The Vanir were a tribe of deities associated with fertility and prosperity. They lived in Vanaheim (Vanaheimr or Vanaland), the world of the Vanir.
They warred upon rival tribe of gods known as the Aesir. They differed from the Aesir, by being the Vanir gods of light. The Aesir seemed more sombre and gloomy. However, after a peace between the Vanir and Aesir, three of the Vanir – Njord, Freyr and Freyja, became also popular deities of the Aesir. (See War of Aesir and Vanir for more detail.)
Apart from the Njord and his children, there is very little information than about the Aesir. The Vanir deities seemed to be more popular in Sweden, where most of their places of worship were found. However, other Scandinavian countries also worship them.
One of the differences between the Aesir and the Vanir was that the latter practise incestuous marriage. Njord and his unnamed sister were husband and wife, and were parents of twins, Freyr and Freyja. Freyr and Freyja were also married to one another. While Njord and his children were living in Vanaheim, incest between siblings were normal practice, but when they became Aesir deities and lived in Asgard, the three Vanir deities have to find other partners. Obviously the Aesir frownsd upon incest.
Genealogy: Family Tree of Norse Deities and Giants
Fact and Figures: The Norse Way
|God of wind and sea. Njörd (Njord) appeared to be the leader of Vanir, before he became an Aesir god.
While he was living in Vanaheim, Njörd was married to his own sister (nameless or else she is the Germanic goddess Nerthus). Snorri mentioned this incestuous marriage in the Ynglinga Saga 4. Njörd was the father of Freyr and Freyja.
Some scholars believed that Njörd was a female form of Nerthus. See Germanic Deities, Nerthus.
Njörd and his children were originally Vanir, and during the peace between them and rival tribes, the Aesir, they were exchanged as hostages, to keep the peace. However Njörd and his children were later offered places within Aesir. (See War of Aesir and Vanir).
It seemed that incest was a normal practice among the Vanir. When Njörd became member of the Aesir, as well as his children, Njörd had to give up his sister-wife (Nerthus?).
His marriage to the giantess Skadi, daughter of Thiassi, did not last long, due to the fact that he preferred to live by the sea, Nóatún (Noatun), while Skadi like to live on the mountains. Skadi left Njörd before she married Ull.
Njörd was the god of the sea. He was patron god of sailors and fishermen. He was also god of good fortune, whom seafarers and fishermen prayed to, when they set out to sea, because he was the one who would moderate the wind and sea. Njörd may also be god of hunting.
According to Vafthrudnismal (Lay of Vafthrudnir), Njörd will return to Vanaheim, when the gods fight at Ragnarok. Whether Njörd survived or not, it’s not recorded anywhere, but this short passage may implied that he did. It may also imply that the Vanir, who didn’t take part in the final battle, and Vanaheim, may survive too.
|God of light, rain, fertility and prosperity. Freyr was son of Njörd (Njord) and Njörd’s nameless sister (possibly Nerthus). Freyr was the brother of his twin sister Freyja. Like his father and sister, he was originally a Vanir, but he became an important god of the Aesir. Freyr was one of the hostages after their war against the Aesir. Sometimes, the giantess Skadi was said to be his mother, but usually she was his stepmother.
Freyr was sometimes called Yngvi or Yngvi-Freyr. Another name was Ingi-Freyr.
Freyr was originally the husband and lover of his sister, before they moved and lived with the Aesir gods. Though, it was natural for the Vanir deities to have incestuous relation between siblings, incest was obviously not approved in Asgard.
Like his sister, Freyr was the god of fertility and his sacred animals was also the pig. Brokk and Eiti created a wild boar with golden bristles, called Gullinbursti (which literally means “golden bristles”), which drew his chariot. Sturluson also mentioned the boar was probably Slidrugtanni, instead of Gullinbursti. As to the steed (horse), he rode Blodughofi that bore many strong offspring – Atridi, Gils, Falhofnir, Glaer and Skeidbrimir.
Freyr also possessed a collapsible ship made by sons of Ivaldi called Skidbladnir (Wooden-bladed), which can be reduce to size small enough to put in his pocket when he was not on it. (See Gifts of the Dwarves for the full story.)
Freyr was god of light and the sun, or more precisely the god of sunshine. Freyr also appeared to be god of rain and agriculture. He resided in Alfheim and was either ruler or patron god of the elves. Freyr has three companions, his servants, Byggvir (“Barley”) and his serving maid Beyla, and his shield-bearer, Skirnir (“Shining One”). Byggvir and Beyla appeared in appeared in the poem Lokasenna, from the Poetic Edda. While Skirnir appeared in the poem, Skirnismal.
Among the Vanir, Freyr was their strongest and bravest god. Several times, he was mentioned as the war leader of the gods. Freyr had possessed a magical sword, but he lose this blade.
Freyr married the giantess Gerd, daughter of the giants – Gymir and Aurboda. Freyr asked his servant Skirnir to help him woo Gerd. Skirnir asked for the great magical sword from his master as payment for this service, Freyr agreed. At first, Gerd refused to marry Freyr, no matter what gifts Skirnir offered her. She only consent to marry the Vanir, when Skirnir threatened her to cause the beautiful giantess to aged into old woman. See the Wooing of Gerd. They were later married and had a son named Fiolnir.
Freyr possessed the stag’s antler, which he used to kill the giant, Beli. Freyr was often called Beli’s bright slayer.
In Ragnarök (Ragnarok), he fought the fire-giant, Surt, without his magic sword, used the stag’s antler as his weapon, but Freyr was the first to be killed. His shield-bearer Skirnir had asked for his sword as payment for his services and his help in getting Gerd to marrying him.
