Odin from Lejre? No, it’s Freya!

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So you’re a metal detectorist and you find a silver figurine at storied Lejre in Denmark. It depicts a person sitting in a high seat whose posts end in two wolves’ heads. And on either arm rest sits a raven. The style is typical for about AD 900. So when you hand the thing over to the site manager, he of course exclaims, “Holy shit! It’s Odin!”. And that’s what he tells the press.

Until somebody like me comes along and points out that it’s a woman.

She’s wearing a floor-length dress. And a shawl. And four finely sculpted bead strings. This is a standard depiction of an aristocratic lady of the later 1st Millennium. The Lejre figurine is a direct counterpart to the Aska pendant (below), which is universally understood as the effigy of a goddess. The high seat is Odin’s, allright. But the occupant is most likely Frigga or Freya. Or maybe, just maybe, Thor in drag during the hammer reclamation mission. That is so cool! This find will mess with everybody’s mind!

Congratulations to detectorist Tommy Olesen who found the piece two months ago! And thanks to Tobias Bondesson for the heads-up.

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Thanks to a tip-off from Dear Reader Jerrark, here’s a close-up video of the figurine:

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Comments

  1. #1 Gealach
    November 13, 2009

    Den nedre skulle jag gärna ha som smycke! :-D

  2. #2 David Marjanović
    November 13, 2009

    Oooookay. So, how did she get on his throne? What juicy background story am I missing?

  3. #3 ArchAsa
    November 13, 2009

    Weren’t there a story about the time Odin went missing and Frigga stepped in for him?

    It’s fantastically cute anyway – the best little figurine since Aska no doubt.

  4. #4 The Ridger
    November 13, 2009

    Wow.

  5. #5 Christina
    November 13, 2009

    I forwarded this piece to my friend Susan, who likes to mess with people’s heads even more than you do, and thus would like to remind you that Odin too dressed up as a woman to seduce Rind, and that there’s always Loki…

  6. #6 Max
    November 13, 2009

    Why does the high seat have to belong to Odin? The vala sits on a seidhhjallr, and Freyja presides over assemblies.

  7. #7 Nomen Nescio
    November 13, 2009

    the ravens, at least, are associated with Odin. the wolfheads may be too, but i’m not too clear on Odinistic symbology.

  8. #8 Martin R
    November 14, 2009

    Yeah, nobody else in the codified Medieval version of the mythology is associated with a pair of ravens and a pair of wolves.

  9. #9 Fredrik Svanberg
    November 14, 2009

    That is one interesting find! The archaeological evidence supporting that the aristocratic ruler of the late Iron Age may be a woman is quite firm in my opinion, looking at the burial evidence from Tuna in Badelunda, Köpingsvik, Oseberg, Aska etc. This further support this idea if you ask me. The idea, however, don´t have too many Danish supporters. Quite funny that when an image of a possible aristocratic ruler in Lejre is found it turns out to be a woman…

  10. #10 Henry Lauer
    November 14, 2009

    I like the theory that maybe it is actually Odin in drag… there is the suggestion that he has “unmanly” magical proclivities related to seidh in I think Volsunga Saga, after all.

    Insofar as he uses Hlidskalf to see out across the worlds (a metaphor for some kind of seidh-trance vision or the like, perhaps), well, doesn’t take too much to add up.

    Total speculation of course, but certainly fits with the available evidence….

  11. #11 Ben Bresett
    November 14, 2009

    900 C.E. was a very fluid time. It may be a Frisian goddess. Also, there is a strong possibility of Celtic influence. Ravens were associated with Lugh and the Morrigan in Celtic mythology. Denmark, being a coastal country, is right at the center of many different influences. Also, I can think of at least 3 examples from the lore of other Aesir or Vanir hanging out around Hlithskalf while Odin wasn’t there.

  12. #12 Mike Olson
    November 14, 2009

    Cool post Martin!

