Let’s Talk Mythology #5: Frey Forces Gerd into Marriage

Hello, everyone! I got rid of the slider feature on my home page after I learned, through the interwebs, that no one really clicks on it. Well, thought it was cool and I clicked on it a bunch of times. But alas, for you, dear readers, I have made the change. I hope you enjoy the grid format more than you enjoyed that misleadingly playful-looking slider feature.

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Today in our mythology corner, we’re going to discuss the theme of unlikely marriages in Norse Mythology. Perhaps you have heard of the mismatched marriage between Skade, the Ski-goddess and Njord, the god of winds. The Aesir made a condition that Skade could pick any husband she wanted, but only by looking at their legs. Skade picked the most shapely legs, thinking that they belonged to Balder, but they actually belonged to Njord. Neither the bride nor the groom were happy in the relationship, since Skade loved the mountains and Njord loved the sea, but they were stuck with each other forever. There’s no divorce court in Asgard.

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This brings us to the story of Frey and Gerd, an unlikely pair that ended up with a fairy tale romance. Like Skade, Gerd was a Jotun, but while Skade was unhappy in her marriage with a god, Gerd lived happily ever after. The reason is simple. Frey knew that the secrets to his lady love’s heart were threats and violence.

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Frey knew very well that no one but Odin and Frigg should sit on …the High Seat…but one day, when he saw it standing empty, he mounted it and took a quick look…He saw a beautiful maiden walk across the courtyard of the Jotun Gymir. She was the most beautiful maiden Frey had ever seen and he fell violently in love…he knew that maiden he loved was Gymir’s daughter Gerd and that he had no hope of winning her, for her heart was as cold as a seed in frozen ground.

What we have here is a classic case of unrequited love. However, unlike other unrequited love stories, there is absolutely no chance of Gerd falling in love with Frey in a “normal” manner. Her heart is a frozen husk. Despite Frey being an immortal human with plenty of life experience, he decides to ignore her physical inability to love him and sits on his throne day and night, pouting and neglecting the welfare of his poor humans in Midgard.

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I love how nonchalant Norse gods are about their responsibilities. They created the human race out of two trees and are responsible for giving them everything from wind to thunder to the harvests, and protecting them from giants, but let a little bug like love get in their way and they’ll drop everything and let their humans die because they’re “going through a rough time.” Norse gods are the equivalent of fifteen-year-old babysitters.

While Frey was pining, the other gods grew worried and sent Skirnir, his loyal servant, to find out what was wrong. Frey tells him that he is hopelessly in love with Gerd’s beauty but that he can’t woo her himself because custom forbids it and no one will go for him because Jotunheim is cold and scary.  Skirnir decides that the best course of action is to indulge his master’s delusions.

So Skirnir set off on the dangerous journey. Witches and many-headed trolls tried to stop him as he rode through dark and haunted valleys. Swinging Frey’s sword, he made his way to Gymir’s realm in Jotunheim. He came to the door of Gerd’s chamber.

“I have come for my master Frey, the giver of sunshine and life-giving rain. He asks you to give him your love. If you will promise to be his bride, I will give you eleven golden apples.”

“Keep your apples,” said Gerd. “I would rather grow old and unwed than promise my love to Frey.”

Gerd rejects Frey outright. She doesn’t need his golden apples, nor does she want his love.  I think it’s funny that  1) she isn’t surprised that a random god asked her to marry him and 2) eleven golden apples is a standard bride price. She is so adamant in her refusal that she might as well have slapped Skirnir in the face. Most messengers would take these words as the truth and respect a woman’s wishes, but does Skirnir do that?

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Because he’s a jackass.

And so the wooing intensifies.

“I will give you this magic ring of gold if you will give your hand to Frey,” Skirnir pleaded.

“In my father’s house, there is gold enough,” said Gerd, tossing her proud head. “No one can buy my love with gold.”

“Then I will cut off your proud head with one stroke of Frey’s gleaming sword,” cried Skirnir.

“Never will fear drive me to love,” was Gerd’s haughty answer.

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I don’t get the author’s hostile tone towards Gerd. Tossing her proud head? Haughty answer? Skirnir just threatened to kill her if she didn’t marry his master and she handled that like a boss. In my view, Gerd isn’t haughty or proud, she’s simply a beautiful woman who doesn’t want to marry every random guy who comes to her door. She won’t be bought or threatened. Aren’t those considered to be noble qualities? But in mythology, just like fairy tales, a woman’s refusal to marry a “worthy man” is automatically taken as evidence of her bitchiness, instead of evidence of her self-confidence. Plus, she knew that Skirnir wouldn’t kill her. Frey wouldn’t take it kindly if Skirnir returned with Gerd’s head in a bag. But even so, it’s extremely disrespectful for Skirnir to come to Gerd’s house and threaten violence because she refused his lord’s hand in marriage. If this story was told from Gerd’s perspective, we might see that, but since Frey and Skirnir are the “heroes,” instead we see Skirnir using his cleverness (a.k.a forcing Gerd into an unwanted marriage). Skirnir does not understand the concept of personal choice.

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I feel betrayed!

Knowing that neither fear nor gold will persuade Gerd to marry Frey, Skirnir preys on her fear of loneliness. He draws a magic rune and tells Gerd that if she refuses to marry Frey, no one but a “three-headed troll with icicles dangling from his beard shall ever ask for her hand” and that she’ll turn into “a gray, old hag.”

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First Skirnir threatens Gerd with death, then he threatens her with forever alone? This guy is honestly a class A asshole. He’s not asking her to marry Frey anymore, he’s forcing her to marry him for the sake of her identity, which is not his to take! The worst thing is that the author’s tone implies that Skirnir’s methods are righteous, that threatening and abusing a woman into marriage is okay if the guy really “loves” her. Does Frey know Gerd? No! Has he ever spoken a word to her? No! He thinks that because he finds her beautiful, he has the right to force her into marriage. Well, to that I say NAY, Frey! You deserve nothing and no one.

Gerd agrees to marry Frey if Skirnir undoes his curse. She says that she will meet Frey in nine days in the barley field. Frey is overjoyed at Skirnir’s news. I assume that he knows nothing of the brutal methods that Skirnir used in the “wooing” process. But even if he did, Good Guy Frey would marry the girl anyway, because she’s beautiful and he deserves her!

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Gerd kept her word and came to the sacred barley patch. When Frey took her in his arms her cold heart melted. She turned into a warm and loving wife and with that every frozen seed on earth burst its shell and came to life.

Oh, god. There are so many problems with this ending. We’re supposed to rejoice in the fact that Frey is marrying a woman against her will and ignore the fact that he acquired this bride through threats. We’re supposed to rejoice that Gerd’s “cold heart” melted because it’s a sign that love conquers all. But her “cold heart” is nothing more than an excuse to sanction Frey’s unwanted advances. Her only crime was that she refused his hand in marriage and for that she should be stripped of her identity and made into a “loving wife.”

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