Frey and Freyja: Old Europe’s Lord and Lady
Frey and Freyja: Old Europe’s Lord and Lady – Heathenry’s Flag, Folk and Family, Flax, Fodder and Frith by: Valarie Wright, 2007; revised 2009, 2016
The idea of Mother Earth and Father Sky is without beginning, and will no doubt be without end. The Old Ways and Wiccecræft have long preserved the folk memory of this most primal Lord and Lady. To begin this essay on the Lord and Lady, let’s first look at some of the words and phrases I will be using. The practice of Heathenry is very much like the World Tree, which grows strong at the center of all we do. What this means is that, as Heathens, we want to follow the root of our folkway back to its beginning, while branching out in new and wonderful directions. So to begin, let’s look at how Heathenry defines a few ideas.
The term Old Ways is Old English, and its very essence is so primal and fundamental to be found in several languages throughout Old Europe. In Old High German its alt recht, meaning ‘old order, original law’; in Old Norse its forn sidr, meaning ‘old ways, ancient custom, original law’; and in Old English its alt weg, meaning ‘original law, nourishing tradition, old way’. These examples show how the tribes of Old Europe understood this concept.
Today we don’t equivocate way with law, but the ancient Heathens did, and what they meant by that was both a fundamental principle of the multiverse, and a general guideline for individual life. So we know from historical texts that the Old Ways were understood to be the underlying singular concept at the center of all the worlds and all the Gods – or a prevailing and singular spirit. This is a fairly obscure idea, even today, and one which is commonly described as the Absolute Reality, whereas the ancient Heathens simply described it as the Lord and Lady.
The second word to examine is Wiccecræft – which was an expression of the Old Ways, for it was the means by which the ancient traditions, the primal customs, were manifested. Wicce is also an Old English word, meaning ‘to bend, to shape’. The word is not Gaelic and is not related to Old English witan, ‘to know’, or Middle English wis-, as seen in wise and wisdom (1). So based on linguistics, we in Heathenry understand wicce – or wicca, as its pronounced today – not as the ‘knowing craft’ or ‘craft of the wise’, but the ‘bending craft’, the ‘shaping craft’.
Finally, and older still, the word wicce is found in Indo-European weg-, meaning ‘to be strong, luckful; to be awake / aware, watchful’ (2). So based on language and usage in ancient texts it’s safe to say the Old Ways were: The ancient folk memory and traditional laws that underlie all of creation, and; Wicce is: the ‘power to bend’ and the ‘skill to bend’ these primal laws of nature. For myself, I find the power and skill to bend and shape far more descriptive of what I do Seiðrwise; and based on language, I am fascinated by the fact that this is exactly how our ancestors chose to describe the energy, effect and experience of such practices.
All the literary and historical sources for European Paganism – or Heathenry, which is the older, perhaps original term – make it very clear that there was no differentiation between magic and the worship of deities. In fact, when Paganism and Christianity resided side-by-side, it was common for the folk to attend church on Sunday, than employ a magical remedy for matters apparently too trivial for the concerns of an Almighty God. So they cast spells, sang songs or created amulets to heal illness in both human and animals alike, to trace stolen or lost property, to increase the yield of a particular plot of land, to gain a compatible marital partner, or to ward off malice. (3)
So who are then the Lord and Lady if not deities? Again, in an attempt to understand them we will look at the words the ancient Heathens used. Lord, for example, is Old English hlāfweard and means ‘loaf-ward’; and Lady (also OE) is hlāfdīge or ‘loaf-kneader’. The names Frey and Freyja are the oldest known Northern European names for the Lord and Lady, the roots of which are found deeply threaded to the Old Ways. For example, the names Frey and Freyja are found in both Old Norse fyøsa and Old High German hefe, words commonly understood today as foam, froth, and yeast. Equally as they are ingredients and results of fermentation, especially in loaf or bread making. Today, we don’t normally equivocate the Lord and Lady to fermentation, yet Pagan practices always include ‘cakes and ale’, or food and drink. Other examples of fermented foods include bread and cheese, wine and beer, mead and cider, coffee and tea, pickles and sauerkraut, miso, kimchi and kombucha, soy and Tempeh, yogurt and kefir. What makes each of these foods remarkable is that – aside from being kitchen staples – our ancestors discovered the ability to transform food through fermentation and so extend its usefulness. They also noticed how fermentation was related to healing; as such, Frey and Freyja are both the primal law of frothing life – of a cauldron brimming over – and the assurance of individual health.
