A month for Freyr: day 28

Among Ingui-Frey’s treasures is the ship Skíðblaðnir, whose name means “assembled from pieces of thin wood”. Snorri’s Edda contains a version of how it was built: two dwarves, sons of Ivaldi, following a bet with Loki, created the ship and other valuable objects that were given to the gods. Skíðblaðnir is described as being large enough to carry all the gods, always has a favourable wind and can be folded until it fits in a pocket. It is not by chance that old Norse sources call it the best of ships.

It is also not a coincidence that boats were highly valued in ancient Scandinavia. In a territory largely made of mountains, swamps and dense forest, the sea and rivers provided the easiest and quickest form of transportation. In his eleventh-century History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, Adam of Bremen states that it took a month to travel by land from what today is southern Sweden to the area around modern-day Stockholm; however, the same journey could be done in just five days by ship. This had several practical implications: in trade, since a boat was the easiest way to move merchandise; in politics, as ships allowed for troops to move faster and hence increase the chances of maintaining power or winning a battle; in religion, because everyday mobility had a translation into ritual symbolism. A ship could easily be a symbol of power, of wealth and a vehicle to the other world as much as it was in this life.

In Ingui’s case, it stands for prosperity. It’s not just any ship: it is the best of its kind. Just as the wealthiest person could have the best of halls, swords or vessels, a god of wealth has the finest of ships. It also speaks of His Vanic origins, since His father is Njord, who Himself is a god of boats and riches. Whether there is an older and ritual origin behind Skíðblaðnir is uncertain. It has been suggested that the fact that the name refers to thin pieces of wood indicates a link to ceremonial vessels made out of fragile material. Alternatively, the name can add to the special nature of the ship – strong, yet made of thin wood – much like magical strings, weapons or clothing in fairy tales.

Since I’m not a sailor, not even a recreational one, I am personally unable to say if Ingui has an aspect connected to boats and seamen. It wouldn’t be surprising considering His ancestry, but not all divine roles pass on in divine families. At the very least, the ship stands not only as a symbol of prosperity, but also as a ritual instrument for Ingui-Frey’s cult: think of watery procession or, perhaps even better, of a ship with wheels carrying His image through the streets. Especially if it’s full of flowers, fruit and other offerings, like a moving horn or ship of plenty. I’ve also thought of it as having a use in modern funerary practices, but I’ll save that for another post that will not be part of this series. I need time to deepen my thoughts on Ingui and death, as well as the mysteries of the boar, before I start writing funeral pieces and ceremonies.

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