Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


Freyr is the best
Of all the chiefs
Among the gods.
He causes not tears
To maids or mothers:
His desire is to loosen the fetters
Of those enchained.

Elder Edda

For millennia in Scandinavia and the British Isles a persistent story about a divine infant who comes from over the sea has been passed down. The romance and hope inspired by this idea have enlivened many a visionary's tale and perhaps lent a certain mystical validity to the likes of even a Bonnie Prince Charlie. The god that comes from the sea is a saviour longed for, a messenger crossed over from another world. Far more than a mortal liege, he is the Prince of Peace, in whose train harmony and increase are to follow. Thrown up onto the looming headlands and glacial valleys of Scandinavia, he is Freyr, come forth as a Vanir hostage at the close of the great war between the gods. He is the offspring of Njördr, dweller of Noatún (the 'Enclosure of Ships'), known to all from the Sanskrit nauh, the Latin navis and Noah of the Old Testament.

Njördr is identified with the boundless void manifesting in water, the element surrounding and upholding the ship that sails betwixt dying and emerging worlds. Freyr, with his steed Blodughofi, who can dash through fire and water, and his magic ship Skidbladnir, which is always wafted by favourable winds (and is elastic enough to expand to a size capable of carrying all the gods or collapsing into a pocket-sized purse), combines his watery origin with the fire of the sun. His principal vehicle is the golden boar, from whose scruff shafts of solar flames explode, reminiscent of that other boar of Indo-European myth whose function it was to dive into the deep and draw up Bhumi, the earth-to-be. Through the water that boar known as Varaha journeyed, the avatar of a solar deity desiring to retrieve what would be the birth-vessel of a new world. If, in a similar way, Freyr is to be associated with a new cycle of existence, the great war that took place between the Aesirs (whose reign was already established in Asgard) and the Vanirs needs to be understood in terms of a shift in evolution affecting this globe whilst reflecting a greater cosmic change. If one interprets the war in this way, the common assumption that the conflict between the two sets of gods simply mirrors a difficult assimilation of new ideas into the Nordic fold can be relegated to the level of tertiary explanations, where it belongs. The shift could then be seen as involving solar forces belonging to a larger, timeless design combined with lunar fluctuations involving the incarnation of spirit on a more cyclically manifest level.

After the war between the gods, Njördr, Freyr and his sister Freya joined the Aesirs as permanent peace hostages in exchange for several Aesirs given to the Vanirs. A symbiosis ensued wherein several Vanir characteristics were learnt by the older gods, and Freyr, in particular, made the concerns of the Aesirs his own. But his was not the battle cult of Odin or the path of eternal warfare against the giants pursued by Thor. Freyr became angry if blood was ever shed in the vicinity of his sacred and very fertile fields. In fact, everything to do with fertility, wealth and growth was his primary concern and he was worshipped to achieve these ends. His identification with fertility and harmony spilt over from the realm of the gods into that of mortals with several lineages of divine kings who carried his name. In the Ynglinga Saga an account is given of Yngvi-Freyr, a legendary peace king at Uppsala, who established a dynasty called Ynglinga. The Scyidingas described in Beowulf and the Frodi kings of Denmark's Skjöldunga dynasty echo this same incarnation of myth into history. In all such instances, the king was seen as the embodiment of the wealth and prosperity of the people. His decline was deemed unthinkable, leading to practices of secretive regicide or concealment of the fact of his death. The reign of Yngvi-Freyr was one in which his subjects enjoyed so much prosperity that he was thought a god and the priests were afraid to cremate his remains when he died. They put him in a mound instead, and when the wealth of the people failed to diminish, such burials became more widely practised.

Both the children [of Njördr]
Were fair to look upon and mighty.
Frey is the most beautiful of gods,
Having power over rain and sunshine,
Together with the natural increase of
The earth.

Ynglinga Saga

 Dwarfs from Svart-alfheim gave Freyr Gullin-bursti, his golden boar whose bristles signify the rays of the sun as well as the amber grain of agriculture itself. The boar who tears up the soil with its tusks can thus be seen as the teacher of ploughing, whilst its image fashioned on war helmets was believed to protect the longevity and fruitfulness of the owners. Even the terrible masks with hideously protruding tusks of which Tacitus wrote were meant to ensure protection for their barely human-seeming wearers rather than instil dread in the hearts of their beholders. In donning such masks, they hoped, no doubt, to place themselves in a condition of sympathy wherein they could attract the death-transcending bounty of Freyr scattered, as it was, from his golden boar-drawn chariot. Ploughing the soil of manifest life, shooting erect in a verdantly joyous celebration of life, Freyr also wove a veil of protection around those who cast themselves with devotion into jubilation in his name.

