your deathbed, there may have been ways around the requirement for Folkvangr as well. (Presumably Freyja would look favourably on a woman strong-minded enough to starve herself, especially in support of her family.)
A modern, Heathen spin on this says that since the Prose Edda tells us that unmarried women and virgins go to the goddess Gefjun, the rest must go to Freyja. This would also explain Thorgerd’s expectation of joining Freyja.
Of all the dwellings of the gods, only Odin’s Valhalla and Freyja’s home are destinations for the dead. Why this is so is one of the mysteries of Norse mythology, but both Odin and Freyja seem to have taken more interest in the dead, and the afterworld, than most.
Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman Press, Penguin, 1992. (reprint)
The Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford UP, 1996.
Egils saga, Anonymous/Bernard Scudder, Penguin Classics, 2005. (revised ed.)
Patricia M. Lafayllve 2006: Freyja, Lady Vanadis: An Introduction to the Goddess, Outskirts Press.
Lindow, John, 2001: Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs, OUP, New York and Oxford.
Motz, Lotte 1993:The beauty and the hag: Female figures of Germanic faith and myth (Philologica Germanica), Fassbaender.
Naastrom, Britt-Mari 1995: Freyja – the Great Goddess of the North, Coronet Books Inc.
For the image at the top, click here.