A month for Freyr: day 3

It is well known that Ingui has a phallic aspect. It is also common knowledge – indeed a common association – that a phallus stands for sexual potency, pleasure and joy. This is all true and I’ll come back to it sometime during this month, but for now I’d like to focus on the less known meaning of a large erect penis, namely that which pertains to Frey’s role as a god of the home.

If a phallus stands for sexual potency, it also stands for the ability to reproduce. The more sex you have and the better the sperm, the more chances there are of producing an offspring. This is fairly obvious, so the connection to the household is immediate: the power of the phallus, i.e. sexual reproduction, results in the multiple generations of a family, which is another way of saying the continuity and renewal of the household. Ingui’s blessings don’t just put food on the table – they also put heirs in the cradle, thus ensuring the survival of a family line. In this, He is also connected to the ancestral spirits, which will be the topic of tomorrow’s post.

Of course, there’s more than one way of creating a family: apart from sexual reproduction, there’s also adoption and sometimes animals are part of one’s household in its broader sense, be they cattle or pets. Here too the phallus has a role to play. Not just with regards to the increase in the size of herds or prosperity in general, which are an extension of the sexual symbolism, but through the apotropaic power of the male genitalia. This is a link that has virtually disappeared from western mentality: we get the meaning of a penny for your thoughts, but not of a penis for your safety.

Apotropaic comes from the Greek apotrepein and it refers to something that protects from or wards off evil. I’m not sure if this was ever the case in pre-Christian northern Europe, the information being so limited that it can be hard to tell, but in the southern regions of the continent the phallus was a symbol of luck that kept safe both people and properties: in ancient Greece and Rome, Priapus was a protector of flocks and gardens and there’s a Roman wind chime, currently on display at the British Museum, that has a lion-tailed phallus as the centre piece. These are expressions of ancient religious views that either saw harmful spirits as being afraid of large genitalia or believed they could be kept away through the potency of a penis (or any other option you can think of). Whatever the case, this gives a new/old meaning to Ingui-Frey’s phallus: it doesn’t just stand for sexual joy and potency, general fertility and prosperity – it’s also an apotropaic symbol that protects the same household it increases.

Again, it is hard to tell if this was ever the case in northern Europe, but it is interesting that Frey appears connected to friðr, which is usually translated as peace, though the word may also hold the sense of personal security and (sacred) inviolability. It is then easy to imagine that the god who bestows peace/safety on individuals and a community would do the same for a home and its residents. This may also reveal a more “legal” side of Ingui, but more on that in a future post.

By the way, how cool would it be to have a wind chime with a very well endowed golden boar in the centre? 😀

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