Odin’s wife, Njord’s sister

Part two of my micro-series on personal favorite theories regarding the gods of Asgard, gleaned from reading between the lines and from personal experience, has to do with something that became clear to me not long after I started looking to Njord for wisdom and guidance, as well as Odin.

In studying Heathen lore, it was always something fun for me to read between the lines and come up with some of my own ideas about things. There are four major ideas of mine that I would like to share here, giving each idea its own post. They are:

Simply stated, I believe Frigg is Njord’s sister / former wife; and that is what this post will concern itself with.

When I first started exploring Heathenry, it was Odin I was drawn to most strongly – and his influence is something that I can still see very plainly as I look back on events in my life. However, with some degree of confusion, after a few years of trying to get a closer understanding of Odin, I felt more and more like I was being led to Njord, at least for a while. At the time, I honestly felt rejected and almost insulted by this (ah, youth!), to go from spear-wielding Odin to passive, humble, pretty-footed Njord. I still had a lot to learn then, as I’m sure I still do – but one of the first things I started looking at was the relationship between Njord and Odin. It struck me as odd, that a god portrayed as almost backwards to the ‘Vikingly Way’ in the lore would be an honored guest in Asgard, a priest of sacrifices in Asgard, celebrated father of Freyr and Freyja, unbelievably wealthy, and enjoy a two-to-one ratio of placenames in Norway as compared to Odin … it just didn’t make sense. It turns out, there is quite a lot to be honored and celebrated regarding Njord – his silent, humble way belies tremendous strength and nobility of character, as well as wisdom and foresight. In the war between the Aesir and Vanir, after all, it was the Vanir (led by Njord) who were winning when Odin and the Aesir offered peace. There is an interesting quote from Viktor Rydberg that states the point quite succinctly: Njörðr klauf Herjans hurðir – “Njord broke Odin’s doors open.” Learning to understand Njord better eventually led me to concern myself with his family. The notion of an incestuous relationship with his sister was something I felt the need to clarify for myself. The lore’s explanation, that this was simply a ‘custom’ of the Vanir that the Aesir wouldn’t tolerate, was not a satisfactory one for me. Along with trying to learn more about Njord’s children, I set for myself the task of trying to learn more about Njord’s unnamed wife.

Something that helped me to clarify my thoughts concerning Njord and his sister-wife during this time, was this article from William P. Reeves, titled, “Nerthus: Toward an Identification,” that deals a lot with the topic from the lore and sources from a perspective that also leans toward the work of Viktor Rydberg, whom I happen to respect. In this article, Reeves takes a careful approach to establishing a likelihood that Frigg is none other than Nerthus; whom many believe is Njord’s sister-wife. I won’t restate Reeves’ article here, preferring instead that interested readers give the original article a read so as to form an independent opinion; but I will bring up a few points that I consider to be interesting, along with my own thoughts.

For starters, there is the tendency to pair deities in the lore – a tendency that seems to culminate in Freyr and Freyja. It is in part for this reason that I have no problems seeing Nerthus as a twin to Njord, rather than a hermaphroditic being from which Njord somehow or another arises, as some have suggested. The natures of these deities serve as believable compliments to one another. In Njord, we have a god who is the life-giving and life-enriching coastal waters; while in Nerthus, we have not just ‘Earth,’ but specifically the life-giving and life-enriching aspect of Earth typically embodied in Mother Earth symbolism. Both Njord and Nerthus are associated with peace – where the wain carrying Nerthus goes, we learn from Tacitus, weapons are put down and peace takes place. Despite the victory of the Vanir over the Aesir, we have Njord offering the greater share of concessions in negotiating peace with the Aesir, as well as a contrast between his idyllic coastal aspect and the more violent aspects of the deep sea, embodied in Aegir. There are also the traits / tendencies of Frigg that seem to point toward a link between her and the Vanir. First, other than Njord, she seems to be the only being capable of outwitting / defeating Odin’s tactics. We see this in the case of the origins of the Lombard tribe, as well as a relationship that comes across through most of the lore as being one where Frigg doesn’t play second-fiddle to Odin’s intellect. In Grimnismal, we see two things of interest: one is again Frigg’s deft maneuvering in a contest with Odin; as well as the fact that they both sit on Hlidskjalf together. If anything, where it seems Odin is constantly seeking wisdom and knowledge, from any source imaginable, it seems Frigg just knows. This is because Frigg possesses the gift of foresight, another trait that seems common to the Vanir. Although her fertility associations are not stressed, Frigg is regarded as mother to the gods, and her hall, Fensalir (Fen Halls) would seem to demonstrate another link to the wilderness where land and water overlap in the form of marshy fens. Also within Fensalir is the possible location for Sokkvabekk (sunken bank), linking Frigg to Saga (the Seeress) as well as to the water-land association we can see with Njord and Nerthus. It would surprise me greatly, assuming a geography of the gods, if Fensalir were not within close hailing range to Njord’s abode at Noatun. Finally there is Frigg’s name in Langobardic, Frea, as well as Frija in Old High German, and its obvious relationship to Freyja, that I consider telling. While independently, I can see where some scholars assume these other names for Frigg representing an elder aspect of Freyja; with everything else considered, I see the relationship being more one of mother to daughter, rather than mother becoming daughter.

The real sticking point seems to be when it comes to the matter of incest. The lore seems to frown on this point, and I suspect it is for this reason that Njord’s sister-wife is given no mention in the lore, despite her having become the wife of Odin. While it is true that during the time of Tacitus, gods were personified throughout Europe, there is good reason to believe that this was not the entirety of how the gods were viewed – gods were sometimes also understood to manifest in geological, meteorological or even intense emotional processes. Looked at this way, there is a very easy-to-see relationship between land and coastal waters. While land and water do not necessarily seem akin to one another, Njord and Nerthus were not ‘just’ land and water, respectively; but rather the life-giving and life-enriching aspects of fertile lands and waters – thus very much akin, despite physical differences. My thought is that this obvious relationship became complicated as a result of anthropomorphising the gods in cultures that became increasingly influenced by Roman perspectives and ideas. Combining this with the nature of rises in influences and popularity from region to region in ancient Heathen cultures, we arrive at stories of brothers and sisters engaging in taboo romantic behaviors that they may never have actually engaged in.

If we eliminate the incest, and instead focus on a natural and functional relationship between Njord and Nerthus as representatives of Natural processes – also taking into consideration a benefit for Odin to claim Njord’s wife as his own in the aftermath of a war among gods associated with wilderness, Nature and fertility, against gods who were more chiefly associated with a more political and technological aspect of humanity – it’s not only easier to understand Frigg as Njord’s sister; but also why this relationship was not emphasised in the lore. Odin, epitome of chieftain- and eventually kingship among the Norse, married the land in the form of Frigg. This is why, for me, Odin’s wife is Njord’s sister.

 

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