Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Beret as the
Norse Mythological Goddess Freya/Gerthr

Catherine D. Farmer

In his masterpiece, Giants in the Earth, Ole E. Rölvaag pitted Norse mythology against Christian belief, both of which prove finally inadequate against the "Great Prairie . . . giantlike and full of cunning" 1 who, in the last chapter, "Drinks the Blood of Christian Men and Is Satisfied." The Great Plain achieves its own animate existence through contact with its human inhabitants: it takes from Beret a sexual identity and absorbs from her the powers traditionally associated with the Norse Freya/Gerthr; then the Plain turns on the men who have presumptuously come to "break prairie" and brings about Ragnarok deaths for the transplanted Norsemen, Per Hansa and Hans Olsa.

Initially in Giants in the Earth, the relationship between Per Hansa and Beret suggests a fruitful mating of male and female forces reminiscent of Norse mythology. Beret incorporates aspects of femininity embodied in the Norse goddess Freya/ Gerthr, the female counterpart of the fertility god Frey. A goddess of fertility, birth, and death, Freya is an amorous and seductive figure; she is also a witch of the disreputable magic called seitbr. Gerthr, whose name is related to the word gartbr (field), personifies a winter cornfield. When Frey and Gerthr meet in the grove Barri, fertilization and springtime occur. 2 Per Hansa bears striking similarities to the Norse vegetation god Frey/Freyr, a god of sunshine and fertility, pictured as skirr or shining. Frey is a god of peace, a protector of the gods, also a warrior and defender. 3 Like Frey, Per Hansa possesses a seemingly supernatural "creative force" and an unusually vibrant empathy with growing things:

[Bjright emanations of creative force seemed to issue out of his

-179-

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