In this write-up, we will be exploring the world of Vanaheim. To be more specific, we will be looking at the gods who lived in Vanaheim, mention its exact location and discuss the Aesir-Vanir war.
Norse mythology describes Vanaheim as the home of the Vanir gods. The Vanir were the tribe of Norse gods and goddesses responsible for fertility, wealth, and natural abundance. They were masters of sorcery and the worst kind of magic –Seidr, and could predict the future and shape it to match their desires. Some of the gods who lived in Vanaheim were: Njord (god of fertility, wind, and the sea), Freya (goddess of lust, love, and fertility), and Freyr (god of peace, fertility, and victory).
Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about what Vanaheim looked like or its location. However, some Icelandic literary sources describe Vanaheim as a fertile area filled with magic and light.
Where is the Vanaheim?
Generally, Vanaheim is known as the land of the Vanir gods – the tribe of gods that was associated with magic, fertility, and nature. However, the exact location of Vanaheim has remained a mystery and has sparked debate and opinions among different Scandinavian scholars. In the Poetic Edda and other medieval sagas, the Aesir gods and goddesses were considered more supreme and were mentioned more than the Vanir gods and goddesses. From these literary sources, we know that the home of the Aesir – Asgard – was located on the top branch of the world tree.
An English scholar named Hilda Ellis Davidson, who greatly focuses on Germanic and Celtic paganism was convinced that Vanaheim was either located somewhere near or within the underworld. According to Norse mythology, the underworld was in Helheim or Nilfheim, which were ruled by Hel, Loki’s daughter. However, this assumption clashes with the activities that happened during the Aesir-Vanir war.
During the war, the two tribes of gods fought aggressively against each other and both tribes gained the upper hand in the war. If the two worlds were too distant from each other, then it would be impossible to fight to that extent. In addition to that, there is the notion that the two tribes needed to live peacefully with each other despite anything that came up in the future. This could potentially mean that they may have been neighbors. Moreover, the exchange of hostages was done within a short time period meaning that they were closer to each other. Based on this train of thought, we can carefully assume that Vanaheim is located slightly below Asgard – the world of the Aesir gods and goddeses.
Aside from that, there is the notion that Vanaheim was below Asgard but above Midgard. This comes from the fact that the Vanir gods and goddesses acted as the middle-men between the Aesir gods and the inhabitants of Midgard.
The Aesir-Vanir War
Norse mythology and several other Icelandic literary works identify that there are two tribes of gods and goddesses; the first tribe being the Aesir and the second one being the Vanir. The two tribes are quite different from each other. The Vanir were more elderly and entirely pacifistic, while the Aesir gods were more warlike and directly represented the strength found in natural elements. Despite their differences in character, the two tribes seamlessly coexisted with each other and lived in peace. However, there was a time when they had some kind of tension between them that entirely affected their relationship.
Freya, the Vanir goddess of beauty and fertility, was a master of Sedir, which was considered the worst yet most powerful form of magic in Norse culture. She regularly wandered across the 9 realms in search of clients for her Seidr services. She disguised herself as Heidr when she was getting closer to Asgard, and when the Aesir gods and goddesses learned about her magical prowess, they immediately sought her services.
As time went by, the Aesir started to realize that their selfish desires and quest for Seidr were starting to damage their values of honor, obedience, and kin loyalty. When this happened, they all blamed Heidr (Goddess Freya) for their individual shortcomings and greed. By the time all the gods in Asgard were affected by the Seidr, they named Freya Gullveig. The name Gullveig meant ‘gold digger/gold-greed’ and tried to get rid of her.
They tried to burn her 3 times, but every single time they did, goddess Freya was reborn from the ashes. This scared the Aesir and they concluded that the Vanir had even more magical powers than the Seidr. Their fears slowly turned into vigor and lots of tension. Eventually, the clash turned into a brutal battle between the two tribes of the gods. The Aesir used weapons and brute force during the war, while the Vanir settled for magic, particularly Seidr. Each of the gods wanted to emerge the victor in the war, but the war didn’t seem to stop.
Eventually, the gods were running out of resources and became weary from the way, so they decided to call a truce. Generally, the Norse believed that two opposing sides are to pay tribute to each other after every war. In respect to that rule, the two tribes decided to pay tribute to each other by exchanging. The Aesir gods sent Mimir and Hoenir to Vanaheim to live among the Vanir gods and goddesses, while Njord, Freya, and Freyr, were sent to Asgard to love among the Aesir gods.
