Frey is more of a title than an actual name, as it’s simply Old Norse for Lord. It appears in different forms in the Germanic world: Frö, Frea, and even the Latinized form Fricco in Adam of Bremen’s History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. The god’s actual name may be Ingui or Yngvi, which is sometimes coupled with Frey, as in Snorri Sturluson’s Ynglinga Saga and Edda. The meaning is unknown, but it resembles the name of the Ing rune in the Old English Rune Poem. In Stephen Pollington’s translation:
Ing was first among the East Danes
seen by men until he later eastwards
went across the waves, the wagon sped behind,
thus the hard men named the hero
Notice the reference to a wagon and the implication of a vessel, both of which are linked to Frey in the Scandinavian sources. According to Snorri’s Edda and the eddic poem Grimnismál, the god has a ship named Skiðblaðnir and the link is reinforced by His own ascendency, since the myths present Him as the son of Njorðr, who is a god of coastal areas and boats. The connection to the wagon is found in a tale where a priestess of Frey is described as travelling through the countryside on a carriage along with an image of the god. The source is late, so it’s not clear how far it reflects old practices, but the idea of a godly image travelling resonates with a description by Tacitus.
Note also that the runic stanza speaks of Frey as a divine hero and ancestor. He was the first among the East Danes and in Beowulf the Danes are called Ingwine or the friends of Ing. The same may be said for the Yngling kings of Sweden and Norway and Tacitus, in his Germania, mentions a group of Germanic tribes whom he calls the Ingaevones. Presumably, the name means something like the sons or people of Ing or Ingunar. This is not a unknown notion in the Mediterranean world: after all, how many Roman and Greek families claimed to descend from a god or goddess? Tacitus also mentions a Germanic goddess to whom he calls Nerthus (id est Terra matrem), whose image was carried on a wagon in a festival during which no war could be made or arms taken. Incidentally, Nerthus is akin to the Old Norse njorðr and the ing- element is present in several personal names: Ingmar, Ingvar, Ingrid, Ingjald, Ingimund, etc.
Frey is also known as a phallic god. Adam of Bremen’s description of the image of Fricco in the temple of Uppsala is cum ingenti priapo or with a huge phallus. For that reason, the small Rälling statuette, found in Sweden in 1904, is assumed to be a depiction of Frey. His role as a giver of fertility and abundance, even pleasure, is thus obvious and it’s reinforced by a series of reference in written sources: Snorri’s Edda, for instance, says He rules over rain and sunshine and grants prosperity and peace. Elsewhere, there are references to toasts being made to the god and His father for the same exact thing: peace and prosperity; or rather good harvests. The original Old Norse is ár ok friðr and the first element is pretty straight forward, since ár is related to modern English year and bears the sense of a good passing of the seasons, i.e., a good harvest. Friðr is a more complex idea, in that it’s usually translated as peace, but it goes beyond the absence of conflict and may also express notions of justice and sacred inviolability. It may be found in the bonds of family and community, but also in the temporary protection awarded to people and places of assembly, in that it makes the use of violence forbidden and punishable. If, however, one was declared an outlaw – outside the bonds of friðr – he or she could be struck without fear of reprimand. An analysis of the term can be found here.
A few more things could be said about Frey, but I’ll go through them as we go along. For now it will do, since this post serves the purpose of introducing Him before making a comparison with Roman and Greek gods with whom He has things in common.
Silvanus is a god of the woodland. He’s often depicted naked expect for a sheep or ram’s skin with fruit, carrying a tree or branch in one hand and a sickle or falx in the other. A dog is also commonly found next to Him, speaking for His role as a god of woodland game, but also as a protector of one’s home. Silvanus extends His action to the entire farmland, including the agricultural fields, the herds, the barns, and also the house itself. For that reason, He receives the titles of Domesticus, Lar, and Agrestis. He’s also called Orientalis, presumably in reference to sacred groves in the eastern part of the proprieties and from which the boundaries were set. Which makes sense, given that Silvanus is also a liminal god. So fertility and protection, the fields and herds, as well as home and family are all things that He has in common with Ingui-Frey. Silvanus is also linked to the Silvanae or wood nymphs, whereas Frey is connected to the Elves, of whom He’s said to be ruler.
Priapus and Frey have something big in common: their huge penises! Something tells me that if an ancient Roman were to visit the temple of Uppsala, he may have left thinking that the old Swedes worshipped Priapus. He may have started as a god of good crops, but His genitalia awarded Him a role as a protective deity of gardens, since the phallus was highly popular as a lucky charm. An expression of that belief is on display at the British Museum, where you can see a Roman wind chime with a lion-tailed penis.
The Free Father, which is how His name translates, has always been closely linked with the cult of Ceres. He came to be associated with Dionysus, Himself another god with a few common elements with Frey, and the freedom element likely appealed to the lower classes, plebeians and freedmen and women who formed a large portion of His worshippers. Frey’s “social status” is unclear or may be irrelevant all together: His role as an agricultural god and a tribal ancestor or hero would make Him a god of the masses, but also of the elites. But the Norse may have seen Him as a liberator, since the eddic poem Lokasenna has another deity presenting Frey as a god that “makes no girl cry nor any men’s wife / and looses each man from captivity”. Which is not only another link to Liber Pater, but also Silvanus, who seems to have had His share of popularity among freedmen.
In Germania 40, Tacitus tells of the Naharvali, who had a grove where a priest presided wearing a female dress. He adds that, according to the Roman interpretation, the gods recorded in that fashion are Castor and Pollux and that the Germanic tribe worshipped their gods, whom he calls Alcis, as brothers and youths. There’s no clear evidence that Frey is connected to the deities of the Naharvali, but it is noteworthy that He has a sister named Freya (meaning lady), just as their father, Njorðr, has a sister. Together, They’re part of a group of Norse gods known as Vanir, who were associated with a more open sexuality and cross-dressing: the phallus is a good indicator of just that, while Freya is noted for Her lust, much like Aphrodite, and Snorri’s Ynglinga saga says the Vanir practiced incest. He also adds that They know a form of magic called Seiðr, which was forbidden to men because it implied effeminacy. The Divine Twins and gender ambiguity are therefore two things that the Vanir and the Alcis may have had in common.
I stress that I’m not saying that Frey is the same god as any of these gods. I’m merely pointing out similarities between Him and a few Greek and Roman deities, which creates reference points in the Romanization of Ingui. It also “softens” the process, in that it makes Him familiar and shows how Frey’s ways, so to speak, are not unheard of in Roman polytheism.