It clicked!

Back in December 22nd, I celebrated the winter solstice. I know it was officially on the 21st, but over here the solstice proper – i.e. the moment when the North Pole is further away from the sun – happened at 23:03 hours, long after sunset, which means that the renewed or reborn sun rose only on the 22nd. As has been usual for me these past several years, I marked the occasion in multiple ways, one of them by performing a ceremony in honour of Ingui-Frey, whose birthday I commemorate at this time. I offered part of a walnut muffin, wheat and consecrated a small bread, a slice of which I then burned together with the other offerings before profanating the rest of the loaf and later eat it. I also toasted to several gods and wights, pouring portions of the beverage into the ritual fire. It wasn’t a perfect ceremony and I obviously need to work it more before it becomes a fluid set of words and gestures. But still it felt right at the end and there was a sense of connectedness that lasted for several hours after. And this despite my doubts on which Norse gods to honour in the opening and closing sections. At that moment, my instinct said Freyr and Freya and that’s what I went for, making a tribute to Them at the start and end of the ceremony. And later that day, long after the ritual fire had died out, it clicked!

When you translate the Old Norse freyja to Latin, you get domina, the lady of the domus or house. Another possibility is matrona, especially if one takes into account that Freya is said to be a mother, that she’s called Vanadís – the dís (lady, woman) of the Vanir – and that the Disir may have something in common with the Germanic Matronae. And once you put the translated freyja in a Latin domestic context, you get the female ruler of the house or the mater familias. Precisely the person in charge of overseeing domestic affairs in the ancient household, which presumably included the hearth. Could this mean that Freya can act as a Norse equivalent of Vesta? She’s certainly not a virgin – so far from it! – and we know very little on domestic religion in ancient Scandinavia, but the role of intermediary between humans and gods is not entirely out of place when it comes to Freya.

Freya by ©Relotixke

Freya by Relotixke

In Old Norse lore, besides being a warrior goddess, She is also a cup-bearer. In Snorri’s Edda, when the giant Hrungnir visits Asgard, She’s the only deity brave enough to serve him drinks (Skáldskaparmál 17), a job that in the ancient world would not be bellow Her status; indeed, even a queen might do it, as suggested in Beowulf, where Wealththeow, Hrothgar’s wife, serves the hero his drink (610-625). In that sense, Freya resembles a valkyrie: fighter, cup-bearer and choser of the slain – though She chooses half for Herself and not Odin (Grímnismál 14). There’s certainly more to Her than that, but there’s also that! Another side of Her is that of Mistress of Seiðr, a form of Old Norse magic that has shamanic elements, namely spirit-work, possession and journey, all of which imply direct communication or interaction with different plains of reality. A trait that is reinforced by Her cloak of falcon feathers that allows its bearer to travel in the form of that bird. And once you combine all of this, you get a goddess that is no stranger to bridging worlds. She connects the host and the guest, the human and the divine, this realm and the other(s). Even Her role as a Lady of Love implies the ability to join two sides.

This is not the same as saying that She’s the goddess of the ritual fire – though She may be connected to that element through Seiðr – but that would be more of a problem if I was trying to construct a heathen rite. Since my goal is a Latinized one, the placing of Freya in a Latin context solves the issue. Every time a deity is imported, He/She is adapted to the host culture, losing or gaining features: Apollo in Rome did not have all of the functions He had in Greece, Hercules in Greco-Buddhism is a much more philosophical character than the classical warrior of the Twelve Labours. And another example, one from Catholic practices that was once explained to me by a History professor, is that of Saint Augustine, who is believed to alleviate sore eyes, because in Nordic countries his name recalls the word auga or “eye”. Context changes things, it adapts them. And if freyja in Latin translates as a divine domina, then She can preside over those things that a leading female figure would be in charge of in an ancient household. Which includes the domestic and hence ritual hearth. And with this I may have stumbled upon the answer I was looking for.

There are of course other deities that could open and close a Latinized Norse rite. Loki, Odin, Thor, Ullr, Njord, Heimdall, Frigg, Forseti, all of them are legitimate options. But the thing with Freya is that if you start the ceremony with Freyr as a provider of peace and holy inviolability, you get a brother-sister dynamics that feels fluid: He opens and closes, She makes it flow in-between; He’s the sergeant-at-arms that leads a parliament’s opening procession and guards the assembly against violence, She’s the presiding figure that moderates the exchange of words and gestures; He guards, She makes it work. Freyr and Freya, Dominus and Domina: twins, lovers and ritual partners. It feels natural!

The only question left is does She accept the role? If the Gods are not archetypes, I cannot simply use Them as ritual tools. I need Them to say They’re willing to do something, though the sense of connectedness I got for several hours after the midwinter ceremony suggests that I may be on right track. Divination is therefore required, which will be the next step.

6 thoughts on “It clicked!

