Cats are amazing magical creatures and have been revered by many cultures throughout history. In this quick little blog post we'll explore the Norse Pagan Goddess Freyja's beloved twin cats, Bygul and Trygul, Viking cat history, symbolism, and offerings. So let's dive into everything kitty.
Cat Tales & Symbolism
The Bakeneko of the Sasakibara Family from the Buson Yokai Emaki by Yosa Buson
Our relationship with cats goes back at least 10,000 years and every culture has their stories and symbols. An exhaustive list of feline symbology could fill a book but in the spirit of "short blog post" I've compiled a highlight reel for you.
- Symbol of eternity, a sleeping cat curls itself into a ball, head and tail touching.
- Ancient Egyptians believed cats held the essence of Bastet, the cat-headed goddess who represents domesticity, music, dance, fertility, and pleasure.
- Japanese folklore tells the legend of bakeneko a long tailed cat with gifts of metamorphism and resurrection of the dead. There are tales of cats turning bakeneko, killing their owner and assuming their human form.
- Celtic Mythology has the cat-sìth, a fairy creature the size of a large dog resembling a black cat with a white spot on its chest. Some tales inform the cat-sìth is a witch that can change into cat form nine times. It is believed that leaving milk out for the cat-sìth on Samhain will bring good luck.
Illustration by John D Batten from More English Fairy Tales from the story called King of Cats
Cats and Vikings
Viking cats were both working animal and household companion. They were most likely a Norwegian Forest Cat a big strong long coated breed well suited for cold climates. These cats were frequent travel buddies aboard Viking longboats serving to keep disease carrying rodents away. Scientist also speculate some Vikings may have farmed cats for their fur and used their bones for amulets. Some cats were sacrificed in rituals as a way to communicate with the spirit realm.
Women who liked cats were considered a desirable match for young viking men as it was thought to be a sign of happy life. Men would give kittens to their brides symbolizing their new beginning together. It was believed that if the Goddess Freyja passed through their growing fields, she would bless them with good luck and bounty. To entice a visit from Freyja, an offering of milk would be routinely left out for her two cats.
Cats would continue their relationship in Norse Paganism/Asatru, as companions to both farmers and shamans alike until the 9th century when Christianity hit Northern Europe and began slowly replacing Pagan traditions. It is also from this era forward that cats would be slaughtered for their mere association with Freyja who was detested by the church due to her sexual freedom, feminine wiles, and prowess in the magical arts.
About Freyja’s Twin Cats
Illustration from Ah, What a lovely maid it is! by Elmer Boyd Smith, 1902.
Freyja’s cats whose names mean Honey and Amber (Bygul = Bee Gold, Trygul= Tree Gold) are two large grey/blue or sometimes brown furred boys. According to Scandinavian legend and old Russian tales, Bygul and Trygul were gifted to Freyja by the god of thunder Thor. Freyja happily accepted the twin kittens and raised them as her loyal companions. My favorite depiction of Freyja's twin cats is one where they are pulling Freyja's chariot.
How to Show Some Love to Bygul and Trygul
There’s a saying in Nordic traditions that if a wedding happened on a day with particularly fine weather, the bride was said to have “fed the cat well”, as Freyja was known to bless those who were kind to cats. This tradition of feeding cats still prevails today, and if you’d like to show some love to Freyja’s cats like our Northern European ancestors did, leave a bowl of milk or food out for them every Friday night.
I’ve used Swiss cheese, cat treats, kitty kibble, sardines, as well as different types of milk (almond, oat, coconut and soy) because we don’t drink dairy in my household. I can also confirm good luck tends to follow these offerings.
An offering of milk is a simple invitation for Freyja and her twin cats to stop by your home and leave her protection and blessings. Try it and see what happens.