  13. #13 Ny Björn
    November 14, 2009

    It is indeed a marvelous find! The closest parallel I know of is a small silver amulet chair from a grave by Haithabu. It’s published by, among others, Vierck in the “Ausgrabungen”-series – But it’s way simpler and there’s no one sitting in it…

    /N B

  14. #14 Laure Lynch
    November 14, 2009

    The Eddas mention specifically that the only other person allowed to sit on Odin’s High Seat other than He Himself, was Frigga. Therefore, my vote is that this is Frigga.

    (Yes, there is one story in which Freyr sits on Hlidskjalf, without “official” sanction. That doesn’t really fit with the revelation of this being a woman, though.)

  15. #15 Laurie
    November 15, 2009

    Oooo, when I first read about this find, wouldn’t it be great to find Odin sitting on Hlidskalf? But on second thought, it may be Frigga instead she also sits on Hlidskalf while Odin is away. The statue looks like it is wearing a necklace and what looks like a shawl and skirt.

    But the eyes are different. The Right eye is staring (as expected) while the Left eye is “marred”/closed. So, I have to agree with Mr. Lauer. In either case, a very important find.

    Saxo Grammaticus tells that Odin dressed as a woman and practiced “seidr” magick to seduce Rind in “The History of the Danes” But Saxo didn’t think highly of the Danish pagans and their myths anyway. However, in Havamal 97-102, the Odin courtship of Rind is outlined. In Lokasenna 24, Loki accuses Odin of dressing as woman and

    “knocked at houses as a Vala. (Vala: seeress)
    In likeness of a fortune teller,
    thou wentest among people;
    Now that, methinks, betokens a base nature.” (Thorpe’s translation)

  16. #16 Martin R
    November 15, 2009

    In my opinion we should let the female attire trump the ownership of the high seat, and interpret the figure as a goddess. Or we will end up in a situation where all human figures are men, dressed either in male or female attire.

    Also, remember that the Medieval versions of the mythology are most likely just a sample of the innumerable versions floating around and constantly mutating during the period of oral tradition.

  17. #17 Helena Valorinta
    November 15, 2009

    It’s clearly a womans dress with apron dress and all, but what about the birds? Are we sure they are ravens, waht about Falcons? Could it be Freja with falcons? The percular rings around the nech and half the face could be Brisingamen, the heads behind her doesn’t look like wolves to me, what about dragonheads on a highseat? – And the thingie in her head could be a helmet, that would also eplain the bignose, a helmet with noseprotector. – and the funny clothing on the upper body under the cape, how about a chainmail?
    Freja in wardress sitting in a highseat – To me this makes so much more sence than Odin.

  18. #18 Martin R
    November 15, 2009

    Those ribbed arcs on her chest are usually interpreted as bead necklaces.

  19. #19 William Shelbrick
    November 15, 2009

    Hello all. I would have to say that it is Frigga, not Freya, and without a doubt it is not Asa Thor.

    I belive that it would be Frigga, wife of Odin. In the Mythos of the people, Freya is a Goddess of love and war. Frigga is a Goddess of magic and a weaver of deeds. She has been known to go and sit on the High Seat (Death of Baldur).

    In the story, one version anyway, Odin goes to a seer and sees the death of their beloved son, the most shining of all the Gods, Baldur. Odin returns home and tells his wife Frigga about it. She is so upset that she decides to try and change the weaving of the Norns (fate)

    Frigga goes to the High seat and looks about the world, than ventures out and receives an oath from all things of the nine worlds, that they would not harm Baldur, all execpt for the mistletoe. The mistletoe is too young to understand it’s oath, so she does not solicit one from it. When all the other Gods find out that Baldur is impervious to all things, they all gather and take sport in throwing axes and spears, arrows and stones at him. All the missles fall to the floor. All are participating in the sport except for one god who is blind. Loki tricks the god into shooting a bolt of mistletoe at Baldur, killing him.

