Brisingamen - Freyja's Necklace
Freyja's most famous and referred to affectation is her necklace. It's exact design and meaning have been debated for generations. Unfortunately for us, a great number of modern yarns have been written in English from the 19th century to today imposing alien morals and tastes. The worst issue of them them all is the 19th Century romantic movement to rewrite Freyja into a proper English maiden. Padraic Colum, for instance, rewrites her into a brainless victim of gang-rape for whom the necklace was a shiny trinket to eternally remind her of innocence lost.
In any case, the Brising necklace is so simple an object that it is often assumed to be both more and less than it really is. On the one hand, it is Her most perfect symbol. On the other hand it is so vaguely described that one may easily question it's importance.
What Is Her Necklace? What Does It Look Like?
Snorri Sturlusson describes it as made of gold bearing one or more jewels. It is unknown exactly how and why the jewel is exempt from so many modern depictions. Even in the most famous tale about her gaining the Necklace - Sörla Þáttur - the text describes it as a golden collar with a prominent jewel.
...the dwarfs a-smithying a golden collar.
...give her back her jewel.
from The Saga of Hogni and Hedinn,
trans. by Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris
There is no further description of the necklace and no specifics on the jewel or jewels. Some modern Heathens like to think the jewel was amber, since it is also said that Freyja rains golden tears that become gold when striking the earth and amber when striking the sea. It is also preferred because Amber is affordable. On the other hand, there are numerous references to Freyja's connection with brilliant white light - so a diamond is probably a better choice. Considering the number of ancient references to the gods and to celestial bodies and stars, a diamond would be a very fine representative of 'sunlight' or 'starlight'.
One thing is for certain, the sheer perfection and beauty of the necklace prevents accurate artistic description - whether written or depicted. It's almost insulting that so many jewelers (professional and amateur alike) try to name their projects after it. Unless the craftsperson is from Tiffany or Cartier or the like, I doubt they even have the skill and resources to come close.
If there was any artifact to compare it with, one might look at the 45.52-carat Hope diamond with the understanding that it is but a shadow of it's original 112.19-carat self as the Tavernier Blue or even it's second-most famous incarnation as the 67.13-carat French Blue diamond of Kings Louix XIV and XV and, of course, Marie Antoinette. But the Hope Diamond is only famous - it is both blue (not white) and is nowhere near the largest diamond in the world. One could also compare it to the brilliant white 94.8-carat Star of the East diamond, or the 108 carat Koh-I-Noor diamond, the 194 carat Orloff diamond, the 273.85 carat Centenary diamond, or the staggering 530.20 carat Star of Africa (aka, Cullinan I).
However, even these stones are mere physical objects of this material world while the Brisingamen is divine. In gemological terms, it must be at least E-color and IF. The cut must be PERFECT - not just Very Good. There would be no measure of carat weight - for as divine, it could be the size of a coin or the earth itself or even greater.
Sörla Þáttur eða Héðins Saga ok Högna
(Soerli's Yarn or The Saga of The Heathen and The Chopper)
There are only a few poetic references of how Freyja came to own Her necklace and only one version of the tale describing the transaction in detail. That version is very late, very problematic, and very Christian. Still, there are a few grains from which we may yet pan out.
Written on or about 1400 c.e. (400+ years after the Christian conversion of Iceland, the last hold-out), the Sorli's Yarn (Sörla Thráttr) is also known as The Saga of Hogni and Hedinn. The entire premise of the saga begins with Odin's desire for King Hogni and King Hedin to go to war - and his device to accomplish this is: Freyja.
Snorri Sturlusson writes about this same war much earlier - and neither Freyja or Her necklace are mentioned at all. Such an important plot device would have certainly been recorded by Snorri, so any and all relation between Freyja and conflict must be considered a Christian invention and it's affect on our understanding of Her must be minimized. Further, the first part of the story describing Freyja earning the necklace has fewer conflicts, but it can still only be accepted as a 15th century version of some Heathen original - whatever that was.
Before getting into any part of the story, it must first be mentioned that the divine characters in this work are treated poorly. In the Christian world this was written in, and even today, none of the Heathen figures have any redeeming qualities at all. Freyja is a whore. Odin is a prick. Loki is... well Loki. The dwarves are leches. Even the Heathen mortals are depicted as petty and vicious. The hero of the story is the very real CHRISTIAN King Olaf Tryggvison, who swoops in and saves Norway from the warring Heathens and their petty honorless gods.
The story begins with Freyja wandering into the Dwarves smithy. She spies them fashioning a golden collar with a pronounced jewel and immediately lusts for it.. She attempts to pay with silver and gold, but the smiths say they don't need wealth. Then they pose her an offer. She must spend a night with each of them, with heavy insinuation that it is intended to be a sexual encounter. Freyja agrees to the terms, satisfies the terms and takes possession of the necklace. She then takes the collar home and acts as if nothing extraordinary happened. This part seems reasonable enough.
