Freyja and Her Cats

“When she goes on a journey she sits in a chariot drawn by two cats.”

So says Snorri Sturluson in his monumental treatise on Norse Poetry: Edda…. And, well, that’s about it. Elsewhere in Edda, Snorri refers to Freyja's travels by cats in his retelling of Baldr’s Drama in the lay Gylfaginning

“…But Heimdall rode a horse, and Freyja her cats.”

In the modern age of reinterpretation, retelling and reimagining, this simply described relationship has blossomed into an acceptance of a deeply spiritual connection between Norse femininity and the feline fetch. Whether this has any direct relation with the actual spirituality experienced by Norse women at the time Freyja was widely worshipped is unknown.

"Another Witch" from the Schleswiger Dom ca. 12th century

There is one scintillating detail toward a Freyja-centric female-to-feline spirituality. In a tome known today as the Schleswiger Dom, there are a pair of illustrations depicting two specific types of witches to be wary of. The first is a nude woman in a cloak riding a broom – as if it had been drawn for Halloween today. The second is that of a cloaked woman raising a drinking horn and riding a very accurately proportioned tiger - albeit a gray one. It's as fantastic a depiction of a Norse Volva as the other is of a witch. A direct relation of this figure to Freyja is unproven, but the drinking horn is a long-standing Germanic tradition and is often referred to in Norse Poetry. Among the many references, Freyja brings the horn to favored guests in the Val-hall. but there is nothing in the lore referring to tigers or large cats in general (the Icelandic Yule Cat is a 20th century tale, like Rudolf T.R.N.R. in the U.S.). Freyja wears a cloak made from Falcon feathers and uses it to fly, but the cloak depicted is not that obvious. Freyja is also said to have great affinity for riding boars (a lovely sexual reference) but as far as cats go… we’ve reached the end of original lore. Even so, the image is often referred to or reproduced in modern times.

In ancient Norse spirituality, Deities surpassed all other spiritual connections. Spirits of past family members (of those, Disir were females only) and nature spirits (Wights) also ranked quite high. However, they did also include the concept of a shamanistic ‘spirit guide’ called a fetch. Unlike the better known ‘totem’ from Native American cultures there is no standard Germanic tradition of fetch interaction with humanity nor does it enjoy as high a spiritual priority. In some cases, Fetch appear during dreams and at others they appear while waking. There is no recorded example of ritual ‘fetch-seeking’ or ‘fetch communing’ like in other cultures (with or without any “medicinal” aid). Some heathens bore the symbol of a fetch in dress, affectation and/or behavior (e.g., ‘Berserkers’ = lit. “Bear-Shirts”). It’s not known how many actually had or recognized their fetch but of those who did: some had one fetch, some had many. Some listened to their fetch while others embodied them and still others had fetch applied to them by others (casting someone out of their homeland would make them 'wolven' to the community and were shunned). Some fetch were animals while others were not; in one instance, a warrior had a dream that a Troll-wife astrode a wolf gave him advice (although no description of what a Troll-wife actually is or looks like is given). There isn’t recorded evidence of a cat as fetch, but then again most lays and Sagas follow the lives of men and were written by men (and Christian Monks at that). The few instances of the spiritual inclinations of Norse women (or of Germanic women in general) were recorded as heroines vaguely dedicated to Freyja or were pure medieval villains penned as despicable sorceresses to be feared and loathed. What the reality was of original Germanic female-fetch relations is debatable for certain.

by Nils Blommer, 1852

One of the aspects of Freyja that draws particular attention by worshippers is her skill at magic. Freyja is commonly referred to as the most adept sorceress in the Nine-Worlds. Her specialty is a particular type of magic known as Seidh (lit. “Seethe). Though it is not described in enough detail to explain, there are two (identical) recordings of a Norse human seeress that suggest a shamanic trance may be the best correlation to the term Seidh in practice. The literal relation between many trance-inducing techniques in other cultures is in the name for Seidh means 'seethe' as in 'boil/tremble'. Of the female villains recorded, they make potions, warp dreams and turn themselves into animals (e.g., a seal, a dragon). To cover this more broad spectrum of magical practices, the term Seidh may refer to power boiling up and over from within the practitioner. Oddly, Freyja appears to rarely use her magical talents. Instead of turning her lover Ottar into a boar, she had the Black Elves do it for her. Instead of fore-telling the future herself, she summoned a Troll-wife to do it for her. There is little connections to felines in her magical practices at all with one politically incorrect observation. In the two (identical) very detailed descriptions of the aforementioned seeresses, they both wear gloves made of white cat-skin. Much has been made of the description with pros and cons debated endlessly, for both offend and captivate feline friendly Freyja-folk. On the other hand, cat-fur is extremely soft and would make for a luxurious pair of gloves, so maybe she was just wealthy and the reference had no magico-spiritual agenda at all.