    It is my opinion that this is a depiction of that story, when Frigga turns to the high seat to gain her information about all things. Well that is my two cents.

    sources:

    Poetic Edda
    Snorri

    Poetic Saga
    Snorri

    Myths of the Norsemen
    Helene A. Guerber

    Gods and myths of Northern Europe
    H.R. Ellis Davidson

  20. #20 Stig Tjelle
    November 16, 2009

    I can’t see how this could be any other god than Odin. Two wolves (Gere & Freke) and two ravens (Hugin & Munin). And most important of all, the figure has only one eye. No other norse god than Odin has one eye.

    I’m not so in to 900 AD fashion, so I don’t have any special comments about the clothing. Even if Odin was known for his witchcraft (seid), which was a woman thing, I would doubt that any would make a figure of him in drag. So this is most probably some kind of mens clothing as well.

    And why put another god than Odin on a throne? In this case Hlidskjalv. Even if other gods are known to have used Hlidskjalv, this isn’t their used position. Well, it could be Frøya, but then there should be two cats with her on the throne, and no birds. And she would for sure have had two eyes.

  21. #21 Bockas
    November 17, 2009

    “Bead strings”? Who wears “bead strings” *across* their chest? I would rather see it as a chainmail, and then Hängekäft as Odins chainmail is called. I too think it looks like there is one eye missing, and I can’t recall Freja missing one eye either.
    And “shawl”? Didn’t Brisingamen fit better into this queer theory? After all, Freja has got a necklace, so if there’s ANYTHING here resembling Freja, that’s it.
    The clothes are among the only thing I can agree seems a little strange, and making it worth questioning if this really is Odin.

    The throne, the wolves, the ravens, the missing eye and the chainmail makes it a lot more likely that this is Odin, and not Freja.

  22. #22 Martin R
    November 17, 2009

    Look at a few tens of high-status female representations from the period, and I’m sure you will agree.

  23. #23 Alexander Andreeff
    November 18, 2009

    I fully agree with Martin R that the person on the throne is a women/goddess. Possibly Freya/Frigg manifested as the great goddess (symbol. the throne) ruling the heavens (symbol. ravens/birds) and the earth (symbol. wolvs/dragons). I also think as Martin that the Lejre figurine is depicting the same individual as the Aska pendant from Hagebyhöga, Östergötland, Sweden. She is also wearing a helmet/cap; the beads/necklace can be interpreted as Freya’s famous necklace Brísingamen; she wears the same kind of cloak and apron. My personal research material is the Gotlandic Picture stones and on them we also have depictions of seated women, women associated with birds, and wearing the same kind of clothing. The figurine also reassembles other silver pendants and gold foils found in Scandinavia. Frankly, I cannot understand how anybody could have interpreted this figure as male when we have so many analogies. Does anybody know if the museum and the Danish scholars involved have put out any amendment?
    Kind Regards
    Alexander Andreeff
    PhD-student
    University of Gothenburg

  24. #24 Else Roesdahl
    November 19, 2009

    Den siddende person har en god parallel i en lille, nu forsvundet guldfigur, 1.95 cm høj, fra Danmark (jf. både kappe, perlekæder og det karakteristiske rektangulære ‘nedhæng’ med prikkerne). Denne figur har været fastgjort til noget. – Den er gengivet fra tre sider i min bog ‘Danmarks vikingetid’ (København 1980) s. 20. – Jeg tolkede den som en spillebrik, der havde været fastgjort til en fod – men det kunne jo også være en stol. Jeg opfattede den som snarest en kvinde. – For mange år siden er den også afbildet andetsteds, men jeg husker ikke hvor.

  25. #25 Martin R
    November 19, 2009

    Welcome to Aardvarchaeology, Else!

    (Prof. Roesdahl is one of Scandinavia’s foremost Viking Period authorities.)

  26. #26 Henrik
    November 19, 2009

    The Museum in Roskilde has put the piece on public display – see http://www.roskildemuseum.dk/Default.aspx?ID=310 – with a close up of the face (remember the piece is only 17.5mm [0.7"] high).

    They seem to stick with their interpretation of the figure as a depiction of Odin.

