She is not the most beautiful woman at the court of the Aesir, nor the most glamorous, not the most vivacious and charming. Those roles are held by Freyja, said by some to be Her rival, by others to be another, earlier, side of Herself. (In mainland Germany, there was no Frigga and no Freyja—only Frija, apparently an amalgam of the two goddesses.) There is no contest: Freyja is the star who draws all eyes in Asgard.
But Frigga will gladly cede this to Her, because She is more than that: She is Asgard’s Queen, the one who holds the heart of its King and who carries His keys. She runs His household, has borne and raised His children, and sits at His side. She is the one He turns to for comfort, counsel, and blessings. She is the one who offers sacred drink to those who sit at His table, and that drink itself carries a mystery from the past that few–beyond the two of Them—know or speak of.
She is known as Frigga, which means Beloved—but she also has a personal name, one not known to many, one seldom spoken even by Her husband, but carried as a talisman close to Her heart.
The name is Gunnlod, which means “Battle Invitation,” and the secret is the history of Their tempestuous courtship and early years together, a secret entwined with the sacraments of sovereignty and the holiest of all drinks, the Mead of Poetry.
(I know, I know, many of you are out there reading this and saying to yourselves, “But Snorri Sturluson names Gunnlod as a rival of Frigga’s!” Yes, but Snorri was writing primarily to interest the King of Norway in hiring him as court poet, and secondarily to preserve skaldcraft for future generations. He may have loved the old stories about the gods, but getting them all down with perfect accuracy was nowhere in his agenda—as we can see when we look at His version of the Mead story compared to the same story as told in the Havamal, which is a tale about a wedding and an abandoned bride, not a weekend bender.
Others, with experience in spirit work, will no doubt object that they have contacted both of Them separately. That’s fine, and I don’t disbelieve you; just look at how differently Odin Himself can manifest His presence for different people, and how many different aspects He has. My reasoning is, why should His wife not be just as multi-faceted? I am not attempting to tie all of the Northern goddesses into one neat package here, just noting the threads of connection I see between two of Them. I don’t expect anyone else to agree, and that’s fine. My blog, my experiences and doxa**/beliefs, no?)
The names of Frigga’s parents are never given in the lore, the writings that have come down to us. (She is called Fjorginn’s maer, but Fjorginn is a name of Odin, and maer means either maiden, wife or daughter, so this could simply mean “Odin’s wife.”) But many modern practitioners regard Her as a half-sister of Thor. Since Thor is the son of Odin by a giantess, Jord, if true this would make Frigga at least part Jotun.
And to complicate things even further, some Vanic practitioners believe Jord and Nerthus to be one and the same, the mighty Lady who is Earth. This would make Frigga a daughter of Earth, but it would also (possibly) make Her part Vanir.
And Her father? He would have been the one to raise Her, as Jord/Nerthus seems to leave Her many offspring in the keeping of Their fathers (as with Thor Himself, who was given into Odin’s keeping and raised—according to many shared beliefs—by His mother Bestla).
Given all of this, who is to say that Frigga’s father might not have been a mountain Etin named Suttung, the very same giant who legend tells us happened to steal the Mead of Poetry from a couple of conniving dwarves? As a daughter of Earth, Frigga/Gunnlod would have been very comfortable dwelling in Hnitbjorg, Suttung’s mountain fortress, until the day Odin arrived, ostensibly to wed Her, but first—as part of Their rocky courtship—to abscond with Her father’s greatest treasure, the Mead of Poetry, instead.
The rocky steadfastness of Hnitbjorg suits my idea of Frigga. She is a child of rock and water, of rivers emerging from underground caverns, of the deep places of the earth, of the underground sea. Like the places she grew up, She is mostly silent. And yet She is an anchor for Odin, His home, the weight in His heart that can pull Him back to Himself, back from the madness that often consumes His soul, back from the frenzy of the Wild Hunt. She is the bedrock of Asgard.
In what little lore remains of Her, we are told that She surrounds Herself with a small group of hand-picked friends, other goddesses (sometimes called the “Handmaidens”) who keep Her company and assist in Her work. She chooses Her companions carefully; like Emily Dickinson, She selects Her own society—and then shuts the door. She is proof of the saying that still waters run deep. She and Odin form Their own version of the Heiros Gamos, with Her coming up to meet Him from the lowest places, and Him coming down to meet Her from the highest. (I don’t mean lowest and highest, here, as any kind of value statement, but an actual measure of distance, of scope: to paraphrase Kahlil Gibran, a gateway must have two pillars, and in order for those pillars to work together they must stand apart.)
Most people see Her colors as pale blue, white, and perhaps pearl grey, and I have honored these choices in the ritual cords I am making for Her. But I have to wonder if they are perhaps influenced by a conflation with the Virgin Mary, who came to overshadow so many pagan goddesses. A Frigga’s woman I knew back east saw Her instead in deep forest greens, and on reflection, I have to agree. I see forest and moss greens, slate greys, the shining silver of underground streams, and the deep red tinge of the Mead, the color of blood.
These colors begin to paint a very different image of Frigga than the one we’re all familiar with, don’t they?