But the god of vegetation is also the dying god, whose function it is to give up his life for the world or (in the case of the divine king) his people. His counterpart, the goddess of fertility, never dies. She weeps over him in his absence until he returns as himself or as his son. In ancient Babylonia, Tammuz was the god of vegetation and fertility who died every year, causing his consort to journey into the gloomy underworld in quest of him. Osiris, Adonis and many other such deities have fulfilled this familiar role: dying, being splintered into fragments, descending into the underworld, only to rise again in every germinating seed of spring. Freyr's fertilization of the earth is symbolically illustrated in the story of his love for Gerda. The beautiful Vanir spotted her one day when he ventured to ascend to Odin's throne. She was entering the home of her father, the Frost Giant Gymir, and Freyr saw that her radiance was more luminous than that of the northern lights. He was instantly and hopelessly smitten with love and despair. He knew she was related to a giant whom the Aesirs had slain and would therefore never accept him.

Freyr sent his trusted alter-ego, Skirnir, as his messenger, with instructions to use every ploy to secure her hand. To assist him throughout the difficulties he endured, Skirnir demanded and received his master's magical sword. The loss of this sword was to have great eventual significance, but at the time, Freyr could think only of the object of his intense desire. Finally, Gerda consented to be his bride, but only after being threatened with perpetual barrenness. The fact that she made Freyr wait nine nights before their meeting represents the nine months of winter prior to her wedding with the solar deity. It also identifies Gerda as the barren earth which is hard won by the spirit of vivification, whereas Skirnir's true nature is revealed by his name, meaning 'the bright'. Freyr himself is skírr or 'shining', showing that his messenger is only another form of himself. Gerda's name relates to gardr (field), the cornfield held fast in the clutches of winter (that is, the Frost Giants). The grove where Gerda finally meets Freyr is called Barri, which is derived from barr or 'barley', an important grain of the earliest agriculture in the Far North.

In the great temple of Uppsala a wondrously fashioned idol of Freyr stood beside figures of Odin and Thor. Unlike these latter unmoving presences, the idol of Freyr was animated, its golden limbs capable of being moved by priests in such a way as to amaze the devout. This was Freyr or Fricco in his most ithyphallic guise, clearly expressing the powers of generation for which he was invoked by newly-weds, farmers on behalf of their fields, or married couples seeking harmony in their relationship with one another. Others, however, were less enthusiastic about his worship, recoiling from what they considered to be its indecency. Saxo, describing the rituals connected with Freyr, noted the "unmanly clatter of bells" and the "effeminate gestures". The rites utilized male mimes dressed as women, a practice which would be reflected centuries later in mumming plays but which was considered a travesty of what many believed to be a suitable representation of a truly masculine deity. Freyr's reputation was further besmirched by the malicious Loki, who once accused Freya of having unnatural relations with her brother, echoing the nature of the relationship said to have existed between Njördr and Nerthus, their parents. One may recall that the magic brought by the Vanirs to the Aesirs was sorcery and sometimes considered to be vile. It could involve witchcraft and ergi, a word for 'perversion', which can be associated with such things as the effeminate elements in the worship of Freyr.

Ambiguity abounds in the relationships of the Vanirs but equally so in the identification of their gender. Njördr, said to be the father of Freyr and Freya, is depicted as originally married to his own sister (who is never identified) before taking as spouse the mother of the siblings, Nerthus. This is further made confusing by the fact that most scholars believe that Njördr is merely a masculine expression of Nerthus, who was the terra mater so vividly described by Tacitus. This ought to alert one to the possibility that the feminine and masculine sides to these relationships should be taken symbolically in order to be understood at a deeper and more causal level. This is true generationally as well as laterally. Freyr possesses many of the traits firmly associated with Nerthus, such as the wagon, its attendants and their ultimate sacrifice. He too moves about the land, his wagon recurring in stories about his godly activities as well as those describing the events occurring in the lives of Frodi and Yngvi-Freyr. This seems to relate to the old tradition where a divinity of fertility goes about from place to place in a wagon in order to ensure good crops and weather. It was also echoed in the peripatetic habits of the Volvas, who travelled the countryside in wagons practising their seidr (Vanir magic), and in the vast journeys of Freya, whose wagon is drawn by cats.

