When you think about Norse gods, names of Aesir gods like Thor, Odin and Loki are the ones that come to mind. It is because, in today’s pop culture, Asgard and the Aesir have been incorporated in many ways. There is, however, very little that survives of other groups of the Norse pantheon, like the Vanir gods for example.
Despite not being talked about, gods like Njord and Freyr are important gods in Norse mythology too. Although, Freyr is more popular than Njord. That is why this post focuses on discussing more Njord, who he is, what he represents, his family, and his significance in Norse mythology.
Who is Njord?
Njord is said to be the god of the sea and wind. Although the Vikings were a sea-faring people who venerated the god of the sea and those who had control over it like Thor who controlled thunder and storm, Njord is a much lesser-known Norse deity. Still, he was invoked by Vikings each time before they set out on their sea voyages and fishing expeditions. Njord was believed to have the power to calm the waters and quelling fires. Given that they got most of their wealth from the raids they had at sea, Njord was also considered to be the god of wealth and good fortune. There was actually a saying among the rich that said ‘as rich as Njord.
Njord is considered to be the exact opposite of the giant Aegir, who is also associated with the sea. The Vikings saw Aegir as a more destructive force who would smash their ships and keep their treasures as his own. Aegir also married his sister Ran and had nine daughters who became the spirits of the waves. Ran was also seen as a negative sea force, known for dragging people to the sea with her large fishnets. It would seem that while Aegir and Ran symbolized the destructive and dangerous side of the sea, Njord symbolized the sea’s ability to give and provide. So, when the Vikings saw large waves approaching, they believed that Aegir was close buy and so they invoked Njord to come and counter him.
Aside from the sea and wealth, Njord is also seemingly associated with crop fertility. He is said to grant prosperity and great wealth in the form of land to those who invoke him for help. As the protector of the seafaring, fishers, farmers, and hunter, he was a favorite god among the Vikings. According to Prose Edda, he is said to have had many temples during the Viking times. That may be why his name survived as place names in many Scandinavian places in Iceland, Sweden, and Norway.
As for his origins, as already mentioned, Njord is from the Vanir and used to live in Vanaheim. That was until after the Aesir-Vanir war when his children and he were exchanged as hostages and taken to Aesir as part of the peace settlement. In Aesir, there were quickly accepted and became important figures in Asgard. Njord along with her daughter was appointed as the priest and priestess of the sacrifices offered in Asgard. These were very important roles that gained their popularity and respect among the gods.
Njord lived in his hall called Nóatún which means boat haven or ship enclosure. It is by the sea and said to be his favorite place. He spends all day and night listening to waves and enjoying the fresh but salty wind from the sea. Hence, he is also associated with peace, which would make sense since the Vanir was described as a peaceful race of gods when compared to the war-like Aesir. Vanir’s strong association with nature would also explain his association with the sea and the fertility of the land. Although not much is said about his animal associations, it is believed that his sacred animals were a flock of Iceland gulls. But, being the god of the sea, it is safe to assume that he is also associated with most of not all marine life.
Njord Meaning and Symbol
The name Njord, which is pronounced NYORD, has no known meaning in the Old Norse. His name however corresponds to the Germanic goddess Nerthus, who many belief are related. Both names are said to be derived from the Proto-Germanic word Nerpuz. The original meaning of this word may be related to the Irish word nert, which means power or force. His name could, however, be associated with the name Njörun a Norse goddess.
A lot of the symbolism surrounding Njord is related to him being the god of the sea, wind, and wealth. As such, he is said to be the representation of the sea, its calm nature, and its abundance. He embodies its ability to provide. Even though he is a peaceful Vanir god, sea raiders, who are aggressive groups, still invoke him for help. That is because he represents wealth and good fortune.
Aside from his role as the god of the sea, there is symbolism that can be found in his marriage to Skadi. Some say that their marriage is a representation of the stark difference between the tall mountains and raging sea surrounding them in Norway.
The following are some of the mythic accounts of the Vanir god of the sea, wind, and wealth:
Njord as a Hostage
This particular mythic account talks about the important role Njord played by being one of the willing hostages who was taken to Aesir. Based on this account, Njord is noted as a Vanir who was taken as a hostage to Asgard among the Aesir. It was a necessity to bring an end to the war between the two divine races. The exchange of hostages was seen as a way of ensuring the safe retreat of both parties and long-lasting peace between them. This explains why the peace-loving Vanir deities, lived among the war-loving Aesir.
