Freya is the only goddess in the Norse pantheon who is not merely recorded as some god's wife. She and her brother Freyr appear to belong to an older pantheon of fertility gods known as the Vanir; her name means simply "Lady", as his means "Lord". She was patroness of the disir (witches) and volva (seeresses who divined by trance). Some legends held that she claimed half the honoured dead; others said that while Odin took the souls of fallen warriors, Freya's hall was for artists and craftsmen. She was said to travel in a chariot drawn by two huge cats, which links her directly to the far older Sumerian maiden-goddess Inanna with her chariot drawn by lions. The image of a woman offering a horn to a hero arriving in Asgard appears on Norse runestones as well as in bronze and silver amulets, and 19th Century archaeologists classed it as representing a Valkyrie, since they were said to serve the heroes in Valhalla. But in Viking times it was the Lady of a hall who would bring the ale-horn to honoured guests: hence the pose identifies her as a Mistress, not a servant.

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