The chariot or wagon common to all these beings symbolizes death, birth and rebirth closely identified with the sun in relation to the earth, but also with the lunar ship or ark moving from world to world across the waters of space. The dead bodies of Yngvi as well as Frodi kings were carried in wagons through the land for months, and even years, in the belief that they contained the inextinguishable power of rebirth from which humans, animals and crops could benefit. Freyr's ship Skidbladnir could perform a similar function in transporting all the gods. Like the ark of Noah and that which transports the Seven Rishis across the flood to the stage of a new birth, the ship so closely associated with Njördr seems to merge in significance and function with the wagon of Nerthus. This merger is further suggested by the linguistic evidence which indicates that, in the Old Norse, Njördr's name is not only treated as the equivalent of 'Nerthus' but appears to be a true etymological development of 'Nerthus'. It would seem that the mantle of Nerthus had slipped from her shoulders to those of Njördr and thence to Freyr, whose character so easily overlaps with that of his sister.

Even though Freya became so closely linked with Frigg, and her marriage to Odin's double mimicked the archetypal union of the earth mother to the sky father, she was still the counterpart of Freyr. Perhaps by wedding her the old Norse hoped to unsully the reputations of the siblings and uplift that of the pantheon as a whole. But the question of the nature of the relationship between Freyr and Freya, and whether, in fact, they (like Nerthus and Njördr) may be aspects of one being or even one and the same being, persists. The theme of incest among the Vanirs and the transvestite elements of Freyr's worship combine to form a picture of a beautiful fertility god belonging to an age and condition existing prior to the separation of the earth from the sky, prior to the man-woman relationships of sexual generation. That this picture was obscure to the pagan Norsemen is only affirmed by the veiled allusions to incest in their myths, for they reflect a response to the general loss of older intuitive wisdom which afflicted most of the world in their times. Everywhere, the myths of people began to rely upon increasingly physicalized symbolism to convey their meaning. Thus, Brahma did not merely create a feminine consort out of his own being, but she also became his daughter and wife through whom he propagated his sons.

The Incas traced their ancestry back to a divine brother-and-sister couple who came from heaven, and the ancient kings of Egypt and Polynesia married their own siblings in imitation of their gods. Human beings, steeped in their own concretized perceptions of generation and time and their relations to one another, looked back through the fragments of myths and teachings they still retained concerning the far distant past that remained to them and tried to make sense of them in their own limited terms. It is difficult to find conceptualizations belonging to the last few thousand years that are adequate to describe a truly androgynous stage of evolution. It is difficult and yet central to the understanding of the essential nature of Freyr, for he, coupled with Freya, is certainly an androgynous deity brought forth into an age of gods and goddesses.

In The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky wrote that the third stage of cosmic manifestation involves the gods. First, there is the concealed deity, followed by a second stage wherein a ray from the first falls into cosmic matter and results in the androgynous abstract force which becomes the seven creative powers of the third stage. This vast cosmic involution of spirit into matter is mirrored in lesser cycles, such as those corresponding to the early rounds and races during which sidereal cycles of birth, death and resurrection took place within one being, as it were, simultaneously. For though there were individual monads, separative consciousness did not exist, and all that was experienced was experienced by all. Thus the androgynous condition and the synthesis of the apparent opposites of life and death are linked closely together and characterized in the nature of Freyr. He is the dying god of vegetation whose death brings life in his eternal return. The recurring impulse of vivifying spirit and the fertilizable substance of the mother are merged in his parthenogenetic being. When he descends into the realm of the dead, it is as their ruler, who not only presides over them but raises them up, resurrecting them, causing them to participate once again in the unceasing flow of life. Like the withering vegetation of autumn, Freyr lies low for a while, but in him incubates the continual business of renewal.

In the Eddie myths Freyr's servants Byggvir (corn) and Beyla (honey bee) are said to chatter in his ear and produce intoxicating mead. This intoxicant is very much a part of a Dionysian celebration of renewal in life, but it also has to do with ecstatic states wherein individuals might experience themselves as alive and dead and reborn all at once – disembodied in an embodied condition while observing them both. To see the whole in the part and the part in the whole simultaneously – this has been the ecstasy sought by those who imbibe the sacred soma juice, the wine of Bacchus or the mead of Freyr. That such practices tended to become abused is common knowledge, and what we know about the orgiastic celebrations associated with Freyr indicates that such desecration was not limited to a Mediterranean expression. But behind the physicalized excesses and even the drunkenness that passed for ecstasy in such cases there lay the fragmented memories of an age of innocence and bliss, fragmented because of the rise of separative consciousness paralleling the separation of the sexes on this globe and the loss of soul-memory which humanity has suffered since the middle of the Third Root Race. Sadly, man has often tried to bridge the gap between the world in which he finds himself and a dim notion of paradise by means of external effects that are all too firmly rooted in the very condition he desires to escape.

