The Shades of Freyja

I would like to start out by stating that I am sure that the following will be confusing. I welcome any questions, as I’m still trying to work out exactly what I mean.

I have come to a conclusion as of late: I am much less a heathen than I am a devotee of Freyja. I do not deny the existence of other gods, and continue to have (considerably less central) relationships with other heathen deities. But everything is Freyja, and Freyja is everything.

My experience with heathenry lead me to my Lady Freyja. The goddess dancing in the golden sunlight of her own glory, the sexual drive of the cosmos, the tendency of two things to become one in order to become or create a third. The joy celebrating existence. The lover seeking out the ecstasy she once had and has lost. The utter feeling of loss at no longer feeling that ecstasy. The passion of the body, the dancing of the bodies flying through the cosmos, the tango of the aurora borealis. All these things are Freyja, and these are what I worship.

I have always had a tough time with most of the Norse deities. Odin and I had a falling out long ago, and now I honor him really only out of a feeling of duty as a heathen. Frey, despite the fact that I am sure I would love him, has never really come calling. I feel no need to worship the ancestors who feel so distant to me. I dearly love both Sjofn and Holda.

Many have told me that the worship of the heathen gods seems a bit arbitrary for me, and in many ways, it is. I have no need for the Viking manly warrior thing, as I have said many times. And it is difficult to get past that, even in my own better-informed brain. It is often difficult to get information out of the conscious and into the subconscious, and the fact that the heathens were not always war-mongering is a hard one for me. Plus, my ancestors are only third-most Germanic. They are mostly Irish (on my Father’s side) and some undocumented Native American (illegitimate through my mother’s side). So the ancestor argument is out for me.

But back to Freyja. Freyja is the only deity ever to leave me gasping for air in her glory, and she has done so many, many times.

Over the past several years in which I have been a heathen, there have been two times that non-heathen deities have shown up in my life, and in both instances, I was left remarkably confused as to whether I had met Freyja once again or some other deity entirely. I had learned that hard polytheists see every deity as a different deity and soft polytheists see every deity as the same deity. I considered myself a hard polytheist, so how could they be the same? But they felt the same and claimed to be the same, so how could they be different?

The first instance was with Erzulie Freda. She didn’t stay long because I found myself paralyzed by my confusion. Is she Freyja? Is she not? Both of them like flowers and jewelry and love and joy. They feel the same to me. And so I ended up just sticking with Freyja, and Erzulie disappeared into my memories.

The second was with Bast. This one didn’t confuse me as much, as it took place in a vision as I was falling asleep. Freyja came to me dressed in and Egyptian style, showing me the love stories in the Library of Alexandria. I sort of wrote it off as being a sleepy misunderstanding, or one of Freyja’s (many) whims to take on the glamour and beauty of another age and place. I have been pondering under the surface about Freyja’s relationship with Bast for a couple of years now, never really giving it a voice until recently.

But here’s the thing: I guess I’m not really a hard polytheist. Yes, I believe the gods are individuals and not just archetypes. But I think that individual deities are more like regional accents or separate species than they are like individual people. Nor do I think there is a singly divine pantheon misinterpreted in different places as the Romans did. Freyja is not every goddess. She is distinctly not several other heathen goddesses—she is not Skadhi or Hella, for sure. And she is certainly not many goddesses from many other pantheons—she is not Kali or the Morrigan or Hera. She is not even every love goddess—I’m almost certain she is not Aphrodite. But there are other goddesses she is, mostly.

I went to Central New Jersey Pagan Pride the other day and attended a workshop of Isiacism, the modern worship of Isis. He conflated many goddesses with Isis—Demeter being the one I remember most.

People mix and mingle and always have. There are no hard and fast lines around groups of people and who they worship. People borrowed gods and goddesses left and right. Sometimes the same god or goddess probably showed up in more than one place to start out with.

As I said before, the gods are more like an accent or a species than a singular. Philadelphia has an extremely different accent from Alabama, but there is no point in between where suddenly people have a different accent. The sounds morph from town to town, ever so slightly, until suddenly you compare one to another and there is no comparison.

The same is true with species. The definition of a species is a group of animals that can produce fertile offspring. But what of species that can produce non-fertile offspring? Aren’t they sort of half the same species, part of a whole? But even more importantly, I once read about this type of lizard with a large range north to south. Beginning at the southernmost place they live, each lizard can produce fertile offspring from any other lizard within a certain distance. But the southernmost and northernmost lizards cannot produce fertile offspring together. At which point does it become a different species? Where do you mark the difference?

At which point does white become gray?

There are no absolutes. There are no categories, only broad generalizations that break down in the middle. When is the difference between Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens?

The same is true with Goddesses. Freyja is the goddess of magic and sex and flowers and golden sunlight and jewelry and love songs. She like to drink sweet beverages and dance on hilltops in the grass. She is the friend of cats. All these things are true of Bast as well. Erzulie likes feminity and love and flowers as well. Is she not part Freyja? Where do you draw the line? How many shared attributes make a deity the same, how many different?

Strict hard polytheism no longer makes sense to me. There are too many shades and no clear lines between deities. There are no clear lines between anything in the universe, really. A goddess is a living category of existence, but the lines of those categories are blurred, just like with every other category imaginable. Sometimes, something is very definitely outside, and sometimes something is very definitely inside. Often, all that is clear is a blur, a resting on the edges, a liminal space between categories, the shades of deity.