As Pagans and possibly Seið-users, I dare say we all understand how transformation lies at the very heart of magic. Notably, according to modern science, fermentation is how life began on this planet, and it’s a process that occurs naturally in the wild the world over, so reasonably, the ancient Heathens viewed it as a primal and original law, a life giving law, one that not only preceded human history but enriched everyday living. It is interesting to note that the earliest evidence of controlled fermentation, in wine making, dates from eight thousand years ago in Georgia, in the Caucasus area, the same area where Frey and Freyja are said to hail from. (4) So based on language it’s easy to see how the Lord and Lady – Frey and Freyja – have been with us since the beginning of time. Then, from recorded history, in both Gylfaginning and Völuspá, two ancient Heathen texts that describe the origin of creation, the very beginning of life isexplained as yeast, froth, and foam rushing froth from Elivagar, a ‘storming, frothy sea’, into theCauldron of Creation, Ginnunga-gap. From here, Fire and Ice emerge, the first pair, the first twins,primal opposites of hot and cold, night and day, moon and sun, brother and sister, Njord andNerthus, Frey and Freyja. These pairs represent the generative lifeforce, the primal beginningfrom which all life emerges (5). Frey and Freyja are the Divine Couple, our Primal Parents, andthe result of their union is the frothing and foaming sea of creation that ever renews its self and us.So they are not so much deities as they are the animating and life-giving principle that resideswithin all things, our selves included, and it is our divine birthright to call upon them and so utilizethat creative potential.Frey and Freyja are twins, birthed by parents who are also twins, emphasizing their divine natureand connection back to the beginning of all life. They are associated with horses and the sea, havean astral or star nature, are healers, bringers of fertility, warriors and providers of aid in battle,associated with birds and sacred dance, love humans as their children, assist in childbirth, and arethe founders of cities and societies. Presiding over all worlds is Frey and Freyja – the original Godand Goddess of those who follow the Old Ways. As twins, lovers, brother and sister, husband andwife, their conjoining manifests in the world around us as increased vitality and abundance. Thetwo threads of their primal nature intertwine and support each other while maintaining a separateand independent existence in all the worlds. Their divine pairing is a cosmic dance of above andbelow, sea and land, dawn and dusk.
So how did the Wiccefolk of lore preserve the Old Ways? How did they bend and shape the energetic threads of the world around them to conform to their will? According to the Anglo-Saxon law codes a Wicce was someone who: -Sang magical songs (Galdr), -Spoke with unseen beings (Utiseti), -Was skilled in herbs and healing (Wortcunning and Forn Þreifa), -Was a both a midwife and veterinarian (Midwif and Animal Doctoring), -Was able to write and read ancient texts (a task found in the upper class), and -Was weihs and hālig, meaning “sacred; holy, whole”, and so called upon to recall and recite the ancient laws, and perform the sacred rites of the Old Ways. By this account then, wicce is a magancraft – a ‘luckful and powerful skill’ – one whose followers are loyal to their ancestors, the Gods and Goddesses, and above all, the Lord and Lady.
But how did the Wiccefolk preserve the Old Ways so that future generations could remember and return to the beloved Lord and Lady of creation? Through what clever art and craft did they leave us the knowledge and tools to remember them by? The ancient Heathens knew these tools as the Six Fehu’s: Flag, Folk and Family, Flax, Fodder and Frith.
-Flag is short for ‘flagstone’. The oldest form of this word is from Indo-European (f)plak-, meaning ‘flat piece, stone layer, flat sea’. Not used today, a flag was the flat stone used as the frontal portion of a fireplace. Later still in Middle English, the word became hearth, as in hearthstone, or the floor of a fireplace that extended into a room. This same word is rooted in heathen, for Heathen means, ‘folk of the hearth; folk of the heath’. Yet another meaning of flag is ‘cut piece of sod’, which was a portion of earth that was removed to build an outdoor fire, or to swear an oath under. The ancient Heathens routinely swore oaths standing beneath a flag.
In Wicce there is nothing more important than the flag, for this is where folk and family gather – to warm themselves, to tell stories or relate the events of their day, to learn of the Old Ways, to cook and eat hearty and healthy food. Flag is the heart-space of every home, the ‘domestic sun’ of vibrancy and vitality. In Heathenry this is the Lady, the inner sun of every family, for in Heathenry, the sun is female – the primal warmth of transformation and purification. Today, flagis remembered and used as a stone that is carried in a pouch or about the neck.
-Folk means ‘people or tribe’, specifically, the Old European tribes. From Indo-European pelemeaning, ‘plenty, accomplish, full’, and is even related to the Hindu word poori, which is a flat bread made at the hearth. Folk are the originators and carriers of custom and law, tradition and belief, from the household to the ruling court. We see these words today in: folk lore, folk wisdom, folk music, folk tale, folk life and folk art – all things that Heathens draw upon to further their Folkway. Today, the folk are remembered by an ancestral object, an item that belonged to a lost loved one. In Heathenry the ancestors ever watch over us and they are remembered through such tokens.
-Family is an Anglo-Saxon word and means, ‘related by blood’. Likewise, the maxim ‘blood is thicker than water’ is Anglo-Saxon, and means ‘it is better to seek kindness from a kinsman than from a stranger’; or, where water soon evaporates and leaves no mark, not so blood. Within Heathenry family is the smallest unit of measurement, for ‘no man is an island’. Today family is remembered through blood. Runes for example are reddened with blood, and many items are made blessed with blood.