Like many queens, Her marriage began as a contractual alliance, but if She is indeed the daughter of a Vanic goddess and a giant, this may have been a three-way alliance, between Asgard and two other kingdoms. (Is She the granddaughter of Surt, as I portrayed Her in one of my short stories? Possibly, though not necessarily. It would explain much, though.) My own doxa (aka UPG) on the subject, which others are free to think is crap (since doxa is by definition a very personal thing, and I also believe the Gods sometimes give different people conflicting explanations about things), is that the marriage of Odin to Frigga/Gunnlod was a peace bond, arranged to cement a truce between the Aesir and the Vanir on one hand, and between the Aesir and the Giants (or those of Gunnlod’s family, at any rate) on the other. Having both Vanic and Etin parentage, Gunnlod would have satisfied both of these requirements.
I believe the actual engagement took place at a very early point, shortly after the slaying of Ymir by Odin and His brothers, but the marriage happened years later as Gunnlod was still only a child at the time of the betrothal. But far from being only a political marriage, I believe She and Odin loved each other at first sight and that They maintained a correspondence during their long engagement; I was given a vision of Him sending Her tokens collected on His travels—feathers, shells, flowers and herbs, exotic bird eggs, jewels, all of which She used to decorate Her rooms at Hnitbjorg—along with letters. The letters always addressed Her as Beloved; this was what He called Her and later, as His Queen, this was the name that stuck, Her original name falling out of use. She was the Beloved of Odin, and this was the name Her new people, the Aesir, used for Her from the point onward. That She even had a different name originally may have well been forgotten altogether by Snorri’s time, which would explain His naming of Gunnlod as one of the rivals of Frigga We need to keep in mind that even by the Viking Era, some of the original details and deeper mysteries of the cult of the Aesir would already have been lost—and Snorri himself was writing centuries after the Conversion.
Of course, initially Their marriage did not go smoothly—as both Snorri and the Havamal relate—because Odin persuaded Her to gift Him with the Mead of Poetry. Although in my own doxa Gunnlod brewed this Herself (brewing being an art that often came under the province of women in the elder Heathen times) and part of its magic came from the sexual charge it was given by the consummation of Her marriage to Odin, it was technically the property of the giants, Gunnlod’s family (and arguably of the Vanir as well, since according to many Vanic practitioners the god Kvasir, whose blood went into the brewing of the Mead, was of their tribe). The Havamal version of the Mead story reads very much like a wedding, with Odin referring to Himself as having taken a “ring oath” and telling how Gunnlod, sitting on Her golden chair, gave Him a drink of the Mead. Following Grigby’s argument in Beowulf and Grendel, that the drinking of the Mead represented the passing of sovereignty, this could have been part of a marriage ceremony in which Odin was ritually “married” to sovereignty (in the person of Gunnlod, as a daughter of Jord/Nerthus) and thus became King of the Aesir. The Mead itself was not His to take back to Asgard with Him—however, that is exactly what He did, leaving His new bride behind (as the Havamal relates) to deal with the fallout.
Where I have always disagreed with the traditional version of this story is that I don’t think Odin’s abandonment of Gunnlod was permanent. Originally, this was based purely on my own doxa, and that in my own experience of Odin this did not feel like something He would do. (Don’t get me wrong; He can be treacherous and wily in spades when it suits His purpose, and stealing is obviously not beneath Him, but I have never found Him to be either fickle or careless with the feelings of those who truly love Him.) It is no secret that I have felt a deep empathy and kinship with Gunnlod (stemming partly from abandonment issues dating from my childhood); also, my doxa and trance experiences told me that she was far more important to Odin than either the lore or popular conception made Her out to be. I also felt that, given the fact that the sharing of mead is such a central motif in Heathenry—our foremost sacrament, you might even say, especially in modern times when actual blood sacrifices are rare–She was an undervalued Goddess among Heathens. It was all of the above factors that led me to focus so much of my writing on Her story.
But to get back to Grigsby’s theory that the Mead not only represented the passing of sovereignty but was also, with its life-giving and intoxicating powers, essentially Vanic, this interpretation falls apart if Gunnlod was merely (as is generally accepted) an early fling of Odin’s and not anyone of any real importance. If, on the contrary, She was His betrothed bride and a peace-bond between the tribes of the Gods, and She later (as Frigga) became permanently installed as His Queen, then everything comes together and Her role as the incarnation of sovereignty in this tale makes a lot more sense. By marrying Her, Odin not only cemented alliances between His former enemies but also His right to be King of Asgard. He complied—to a point—with the customs of the Vanir in validating His right to the throne by marrying a daughter of Nerthus who thus embodied sovereignty in Her person and ritually imbibing, as part of the wedding, the sacred intoxicating drink of the Vanir. But then He violated this agreement by refusing to become a sacrificial king in the Vanic mode and absconding with the Mead itself, which led to a temporary separation from His new bride and probably necessitated a lot of political maneuvering to make the situation right again.
But knowing Odin as I do, I can’t see how He could have resisted a chance to gain such an obvious advantage as sole ownership of the Mead. He expresses regret in the Havamal that His actions brought Gunnlod grief (at the same time making it clear that He would not have escaped with His life—and the Mead—without Her help), but in my belief He did later make it up to Her by crowning Her Queen of Asgard. And She still sits at His side today, bearing the title of Beloved, wearing the keys to His halls at Her belt, and—as the frith-iest woman among the Aesir as well as the most adored—bearing the mead horn around Herself at gatherings of the Gods. I can imagine a little smile playing around Her lips as She does so, Her role as Lady of Odin’s hall perhaps bringing back memories of earlier times, the long-ago days when She and Her husband first met and fell in love.
**I want to thank my friend Laurel Columbine for the term doxa, which means belief and is much more accurate than the term gnosis (as in UPG, or unverified personal gnosis), which implies knowledge gathered and verified by learned people over a period of time.