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FRIGG AND THOR

Thorskegga Thorn

There is a strong connection between Frigg and Thor but it is not an obvious one. To get there I am going to have to explain one of my little theories.

The Teutonic religion is a conglomeration of many similar faiths that have merged over several thousand years of tribal conflict and migration. The most obvious separate group is that of the Vanir gods as the myths record the battle between the divine households mirroring the clash of two cultures on Earth. Frey is a god of the sky, male fertility, weather, magic, wisdom and battle while Freyja is a goddess of the earth, female fertility, magic and warriors, all in all a perfectly matched pair.

There are several other paired deities who are very similar in their roles to Frey and Freyja, this indicates where regional religions have overlapped. Most obvious are Odin and Frigg as Frigg and Freyja have almost identical roles, both rivals as patrons of woman, fertility and female wisdom while Frey’s roles are duplicated by Odin. Thor is another sky god and he is linked to both Earth and to Sif, both goddess of fertility and again duplicated by Frigg and Freyja. There are two further sky gods who have lost their consorts, Tyr the principal sky god of the early Germanic peoples who may be linked to the sun goddess and Heimdal who usurps Odin’s role as creator by fathering mankind.

I am not suggesting for a moment that we have just one god and one goddess, although they may share similar interests they all have very different personalities. What I am suggesting is that our view of the religion as a whole is entirely dependent on who we see as the major god and the major goddess. How Frigg and Thor are associated depends very much on which deities you hold in the greatest esteem. For the Odinist, Thor has little importance because many of his roles are taken over by Odin in his position as heavenly king. As shown by Snorri the other gods are generalised as Odin’s children and Frigg comes across as a strongly motherly figure. However we are repeatedly told that Thor is the son of Odin’s first wife, Earth. Thus for the Odinist there is little or no connection between the two. Likewise for the followers of the Vanir cult, both Thor and Frigg are almost exactly duplicated by Frey and Freyja, they are consequently relatively minor deities. Thor remains Frigg’s stepson and there is little connection between them.

The viewpoint from the cult of Thor is a totally different kettle of fish. This is a difficult area of our religion to relate to because we are so used to an Odinic perspective. To appreciate this we need to take all our myths give them a jolly good shake until Thor is on the top. He is not a subordinate simpleton any more but the principal god of the community, patron of justice, maintainer of peace etc. Now let us put the theory to the test. Imagine an average housewife in a Thor worshipping community i.e. anywhere in Iceland, Norway, parts of Sweden, Denmark and England.

We have already seen that the Teutonic religion likes to work in pairs with a connected god and goddess, our sample housewife’s male patron is Thor but who is her patron goddess likely to be? We are not aware of any references to the worship of either Sif or Earth in the Norse sources so we can dismiss these two as likely candidates. With no prominent goddesses in Thor’s household she will borrow a goddess from another cult, the two obvious choices being Frigg or Freyja. Iceland is a good test of this theory as the cult of Odin was very insignificant there without the presence of a royal household. Was Frigg worshipped in the areas dominated by the cults of Thor and Frey?

The answer is a resounding yes. We are given an account of a pagan temple in Fljotsdale saga which contains images of Thor, Frey, Frigg and Freyja. The statues of the gods were placed on a bench on one side of the temple and the goddesses on a separate bench on the other side. This combined dedication suggests a community where both the cults of Thor and Frey were popular. A follower of Frey would match his god with Freyja as the two compliment each other so well, but it seems that a woman in a Thor worshipping family would be more likely to invoke Frigg as her patron goddess.

Thor’s mother Earth was obviously once a major goddess in her own right but by the late Viking period she had lost her importance and her influence had been taken over by Frigg and Freyja. In the Eddas it is Frigg who claims to be her main successor. Snorri considers Earth to be the first wife of Odin and Frigg as his second wife becomes her ‘rival’. To what extent Frigg was recognised as the earth goddess is not clear but we do have three clues. Frigg’s counterpart from German folklore Holda is very nature orientated. In the story of the death of Balder Frigg shows a dominance over nature when she asks all of creation to swear an oath not to harm her son. Both Frigg and Holda live by sacred lakes which are reminiscent of the old German earth goddess mentioned in the writings of Tacitus. It is feasible that if Frigg was honoured as a earth goddess she could have been considered to be Thor’s mother in this role, Earth being entirely replaced.

A further clue to a strong connection between Frigg and Earth is Snorri’s statement that Frigg’s father is called Fjorgynn. We know nothing about Fjorgynn and he is not mentioned elsewhere, however his name is very similar to the Norse word Fjorgyn (Earth). There are various theories on this matter. Many scholars say that Snorri was making this reference up while others being more imaginative see Fjorgynn and Fjorgyn as an older generation of gods. Parallels are even drawn between this pair and the Lithuanian Finnish thunder god Perkunas and their earth goddess, equivalent deities to Thor and Earth.

I think it is unlikely that Fjorgynn was invented by Snorri. If Thor and Frigg were often worshipped together it is not surprising they were given a formal blood relationship by their followers, in this case as brother and sister. Because of Frigg’s position as Odin’s wife few would have ‘married’ her to Thor!

How the Anglo-Saxons connected the two deities is far more difficult to say because we know very little about either of them in their Saxon context. But they were both held in high regard as attested by the names of the days of the week. There is more evidence of an Earth cult among the Anglo-Saxons though this is tentative at best. As there is no mention of Sif or her equivalent it is possible that Thunor retained Earth as his consort which would be more in keeping with the Baltic and Finnish mythologies where the thunder god and the Earth goddess are married.

Looking from the housewife’s point of view Thor is a good choice of a male patron. His role of protecting the world, warding the household and his friendly undemanding nature is very suitable for a busy woman who likes continuity. Untroubled by harsh weather, invaders and evil spirits she can concentrate on running her household and raising her children. Thor has the added bonus that he is the ideal patron for the male members of the family, equally suitable for warriors, artisans or farmers (even lawyers, he was the patron of the Althing!). Thus Thor and Frigg are the deities of the average preoccupied household and complement one another very well indeed. Frey and Freyja are very similar but suggest a more magically orientated lifestyle, for which most over stretched families would have little time.

The relationship between Frigg and Thor is somewhat changeable, they can be mother and son, sister and brother, daughter and father or wife and husband. As Frigg began to dominate the earth goddess role in the cult of Thor family ties became somewhat irrelevant. I believe that Frigg’s father Fjorgynn was introduced to ‘tidy up’ the overlap between the cult of Thor and the cult of Odin. The same confusion may explain why Thor’s wife is called Sif ‘sibling’, to hide the fact that the god is married to Earth, his mother or sister. If this sounds heretical it is no worse than Frey and Odin being married to Freyja! This fluidity of belief which must have been essential for the various Norse cults to co-exist has sadly been lost, the price of having our beliefs written down.

References:

  • The Icelandic temple is described in…. The Fljotsdale Saga and the Droplaugarsons. Translated by E Haworth and J Young, Everyman 1990.
  • A summary of theories regarding Fjorgynn is given in….. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Rudolf Simek. D S Brewer 1993.
  • This article was first published in Lina, winter 1996

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