For who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated night,
Devoid of sense and motion?

John Milton

The androgynes of the early Third Root Race developed from the Sweat-born and the Egg-born only very gradually, over numerous generations: "The simple cell that issued from the earliest parent (the two in one) first developed into a bisexual being; and then the cell, becoming a regular egg, gave forth a unisexual creature." Occultism teaches that it is Venus-Shukra (the bearded Venus who is a 'male' deity) through whom the 'double ones' or Hermaphrodites of the Third Root Race descend. His complex history in the Hindu tradition as Shukra reveals several interesting elements in common with that of Freyr. Shukra is the son of Bhrigu, one of the Prajapatis who, as a great Vedic sage, officiated at Daksha's sacrifice. This of course links Shukra to Manu (father of Bhrigu) who, as Svayambhuva Manu, separated out from himself Vach-Sata-Rupa (his daughter), with whom he united to produce the root germ from which the solar systems spring. The generational transformation leading gradually up to the Third Root Race is referred to thus in these relatively concretized terms, the father exuding a feminine aspect (offspring or daughter) who becomes wife and mother of the son who is, in essence, the father. This repeats itself over and over again, like an intertwined descending triad, of which Shukra is one of the products.

Tracing the modes of generation back to the First Root Race can be approximated in the observation of the amoeba, or any other single-celled form of life, where development takes place through fission. In the Second Root Race, budding – where part of the parent cell swells out at the surface and breaks off to produce identical offspring – became the dominant means of reproduction, along with spore formation. The mode predominating in the Third Root Race was hermaphroditism, where the potential male and female organs are inherent in the same individual. Eventually, during this race, the drops of 'sweat' grew increasingly large, becoming eggs in which the human foetus gestated for years. Thus, the Sweat-born arose from the pores of their parents in the late Second and early Third Root Race to become the fathers of the Egg-born androgynes. These, in turn, gave birth through a kind of budding (heterogenesis and parthenogenesis) like that of a polyp, even including such polyps as may reproduce themselves alternately from gemmation into sexual modes, resulting in either hermaphroditic or sexually separated forms.

That Shukra presided over these latter phases of reproduction links him very strongly to Freyr, who may even be thought of as one of his particularized expressions. In recalling Shukra's opposition to exoteric religion during the War in Heaven, one recognizes the characteristics of those deities associated with the unorthodox, the mystical and the sometimes double-edged aspects of ecstasy and magic so closely identified with Freyr. Another correlation with Hindu cosmogony may be made if one likens the joining of the Vanirs with the Aesirs to the arrival of the Ashvins among the oldest Vedic gods. They came as twins, bringing youth, health, duality and fertility. Racing across the heavens, they appear in the pre-dawn as harbingers of the golden veils of Ushas. With them and the Dioscuri of Greek myth, Freyr (together with Freya) fulfils a common Indo-European pattern wherein fertility gods bring an ancient and very elementally powerful magic to the gods of war and social order. They do so in the guise of twins or siblings symbolizing the androgynous force of an earlier phase of involution in which all the universal power of the masculine and feminine were fused. When Shukra's father officiated over the sacrifice given by Daksha (who represented the early Third Root Race), it was in response to the orders of Brahmā, who had commanded Daksha to create. His obedience marked the beginning of generation by sexual union, and Shukra witnessed the great transition just as Freyr must have done in an age prior to his arrival in the Far North. And, like Shukra, Freyr too fell into generation, becoming Priapus, the god of love, the Fricco worshipped by those longing for immortality through their physical seed. The androgynous force thus witnessed and, as it were, sacrificed itself, coming into the next level of manifestation as a celestial energy whose grosser impulses would be endlessly misinterpreted and misunderstood.

In the Hindu myths Soma is said to be the king and father of Wisdom (Budha), who is gathered through the lunar mysteries, including sexual generation. He is the bosom friend of Shukra, and when he stole away Tara from her husband Brihaspati (who, as the planet Jupiter, represents exoteric religion), Shukra assisted him, placing himself in the role of friend to the worshipper (Tara) but enemy to formalized objects and patterns of worship. Tara's abduction led to the first War in Heaven, and it was through her union with Soma that Budha was born. This war was a pre-manvantaric cosmic prototype which preconcerted all subsequent upheavals in the manifesting cycles to come, including the war between the Aesirs and the Vanirs. Soma is, in one sense, the moon, which gives life to our globe as queen and king. He is also the god of mysteries, whose juice imbibed could result in the 'birth' of budha in the Initiate. In the Nordic myths the wine of vision derives from two sources: one directly related to the war, the other to Freyr in the form of his mead. When the war between the Eddie gods concluded in a truce, both sides sealed the peace by spitting into a bowl. Thus they created Kvasir, who roamed the world delivering an enormous wisdom, until he was killed and his blood placed in three bowls. It was believed that whoever drank of this 'wine' would become a visionary and poet, just as a draught of Freyr's mead was imbibed to produce ecstatic vision.

