A month for Freyr: day 4

Frey’s historical link with the grave is scanty at best and while this doesn’t necessarily mean that the pre-Christian heathens never made the connection (it can simply be a case of lack of surviving sources), the resulting conclusion is that a death aspect of Ingui is mostly based on modern UPG. His link to family lines is however more obvious.

A few instances in the medieval sources mention Ingui and grave mounds, though the nature of the association is unclear: Gísla saga Súrssonar speaks of a Frey devotee named Thorgrim Thorsteinsson who’s buried under a mound whose southwest side remained untouched by snow and frost, as if the god didn’t want the ground between them to freeze; Ynglinga saga in Snorri’s Heimskringla says that Frey was buried under a mound where people left offerings, thinking He was still alive. The problem with both instances is that the latter presents a euhemerized version of the gods and the former doesn’t make a clear link between Ingui and the grave – it just says that people believed that the god kept it free of frost. A more promising clue may be the link between mounds and elves, given that Frey is the Lord of Alfheim or Elf-land: Kormáks saga, for instance, speaks of an alfablót on a hill and there are many cases of elf-hills in modern Iceland. But again, these are natural features and not necessarily grave mounds, as indicated by the fact that rocks are also linked to elves, which means the name probably refers to landwights and not necessarily the inhabitants of Alfheim. Ship burials may be pointed out as another possible link between Frey and the grave, given that He owns a vessel and boats were probably seen as vehicles to the afterlife, but it should be kept in mind that archaeology has given us abundant cases of pirates and warriors buried in ships. And while I do believe that Frey has a bellic aspect – more on that next week – the viking way of life, that of the looter, raider and mercenary, doesn’t seem to fit His profile.

So, as said, we’re left with scanty evidences at best. Yet the idea that Ingui has a connection with death and the grave rings true to me and other devotees. There’s just no way we can put our finger on it through the historical evidence, which is why this is a case of a UPG-based aspect of a modern cult. Here’s how I see it: if Frey is a Lord of Harvest and a farming god, then He knows the sacrifice of life that nurtures life; some modern devotees even believe that He Himself dies every year to renew the earth and its crops. This doesn’t mean that He’s a god of death, because to Him death is an instrument and not a goal in itself. It is the tool through which life is fed, strengthened and renewed. And Frey is all about life – its creation and its nurturing, which inevitably requires sacrifices. Animals are killed to feed others, plants die to provide food, things decay so that new life may spring forth. He is, after all, a son of the Sea and the Earth and the latter isn’t just about beautiful things: She’s also a terrible devouring Power. This gives meaning to the belief that Frey Himself is sacrificed every year, for as a god of bounty it makes sense that He takes personal responsibility in it by offering His own life for the renewal of the earth’s fertility. And another consequence of this line of reasoning is the possibility that Frey offers some sort of afterlife path. This is nothing new in the world of agricultural deities – think of Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries – and one wonders if there’s an otherworldly destination or “status” for Ingui’s devotees.

This pretty much sums up how, in my view, Frey has a connection to death. A more obvious aspect is that of divine ancestor, an idea that is not unheard of: how many in ancient Rome and Greece declared themselves to be descendants of Venus, Zeus or Hercules? It seems that was also the case in old Scandinavia, where the Swedish Yngling dynasty traced its origin to Frey. And while it may be argued that this was a medieval invention, Tacitus’ Germania speaks of a group of Germanic tribes known as the Ingaevones, which may indicate that already in the first century CE there was a belief in the god Ing as the original progenitor. A related idea, though not as literal as divine ancestry, is that of Ingui’s as a creator of life, which, naturally and unsurprisingly for a phallic god, includes sexual reproduction. Sperm is a sine qua non for the production of new generations, even adopted ones (babies have to come from somewhere).

All of this comes together in the notion that Frey ensures the continuity of the family line and can be present in the final transition of its members: in life, He ensures the survival of a household through the creation of heirs and the renewal of its generations; in death, He gives meaning to the end of life and may even provide an afterlife.

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