Her motto may very well have been to make love AND war as she was not only associated with all the sweetness and light of beauty, love, and fertility but also with the shameful afterlife of those fallen, inglorious warriors not good enough to be selected for Valhalla.
A popular name and an even more popular chocolate
Walk down Karl Johans Gate, the main thoroughfare of Oslo, and about halfway up, just past the Stortinget (Parliament), and you will see a giant advertisement for Norway's favorite chocolate brand, untouched since the early 20th century CE.
Not many countries can lay claim to naming a chocolate brand after a Norse goddess of war, but Norwegians are the descendants of Vikings, after all!
Sweet teeth aside, Freyja is among the most well-known and popular gods in the vast Norse pantheon.
Whilst her male counterparts, Thor, Odin, and Loki, may feature more heavily in popular culture, Freyja has arguably more of a hold on the public imagination as her name is a common choice for a girl's name wherever Scandinavians live.
While this name is quite common in Scandinavia, it has also become popular in regions previously inhabited by Vikings. For instance, it was the 6th most chosen name for newborn girls in England last year!
So, just who was this Norse goddess that remains famous centuries after the remnants of the Old Norse religion were stamped out?
A Norse goddess and a noble woman
Freyja, a Norse goddess whose Old Norse name translates to either "Noble Woman" or "Old Lady," depending on the translation, has been likened to a fusion of the Greek goddesses Aphrodite (of love) and Athena (of war) by some scholars.
So, does one Norse goddess equate to two Greek ones? It might seem so, but any comparison between the Greek and Norse pantheons is subjective and somewhat off the mark...
Freyja was revered by adherents of the Old Norse religion in a dual role. On the one hand, she was the Goddess of Love and everything that was associated with – beauty, love, passion, and desire, which all lead (hopefully) to fertility.
Conversely, she was also a fierce warrior to whom prayers were made before battles. She led the mighty Valkyries, divine warrior maidens serving Odin. These celestial maidens descended from the heavens and selected only the bravest warriors who had fallen in battle to join an eternal feast in Valhalla.
Freyja, in her role as their leader, had a separate role - selecting the next best among the fallen warriors and leading them to a giant meadow or field known as Fólkvangr.
Freyja comes from a renowned and divine family. She is the daughter of the god Njord (the Norse God of the Ocean) and has a twin brother, Freyr (who is associated with kingship, fertility, and a good harvest, crucial for any Viking Age ruler). She also has two children with Odr, named Hnoss and Gersimi.
Magic in Norse mythology was largely the domain of Freyja, who taught the practice of seidr to the Æsir gods. Photo: KonyannaPhotograpy / Shutterstock
The use of magic as a weapon
However, unlike her Greek counterparts, Freyja is also associated with the Norse practice of magic, seidr.
Said to be widely practiced throughout Viking societies until the Christianization of Scandinavia was complete in the early 12th century CE, this was a form of magic related to both predicting and shaping the future.
While she may be best known as a fertility goddess, Freyja was widely venerated as one of the most potent practitioners of seidr among the gods.
If we scan through the many sagas, there are examples of the potency of the magical nature of Freyja. In the Ynglings saga (The Saga of the Ynglings), she is said to have taught the Norse All-father, Odin, the practicalities of this form of divination.
Another example lies in what has been called a proto-origin story of the Vikings, the Völsung saga (The Saga of the Völsungs). Whilst it was written down in the 13th century CE, in the later medieval period, it was said to describe events during the Late Nordic Iron Age (c. 500 BCE - 500 CE).
In this saga, the Valkyrie Brynhild, under Freyja's leadership and patronage, exhibits a working knowledge of seidr. It is suggested that Brynhild was taught this by her master, Freyja.
Whilst the practice of these dark arts may not be seen as very warlike, its practice was said to be used to influence the outcome of battles and even provide protection on the battlefield.
By the worship of Freyja, Viking warriors were said to use seidr to try and strategize and gain valuable insight on the eve of major armed conflicts and involvements.
Finally, the fact that Freyja herself may select a brave warrior to join her in Fólkvangr should they perish on the battlefield probably calmed the nerves and stiffened the resolve of many a Viking.
The most fashionable of Norse gods
Adding to her magical abilities and, let's face it, chicness is a range of accessories that Freyja is said to possess. She is the proud owner of a magical cloak made of falcon feathers that, when worn, allows her to transform into a falcon, her animal of spirit.
She was also said to wear a brilliant necklace, Brísingamen, which was, according to one saga, stolen by that eternal trickster Loki.
In an unrelated event, a Viking-era grave was unearthed in Hagebyhöga, Sweden, in 2007. A wealth of grave goods were found, buried with what modern historians believe was a Völva, a Norse seeress. Among these treasures was a pendant depicting Freyja, a striking case of art imitating Norse saga.
Finally, she is said to ride (in style) on a chariot pulled by two male cats, Bygul and Tregul, gifted to her by Thor.
Freyja, the Norse goddess of war, is said to represent intense emotions, be they on the battlefield or rolling around in the hay. With her selection of warriors, she represents a cherished notion of eternal rest for those warriors who have fallen in battle, and her magical skills were a source of inspiration for warriors.
Writers and artists have been inspired by her dichotomy of love and war, whilst her chic accessories underscore why she has remained very much part of the public imagination in the centuries since the downfall of Vikings.
This could also be due to the fact her name (in English) is remembered through the best day of the week, Friday (Freyja's Day).
The BBC has written more on what Vikings believed in, available to read here.
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