Freyr, like the other Vanir deities, was popular in Sweden, though he was known in Norway and Iceland. A statue was found in the temple at Uppsala, where he was portrayed with a gigantic phallus. Clearly this statue and other statuettes and amulets found in Sweden, showed that Freyr was a fertility god.
|Goddess of love, beauty, fertility, magic, war and death. Freyja was the daughter of Njörd (Njord) and Njörd’s nameless sister (possibly Nertheus?). She was the sister of Freyr. Like her brother and father, she was originally a Vanir goddess, but she would later become an important goddess of the Aesir. She was known by the title Vanadis, which is the “dís of the Vanir”. dís is the Norse word for “goddess”; dís is usually used in plural form, dísir.
She was sometimes confused with Frigg, wife of Odin, since both of their names mean “Lady”. Frigg sometimes also had the same attributes as Freyja. Another goddess, she was sometimes was confused with, was Idun, the Keeper of the Apple of Youth.
In several aspects, she and her brother were like the Greek deities Artemis and Apollo. They were twins; her brother was a god of light, like Apollo. Since she was Vanir goddess, Freyja was a goddess of fertility like Artemis (fertility of the wild animals). Unlike Artemis, who was also seen as virgin goddess, Freyja was also the goddess of love and sex.
Freyja was described as an extremely beautiful goddess, blonde and blue eyes. Like Aphrodite, Freyja was the goddess of love and beauty. Freyja married a god named Od or Odur, and became mother of two daughters, Nossa or Hnossa, and Gersimi (both daughters’ names mean “Jewel”). However Od had mysteriously disappeared. She wandered the earth, searching for husband, weeping tears of gold. (Od may have been another name for Odin).
After her husband (Od) had abandoned her or disappeared on her, she became the most promiscuous of all goddesses; she was probably the goddess of sex rather than of fertility. She had many love affairs, with gods, human, elves and even dwarves. Freyja was often seen as the mistress of Odin. Loki had accused her of sleeping with every gods in Asgard and all the elves in Alfheim (Poetic Edda’s Lokasenna). Loki had even accused her of sleeping with her brother Freyr. Freyja and her brother were husband and wife when they were living in Vanaheim (land of the Vanir), just like their father with an unnamed sister. As I understand it, incest was normal practice among the Vanir deities, but the Aesir frown upon incest.
Unlike Aphrodite, but like the Greek goddesses, Athena and Persephone, she was the goddess of war and death. Freyja enjoyed combat and battle. She ride into the battlefield, where she received half of the fallen heroes in combat; the other half goes to Odin in Valhalla. These warriors stayed in her great hall, Fólkvangar (“battlefield”), within her palace Folkvang (“Field of Folk”). Her other hall was the Sessrumnir.
She had a great love for gold. Her most prized possession was the necklace Brísingamen. She received the necklace by sleeping with four dwarves known as the Brisings (their name were possibly Alfrigg, Berling, Dvalin and Grerr). Odin was disgusted by her sexual promiscuity that he sent Loki to steal the Brísingamen. The gatekeeper of Asgard, Heimdall, who had great vision, saw the theft. He pursued Loki and recovered the necklace for Freyja. In a later version, Odin would only return the Brísingamen, on the condition that she starts wars in the world of men. See the Brisings.
Freyja received other gifts as well, such as a cloak of bird feathers (allowing her to transform herself into a falcon), and her chariot drawn by two cats. Another of her favourite animals was the pigs or boars. Her human lover Ottar disguised himself as a battle boar with golden bristles, known as Hildesvini. She was sometimes called Sýr (sow), an epithet. She was also known to have wandered the countryside at night, in the form of a she-goat.
She was also the goddess witchcraft, a disreputable kind of magic called seiðr (seið or seior). Her love of gold and the witchcraft she practised, may have resulted in the confusion, surrounding her with another Vanir goddess, named Gullveig and the witch Heid, the reincarnation of Gullveig.
|Gullveig and Heid|
|Gullveig was a Vanir goddess. Gullveig was probably the goddess of healing.
Gullveig was a goddess with a great fondness for gold. Her constant chatter about gold irritated the Aesir gods. Gullveig was assaulted in the hall of Odin. She was tortured: repeatedly pierced by spears, and burnt three times in a great fire. Each time, she was reborn.
The Vanir demanded reparation from the Aesir for the torture of Gullveig: the Vanir wanted the same status and privilege as the Aesir. The Aesir refused, and war broke out between the two races of gods. The war of Aesir and the Vanir, lasted for 10 years, before the Aesir agreed to the Vanir’s terms.
From the fire, Gullveig was reborn as a witch (fordoeda) named Heid (“Bright One”), who practised witchcraft known as seiðr.
The dual goddess Gullveig/Heid was sometimes confused with Freyja, who also practised the disreputable kind of magic, seiðr, and her love for gold.
|Kvasir was the wisest of the Vanir. Kvasir was born from the saliva of the two groups of gods, Aesir and Vanir. It was how the two warring deities made peace by spitting in a vessel. Kvasir wandered around the world, teaching people about his knowledge, sharing his wisdom.
Kvasir was killed by two dwarves, Fjalar and Galar, who were tired of his lecturing. They mixed his blood with honey in a cauldron (Odhrorir), making the mead of poetry. Anyone who drank the magical mead would be inspired with poetry and wisdom.
The giant Suttung forced the dwarves to give him the mead, and had his daughter Gunnlod to guard the mead in a cave at Jotunheim. However, Odin heard of the mead, and was determined to have the mead for himself. He work one year for Baugi, Suttung’s brother, disguised as a farmhand. He persuaded Baugi to give him a drink of the mead, by entering the cave and seducing Gunnlod to give him three drinks.
See Mead of Poetry.