5/11/2008

Goddess of the week - Gefjon

Name: Gefjon
Location: Primarily the island of Zealand (Sjælland), Denmark
Sphere of influence: Fertility
Famous statues/portraits: None

She has sometimes been identified with the goddess Freyja, though we do not know; but she is a fertility goddess too.

She is one of the Asynjur in Norse mythology and her name comes from the Old Norse geð fiá, which means chaste. The problem is that what is known about Gefjon comes from a few different stories, and they do not really match. In the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson she is stated to be a virgin who receives virgins after their death. But in the Older Edda she is accused by Loki of having 'laid her legs around a man', that is had a sexual relationship with him. Odin tells him to keep quite because Gefjon is powerful and not to be angered.

Modern scholars are now more prone to see her as a fertility goddess, connected with ritual plowing in the spring. The most famous legend about Gefjon comes from this, and also tells why Zealand was connected to the goddess so strongly. The story is preserved in the Yngliga saga and the Gylfaginning. In short the story is that an unknown woman came to king Gylfi that resided in what is now a part of Sweden. She proved to know magic and to thank her for this the king granted her as much land as she could plow in a single day and night. The woman was of course Gefjon and she took four oxes and set out to work. The oxes were the four sons she had by a giant. The earth she plowed up became the island of Zealand.

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