From Bronze Age images through the goddesses of the Eddas to the maiden Menglod (necklace-glad) in the story of Svipdag, jewellery was more than an adornment to supernatural women of Norse myth. Although we don’t know all the lore about goddesses and their necklaces, some does survive.
Fulla is one of the lesser-known Norse goddesses, described in the Prose Edda as Frigga’s right-hand woman. (Closest comparison Ninshubur and Iris/Hebe?) Her name means “Bountiful”. She only appears in one myth, but we do know a few things about her, thanks mainly to Snorri Sturluson’s efforts to preserve pagan lore for poets.
Frigg was the Queen of Heaven, but she had many other goddesses around her, including several who functioned as her ladies-in-waiting. Fulla carried her casket and kept her secrets, Lofn sought her permission for unlawful lovers, and Hlin protected those that Frigg wanted to save.
The Germanic goddess Frigg comes across as the ideal wife and mother in most accounts – Norse myth focuses on her grief for Baldr and her wfely strategems for getting Odin to favour her side in disputes. However, there are two stories that show Frigg in a very different light – were they attempts by Christian writers to discredit her, or is there more to the story?
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.
We all know the Norse creation myth. In the beginning was ice and fire, then the fire thawed the ice enough to form a place where beings could emerge and life begins to form. Eventually some of the younger generation, led by the god Odin, killed the very first being, the giant Ymir, and made the world from his body.
Ymir, the first being in Norse myth, is the first creator, who gives life to a number of beings, and a giant who is more serviceable dead than alive. (Odin and his brothers make the world out his body.) There is a real tension in the Ymir story between these two views of him, reflecting the ambiguous attitude of Norse myth towards giants in general.
Time has obliterated many of the pagan elements of Scandinavian culture, and much of the pre-Christian belief system has vanished from hman memory. But while the cults of Thor and Odin no doubt included lore and practices now lost to us, the cults of the Vanir deities are even more obscure, perhaps because certain features offended Christian sensibilities.
When writing my last post on Heimdall, I wondered if his name was connected to one of Freyja’s by-names, Mardoll. It’s usually translated as “Beauty of Light on Water”, perhaps inspired by the sun sparkling on the sea. It’s an appropriate name for Freyja, too, since her father controlled the waters, and she was the most desirable of goddesses.
The Scandinavians were a coastal people, who relied on the sea for food, trade and travel. Winter was when ice closed up harbour entrances and people stayed home; sun shimmering on the water meant spring had come and travel could begin again.
Kvasir was the Norse god whose blood became the first mead, a drink that made a poet out of those who imbibed it. This drink, blood fermented with honey, was the motive for several murders, and wound up in the hands of the god of poets and inspired ecstasy, Odin.
The story of Kvasir is one level another John Barleycorn story – he dies to make mead, just as Barleycorn did to make beer. But there’s clearly more to the story, given that mead bestowed wisdom, just as Kvasir had while alive. He shared freely with all he met, and died for it.