-Flax too has Indo-European roots – (f)plek- means ‘flax, pliant, braid, weave, entwine’. Native to Old Europe, flax is a slender plant with beautiful blue flowers and has been used for countless generations as a fiber and food seed (yielding linseed oil). It was the primary cloth among the ancient Heathen tribes, used in the making of linen. In my book, Völuspá: Seiðr as Wyrd Consciousness, I describe the primal grandmother, Bestla, who is the ‘woody fiber’, the “foodconducting fiber..used in the weaving of rope, baskets, and hair” and fetters (7). Flax is a tool of prosperity, lineage and the summer solstice. It is health, beauty, spiritual viability and the comprehension of morality. Finally, flax is the bringing together of a man and woman – the binding thread of a handfasting – for where Frey is the spear, Freyja the spindle, where Frey is the leek, Freyja is the linen. Today, flax is kept as a knotted cord. The keeper of the cord determines the number of knots and their significance. Such knotted cords were used to calm or call storms at sea. As an aside, Linen . Leek . Fehu is a powerful runic combination found carved on wands, etched on metal amulets, on household items and the like. Specifically: Lina . Laukar . Fehu (8)
-Fodder has an Indo-European root and means ‘to protect, feed, protector’. It is also seen in the Anglo-Saxon word foster which was a common practice among the Old European tribes. To foster someone meant to feed and clothe them (in flax / linen), to teach them, to protect them, to care for them as your own. Being or becoming a foster in Heathenry – as of old, so today – means to be trothed to someone, something that, historically, was considered just as reliable as family, or ‘related by blood’. Today, fodder is represented in grain or seeds tied in a linen bag.
-Frith means ‘free from conflict’ and is from the Indo-European root pri-, meaning ‘free, not in bondage’; in Old English fraien means ‘free from disturbance’; and Old High German fridu means ‘safety, compound’. Other definitions of frith include: Free from being subjected to others, not restrained; Free to determine one’s own actions, at liberty; Not confined or imprisoned; Clear ofoffense or crime, without guilt.
The closest ideas we have to this word are: familiar, sincere, faithful, certain and honorable, and a word commonly heard in Heathenry today: troth. Most scholars today believe the staff or wand to be a symbol of frith. In Heathenry the word Völva means ‘staff bearer’, and certainly we have all seen pictures of witches on broomsticks. The staff is a medium of freedom – free from the constraints of establish society, not subjected to another via the might provided by the Lord and Lady, free to determine one’s own actions, to bend and shape will to one’s own measure.
Aside from the physical objects, these six are so important that most of us are familiar with them even today: Faith, Folk and Family; Flags, Flax and Fodder; Flax, Fodder and Frig. (Frig is a Germanic goddess); Flags, Flax, Fodder and Fig, which is often rendered as ‘shelter, clothes, food and love’. However, fig here is incorrect. Fig is Vulgar Latin for a ‘well-fucked cunt’. William Shakespeare introduced this word into the English language by way of its original intent: as an insult. The reference is to how a ripe fig, split open, appears as an over-used vagina. Fig is also the name of an insulting Roman gesture (again from Latin) where the thumb is placed between either one or two fingers, meaning something akin to the ‘bird’ seen on American highways. In any event, fig appears to be a Christian insertion meant to insult the goddess Frig.
As objects, these items are generally found in the graves of individuals, mostly women, that archaeologist label as ‘witches’, ‘wise women’ or ‘shamans’. The traditional tools are: Flag is a stone; Folk is an ancestral object; Family is blood or blooded items; Flax is a knotted cord; Fodder is a bag of seeds, mostly hemp or nightshade; Frith is a staff or wand/gand. Finally, these six create a powerful Bindrune (9). In fact, the very Bindrune of Heathenry’s Lord and Lady – Frey and Freyja. For in these Six Fehu runes are captured the very essence of Heathenry, the Old Ways and Wicce, strongly demonstrating where magic – or the bending and shaping of our will – is to take place.
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1-A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans, by Jeffrey B. Russell; page 12. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts, by Anne Llewellyn Barstow; throughout.
2-Indo-European linguistics, influence and spread of the Lord and Lady: In Search of the Indo- Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth, by J.P. Mallory; and Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, by Colin Renfrew.
3-The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, by Ronald Hutton; chapter eight.
4-Some reliable primary resources on the Lord and Lady as Frey and Freyja include works by: Jacob Grimm, Vilhelm Grönbech, Jan de Vries and Georges Dumezil. And regarding fermentation, reference: Genetic characterization and relationships of traditional grape cultivars from Transcaucasia and Anatolia; paper, 2007.
6-The name Freyja is purely Scandinavian, and not found outside of that region. Unlike the name Frigg / Frigga, who is found repeatedly among the Germanic tribes. From Proto-Germanic *frijjō, and Proto Indo-European fryā / priyā meaning “one’s self; divine power; dear, beloved” (‘mountain’?).
7-Bestla; page 31, Völuspá: Seiðr as Wyrd Consciousness, by Yngona Desmond.
8-Linen, page 30-32, Völuspá: Seiðr as Wyrd Consciousness, by Yngona Desmond.
9-Bindrune. The Icelandic Black Books or Galdrabóks offer many examples of bind runes to ‘bend, shape’ the will. Inserted above is a Seiðr Original Art piece by the author; the Six Fehu’s are detailed, in Runic Script, at the center.