Gerdr is attested in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, as well as the Heimskringla. She features prominently in the Skirnismal contained in the Poetic Edda. In that lay, Freyr sits upon Hlidskjalf, Odin’s High Seat, and stares into Jotunheim where he catches sight of Gerdr within her father’s hall. Gerdr’s beauty is undeniable and Freyr is immediately love struck. Determined to wed Gerdr, Freyr sends his aid, Skirnir with many gifts to woo the fair-armed etin woman. Skirnir arrives and attempts to entice Gerdr one by one with rich and shining offerings of Freyr’s love. She declines each and every treasure and does not accept Freyr’s hand until Skirnir threatens her with a dark fate wrought by Skirnir’s own powerful rune magic. Then she offers Skirnir a horn of mead and agrees to meet Freyr at Barri – a sacred grove or island – in nine nights where they will be wed.
There are a few theories about the significance of Gerdr’s change in attitude toward Freyr following Skirnir’s threats. I prefer readings of the myth that suggest Gerdr made a choice, less compelled by Skirnir’s threats than by the future she planned for herself. I am also fond of the idea that Freyr’s nine-nights of waiting are analogous to Odin’t nine-nights hanging, i.e., an initiation. In any case, Freyr and Gerdr marry. Their myth is typically understood as a metaphor for the breaking of the cold, hard winter earth with the plow in order to sow seed and make the earth fertile in spring.
Skyrnir and Gerda (1920) by Harry George Theaker
Generally, it seems that Gerdr is most often perceived as an earth etin, which is consistent with the lore we have about her. Her name appears to be closely related to the word garth and may mean something akin to “sacred enclosure”. Drawing upon this possible meaning of Gerdr’s name, her might may be interwoven with the claiming, settling, and cultivation of land. In the lore, Freyr seems to be the force, via Skirnir, appealing to her to choose the path of fruitfulness by actively cooperating in the process of settling and cultivation. Freyr is no bandit come to rape the land and make off with her resources; I think that this can’t be stressed enough, for Freyr has never made a woman cry according to the Lokasenna. No, Freyr is come to join with the land in partnership. He has no rights to the land, only privileges that she eventually grants, and that she may rescind at any time.
In my encounters with Gerdr between the worlds, I often experience her as self-contained and content with simple pleasures. I do not perceive her as glamorous but she is undeniably beautiful. Her will and might are palpable in each interaction I’ve had with her. When I come upon her, she is often tending her garden which is filled with an array of medicinal, magical, and simply beautiful plants and flowers. When Freyr seeks rest and calm support, he comes to Gerdr’s gardens, to the enclosure of Gerdr’s arms.
Gerdr has taught me a great deal about boundaries over the years. As Lady of Sacred Enclosures, she is quite concerned with what’s in and what’s out. During my time with her, I have adopted that same concern. Gerdr’s might says that it is not only fine but down-right good and necessary to have clear borders. Hers is might that has taught me when and how to establish and enforce boundaries, and with whom to establish plain old sky-high walls. I discovered great power in choosing who to allow and who to bar, who to partner with and who to send packing: Gerdr taught me well. She teaches me still. I shudder to think of Skirnir’s fate had Gerdr been less swayed by his “argument”.
In addition, Gerdr has taught me what it means to live in my own skin and take up my own space. I have been described as many things and reserved is often near the top of the list. At times I thought I needed to be more “out there”. Of course in some ways I could benefit from that change in behavior, but my reserved nature is by no means a failing. My reserved nature is very much interwoven with my introversion among other things. With that said, I am at home within my garden, and Gerdr helped me learn how to accept that important and powerful part of my personality.
And so I say hail to you, Gerdr, Lady of the Sacred Enclosure!! May your blessings grow well in the capable hands of those willing to cultivate your mysteries.