My last post looked at the Norse goddess of death, Hel, who shared her name with her abode, the home of the dead. Norse poetry from the Viking and high medieval eras frequently describes death as “going to Hel”.
But many of the dead weren’t about to go anywhere. In Norse myths and sagas, anyone who wished to communicate with the dead went out and sat on their barrow, or in some cases actually entered it. Clearly, people thought the dead were still powerful in the world, just waiting in their graves to help their families or those who left offerings.
In Norse myth Hel is a place and a person, like the Greek Hades. The word helmeans “hidden,” linked to hylja, “to cover”. Lindow speculates it may have referred to the grave at first, since that is where the dead live (171). Both he and Rudolf Simek (138) seem to think Hel was just a personification of the place, perhaps because unlike Hades, she has very little myth attached to her.
The Norse goddess Freyja and the valkyries, choosers of the slain, seem to have a lot in common. Both can take bird-form, are associated with war, magic and death, and take mortal protegés and lovers. Add that to the fact that she and Odin took half of all slain warriors each, and many have concluded that Freyja was the leader of the valkyries, the valkyrie goddess if you will.
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.)
Manannán is in many ways like a more benign version of Oðin. Like the Norse god, he is the patron of many heroes, is skilled in both battle and magic, moves easily between the worlds and has many lovers as well as a wife. On a more fantastic level, both have horses that can travel over land and sea, and a boar or pigs that renew themselves after being eaten.
He seems to have been one of the old gods, rather than the Tuatha de Danann. Unlike them, however, he seems to have made his peace with the new order, as he appears in their adventures. (He was close enough to them to be foster-father to the young god Lugh.) When the Milesians (humans) came, and the TDD went into the hollow hills, Manannán divided up the otherworld into parts for each.
So far we have established that all three of the Vanir are associated with the sea in one way or another, just as they are with prosperity and plenty. Njörð and Freyr have clear associations with ships, but not Freyja.
Back in the ’90s I wrote a book called Asyniur, which attracted a certain amount of scorn because I named Freyja’s two cats as Bygul and Trjegul. Unfortuantely, this is not ancient lore but comes from a book by Diana Paxson, Brisingamen.
However, I did escape another trap that lies awaiting the newbie – I did not place Iðunn in Breidablik. But I feel the pain of anyone who did. Bragi and Iðunn should have a home of their own. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee obviously agreed with me, and gave them one.