If one weaves together these many threads drawn from the ancient Aryan reservoir of mythical archetypes, one finds three basic themes: there is the dying vegetation god associated with the moon and buddhic vision, the androgynous god related to the predawn period of the Third Root Race before the lighting up of manas, and the god who falls hopelessly in love with the world, descending to phallic and effeminate modes of expression through human worship. It is important to remember that Freyr is both solar and lunar. His parent(s) is from the sea, in fact may be the sea itself. Freyr commands a magical ship in which things are conceived, born, carried and die. All this, plus his involvement with vegetation cycles, is lunar and feminine in nature. But his golden boar represents the sun. The consumption of its flesh at yuletide symbolizes the pre-dawn of the year, just before the solar orb recommences its ascendancy in relation to the northern hemisphere of this globe. Like the Ashvins, Freyr enters the world (or underworld) as a harbinger. He descends into the realm of death, completely sacrifices himself to it, only to rise up in the rebirth of all that has died, like the rising sun of a new day. In his movement in the pre-dawn before sunrise, Freyr is moving through and overbrooding the transition from darkness to light, from the pre-manasic phase of human existence to the manasic. Thus, as in the case of the Ashvins, the darkness of the feminine and the light of the masculine are blended to produce the androgynous state. In this state he confirms both and negates both, just as they confirm and negate each other. Like the Ashvins he is nasatya (na + a + satya) or 'not untrue'. This is a paradoxical transcendental condition wherein the realm of duality is fused into coadunition and consubstantiality, producing a realm requiring a fully awakened buddhic perception to understand.

In the present age, where mankind experiences itself as separate sexes, most human beings necessarily possess a severely limited and partial appreciation of the potential power inherent in the sexless human monad. Individuals striving to transcend this limitation attempt to blend the masculine and feminine energies within themselves at the level of the higher mind. To try to do this at a lower level is to court many possible dangers. Deliberately emphasizing one set of energies over another for certain effects, or engaging in certain ritual imitations of what is believed to symbolize a higher fusion of energies, can result in grave spiritual and psychological confusion in subsequent lives, including many types of homosexuality as well as mental conditions at variance with the natural process of evolution. The truly androgynous condition avoids these side-streets and carries the Initiate back along the main thoroughfare of Selfhood, through the root races to humanity's true spiritual source. To discover the unfallen Freyr within, the androgyne in each of us which is of that unsullied innocence belonging to the early Third Root Race, one has to understand the nature of the transition one witnessed and how and why one fell. For the nature of this involvement in baser religious and magical rituals provides us with a mirror of the effect of the degradation of the holy of holies upon human consciousness, a degradation which originally took place in the human mind.

We need to reinstate the true Freyr, each of us within ourselves, in order to overcome the heavy collective karma wrought by the misuse of the image-making faculty. To do this one must practise a thorough and continual balancing act, neither leaning too far to the right or left nor permitting likes and dislikes to be one's guide. This is a real high-wire act and has nothing to do with one's sex or whether one is married or living the life of a celibate monk. It involves treating every situation as an opportunity to transcend the pairs of opposites, seeing a relationship from the other person's point of view equally well as from one's own, imagining circumstances as though one were in very different people's shoes, seeing both sides of every issue, and attempting at each point to practise a Platonic dialectic in order to continually rise to a higher level of analysis and understanding and raise the level of the issue in the process. Determined practice such as this will cleanse the imagination and render it a powerful channel through which intimations of one's true spiritual ancestry can be transmitted to the conscious mind. Thus can the God within be placed on his proper throne and the individual experience himself or herself as whole and united, each within themselves. It is in this way that Freyr "loosens the fetters of those enchained" and makes available to us the enormous androgynous powers of our own past. In discovering the unfallen Freyr we journey back over an immensity of incarnations and karmic accretions through a transition which separated us from the gods, from one another and from ourselves. But this time we make the journey self-consciously, knowing where we have been and where we are going and knowing that the two are really one and the same.

As Shukra you have stunned my heart,
As Fricco, blurred my mind;
As Frodi you once gained my hand,
As Freya you entwined.

But as Freyr, the beauteous harbinger
Of dawn's own glorious flower,
My soul has seen its pathway home
To its eternal bower.