Swamp Queen?

Frigg is the name of Odin’s wife in Germanic/Norse mythology. Odin is head-honcho of the Aesir (Norse gods) — the one-eyed god of war, wisdom and poetry. Frigg is renowned for her beauty and gorgeous hair, the gift of intuitive wisdom and prophecy, and fertility. Indeed, many modern feminine religious deities and gurus are compassionate, listening archetypes of the fertility goddess (think Mary or Guan Yin).

What piqued my intrigue here is the theory that Frigg’s hall in Asgard is called Fensalir, which can translate to “marsh hall”. Why would Frigg, a goddess of beauty and fertility live in a marsh hall?

Environmentally, wetlands are delicate and important facets of the ecosystem. They have high biodiversity and are breeding grounds for a variety of insects, mammals and amphibians. Wetlands are very fertile regions with much composting and natural recycling. I’m not a scientist so I can’t tell you much about that… but metaphorically it is pretty interesting, that these are regions with much natural potency.

According to history, folklore and archaeological evidence, in various European traditions bogs were places of sacrifice. The goal of the sacrificial rites were not always the same, sometimes they had to do with harvests and weather. Regardless, bogs were always seen as locales containing strong spiritual presences. Often they were considered to house evil spirits, an impression depicted often in modern fantasy entertainment (think of Willow, Lord of the Rings, Neverending Story, Berserk, The Princess Bride, the Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior video games and so on).

There have been archaeological discoveries of humans and animals ritually killed and cast into marshes and bogs in Scandinavia, as well as huge bonfire encampments on the edge of lakes. Apparently one goal of bog sacrifices was to appease wrathful spirits, or to keep evil spirits located in the bog.

It is interesting to consider the place of marshes and wetlands in European and American folklore. The ominous atmosphere of the bayou as the location of the horrible demonic rites in H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of the Cthulu, or the tales of will o’ wisps, those mischievous spectral lights which appeared over water at night and lured people to their deaths (remember the mischievous, elusive quality of the wood-elves’ forest celebrations in The Hobbit?). Those will o’ wisps sound a bit like the Norwegian/Swedish legend of the fossegrimen — a male water-demon whose fiddle playing drowned any who followed its sound.

Although scientists try to rebuke and explain the supernatural claims of the will o’ wisps, as per usual I think there’s still some spiritual sincerity to the phenomena. The old pagan recognition of wetlands as potent places of sacrifice and spiritual presence is pretty interesting considering wetlands are now valued as repositories of natural resources. I suppose if life itself exists much in the way fungus coagulates in a petri dish, shouldn’t the marsh — a region so replete and brimming with natural presence, be a potential address for a fertility goddess?

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