Norse Myths: The Story of Frey and Gerth’s Marriage


By Jackson CrawfordUniversity of Colorado, Boulder

In Norse mythology, a more specific family of gods is called the ‘Vanir’—mainly Njorth and his son, Frey, and daughter, Freyja. They live among the Aesir in Asgard. Frey takes a wife from among the anti-gods. This marriage imbalance suggests that, at minimum, the Vanir group is socially subordinate to the higher ‘true’ Aesir group. This is because in Norse society, men are supposed to marry women of equal or lower status, never higher social status.

Illustration of Frey's love sickness
Falling in love made Frey become sick and helpless. (Image: W.G. Collingwood/Public domain)

Love at First Sight 

One day, Frey sat on Odin’s throne and looked out over all the realms. Far away in the homes of the anti-gods, he saw a woman so beautiful that she shone like a light. This is a fairly typical Norse trope: the woman is so attractive that she is said to emit radiant light.

Frey became so lovesick at the sight of this woman that he sulked like a teenager, refusing to talk to anyone and shutting himself up alone. Skathi, concerned about the strange silence of her husband’s son, asked Frey’s own servant, Skirnir, to go ask him why he was so angry.

Finally after much insistence from his old friend, Skirnir, Frey confessed that he saw a woman so beautiful that this one single sight of her had left him feeling helpless—especially since none of the other gods would ever bless his marriage to this lower-status anti-goddess.

Sending After His Love

Skirnir then declared that if Frey would loan him a horse to ride over the flaming walls that bound Jotunheimar, the homes of the anti-gods, and would give him his magical sword that fights by itself without being wielded by hand—then he would go and court the woman on Frey’s behalf.

Frey readily agreed, and thus sealed his fate at Ragnarok—for he will be weaponless when he fights his last battle. In dreams and myths alike, whatever is once lost is never gained back or replaced. And Skirnir rode off.

Now, when Skirnir arrived on the borrowed horse in hostile territory, his first encounter was with an anti-god sheepherder. The sheepherder asked whether Skirnir was crazy, or if he knew he was going to die soon, given who he was and where he had come from.

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Offers That Didn’t Work 

When Skirnir at length met the woman he was there to woo, he opened up the bargaining by offering her eleven apples. This might sound like a comically low reward for pledging to marry someone, but it’s possible that this represents an error that the copyist of the manuscript made.

Illustration of Skirnir threatening Gerth
Not being able to make Gerth accept the offers, Skirnir became dark and started threatening her. (Image: Robert Engels/Public domain)

But the woman, whose name is Gerth, possibly meaning the ‘Fenced-Off One’, refused the apples anyway. So, Skirnir raised his offer. How about the apples, and also the ring Draupnir, Odin’s magical ring that makes eight copies of itself, equally valuable, every ninth night?

The magical ring still wasn’t enough to sway Gerth, who told Skirnir she had all the wealth she could possibly want from her father.

Accepting Proposal Under Pressure

And yet Skirnir only got darker from here: He would kill her father with the sword. Gerth would be imprisoned in a high eagle’s nest looking into Hel, the realm of the dead, for all eternity. She would be forced into the arms of a three-headed monster. She would have nothing but goat’s urine poured out on tree roots to drink for the rest of her life.

Skirnir told Gerth that he had acquired a magical wand, ready to put all these curses on her and worse.

Now, under the weight of so many threats, she gave in. She changed her response, and said that she would marry Frey after all. But even in victory, Skirnir was relentless. Where and when could he tell his lord Frey that Gerth will meet him? She said in nine days, at a particular grove that they both knew.

Marriage Nights

Sketch of Frey sitting  on a chair and looking forlorn
Even though Gerth agrees to marry Frey, he was still restless because of the condition she had put up. (Image: Frederic Lawrence/Public domain)

Skirnir returned to Asgard with the news—but even this news tortured Frey. And Frey ended the poem much as he began it, sounding like a petulant teenager, as he cried:

One night would be long enough,

two would be worse—

How can I contain my lust for three?

A month has often

seemed shorter to me

than half such a marriage-night.

Why does Frey hear the news that he has to wait for nine nights, and then complain so screechily that he can’t stand to wait for three? Perhaps because he was already expecting to wait three.

The Norse apparently observed a ‘marriage night’ of three nights minimum between the engagement and the wedding night. So Frey was already expecting to wait three nights, which is one ‘marriage-night’. What he complains about, then, is having to wait for three ‘marriage-nights’, that is, nine nights.

But in the end, Gerth and Frey had their rendezvous, and the two are usually mentioned together as husband and wife in other myths. And Frey is often described as unarmed, having given up his sword for the service of his assistant in getting him married to this anti-goddess, now counted among the goddesses by virtue of her marriage to Frey.

Common Questions about the Story of Frey and Gerth’s Marriage

Q: How did Frey fall in love?

While sitting on Odin‘s throne, Frey was looking at all the realms. That’s when he saw a very attractive and beautiful woman, shining like a light. The beauty of the woman made him fall in love with her.

Q: Who was Skirnir?

Skirnir was Frey‘s old friend and assistant. Promising to bring Frey’s loved woman to him so he could marry her, Skirnir rode over the flaming walls of the homes of the anti-gods, using Frey’s magical sword that could fight without being wielded by hand.

Q: How did Gerth accept to marry Frey?

Gerth got scared when Skirnir made fearful threats. Thus she agreed to marry Frey after nine days.

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