  27. #27 Al
    November 19, 2009

    Is it a weakness in the modelling, or does the figure actually have the lower part of his / her head hidden by two socking great rings – as if a scarf or gag were wrapped around the face?

  28. #28 Martin R
    November 19, 2009

    Looks like a ring or collar to me. The piece is tiny. And the period’s artists didn’t care much about faces, concentrating on gesticulation and material attributes like those bead strings.

  29. #29 Brita Poulsen
    November 21, 2009

    He looks pretty grim to me. OK one eye lookes somewhat blinded and someone took his nose away and it looks as if his mouth is tied up strictly!
    Maybe it is new???

  30. #30 Cliff Eastabrook
    November 22, 2009

    Hi,

    Is it possible that the eye damage is, well, damage?
    Not part of the original casting at all?
    Just a thought.

    Cheers,
    Cliff

  31. #31 Martin R
    November 22, 2009

    Yep. Looking at excavated figurines from all parts of the world and all time, one eye is usually more damaged than the other. Means nothing.

  32. #32 Ny Björn Gustafsson
    November 22, 2009

    I do agree with Prof. Roesdahl – I also think there is an interesting resemblance between the throned figurine and the small piece from Trønninge, somewhat further to the west of Lejre. Pictures of that find is also to be found in Flemming Bau’s “Seler og slæb i vikingetid. Birka’s kvindedragt i nyt lys” (in Kuml 1981) – his line-up there shows perfectly well that the Lejre find without doubt is to be interpreted as female (or in drag if you’re a die-hard disbeliever).

    As for the would-be helmet: Keep in mind that we’re dealing with an object no more than 20 mm high! The smooth appearance could easily be the result of wear due to repeated polishing, as seen on, for example, the Aska pendant

  33. #33 christina
    November 24, 2009

    All of the above commenters and Martin seem to agree that the piece depicts either Odin in drag or another goddess. But how about this: it is a female – völve perhaps – giving messages or recieving messages of Odin’s two ravens. It is clearly a woman of imoportance and seems very likely to be a gaming piece as suggested by a.o. Else Roesdahl. Perhaps the queen in a chess game (much like the Lewis Chessmen not unlike this figure although a century or two younger) or the main figure in a Hnefatavl game…

  34. #34 Dirk Schmitt
    November 24, 2009

    The problem with interpreting figurines is that of having specific reference to other finds which can allow us to build up a pattern of forms of figures. I am unable to read the original article, so do not have any specifics of the location of the find and its context/situation, which for figurines is very important information.

    I too note that it is quite small in size, and the possibility of it being a gaming piece, especially if found in a context of someone’s home or a hoard site is certainly a possibility.

    The interpretation of it being Odhinn in female guise, whilst certainly in line with our ancestral texts, is by no means assured. We know that our ancestral texts inform us that Frigg too sits upon Hlidskjalf. The interpretation of the two creatures at the back of the figurine being wolves is possible, but equally possible is that they are ormr or snakes. One even seems to have a reptile ear hole, albeit this may simply be damage to the figurine or some form of defect in manufacture.

    Females did wear hats and hoods, to interpret the rounded shape upon the figure as a helm is, given actual historical finds of helms of the period, rather unlikely. The interpretation of the bands around the chest as being maille, whilst also possible, has its own issues, especially if we work on the hypothesis that it is Odhinn in female guise, then what is the purpose of wearing maille. This lends itself to another possibility, is that the figure is in fact a Valkyrie, the association with Odhinn of the Ravens being a possibility within the context of an interpretation as such.

    At the end of the day, we are none the wiser in regards to exactly who is being depicted here and to what purpose, no matter how much we engage in hypothesis.

  35. #35 Jerrark
    November 25, 2009

    A little Youtube video of the figurine:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVAbp3kNYIU

  36. #36 Martin R
    November 25, 2009

    At the end of the day, we are none the wiser in regards to exactly who is being depicted here

    Dirk, I do not agree. When seen against the general corpus of coeval human representations, the Lejre potentate clearly falls into the female-gendered group. But maybe that is not what you mean when you say “exactly who”.

