Freya’s Hens

Juleigh Howard-Hobson

It’s almost summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, which means it’s Ladybug season. More than just delightful garden helpers—the presence of Ladybugs also means magic’s afoot.

The Ladybug was once known as Freya’s Hen (Freyjuhœna). Its name changed to “marihøne”, literally “Mary’s hen”, when the Ancient Norse converted to Christianity, Mary being the standard replacement for the Goddess Freya. The modern term Ladybug harkens clearly back to Freya: Lady. In Europe, direct euphemism still occurs for Freya’s Hens in names such as “Ladybird” and “Poulette de la Madone” (French for “Our Lady’s Little Hen”).

The seven dots on the typical Ladybug’s wings match the seven stars that make up the Pleiades. Interestingly, the Vikings called the Pleiades (as well as Ladybugs) Freya’s Hens, and this constellation was known throughout Ancient Europe—from England to Hungary—as the Hens and Chicks. Ladybugs and the heavens have been associated for a long time.

Traditionally, being associated with the heavens means having magical powers—of the happiest sort. Ladybugs are no exception.

 French Ladybugs are able to take away illness if they land on you and then fly away swiftly.

Irish Ladybugs (or rather Ladybirds, as they are known there) are considered to be fairy-pets, capable of granting three wishes, as well as being fierce protectors of any individual lucky enough to be chosen by one. Indeed, across all of Europe, having the Ladybird come to you is considered to be a most auspicious symbol. Particularly if one lands on your hair or skin. The brighter the red, the luckier it is for you.

Should a Ladybug land on a single person’s clothing, true love will certainly follow. Ladybugs, like the Norse Goddess they originally were named for, and love have a strong connection. When you catch one in your hand, and then let it go unharmed, it will fly off in the direction of your love. Furthermore, if one should land on your hand (without you trying to catch it first), you will be wed within the year.

Pragmatically enough, Ladybugs are also associated with babies. The number of spots you see on a Ladybug that lands on you will tell you how many children to expect.  In Italy, they are known as “commaruccia” or little midwives while Swiss folklore holds that a Ladybug (not a stork) delivers babies to couples. It has long been thought auspicious to have Ladybugs around the nursery—a notion that has survived to this day, notice how many Ladybugs decorate baby items.

As well as love and babies, Ladybugs are fortunate bugs—sometimes they are even called golden-bugs—bringing good harvests (this is borne out by organic farmers everywhere), and fortunes. It is said that the spots on their backs represent the dollars they will bring you—the more spots, the more dollars—and it is also said that the spots represent how long you will have to wait for this boon to show up, the more spots the more months it will take. Since fortune doesn’t always have to be made of spending cash, the Ladybug will bring all sorts of prosperity into a house it flies inside: joy, good weather, friendship are among the happy gifts it bestows on people lucky enough to come into contact with one.

This little-dotted beetle has had, and continues to have, quite the numinous life, each and every summer since ages unrecorded. But when you consider that Freya is a Goddess of Magic, Love, and Fertility, could her hen do anything else?

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