In this write-up, we will explore the character of the Vanir and identify who they were. We will also discuss the roles that they played in ancient times and how they shaped Norse culture.
Norse mythology describes the Vanir as a group of gods and goddesses associated with materialism, fertility, and magic prowess. Several theories attempt to associate the tribe of the Vanir with several other beings in Norse cultures, such as the elves, humans, and gods. Some sources claim that the Vanir were once a tribe of people and, at one point, was closely associated with the gods from the Aesir gods associated with the sky and war. Other sources also connect the Vanir gods to the elves and even claim that Freyr ruled over Alfheim (the world of the elves) at one point through his life before he was sent to live among the Aesir gods in Asgard.
The Vanir gods and goddesses
The Vanir are one of the two groups of the Norse gods, and they reside in Vanaheim. The tribe features a group of gods and goddesses that are associated with magic, wisdom, fertility, the ability to see the future, and other aspects of nature. Due to the exchange of hostages made between the two tribes of Norse gods, members of the Vanir are often regarded as a sub-group of the Aesir and vice versa.
Additionally, different scholars have identified that the Vanir are connected to some gold pieces of gold foil found in different parts of Scandinavia from the Migration period to the Viking Age. Also, they are recognized as the reason for gold pieces found in graves.
Vanir gods list
Members of the Vanir gods include:
Njord, popularly known as the god of the sea, was also regarded as the god of prosperity, material abundance, and wealth-bestowal. His help was invoked in seafaring and hunting. He was involved in incest with his sister, and they had two children – Freyja and Freyr.
During the Aesir and the Vanir war, he was given as a hostage to Asgard (the world of the Aesir gods). When Skadi wanted to avenge her father, she had to choose a husband among the gods, and she ended up with Skadi. However, their marriage couldn’t work because Njord preferred to live by the sea, while Skadi (a giantess) preferred to live in Jotunheim (her father’s dwelling place).
Nerthus was a Vanir goddess, whose name is identified with that of Njord. Her sex is often questionable, and she is identified as a hermaphrodite. She was referred to as Terra Mater, which meant Mother Earth. Most Icelandic literary sources identify that she was worshipped and greatly respected by seven tribes. One of these seven tribes was the Angles, who invaded Great Britain and settled there during the post-Roman period.
She had a temple in a consecrated grove on an island in the Baltic Sea, where our followers worshipped her. While in the sacred temple, she and her chariot were washed in a sanctified lake by slaves. However, immediately she left, she drowned the slaves in the same lake. She was believed to ride on a chariot pulled by a few cows, and she enjoyed being among her people. Every time she was among her people, there was no war or fighting, and everyone preferred to celebrate.
Freyja was considered the goddess of fertility, love, war, and death. She was the twin sister to Freyr and the daughter to Njord. She rode a boar that had golden bristles and scared pigs everywhere. She owned a chariot drawn by cats, and she would use it to visit her people. Her great hall was in the Folkvangar, where she received half of the heroes slain in battle after the other half went to Valhalla (Orin’s hall).
Also, she owned a glamorous necklace known as Brisingamen, made by the dwarves. Additionally, she taught all the Aesir gods the essential tricks and methods needed to perform witchcraft. People knew her as Gefn, Horn, Syr, and Mardoll. Also, she traveled across all the 9 realms weeping tears of gold in search of her husband.
Freyr was a Vanir god associated with peace, prosperity, sacral kingship, virility, and plentiful harvest. He was Njord’s (the sea god) son and his sister’s wife. Additionally, he was Freyja’s twin brother. He kept sacred horses at Trondheim, where his sanctuary was, and was greatly invested in the horse cult. The Aesir gods gave him a chance to rule over Alfheim, which was the world of the light elves. He rode Gullinbursti (a shining boar made by the dwarves) and owned Skidbladnir, a ship that he could fold and carry in a poach whenever he didn’t need to use it.
Freyr fell in love with Gerdr, a female giant, but he had to make very many sacrifices. He had to give up his sword, which the Norse believe could fight on its own if it lands in the hands of the right person. The sword was the main reason why Freyr would win all his battles, but eventually, he had to choose his wife over it. Later after their marriage, he fought with Beli using an antler and was victorious, but he was killed by Surtr (a fire giant) at the Ragnarok because he was too weak.
Ullr was regarded as the god of sports, particularly bow hunting and skiing. He was among the eldest gods, which is part of the reason why not much is documented about him. However, most of the Icelandic literary sources that exist identify Ullr as a clever being and a very resilient creature.
His name meant glorious servant, which informed his role in Norse culture. He bestowed glory on the Vikings and other beings who were good at sports. Ullr was worshipped during sports competitions where the Vikings and the Greeks would showcase their physical prowess to their friends. Additionally, Ullr influenced board games among the Norse people. Today, you will find several game boards and pieces made from different materials such as antlers, wood, and bones.