Loki tells Odin what has transpired and Odin takes unusual action. He has Loki steal the necklace and bring it to him. Loki transforms himself into insects (a fly and a flea) to perform his task. When Freyja begs Odin for the necklace back, Odin bargains with her for her 'punishment'. He will give Her the neckalce back if She will start a war between two great kings. This task would seem like a simple thing for a divine figure to do and not much of a punishment - but what makes it horrible to Her is Freyja's nature, her pure role as the divine hostess and the goddess who brings all people's together. Actually, it should be noted that Odin's action is exceptional in this case because there is no other lore recounting his cruelty to any other god or goddess. Even more peculiar is that there is no explanation given outright for Odin's punishment. One might expect ANY reference to his feeling jilted or betrayed or jealous - but there really is none. He simply hears from Loki that Freyja bought a neckalce with her body and he had Loki steal it and then traded it back for a troubling task. It's out of character for both of them (not for Loki).
In this 15th century Christian morality/supremacy-tale, Freyja is a sorceress who entreats Hedinn to commit kidnapping and murder which starts the war. This plot has led to countless thousands to interpret Her as a goddess of warfare and battle, but that takes the story WAY out of context. This war between Hogni and Hedin is referred to in other, older sources, so at least the existence of such a war is traditional. Strangely, the war itself is designed to wage day after day as the warrior are raised from the dead every evening to fight and die again the next morning. This pattern is to continue until Ragnarok. (One is reminded of the eternal battle of the Einherjar at Valhalla and wonder if these were ever intended to be equated.) In no way does Freyja involve herself with weapons of battle. If anything is to learned, it is the way in which she causes such strife - by performing rituals of friendship and luring a couple to love each other. She takes it too far by suggesting Hedinn murders Hogni's wife - but as I pointed out before - this is not an original tale but a Medeival Christian one.
From here the story proves beyond question it's pure Christian agenda. Odin's condition on Freyja is that the feud will wage until a Christian King wins the war by slaying both kings - and, of course, it just so happens that this Christian King is the renowned historical figure Olaf Tryggvison who converted Norway to Christianity in the name of the Pope.
The integration of heathen characters into a tale espousing Christian superiority is not rare at all - but this particular tale goes beyond most by having the Heathen god Odin declare Christianity as the victor.
So what, if any, meaning are we to receive from this tale about the Brisingamen? Surely, Freyja slept with four dwarves to purchase the necklace - this is referred to by earlier sources. It was not an moral issue for Freyja or the Norse pantheon to make this deal - but clearly a Christian invented moral trespass used to keep her minimalized through the centuries. The necklace, however, does not appear to have any power of its own - it is merely a pretty bauble. This must be compared against Odin's ring Draupnir ('Dripper') that magically drips 9 copies of itself every 9 nights.
Who are the Brisings?
The Brisings are always described as a set of four dwarf smiths. The name 'Brisingamen' means simply "Smith's Jewel". 'Bris' means "braze" or "captured heat in a forge or oven". 'Ing' is a suffix meaning "descendant/resolution'. 'Men' means "jewel". Combined, it literally mean "forge-fire's-descendant's jewel". Actually, the word 'descendent' is incorrect - it really means 're-solution', but discussing that takes more time than it's worth right now.
A 19th century trend was to name the four Brisings after the four dwarves holding up the sky, namely North, South, East and West. There is no original lore to support that.
Hedin and Hogni's Saga seems to be the earliest instance the Brisings are named. They are Álfrigg, Dvalinn, Berlingr and Grérr. These names are included in lists of Dwarf names in earlier lore. It is possible that the names were chosen at random from the list to create this Christian saga, but there are enough Dwarf names listed by Snorri that have no extant reference to them that these might actually be correct and from some piece of lore lost to time.
The name Álfrigg is made of the roots 'Álf' + 'rigg' becoming 'Elf" + 'Powerful'. Dvalinn means 'the slow'. Berlingr is the 'decendant of hammer-blows (striking)'. Grérr might mean nothing more than 'Gray'. Unfortunately, there isn't much to spiritually invest in these names.
It may be possible to go through the list of dwarf names and find a likely set of four, but one must be careful NOT to use precompiled translations. There are at least three different one's I'm aware of in print or on the web - and they all have significant failings or offer conflicting translations without explanation of their solutions.
What does the Necklace do?
It makes Freyja's knees weak and that's about it. Aside from Sörla Þáttur, Loki steals it another time because... well because he's Loki. There really isn't a fathomable reason given. No particular magic is associated with. Freyja never uses it to accomplish any goal. If anything, it simply symbolizes her purest nature of brilliance and beauty.
What does the Necklace mean?
I don't know.
I surmize that the necklace serves at least two purposes in Heathen lore. Firstly, is serves as a divine object to which Freyja's brilliance and beauty may be equated with even as her name Berchta/Berta/Birtu (variations of 'Bright-One') waned and she became know more simply by her noble title: Freyja ('Lady'). Secondly, it is the symbol that tells about her nature as the divine goddess always seeking passion and perfection.
Unlike almost all other weapons, tools and ornaments among the gods, the Brisingamen has no special power of it's own. It's very existence is it's power. That's a mighty thought to contemplate. What in the universe could possibly be so powerful by it's mere presense in the universe?