Sunday, December 15, 2013

Frige and the 'Womanly Arts'

Growing up, my mother was a feminist.  Not a radical feminist, or a particularly far-out-there one; but I grew up being told not to get married or have children, that there were so many other things in the world I could do if I wanted to.  Well, it turned out that I did decide to go the traditional husband-and-babies route; and now being a stay at home mom, it can sometimes feel as if I've taken a step backwards.

Enter Frige.  An Anglo-Saxon Goddess, Her name is cognate with the Norse Frigg; wife of Odin and Queen of Asgard.  Through Norse sources, we know that She is the Goddess most often associated with women, children, and the home.  She is also the patron of what those of generations past would have called the 'womanly arts': spinning, sewing, knitting, cooking - the things a woman needed to know to maintain her home.  However, Frige is no 1950s housewife, and those who honor Her certainly aren't, either.  In the Lokasenna (you can find Benjamin Thorpe's translation free), Loki accuses Frigg of sleeping with Odin's brothers; the Goddess Freyja retorts by saying "Mad art thou, Loki! in recounting thy foul misdeeds. Frigg, I believe, knows all that happens, although she says it not".  This has led many to speculate that Frigg winds the threads of fate that the Norns spin into orlæg (ørlög in Old Norse).  By the way, later on in the poem the God Njörðr says: "It is no great wonder, if silk-clad dames get themselves husbands, lovers", seeming to say that women having multiple sexual partners was not a big deal.  In the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, it is mentioned that Frigg has a "falcon form"; not quite as tame and feminine as one might expect from the Queen of the Æsir.

Now that I've gone off-topic talking about all the ways Frige is not like a housewife, it's time to circle back around and talk about the more traditionally feminine crafts She is associated with.  Because I don't have a spindle or access to raw wool, I've eschewed the traditional spinning and have instead learned to crochet as a devotional act.  It's very calming and meditative, as the same motions are repeated over and over, but requires constant attention; it's not the kind of thing you can do absentmindedly while watching a movie, you must be looking at your work.  It's the same with embroidery, which I learned long ago in Home Economics, but still enjoy doing on occasion.  These actions both quiet and focus my mind in a way that traditional meditation - which usually just puts me to sleep - is unable to do for me.  This kind of work does not have to be only a time-consuming chore put aside when faced with modern conveniences.  It doesn't have to be a symbol of subservience, as if being domestic and taking care of one's living space is somehow lesser.  The act of creation: of a meal, of a scarf, of a clean space; is very powerful, and lands squarely in Frige's domain.   I think this is part of the reason crafting is so popular today - many of the people I know either work office jobs or are working on their education; there's a lot of work that happens but doesn't produce any real, tangible result that can be held in your hand or used for a practical purpose.  But the creation of those tangible things can be so satisfying; the simplicity of taking a strand of yarn and working on it for a few hours until it becomes a cute little pouch is something I think a lot of people crave.

I know I titled this post about the 'womanly arts', and that's because they've historically been a woman's domain.  But I want to make it clear that men can absolutely benefit from learning these things as well!  I taught my brother how to sew one day when he lost a button, and now he fixes his own pants when they get holes in them; and finds a great deal of satisfaction in being able to do so.  On the one hand, simple things like sewing and cooking are great life skills; and your life will be easier for having them.  On the other, as I said earlier - these activities are also very psychologically fulfilling.  I plan to pass these skills down to all my children, daughters and son, and hopefully an appreciation for Frige as well.

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