Chariot of the mogs

The far Northern equivalent of the goddess Venus was… drawn through the air by two cats?

Domestic cats are not thought to have been present that far north, at that time, though we know from footprints across wet clay that they were in the British Isles in Roman times. Hence the two grey-white house cats shown here are not likely to have been an accurate depiction, if cats were the correct creatures.

The evidence for cats is usefully sifted by William P. Reaves in his thorough online essay “Freyja’s fressa: A car drawn by cats?”. He concludes that…

“For the car [small chariot] to be drawn by bears, the word köttum would have to be an innovation by Snorri Sturluson, the author of the Prose Edda, based on [his swopping it in for] the word fressa [which could mean either cats or bears] … Based on the available evidence, Freyja most likely rode in a car drawn by a pair of tom-cats (köttom, fressa), either domestic or wild. A likely breed is the Norsk skogkatt or Norwegian forest cat.”

I would only add that the Finnish National Gallery provides a picture of a most elegant alternative to a spitting wildcat, the “Räv-lo i vinterdräkt” (1829) (Rav-lo or Raf-lo in winter coat), a type of large forest lynx with a grey-white winter coat. It seems a most suitable cat to be associated with a northern Venus-equivalent. Apparently the Romans thought stones of amber originated from the urine of such lynx, which may interest some readers in terms of the possibility that the Romans connected amber to Venus and her equivalents. Tacitus knew differently on that matter, knowing that amber must originate in tree secretions, but the mass of Romans who wore amber amulets thought it was the lynx.

As one can see in this ethnography-informed painting, even in modern times these are big kitties, and in older times they were perhaps even larger and deemed by story-tellers to be big enough to pull a small chariot.

One wonders if these cats of Freyja might be akin to the night-seeing “cats of Queen Berúthiel” mentioned by Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. But no, we now know that’s not the case. As revealed to readers of Unfinished Tales (1980), Berúthiel is a “nefarious, solitary and loveless” southerner and somewhat like Cleopatra in rank. She enslaved cats and used them as spies in the dark. So, not at all the goddess of love and fertility, and much more of a witch-like evil queen character. In an interview dug up from 1966 Tolkien had added: “She was one of these people who loathe cats, but cats will jump on them and follow them about”, and thus she enslaved them.


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