Njord’s Euhemeristic Views
In some sources like the Ynglinga saga, Njord is described euhemeristically as one of Sweden’s earliest kings. Njord was called the drot or sole sovereign of the Swedes at that time. He was said to received taxes (scatts) and gifts from them. The Swedes believed that Njord controlled the growth of seasons and the people’s prosperity. His reign was said to be good years filled with peace and abundance. Even in this account, Njord continued with his religious role, where he continues to perform the blood-sacrifices offered to the gods. He is said to have been ill on his last days and died by having himself speared, so he would be marked as Odin’s. After that, his body was burned and the Swedes wept over his grave-mound.
Like most Norse gods, not much is known about Njord’s parents or his early childhood. He is, however, believed to have a sister. Although her identity is not clear, many believe that he was the twin brother to Nerthus. Tacitus describes the two as having similar traits, so it could be possible that Njord is actually the male counterpart of Nerthus. Aside from being his sister, Nerthus is also believed to have been his first wife. Being a Vanir, marriage between a brother and sister wasn’t opposed.
The two are said to have had twins Freyr and Freya, who like them were said to have been lovers or married at some point before the Aesir-Vanir war. After a peace settlement was agreed between the two groups, Njord along with his son and daughter were taken to Asgard. Seeing as the Aesir were against the brother-sister marriage, seeing it as incest, Odin annulled both Njord’s and Nerthus’ marriage as well as Freyr and Freya’s marriage. Njord and his children were able to settle quickly among the Aesir and become honored deities. Freyr was made ruler of Alfheim, the 11th realm, Freya lived in her hall Fólkvangr, and Njord in his hall Nóatún.
Njord and Skadi
The tale of Njord and Skadi is perhaps the most popular account of this Norse god. The tale starts with Skadi’s father, Thjazi, who kidnaps the Idun, the goddess responsible for caring for the fruits that keep the Norse deities youthful and vigorous. Idun was rescued by Loki, who had a hand in her kidnap, to begin with, and Thjazi went chasing after them.
Skadi was worried when her father did not return. Believing he was dead, Skadi swore to seek vengeance and so went to Asgard. The gods not wanting to fight her, offered to compensate her for her father’s death with gold. Skadi refuses and insisted that she would only settle for the husband of her choice among the gods. The Aesir agreed, with the condition that she could only choose a husband by looking at their feet. She chooses the feet she thought were the most beautiful assuming they were Balder’s, Odin’s son, and the most attractive Norse gods.
It turned out that the feet belonged to Njord, and Skadi was not pleased by the fact that he smelled like salt and his face had weathered from years of staying by the sea. Still, she accepted her choice, but their marriage did not last since neither of them could agree on where to live.
At first, they stayed at Skadi’s home in the mountains, which Njord found to me too cold and desolate. Then they stayed at Njord’s home, which Skadi found to be loud and constantly filled with activity. Since they could not tolerate each other’s home for nine nights, they were said to separate according to the Ynglinga saga. Skadi is said to later have had a relationship with Odin and had many children with him.
Njord and Ragnarok
Ragnarok is considered to be the end of the world according to Norse mythology. The Prose and Poetic Edda, describe it as the epic battle that would bring down the cosmos and take it back to the bottomless abyss it once was.
Although all the Norse gods are believed to meet their end in this battle, some are said to have survived. Njord is among those who survive. According to Poetic Edda, he is said to have moved back to Vanir during the final battle. While there he managed to survive Ragnarok. Not much is said about him after that.
Facts About Njord
Here is a summary of important facts to note about the Norse god Njord:
- He is one of the important and widely worshipped deities in the Norse pantheon.
- He is a Vanir but later moved to Asgard and became an Aesir as part of the peace settlement among the Aesir.
- He is the god of the sea, wind, and wealth. He is also associated with crop fertility since the Vanir had a strong connection to Nature.
- The meaning of his name is unknown and so are the identities of his parents.
- He is the father of Freyr and Freya.
- His wives were Skadi and Nerthus, who also happens to be his twin sister and the mother of his children.
- He lives in Nóatún, which is by the sea and is considered to be his favorite place.
- He is said to represent the calmness of the sea and its ability to give.
- He protects the seafaring people, fishers, farmers, and hunters.
- He was believed to be one of the earliest Kings among the Swedes. His reign was said to be peaceful and filled with abundance.
- He is among the Norse gods believed to survive Ragnarok.
Unlike other gods like Thor and Freyr, Njord is not mentioned in a lot of today’s modern culture. That doesn’t change the fact that he was among the most worshipped Norse god, being the god of wealth and the sea. He was also highly respected by the Norse people. His veneration is said to have continued even after the Viking Age all through to the 19th century, where Norwegians still thanked him for a bountiful catch of fish. He was also depicted in many paintings and poems from Viking times.