Modern connections to felines and Freyja come mainly from personal experience with cats and modern folklore of cats. There are two distinct features of feline behavior which captures the female imagination: female banding and house-cat sexuality, both of which are assumed to relate to Freyja in some deep way.

Cats are social animals, so that makes a close connection. Cat society, however, is distinctly different than human society. Today, house cats rarely function in groups of more than a few at a time. Most wild cats live quite independent lives, but lions and house cats are known to have highly developed social orders that are quite alike. In both, the females form groups which focus on hunting together and rearing the cubs/kittens. Lionesses do so partly because they’re prey is often too large, too quick or too wily to catch one-to-one. House cats don’t have that problem. The primary reason to band together is for the children. While some hunt, some have to watch the kids. Should one mother fall or fail, her children will still survive. The adult males lead independent lives until it’s time to beget new kittens. This appeals to both human mothers and scorned single-women alike. In Norse family life, men and women were equal in most things. Women ‘kept the keys’ to the houses and lots and managed the farms and slaves and children. Men led the households while they were present – but concentrated on more outward aspects of the home and farm including politics, trade and (of course) raiding when necessary. There is a clear parallel there. Nuclear mothers love the dream of a community of other mothers including family and friends, with whom they can share their experiences and burdens of their lives… but it is extremely difficult to accomplish. Scorned single-women distrust wandering men and have enough pop-culture references to reinforce their distrust that they could dream of a better life among other women. Female homosexual connections to Freyja or communities aren’t well-known to this author but lesbian felines do exist. While lions have a female community in common with house cats, adult male lions are clearly the dominant ones when present in the pride. The male will stay with the pride for as long as it suits him. He will hunt when he wants to; otherwise he will feast first on the plunder brought by the hunting females. One male mates with all the females of the same pride until he has lost the privilege to another male. Conquering males earn the privilege to slaughter and even eat the cubs of any other male and then take over all mating privileges as well. This process would be an abhorrent act in most human cultures. It’s not exactly the ideal culture that modern women aspire to. House cats are different though male cats have been known to kill kittens of other males and are often referred to as ‘lazy hunters’ by owners. House cat sexuality is not only different than Lions; it is apparently unique to the genus. A female house cat can and will have a single sexual event that includes multiple males within a few minutes at a time. This orgy is often described as being ‘directed’ by the female rather than a form of gang rape. While the female shows every tooth and claw at her disposal, she will choose to allow various partners in turn to mount her for a period of time until she is ready for the next. This legendary behavior has led to the blatant correlation between them and promiscuous human women (e.g., brothels as “cat houses”). Women who utilize or desire the ability to choose their partners at will enjoy the association with cats. This correlation is nothing modern and certainly could have been a part of the relation between the sexually free Freyja and her cats – though original lore recounting it has yet to surface. It must be mentioned, however, that human culture (esp. Germanic Cultures) include both males and female equally in the system, regardless of the division of labor. While mating for life is not practiced by house cats or lions, humans do their best to achieve this ‘ideal’. Tigers, both male and female, are solitary and do not keep mates for life.

The common belief today is that Freyja’s Cats are either over-sized Norwegian Forrest Cats, European Lynxes or Tigers, mostly due to artist interpretations made in the 13th and 18th centuries. Based upon the bulk Freyja lore, Her cats are most likely gold or white - with or without stripes. Freyja was many connections with gold, including her tears, her hair, her necklace and her brother's boar. However, her original name meant 'bright-one' and the only descriptions of Seidhkonas in the lore specifically wear WHITE cat's fur gloves. (Compare with Heimdallr (-Ing-Frey) who is described as the White God, though most of him is made of gold.)

When all is said and done, there is little to nothing in Norse culture or lore to adhere any special relevance to cats in regards to Freyja. However, modern resurgence of Asatru and Freyja worship has led to modern associations that may be difficult to ignore.

Non-Asatruar freely make their own associations of everything, including relations between Freyja and goddesses of other traditions. Among these practices, a free-spirited pagan will take one or more desired aspects of Freyja (such as ‘power’ or ‘sexually free’), choose this as Her most important role and then combine it with a token symbol like a cat that means something to the practitioner with only vague reference to the Goddess. This practice is considered ignorant or insulting or both by many Asatruar, for Freyja is a complex Goddess – more human than most – and is nothing without Her brother, Her father, Her husband, Her daughters, Her lovers, Her home, Her black-elves, Her role in Asgard, Her relationship with villains (Loki and Giants), Her boars, Her falcons, and of course… Her cats. Picking and choosing parts of Her and ignoring the rest is like kidnapping a living woman away from her brother, her father, her children, her home, ad infinitum and does nothing more than show complete insensitivity to Her TRUE nature which requires this entire network of people, places and things which make Her herself. This author implores any reader interested in Freyja to learn about Her and worship Her as She is, for She is also a teacher – and one cannot learn from a creation of one’s own.

See more cats in the main Gallery.