There are three main groups of indispensable supernatural beings in Norse mythology: the Aesir, the Vanir, and the Jutons (or giants). The most common way you’ll see them explained is that the Aesir are the gods of urban affairs, the Vanir are the gods of rural affairs (including magic) and the Jutons are both groups of gods’ mortal enemies.
And yet, even a cursory glance through the Voluspa tells you that such distinctions are hard to make. Why is Odin an Aesir when his mother is a Juton? Why is Freyja, whose mother is Earth (speculatively some variation of Nerthus), a Vanir when Thor and Frigg, whose mother(s) are also Earth (Jord or Fjorgyn), are Aesir?
It’s easier to understand if you think of Norse mythology like a John Waters film about some crazy high school. The Aesir are the popular kids, the jocks with the best cars. Oddly enough, they’re also the biggest protectors of the kids in junior high (us). The Vanir are what would happen if the FFA, band geeks, artsy fartsy kids, and goth chicks were all into fucking their siblings and cross-dressing. They don’t dislike the kids in junior high, but they don’t like them either. But the Jutons are the kids who never seem to leave high school. They’re like twenty-five and still fucking around. They set fires and sit in the back of the bus and read the Necronomicon out loud trying to turn grade schoolers into werewolves. They’re constantly beating up the junior high kids and worse.
So, the Aesir, especially Thor, are constantly having to patrol the Junior High, keeping the youngsters safe from the Jutons. This doesn’t mean, as often happens in high school, that there wasn’t a lot of hooking up between groups and some loose affiliations that crossed group boundaries.
Which then brings us to the crazy story of Freyja–a Vanir–and Hyndla (literally, Hound or Bitch)–a Juton. Happily enough, you can read it for yourself here. But the general gist is that Freyja shows up with her lover Ottar, who is a man, at the moment in the shape of a boar, and proceeds to shoot the shit with Hyndla. Ottar has made some dumb-ass bet he can’t possibly win and so Freyja is trying to get Hyndla to help him out. Hyndla calls Freyja a slut a couple of times (“many under your apron have crawled”) and tries to get young Ottar drunk, but does give Ottar the information he needs.
It’s interesting to me on a couple of levels. One is that it’s a story that revolves around women, women with healthy appetites and the cognitive ability for verbal sparring. You don’t often see mythological women with such agency. And the other is that this poem, like all the Eddic poems, is so sparse and yet so suggestive that there’s a great deal upon which to hang your imagination.
But the third is that I think it gets–in that way myths do, by taking something ordinary and blowing it up large–at the weird ways women are with their female friends about the boys they’re just fucking.