Heimdallr, the half-Vanir/half-Aesir god, was a watchman of the Aesir gods. He was described as the whitest skinned of the gods and was revered as a shining god. He lived at the entry point to Asgard, and he guarded the rainbow bridge (Bifrost) that connected the Aesir to Midgard (the world of the humans). He owned the Gjallarhorn (ringing horn), which was loud enough to be heard in all 9 realms. He used the ringing horn to summon all the races of beings in Norse mythology during the Ragnarok. He was an insomniac and barely slept. Also, he could hear the grass growing in the meadows, and he could also hear wool grow on sheep.
Odr was a Vanir god married to Freya, the fertility goddess. He loved to travel across all the nine realms and wouldn’t return to his home for a long period of time. Because of this, goddess Freya would constantly cry tears of red gold when looking for her husband in desperation. Aside from that, some Icelandic literary sources claim that Odr had close similarities with Odin, which could mean that they might have been the same deity.
According to Norse mythology, Kvasir was considered poetic and the wisest of all beings in Norse culture. After the Vanir gods felt as though they had been duped in the exchange of hostages once they had called the truce, they beheaded Mimir and sent it to Odin (the ruler of Asgard). Because they were too weary from fighting, the two tribes of the gods chose to spit in a common vessel. From the saliva mix in the vessel, they created a Vanir-Aesir god known as Kvasir. He gave advice, taught people, and instructed anyone he comes across. Unfortunately, he was killed by Flajar and Galar, two dwarves who hated academics and learning. They took his blood and distilled it in the magic cauldron (Odhrorir). The giant Suttung would then mix Kvasir’s blood with honey to form the mead of poetry, which gave anyone who drank it wisdom and poetic inspiration.
Gullveig/Heidr was a Vanir goddess associated with Seidr, the most terrible kind of magic in Norse culture. She is identified as the cause of conflict between the Aesir and the Vanir gods. In search of clients for her services, she ended up at Asgard (the world of the Aesir gods) and managed to convince nearly all the gods that she could fulfill all their desires using Seidr. When the gods seemed zealous, they blamed her for their shortcomings and corruption and decided to get rid of her. They burnt her three times, but she was reborn thrice. Upon her third rebirth, her new name became Heidr, and her character changed a little. However, she was still greatly feared by the Aesir.
Vanir gods vs. Aesir
According to Norse mythology and several Icelandic literary works, there are two tribes of gods and goddesses. The first one being the Aesir, and the second one being the Aesir. These two tribes are quite different. The Aesir were more warlike and represented the strength found in nature, while the Vanir were more pacifistic. Despite their differences in character, they were always at peace with each other. However, there was one time when they had a clash that affected their relationship.
Freya, the Vanir goddess, was a master of Swift, which was the worst yet most powerful of magic, always wandered across different realms in search of clients for her services. She named herself (Heidr) by the time she was getting to Asgard, and when the gods and goddesses learned about her magical powers, they fiercely sought her services. With time, they began to realize that their selfish desires are starting to damage their values of obedience, kin loyalty, and honor. When this happened, the gods began to blame Freya for their individual shortcomings.
When nearly all the gods were affected, they called Freya Gullveig, which meant gold-greed, and tried to kill her. They tried to burn her three times, but every time they did, the goddess Freya was reborn from the ashes. When this happened, the Aesir concluded that the Vanir had even more magical powers. They began to fear the Vanir and eventually their fears into a terrible conflict. The Aesir used weapons and brute force during the war, while the Vanir proffered to use magic. Each side believed that they would be a victor in the war, but none seemed to win.
Eventually, the gods got tired from the war and were running out of resources, so they decided to call a truce. Naturally, the Germanic people bribed that they were to pay tribute to each other after every war. In that regard, the two tribes decided to pay tribute to each other by sending hostages to the two worlds. Freyr, Njord, and Freya were sent to Asgard to live among the Aesir gods, while Mimir and Hoenir were sent to Vanaheim to live among the Vanir gods.
The Vanir gods who went to live in Asgard found it peaceful. However, Mimir and Hoenir had a hard time in Vanaheim. Hoenir was a slow-witted simpleton hence undermined by the Vanir. Mimir, on the other hand, always advised the Vanir gods and anyone he came across. However, he couldn’t function without Hoenir by his side. Because of these shortcomings that the two hostage Aesir gods had, the Vanir gods at Vanaheim thought they had been duped in their exchange.
To get back at the Aesir, they beheaded Mimir and sent his head back to Asgard. However, Odin wasn’t too moved and decided to enchant poems over Mimir’s head and embalm it with herbs so that Mimir can give Odin advice when he needed it. This angered the Vanir gods even further; however, they could not fight because they were extremely depleted from the war that they had come from. For this reason, they preferred to spit on a cauldron as a way of pledging sustained harmony between them despite any challenges that they would have faced in the future. From their saliva, they created a wise being known as Kaveri, who was to help them both in times of need.