I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard that Freya is a goddess of love. Usually, it just ends there. But in my years of working with her, I’ve come to understand so much more about this wonderful goddess, and how she has often been reduced to a misogynistic soundbite. Well, no more.
So, where in the lore does it say that Freya is a goddess of love? Well, in just one small reference, actually. In Gylfaginning, it is said that “She loves poetry, she is good to invoke about love.”  That’s pretty much it when it comes to the mention of love.
Freya is a goddess of sexuality, and in relation, fertility and sensuality. Her brother, Freyr, is more about fertility than Freya, in my opinion. Freya is about the sensuous nature of life, of how to live it pleasurably and to its fullest. She does not really concern herself with fertility, per se, though she is sometimes invoked in birthing, which may be due to her role as a lady of life. Her two daughters are called Hnoss (Jewel) and Gersimi (gem). Are these actual daughters or just a kenning for some of the things she loves the most?
Freya’s power is in her own sovereignty. She chooses how to live her life, and will not let anyone tell her otherwise. She takes on lovers as she wills, but then, so do other goddesses and gods in Norse mythology. It’s not uncommon, really. Loki derides many goddesses and tries to tarnish them with the brush of harlot in Lokasenna. Is this simply a Christian gloss created by those who were writing down these myths? This piece of the lore derides pretty much all of the pagan and magical practices of the gods, and makes it a very suspect piece in my view.
Some will say that Freya’s everlasting search for Óðr demonstrates an aspect of her as a goddess of love. But let’s take a closer look at what the word Óðr means. As a noun, it means “agitation, skill in poetry, poetry, intellect”.  As an adjective,, it means “furious, mad, terrible and even mentally disordered”. Many believe that Freya and the god Óðin have a relationship, and that is it he that she longs for. But is this just looking at the surface, and not delving any deeper into who Freya actually is and what she represents?
Freya was the one who taught the art of seiðr to the gods. She was the original witch. In the magic of seiðr, we often come across a trance practice of walking between the worlds or calling in the spirits. This work can fall into the category of an ecstatic practice, and therefore could it not be that Freya is seeking the ecstasy that comes with magic, poetry, divination, sexual activity and more? What she longs for is to break free from the bonds of “normality” and shows us just how to do so, to reclaim our own power.
Freya is known by many names, including Mardöll (shining of the sea), Hörn (flax), Gefn (the giving), Sýr (the sow, or to shield/protect) and Vanadis (the woman of the Vanir) among others. She is thought to be the witch, Gullveig, whom the Aesir lusted after so much that it began a war. She is also thought to be Mengelöd, a healing goddess atop Lyfjaberg. She is also known as Val-Freya, the chooser of the dead. For when the valiant warriors die, Freya gets first choice of them to come and live with her in her great hall, Sessrumnir, in Folkvang. Odin gets the leftovers. That’s something the television shows and movies neglect to mention.
A teacher of mine told me that Freya is not a goddess of love, per se, but rather a goddess that loves life. She is life itself. So why has she been reduced to a mere soundbite as a goddess of love, time and time again?
Well, Freya is not the first powerful woman to be belittled and demeaned in such a way. It is rife in our culture and society. At the time of writing this article, the misogyny of the British Parliament is coming into light, with over 50 cases of sexual misconduct by Members of Parliament currently being investigated. Our own Prime Minister as the then editor of The Spectator in 2001 printed a cover page article written by now Cabinet minister Michael Gove that deplores men doing “women’s work” such as changing nappies and housework while the woman maintains the position of wage earner. The article was titled: “”The male eunuch – what the wimpy British can learn from the chauvinism of the French”. In the US, the Supreme Court plans to overturn a case which gives women autonomy over their own bodies with regards to Pro-Choice rights. The patriarchy and the misogyny are not just something of the past, but are here and now affecting women all over the world.
We know that the Prose Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson, an historian, poet and politician. The old ways had passed on two hundred years earlier, and Iceland was firmly in the Christian camp. The Poetic Edda may have been written earlier, but both have roots in an oral tradition of poetry that was passed down from generation to generation. And we know how stories can change when a different storyteller is telling the tale. The sovereign goddesses of the Viking Age and earlier are now labelled as “witches” and “harlots”. This label has carried on for centuries. Look at Hilary Clinton, labelled “The Wicked Witch of the Left”, or Anne Boleyn even. Women in politics, whether it is with Republicans or Kings, face such slander when they rise to positions of power. It doesn’t just stop at the Middle Ages, oh no. It has carried through to the present day. Women have been objectified for so long, that it is entrenched in the social fabric of the present day. We have MPs watching porn in the Commons. The whore or witch label is still firmly entrenched upon women in order to keep them from their own power. And so it is with Freya. Or at least, it is still being attempted.
But we know differently. We can see beneath the slurs and slanders and the Christian patriarchal gloss that covers her stories. We know that she is an independent and sovereign entity unto herself. She is beholden to no one. She does as she pleases. And she is there for us. The lore tells us that Freya is the closest to humanity – she reaches out to us when we call for her. She is there for us. And just as we need to reinstate the divine feminine in our own societies as we see women’s rights and sovereignty being stripped away in ever-increasing numbers despite progressive movements, we need to take back the stories and the memories of Freya, The Lady. We need to reclaim her as something more than a goddess of love.
Freya is life, the pleasure of it and the quest for sovereignty of the self. Let’s change our current narrative so that it can truly reflect the nature of this great goddess. And in doing so, we might just change the world too.
 Gylfaginning 24
 Näsström, B. Freya: The Great Goddess of the North, Clock and Rose (2003) p. 63
 Zindra Andersson. Courses now held in Sweden and Germany: https://www.hexenkram.at/en/article/der-pfad-der-vlva-jahresausbildung-mit-zindra-andersson-2022-23/812a89fa-51f9-4d19-bacd-9e0974c1d578
This was a wonderful read! Thought-provoking and timely. Hail Freya!
Well said Joanna! My heart sinks at some of the misrepresentation s of Loki too. Trickster deites are honoured in many cultures, they may bring chaos, but in the service of necessary change. It was a clever strategy to depict pagan deities as sluts and demons, but as you note, the labelling and disempowering of women in particular is all too contemporary.