    Thanks Jerrark!

  37. #37 Walther Linis
    December 28, 2009

    THANKS FOR THE FINE SIDE !!! LOOK ON: http://www.odin-fra-lejre.dk

  38. #38 Marian Fritz
    January 6, 2010

    Well I personally think the Lejre shows Odin because you can see both raven at his side and this raven are Hugin and Munin.

  39. #39 ladysmith
    January 7, 2010

    When I first saw this little image I thought Wow, it’s Frigga or Freya. Wonderful!
    Then I read that they think it’s Odin. They cannot be serious…this is hilarious! Odin in drag yet..even better!
    sigh. Im fine with cross dressing Gods, but it seems that they are stretching it a bit. I guess interpretation is influenced by personal filters and agendas. Mine included, being a human and all.
    It’s one of the Goddesses to me, and I’m grateful that it was brought to light. A precious find.
    Thanks for posting this.

  40. #40 Henrik Schmidt
    January 30, 2010

    In Lokasenna Odin and Loke accuses each other for wearing womens dresses. In Danish it is called Args adfærd. And I think that Arg points to a specific religious tradition were men, or priests walk in womens dress for ritual reasons. That kind of religious mode was probably common in the Bronze age and went, as the Iron age came, more and more in to oblivion, except for few initiated men of the old school. Odin is surly such a fellow. So the statue shows Odin like he was then understod but we want him first and most as war-god something he have never been. God for the fallen on the field yes, God for structured war…Never.

  41. #41 Martin R
    January 30, 2010

    Then how do we know if there are any images of women that do not depict Odin?

  42. #42 denise
    March 9, 2010

    but isnt one of the eyes not there, or it’s different in some way? That would definitely point to Odin, neither his wife or Freya are ever represented with one eye covered or damaged or missing….?????

  43. #43 Martin R
    March 10, 2010

    It’s just unevenly worn. Wasn’t made that way.

  44. #44 Tom Christensen
    April 16, 2010

    For jer der måtte have interesse i det kan henvises til atiklen “Odin fra Lejre” – findes på http://www.roskildemuseum.dk. (Vores viden – Museets forlag/publikationer – Museets Årbog ROMU 2009). Her argumenteres for, at figuren mest sandsynligt er en gengivelse af Odin.
    Da denne svenske debat har fokuseret meget på gravfundet fra Aska i Hägeby-höga, vil jeg gøre opmærksom det lille mandshoved fra samme fund med overskæg og hat/hjelm (se f.eks. Price, The Viking Way p. 158 fig 3.31). Samme træk synes at kunne genfindes på fundet fra Lejre.
    I øvrigt tak for en interessant debat, jeg kan ikke påstå, at jeg er blevet meget klogere på Lejrefiguren – men har til gengæld fået et indblik i svenske arkæologers selvforståelse.

    Med venlig hilsen

    Tom Christensn
    Roskilde Museum

  45. #45 Intraday Tips
    August 27, 2010

    I have another theory. Perhaps it’s a volva’s fetish, intended to represent the volva as taking Odin’s place in the spirit world while performing her seidh. The high seat and the ravens mean that she has assumed the same power as Odin to receive messages through her spirit guides

    Intraday Tips || Nifty Tips || Mcx tips

  46. #46 Hank
    September 22, 2011

    Okay, that’s an easy one. Yes, Odin is associated with the two crows Hunginn and Muninn, and the two wolves Geri and Freki. He sits on a throne and looks to the South and West (the directions the Norsemen went viking). When seated on this throne he could see everything. However, his wife Frigga was the only other god allowed to sit on his throne, to view things going on around the world. It could not have been Thor because he was never allowed to sit on the throne. Therefore, this could be Odin because of the adornments and the one eye, but it may also be Frigga. I’m thinking almost a combination of the two, meant to represent both at the same time.

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