Gefjun is the ancient Norse goddess of farming, fertility, and plenty. Her name is pronounced “GEV-yoon” and means “Giver” or “Generous One,” due in part to her connection with plenty and prosperity. Gefjun was known to give to the Norse.
Most of the surviving stories of Gefjun come from Snorri Sturluson, a historian of Norse mythology from Iceland. His stories of the Norse gods are not considered perfect retellings of the original myths, but they are widely accepted accounts.
There are varied, conflicting stories about Gefjun’s relationships, or lack thereof. Some accounts say that she is a virgin and that all those who die virgins are honored by becoming her servants in the afterlife, but there are many other versions of her life that make this not only unlikely but impossible.
There are other stories say that she married the great king of Denmark, King Skjoldr and that the couple stayed in Denmark, living in the town of Lejre. There are also references to her having children with a giant, although he remains unnamed. In one story, Loki accuses Gefjun of giving away the use of her body in exchange for precious jewels.
One of Snorri’s stories of Gefjun explains how she became known as the goddess of ploughing. She was traveling through Sweden disguised as a homeless woman when she came upon King Gylfi, known to be a generous man. Though, in this story, his generosity had some strings attached: he granted that she should have all the land that four oxen could plough in one day. Though it was already a generous gift, the clever Gefjun found a way to improve upon it, using her four sons.
These sons were fathered by an unknown giant, and she turned her already giant boys into four giant oxen. Her boys did her proud. Not only did they plough a huge amount of land, they carved out a chunk of earth and dragged it out of Sweden. The void left behind became Lake Marlaren. The physical description Snorri gives of the lake sounds more like Vanern, though, so many believe that the original myth told of the origins of Lake Vanern rather than Lake Marlaren. The mound of land that they took from Sweden became Zealand, the Danish island where modern day Copenhagen stands as the capital of Denmark.
Some scholars connect Gefjon with other Norse goddesses. There were many Norse goddesses of the earth, including Freya and Frigg. Because of some versions of each of their names, there is some debate about whether or not these three names might actually belong to just one goddess. Different languages and different versions of stories makes it difficult to prove this, so they are usually treated as separate goddesses.
Some people also connect her to the ancient British epic poem Beowulf. Parts of the epic were lost over time, and the mother of the monster Grendel is never named in the surviving text. Due to the setting, the size of Grendel, and her powers, there are some connections made between this unnamed mother and Gefjon.