This is the first of a series of posts on Frigg, the wife of Odin and the mother of Baldr. Unlike her husband, she plays very little part in the tales, and unlike Freyja no Eddic poem commemorates her deeds. Later medieval writers made Frigg and Odin into a kind of northern Jupiter and Juno (Simek: 94), and while Odin and Jupiter have little in common, the two queenly goddesses certainly resemble each other.
How shall Frigg be referred to? By calling her daughter of Fiorgyn, mother of Baldr, rival of Iord and Rind and Gunnlod and Gerd, mother-in-law of Nanna, queen of Aesir and Asyniur, of Fulla and falcon form and Fensalir. (Skald. 19)
As you can see, Frigg plays the same role as a medieval queen – a goddess of sovereign power, enmeshed in a network of kin relationships that have to be carefully balanced. Fulla is one of the goddesses grouped around her, along with Lofn, Hlin and Gna. Fulla carries Frigg’s casket, Lofn gets Frigg and Odin to favour forbidden love, Hlin protects those Frigg wants to save, and Gna is Frigg’s messenger.
Snorri may have been thinking of a human queen and her ladies-in-waiting, whom she would teach courtly manners and find good husbands. The poem Sonatorrek calls those in Asgard “Frigg’s descendants”, suggesting that she was seen as a kind of all-mother, at least by late paganism.1 (Snorri refers to Odin as All-Father, and tries to make all the gods Odin’s sons.)
There’s also something slightly perverse about Snorri describing her as the “rival” of Rind and Gunnlod, two women Odin deceived into sleeping with him, although Jord and Gerd may well have been love-affairs. Fiorgyn is more mysterious – the name means “earth” and is inflected masculine, so he was Frigg’s father. What place he has in the mythology or who her mother was are open questions. (Loki calls her Fiorgyn’s daughter in Lokasenna as well.)
She doesn’t always live at Valhalla with Odin, either. According to Gylfaginning (35), “The highest is Frigg. She has a dwelling called Fensalir and it is very splendid.” But of course noble medieval women often had their own estates, which they brought with them to the marriage, and would take with them if they left.2
The arc of Norse myth is essentially tragic, and Frigg does not escape this. The best-known myth about her tells us how she tried to save her only son, Baldr, from the death she foresaw for him, only to fail. Snorri Sturluson tells the story in his Gylfaginning (49).
Baldr begins to have bad dreams, and after he seeks counsel from the Aesir, Frigg decides to get oaths from all living beings to not harm her son. However, she overlooks the mistletoe, a fact which Loki, in disguise, tricks her into revealing. He then gives a mistletoe dart to Baldr’s brother to throw at the now-invulnerable god, who dies of his wound.
Frigg then sends Hermod to Hel to see if she can rescue her son, and Hel sets a condition: all living things must weep for Baldr. Once again, Loki disguises himself as an old woman, and spoils Frigg’s plan by refusing to mourn. Baldr is thus condemned to Hel until after Ragnarök.
Stanzas 33 and 53 of Völuspá allude to these events, the first telling us that Frigg wept for her son at Fensalir, her hall. The verses leading up to this describe how Baldr died and then Odin had a son who would avenge him – after the description of male vengeance we have the mother’s sorrow. Verse 53 describes how Odin falls at Ragnarök, calling him “Frigg’s beloved”.
Frigg vs. Odin
Not all of Frigg’s interventions ended so tragically. Two of the Eddic poems show Odin consulting her before he ventures forth on an adventure, Vafthrudnismal and Grimnismal. They appear together in the Poetic Edda, probably because they have similar themes.
In the first, Odin asks Frigg if he should match wits with the giant Vafrthrudnir, one of the wisest and oldest of beings. Frigg is doubtful, but Odin goes ahead anyway. Luckily, Frigg’s worries come to nothing; Odin wins. The second poems describes his visit to a human king, although this time he’s matching wits with Frigg.
The prologue to Grimnismal tells how two boys were swept out to sea while fishing, and how a peasant and his wife took them in and looked after them. When the boys grew up, the peasant whispered secret counsel to one, who returned home and became a king.
We may be wondering what the relevance of this is, but now we cut to Odin and Frigg looking out over the worlds3, and Odin teasing his wife about how poorly her fosterling has turned out compared to his. Clearly this annoys Frigg, who then sets a trap for Odin and the young king.
First she tells her husband that his fosterling is inhospitable, and Odin falls into the trap, making a wager with his wife. Then Frigg goes to the king and tells him to beware of any stranger his dog fears to leap at, for he would be a magician come to enchant him.
Geirrod takes the bait, and Odin’s reception is anything but friendly. He is tortured, then hung between two fires. But Geirrod’s son brings him something to drink, and Odin blesses him, and begins to recite some of his knowledge, leading up to the revelation that the “magician” is indeed Odin, since no one else could know all this.4 Geirrod dies, and Agnar, who shares his name with Frigg’s favourite, rules in his stead.
Frigg and her Favourites
Another story tells how she fooled him into favouring the Langobards in a war. Back then they were known as the Winniles, and there weren’t very many of them. A larger tribe demanded tribute from them, but they pluckily refused, despite being heavily outnumbered.
Their leaders called on Frigg for help, and she told them to come at sunrise, with their hair combed around their faces like beards. She also turned Odin’s bed so it faced east, and when he awoke and saw them, he demanded to know who these Long-beards were. Frigg told him that “as you have given them a name, give them also the victory”.
The Volsung saga also shows her intervening for King Rerir and his wife, who had no children. Just as with the Langobards, Frigg presents their case to Odin, who sends them an apple by messenger for both to eat. King Rerir’s wife might have regretted it, however, since their son, Volsung, stayed in the womb for six years and was delivered by caesarean when his mother was about to die.
So it seems that Frigg was a sort of idealized wife and mother, a good housewife and noblewoman. However, some of the stories about Frigg suggest a different side to her personality. In my next post I’ll look at Frigg’s racier side, and how it shapes modern views of her as a goddess.
1. Although the English translation available online says “Odin’s kin” for Friggjar niðja, as you will see if you look at the parallel texts in the link.↩
2. As Eleanor of Aquitaine did. I’ve often felt that King Louis must have regretted the loss of Aquitaine more than his rather willful wife, who once compared him to a monk.↩
3. Note that Frigg can share Odin’s high seat, with its view of all the worlds. Another story tells how Freyr once sat there, although he had no right to, suggesting that access was limited.↩
4. Vafthrudnismal has a similar pivot; when Odin reveals himself at end of a wisdom contest, the giant knows he is doomed.↩
References and Links
Byock, Jesse and Anonymous 2000: The Saga of the Volsungs, Penguin Classics.
dooley, d. Kate 2006: The Spindle Hearth: A Sourcebook for Goddess-Centered Living, Yarrow Press, Asheville-Lewisburg.
Karlsdottir, Alice 2003: Magic of the Norse Goddesses: Mythology, Ritual, Tranceworking, Runa-Raven Press.
Quinn, Judy 2015: “What Frigg Knew: The Goddess as Prophetess in Old Norse Mythology,” Dee, profetesse, regine e altre figure femminili nel Medioevo germanico, ed. Maria Elena Ruggerini e Veronika Szöke (Cagliari: CUEC, 2015): 67-88. (academia.edu)
Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall) 1996: Dictionary of Northern Mythology, D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.
History of the Langobards (Note that this translation makes German Frea into Freyja, not Frigg.)
Frigg – the goddess of marriage – Swedish Museum
Frigg’s Shrine – Who is Frigg?
Beloved – Frigg and her Handmaidens
For the image at the top, click here.