Freyfaxi is the modern name given to a Heathen festival that took place during harvest time in northern Europe. The timing of this harvest varied greatly depending on where our ancestors lived, but it would have been sometime during the month of August.
Sadly, the old Norse name for this festival has long been lost, but we do understand enough to know that it was very much like Lughnasadh, Lammas and Hlaefmaesse. It was a time of gratitude, sacrifice and prayer, celebrating the successful harvest of the current year as well as making offerings for the following year’s crops.
During this period, the autumn winds brought the Vikings back to their homelands after their summer raids abroad. Swapping swords for scythes they helped their families harvest the crops and store them safely away for the cold months ahead.
The early autumn was a time of fairs and horse fighting. Some believe that horse fighting very likely stems from an ancient pagan ritual that was also seen as a sport. Horse fighting and what it entails can be found in several of the Sagas. Many carvings have been found in northern Europe depicting horse fighting scenes, with some of them showing sun like wheels as well. So quite possibly these fights symbolised the battle between life and death. A common theme that has Indo European roots.
The Icelandic Sagas as well as other sources depict horses as sacred creatures with a divine connection to the gods. Even as far back as the Bronze Age, a horse’s behaviour was observed in a divinatory manner.
The name Freyfaxi can be found in Hrafnkel’s Saga. In this saga, Freyfaxi (‘faxi’ means “eye catching mane”) is a beautiful horse owned by Hrafnkel who dedicates himself to the god Freyr. Hrafnkel offers up Freyfaxi to Frey and makes an oath to kill anyone who rides the horse. It is a tragic tale of how oaths should never be taken lightly. There is also mention of another horse called Freyfaxi in Vatnsdaela’s Saga.
There is clear evidence of a horse cult that honoured Freyr having existed in Norway (Thrandheim) in the tenth century. Frey’s cult consisted of day to day folk such as farmers who would have offered up sacrifices to Freyr for prosperity and peace.
The Haggeby Stone discovered in Sweden is a rock carving that shows horses fighting and dates from 5th century C.E (image via odinsvolk.ca)
A goddess who is honoured by modern Heathens at harvest time is Sif. She is an earth goddess with long golden hair who has it cut off by the god Loki. This is a tale that symbolises the harvest. Her husband Thor is also honoured for he brings the rain and sun to the crops as well as protection from hail. And lastly Nerthus (Mother Earth) who is depicted in the Roman writer Tacitus’ ‘Germania’. Nerthus has a chariot that is drawn by cows and in a procession goes from village to village where everyone celebrates, weapons are locked away and peace comes over them all until she goes back to her sacred grove. In a lake, slaves cleanse her and the chariot before they themselves are drowned in the same waters. We don’t know if a young woman embodied the goddess or whether it was a statue that represented her.
The Landvaettir, who are the guardian spirits of the land are also honoured at harvest time. They are offered gifts of food and milk to thank them for their help in nurturing and protecting the land and all who live there.
I hope you enjoyed this and that your interest will take you on to do your own research especially by reading the Icelandic Sagas.