  1. I don’t know about the germanic Mātrōnae – I suspect that they suffered a double interpretātiō, the first one celtic, the second one would be roman – but the gallic Mātronās aren’t connected to the hearth, rather to rivers, agricultural and human fertility, and familial norms. Insular celtic myths, like “Culhwch ac Olwen”, “Dindsenchas” and “Tochmarc Étaíne”, mention similar figures, one of them (Modron) is related to the gallic Mātronā (original name of the french river Marne). Though it would be tempting to link them to the hearth, the gallo-roman iconography simply doesn’t point us in that direction, nor do the myths.
    The surest option is to look at the irish Brigit (scottish Bride), who retained her fiery and domestic [among other] qualities even when she was dubbed a saint, around the 6th or 7th centuries CE. Imbolc, her festival, is a perfect example of her nature as a functional parallel of Vesta and Hestia. As for her name, it’s derived from Proto-Indo-European *bhṛǵh-ṇt- (‘exalted’ ‘lofty’) – an exact cognate of vedic Uṣas’ (a dawn Goddess) epithet: Bhṛatī. Celtic cognates of Brigit are attested throughout most of the Celtic world, namely Great-Britain, Gaul and Galicia.

    I once thought that Freya could be a cognate of Brigit, Hestia and Vesta, given her prominence and some of her attributes, but a series of articles by Dagulf Loptson – which I think you’ve read, they’re called “A New Place for Loki” – convinced me that Loki is a good fit for that position, though he’d be wearing Agni’s shoes.

    Matasović, Ranko. Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden. Brill, 2009 —> page 78
    Matasović, Ranko. A reader in comparative Indo-European Mythology. Zagreb, 2009 —> page 9
    Koch, John T. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California. ABC-CLIO, 2006 —> pages 287-289, 958-959, 1279-1280.
    Hatt, Jean-Jacques. Mythes et Dieux de la Gaule (tome 2). 2005 —> pages 90-98, 125-127, 207-211

  2. Loki may indeed have been the Norse Agni and Dagulf Loptson makes a compelling case, but that’s not the same as saying that that role was universally acknowledged in ancient Scandinavia. The fact that He’s also called Lopt, which probably derives from Old Norse “lopt” or “air”, either has something to do with the wind that carries the smoke from the sacrificial fire or suggests that in some places Loki was a god of air and not the flame. In any case, while Loki is certainly an option, the brother-sister dynamics seems too fluid to ignore. I may have to set it aside if divination so determines, but for the moment that’s what I’m going for.

    As for the Matronae, when I said they may have a connection to the Disir, it is because both groups of female divinities appear connected to the well-being of the community or family – fertility, fate, victory, the ancestral line. The Disir may even have their origin in the Matronae, be influenced by them or vice-versa. The are no certainties in this due to the scarcity of information, but whereas in the Germanic regions there was a cult of the Matronae, in ancient Scandinavia there was that of the Disir.

    • I came here to comment, yet again, because I’ve remembered something, but since you’ve replied, I’ll say it all in a single take. 😛

      Some years ago, probably 6 or 7, since I wasn’t attending university at the time, there was this guy on Youtube who was posting videos on For Sed. It was quite informative. one of the things I noticed in one of the rituals was that the group that was being filmed usually evoked Freya at the start of each rite. I’m not sure why, but they must have had the same idea as you, though they didn’t call upon Freyr.
      I’ve tried to find the video, but it isn’t anywhere to be found, so I searched my laptop’s archives and I found a ritual script I wrote taking into account the videos I mentioned. It goes like this:

      “1- Abertura
      Todos os participantes devem lavar a cara, mãos, e parte de trás do pescoço, com água.
      O gothi acende as chamas.

      2- Sacralizar / Rito do Martelo
      Começando com o Norte, pegar na representação do Mjollnir e com ele desenhar, em cada quadrante, um T invertido, assim como para o céu e para a terra.
      Pedir bênção de Freya.

      3- Evocar outros Deuses e Deusas, espíritos, e ancestrais”

      As I’ve said, I’m not sure why they called upon Freya and her blessings, but it might be due to one of the attributes you described… or some sort of sovereignty-related function, not really sure, since this isn’t my area of expertise.

      • Awesome! 😀

        No idea either. It could have something to do with a belief that She can magically control fire, could be the connection with the Disir or something else that I’m not getting. And I reckon the reason why they didn’t include Freyr is because they resort to Thor to do the hallowing (the controversial Hammer Rite).

        Like I said, there are multiple options for the opening and closing sections: Thor and Loki could work (one hallows, the other burns/transmits), as could Odin and Loki (one transmits or marks out with runes, the other burns), Thor and Ullr (one hallows, the other gives power to words and gestures), Freyr and Njord (one hallows, the other intermediates).. Given the lack of information on historical ritual details, it ends up being largely a matter of preference.

  3. Var who is listed both as one of the Asynjur and one of Frigga’s handmaidens reminded me of Vesta because of her association with the hearth fire. She also guards contracts and oaths. I’ve invoked her to witness oaths that I make in the past but never as a gatekeeper or opener of the ways.

    I have at least one experience with Freyja opening the ways with regards to the Ancestors. A friend asked me for help in contacting his father and other Ancestors, and I struggled all afternoon with who to call to help open the ways and usher them in. I wanted to call to Mannanan Mac Lir because of my friend’s background but I have no devotional relationship with him. Though I’ve worked with others in the past, Frejya made her will known through rune divination and feline omens – she wanted to assist. I wasn’t sure if it was just the new relationship that I’ve been working to forge with her, but after reading your post I realize that others have done the same. The rider of Hildsvini goes many places, and can take you with her on her rough and wild rides (and still be as gentle as a kitten when her charges have need of it).

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