What kind of cats pulled Freya's chariot?

  • Everyone knows that the goddess Frejya's chariot was pulled by cats, but what kind of cats are we talking about? Are they giant sized house-cats? Were there any puma-sized cats in ancient Scandinavia?

    A chariot pulled by cats is peculiar, indeed. I don't think any cats larger than lynxes are (or were) endemic to Scandinavia. One possibility I remember reading somewhere is that the word used for Frejya's cats could also mean bears.

    They might have been Norwegian Forest cats or some wild ancestor thereof, a relatively large breed of cats that appeared in Norway via interbreeding of foreign and local cats a couple of centuries before Snorri's writings.

  • solsdottir

    solsdottir Correct answer

    4 years ago

    There are actually two references to her cats in Gylfaginning (part of the Prose Edda):

    Sessrumir, her hall, is large and beautiful. And when she travels, she drives two cats and sits in a chariot. (Faulkes: 24)

    …Freyr drove in a chariot with a boar called Gullinbursti or Slidrugtanni. But Heimdall rode a horse called Gulltopp, and Freyia her cats. (Faulkes: 50)

    The passage about Baldr's funeral in Skaldskaparmal (also part of the Prose Edda) uses the word fress for Freyja's cats, which means tom-cat, although apparently it could also mean "bear" which led to some confusion. (Modern scholars translate fress as "tom-cat" in this case.) Another reference to Freyja's cats in Skald., saying that Freyja can be called “possessor of tom-cats", uses the same word.
    The two references to Freyja's cats in Gylfaginning use the word köttr, which could also mean a marten or weasel. This makes a little more sense, as you can see how cats, weasels and martens could be lumped together. However, both parts of the Prose Edda were written by the same person, Snorri Sturluson, so presumably he meant the same thing in both cases.

    Cat-lovers are partial to the idea that Freyja's cats were the ancestors of modern Norwegian forest cats, which are large, powerful cats (like Maine Coon Cats). The Scandinavians did have cats as pets, but whether Freyja's cats were simply medium-sized furry animals or actual cats is open to question, although the detail about the volva's outfit in andejons' answer is suggestive.

    Quotes from Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman Press, Penguin, 1992.

    This is the better answer, because it contains the linguistic context.

    There has been some recent discussion on the fuzziness of words for animals in Ancient Greek, which makes the point about *fress* particularly interesting. Does Freyja have any other associations with bears?

    Boars yes, bears no.

    I just saw this on Facebook, and I thought I would throw it in - it's a discussion of the linguistics of the Old Norse word for cat, and adds that the European wildcat died out during the Norse Bronze Age.

    I will merely add the observation that Norse myths tend to be iffy about relative sizes. In one and the same tale, a giant's glove seems to be a great hall to gods, who use the thumb as a sleeping chamber before learning it's a glove, and the same gods can sit at the table with giants and use their utensils without trouble.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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