Conflating Ing with Frey?

One of the gods who has particular importance to me goes by the name of Ing.

Now, the history/language geek me knows that Ing is a cognate of Frey – called Ingwi-Frey in Sweden (he had a statue in the temple at Uppsala) – who, I’m sure you know, is a Norse fertility god, one of the Vanir who lived in Asgard, home of the Asir, with his sister Freya and their father Njord, initially as hostages and then as permanent residents. See the Eddas and many other books regarding the beliefs of the Viking Age Scandinavians for more information.

Ing is supposed to be an earlier, West Germanic (as opposed to North Germanic – linguistically speaking) version of the same god. Very few sources survive regarding him, although he is mentioned as the progenitor of the Ingaevones, the Germanic tribes neatest the ocean. According to Tacitus, in his Germania ch. 3, the tribes recorded their history in ‘carminibus antiquis‘ – ancient hymns, and in those hymns they called themselves the Ingaevones, the descendants of Ing, Son of Mannus. Mannus was born of Tuisto, who came from the Earth.

Ing is also mentioned in the tenth century English Rune Poem, as a rune name.

Ing was first seen among the East-Danes, til he later departed east over the sea;
The wain ran after;
Thus the warriors named the hero.

Kathleen Herbert in her short book Looking for the Lost Gods of England speculates on the relationship of Ing to Nerthus, concluding that she is his mother. Speculation, based on Tacitus, The Venerable Bede and Snorri Sturluson, and Old English charms and surviving narrative texts, often offers the only clues to the identity and relationships of the gods.

The modern pagan and polytheist traditions generally conflate Ing and Frey, especially ‘Saxon’ pagans or those trying to reconstruct pre-Christian English beliefs. Conflating gods from different times and places within the same general tradition is fairly common, the reasoning for this – that not much was written down so X tradition need to look to Y tradition neighbours, who had more of their traditions recorded, for clues – is an approach I find problematic, because it assumes (while denying the assumption) a pan-Germanic/Celtic etc tradition that stretches thousands of miles and thousands of years, which never existed. Many writers have stressed this, and some of them have gone on to conflate different traditions any way; it’s quite frustrating.

Beliefs tend to be localised, even international belief systems; a (relatively) modern example might be Anglican Christianity. While the basic beliefs are more or less dictated by Canterbury, every parish church is slighty different depending on the preferences of the vicar. Worldwide, the Episcopalian Church – Anglicanism for not-English people – is even more diverse. African Anglicans have different beliefs to US Episcopalians, who are different again to English Anglicans. The differences cause arguments at every international synod. If we go back a hundred, or even fifty years, C of E services and beliefs were different from C of E services and beliefs now (talk to any 70 to 80 year old Anglican and you’ll see what I mean; oh the arguments I’ve had with my grandmother!)

Go back two thousand years when there was, as far as we know, no central religious authority among the Germanic tribes. It is reasonable to suggest that, just as tribal confederacies changed names (e.g. Suebians become Saxons) over time, then their religious beliefs would also change over time.

This is not news to anyone.

When I first stepped on the road I follow now, I used to accept the conflation of gods, centuries and locations as the only possible way to revive the tradition. That was half a lifetime ago. The last seven or eight years – half of my time identifying as pagan – has been a process of deconstructing that and reassessing the books I’ve read on the subject. Since I started blogging, and especially in the last two years, there’s been an explosion of polytheist bloggers and writers exploring their own traditions, some with even less source material and relying almost exclusively on archaeology or on spiritual insight (there’s a lot of spirit workers around at the minute). Thus, I am making my own path, trying to root out the weeds planted during my naivety, encouraged by the courage of others.

As to whether we should conflate Ing with Frey, based on the evidence, I think they are the same being seen from different angles at different times and places, with enough difference to separate them for them to have simultaneous existences. I relate to the early centuries C.E. being called Ing, someone else with a different focus, Viking Age Scandinavian rather than fifth century English say, might interact with Frey; they are the same but separate. My personal reading of what textual evidence survives is that he is the same as the wonder child mentioned at the start of Beowulf, who floated ashore on a shield with a sheaf of wheat (Beowulf, English rune poem, Ynglinga Saga), is the son of Mannus (who may be the same as Njord and who is possibly the masculine cognate of Nerthus) and Nerthus, and brother of Frija (the wonderful and great entity who became Freya and Frigga in later Scandinavia). Through their descent from Tuisto, and ultimately Earth, they are associated with land and water. Waggons, boars, ships and ploughs are important symbols I associate with Ing, as is the grain harvest.

So, to answer the question implied in the title, yes and no. Fun this isn’t it?


5 thoughts on “Conflating Ing with Frey?

  1. Pingback: Anglo-Saxon Heathen Blogs & Websites | The Lefthander's Path

  2. Conflating… hm.

    I do consider Ingvi to be one of Freyr’s names, and I do consider Ing to be another facet of the god I know as Freyr, in the same way I consider Wodan to be another facet of the god I know as Odin and suspect that Hertha is probably not separate from Nerthus. I do nevertheless recognize that these different places, times, and cultures, though neighbors, aren’t all the *same*, and thus there is a degree to which these facets are more separate than we give Them credit for.

    But… see, that seems to be true of all the gods, that They are larger, more complex, more diverse, and often, more *plural* in nature than we can easily wrap our heads around. All of the gods as we know Them are arguably also collectives of more localized spirits. I think this is only a paradox to us because we’re used to the idea that 1 body = 1 person = 1 identity. The gods don’t seem to be limited in quite the same ways.


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