Nevertheless, it is obvious to me now that my worship and my sacred centers around the category of Freyja. The sex organs of everything: from the pollen that, in the autumns, makes me have the “mini facial orgasms” I despise to the man who makes me have the real ones my body craves. The act of the coming together of things to make new things. The beauty of change. The glittering dance of existence. Jewelry and adornment and the making of things sacred. The sunlight of awareness. These things I worship. And I worship them in the Freyja who is sometimes the dancing Bast who protects Egyptians from the spoil of rodents, sometimes the winged Isis who searches for her dead Green husband, sometimes the Diasporic Erzulie who can never attain her hearts desires, sometimes as the Mater Dolorosa that is so often used to depict Erzulie.

Gods are not distinct categories. Nor are they archetypes. They are shades of being like the way the pronunciation words “pen” and “pin” are the same in the American South, but not in Philadelphia. Whether they are or are not the same depends only on the scale with which you are measuring.

Because everything is relative, I can say with no absolutes who is and is not Freyja or in which instances other goddesses are or are not Freyja. I can only hear the calling of my Lady dancing the cosmos.

Lessons from Freyja while Polishing Silver

Once every six months or so, I am required at my job to spend a day polishing silver. I rather like this duty–it’s meditative, and I enjoy spending so much time focusing on the details of jewelry. It affords me an opportunity to spend hours with Freyja.

Yesterday was silver polishing day, and I learned much. The first thing, which is always the major lesson I come away from silver polishing, is just how much tarnish can come off of a piece of silver that appears to be clean. I can polish the same spot for quite some time, leaving black stain after black stain on my piece of cloth, and yet, all the while, the silver appears to be clean.

And then when it really is clean–my gods the Beauty! The sparkly beauty of my lady shining forth from the precious metals! Of course she would have loved jewelry. It sparkles with the passion of the earth who forged the silver and the care of craftsman who poured himself into creating beauty. Jewelry is the meeting of the Beauty of Earth and the glory of her creations and the Beauty of Man and his practice. Jewelry and dance are the honing by people of some perfectly organized bit of the earth to create a dancing, sparkling beauty that is a joy to behold.

That the silver tarnishes so quickly, and so thoroughly reminds me of a lesson I often forget in dance. As I said before, dance and jewelry are really the same craft in some sense. I haven’t been stretching enough lately, and in only a few weeks I have lost quite a bit of my flexibility. In only a short while of not attending classes, I have lost some of my technique, some of that exquisite control of my body that I experience when I am at the top of my game, so to speak. It is easy to forget how much the silver of my muscles and bones can tarnish, and how they can be endlessly polished if I choose to work on them. If I were to stretch every day, exercise every day, attend class as much as I would like, imagine the sparkle of my bones’ jewelry, the dancing of my limbs, the sparkle of the tarnish-free silver! Imagine how I could see myself in its shine!

The same is true of spirituality, of course. But in so much less physical of a way. I haven’t much felt my Lady this summer–I’ve been a bit distracted by Davin’s moving in. I haven’t taken as much time to speak with her. Part of the problem is that I have felt a bit guilty. For so long, I have related to Freyja mainly as Mourning Lover, living a life apart from her Beloved, and seeking him. But now I have Gent living with me, and a part of me feels bad. I am no more a Mourning Lover, yet Freyja is the Eternal Mourning Lover. Eternally far from Odh.

But here was the second lesson of Polishing. I learned, while polishing, that someone I know has recently entered a long-distance relationship with someone in England, who she has known for many years. I was excited by the news, and thinking of that distance, England to America. Which reminded me of the intensity of my longing when Davin was in Rome and I was in America. The endless ocean of distance between us. And then I remembered the poem that got me through it: “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne. He wrote it for his wife when he had to leave for the France and Germany. And I realized something: I was doing Freyja a disservice by making her mythology about me. The gods are huge, and powerful throughout the worlds, not just my own little universe. The world doesn’t revolve around me, of course, but it is so easy to forget and become selfish.

No, Freyja’s lessons as Mourning Lover are not just for while I am also in Mourning. There has always in history been that longing, and there always will be. And don’t the gods live in Mythological time, that time outside of time which has always and will always be Now? And so that reach across the Heavens and the waters was not just for me, or for John Donne. That reach is the reach of Love, the intensity of Passion, the neverendingness of Want, the endless search for Connection, the joy of Reunion. Always and forever will Love have that power. Always and forever will Freyja search, polishing the Earth in Beauty, and seeking her Love.

As virtuous men pass mildly away,

And whisper to their souls to go,

whilst some of their sad friends do say,

“The break goes now!” and some say, “No,”

So let us melt, and make no noise.

No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;

‘Twere profanation of our joys

To tell the laity our love.

Moving of the Earth brings harms and fears,

Men reckon what it did an meant;

But trepidation of the spheres,

Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love

(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit

Absence, because it doth remove

Those things which elemented it.

But we, by a love so much refined

That our selves know not what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,

Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two

So as stiff, twin compasses are two:

Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show

To move, but doth, if th’other do.

And though it in the center sit,

Whilst the other far doth roam,

It leans, and hearkens after it,

and grows erect, as that comes home.

So wilt thou be to me, who must,

Like the other foot, obliquely run.

Thy firmness makes my circle just,

And makes me end where I begun.

-John Donne