Freyja and Freyr: Successors of the Sun – On the absence of the sun in Nordic saga literature
By Lan Wang
MA Thesis, University of Oslo, 2017
Abstract: Comparing the sagas and those two Eddas, there is a significant difference that the Sun is only regarded as a physical object in sagas, while many narrations of the goddess Sól exist in both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, though far less frequent than that of those main gods, such as Freyja, Freyr, Odin and so on. Here comes the question of why the Sun is missing in Nordic saga literature, considering its vital role in the religious life in the Bronze Age North.
By investigating the sun worship in the Bronze Age, as well as those historical and legendary works, such as Germania, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, and Ynglings Saga, and so on, I conclude that there is a strong connection among the Sun, Nerthus-Njǫrðr, and Freyja-Freyr.
Nerthus travels on her wagon and brings peace and good seasons to people, while Njǫrðr, the male counterpart of Nerthus, was worshipped as the protector of maritime. Both of these two features could have been derived from the course of the Sun through the sky during the day on the sun-chariot, and through the underworld at night, maybe on a ship, which can also be interpreted as a metaphor of the regeneration of plants and crops, and even connected with the journey from This World to the Other World.
As for Freyja and Freyr, who are probably derived from Nerthus-Njǫrðr, they share more similarities with the Sun, which may allow them to be identified as Nordic solar gods. For example, Freyja’s wagon is pulled by cats, which are worshiped by ancient Egyptians as the representation of the Sun. At the same time, her wagon associated her with both the Sun and Nerthus. Compared with Freyja, Freyr’s role as a solar god is more obvious, as he is the ruler of rains and shining of the Sun. The similarities of functions between the Sun, and Freyja-Freyr, might indicate that the fertile functions represented by the Sun in the Bronze Age was first inherited by Nerthus in the Iron Age, and then by Freyja and Freyr in theViking and Middle Ages, even though the Sun itself was no longer the key symbol of fertility in Viking and Medieval North.
Top Image: The sun – Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514)