The Vanir gods and goddesses who went to love in Asgard lived peacefully and were easily integrated into the Aesir family. However, Mimir AND Hoenir had a pretty difficult time in Vanaheim. Mimir could not function without Hoenir on his side and Hoenir was a slow-witted simpleton hence disregarded by the Vanir. Because of the shortcomings that the two hostage Aesir gods had, the Vanir gods were convinced that they were duped by the Aesir.
To get back at the Aesir, the Vanir beheaded Mimir and sent his head to Asgard. However, that didn’t move Odin. Instead, Odin embalmed Mimir’s head with herbs and enchanted poems over his head so that Mimir could always advice Odin when needed be. This made the Vanir angrier, but they could not fight because their resources and energy were completely depleted from the initial war. So, the two tribes decided to spit on a cauldron as a way of pledging harmony between them no matter any challenges that arose in the future. To avoid wasting their saliva, they created an intelligent and gifted being known as Kvasir, who helped the Aesir and Vanir when in need.
The Vanir Gods
As mentioned earlier, the Vanir are one of the two groups of the Norse gods, and they reside in the world of Vanaheim. The tribe features a group of gods that are greatly associated with wisdom, fertility, magic, the ability to see the future, and other aspects of nature. Considering the exchange of hostages made between the two tribes of Norse gods- the Vanir and the Aesir- members of the Vanir are sometimes regarded as a sub-group of the Aesir and vice versa. Additionally, different Scandinavian scholars have identified that the Vanir group of gods are connected to material possessions such as gold deposits and foil found in various parts of Scandinavia from the Migration Era to the Viking Age. To add to that, they are considered the reason for gold pieces found in several Norse graves. Some of the Vanir gods venerated by the Norse people are;
Njord, who was popularly identified as the god of the sea, was regarded as the god of material abundance, wealth-bestowal, and prosperity. The Norse people invoked Njord’s help when they were either hunting or seafaring. The Viking believed that by worshipping Njord as they embark on an expedition, they would seamlessly sail through calm waters.
Njord was involved in incest with his sister-Nerthus, and the two had two children-Freya and Freyr, who were part of the Vanir gods. During the Aesir-Vanir war, Njord was taken as a hostage to Asgard by the Aesir gods. He married Skadi afterwards, but their marriage didn’t last too long. After the gods killed her father, Skadi wanted to avenge her father. However, the Aesir gods called a truce and gave her the option to choose a husband among the gods. She ended up with Njord, She, however, wanted to live in her father’s dwelling place in Jotunheim, while Njord loved to live by the sea. Because of the long distance, they had to part ways.
Freyr was the Vanir god associated with prosperity, peace, virility, sacral kingship, fertility, and plentiful harvest. He was the son to Njord and Nerthus, and Freya (god of beauty and fertility) was his sister. His sanctuary was in Trondheim and he was greatly invested in the horse cult so he kept sacred horses in his sanctuary. The Aesir gods gave Freyr the chance to rule over Alfheim, which was the world of the light elves. He owned a magical ship known as Skidblandir, which he could fold and carry in a poach whenever he wasn’t planning to use it and rode on a shining boar known as Gullinbursti (made by the dwarves).
He fell in love with a beautiful female giant named Gerdr, but he had to make very many sacrifices to be with her. He had to give up his powerful and magical sword, which was believed to fight on its own if it landed on the hands of the intended person. The sword was the only reason why god Freyr always won his battle, but, he eventually chose a wife over his powerful sword. Later on, after marrying Gedr, he fought Beli using an antler and won the battle, but was killed by the fire giant Surtr at the Ragnarok as he was too weak.
The Norse people acknowledged Ullr as the god of archery and sports such as hunting and skiing. Not much is documented about Ullr because he was among the eldest Vanir gods. However, most of the Icelandic and other Scandinavian literary sources that exist describe Ullr as a very resilient creature and a clever Vanir god. The name ‘Ullr’ meant glorious servant, which directly reflected his role in Norse culture.
He bestowed glory on the Vikings and all other Norse beings that loved sports and participated in sport competitions. During sport competitions, the Greeks and the Vikings would showcase their physical prowess to their opponents and their friends. It was during this time that they worshipped Ullr. Also, Ullr is the reason why board games are popular across Scandinavia. Because of him game boards and pieces were made from materials such as bones, antlers, and wood.
Heimdallr, who was a watchman of the Aesir gods, was a half-Vanir/half-Aesir god. The Icelandic literary sources describe Heimdallr as the whitest skinned of the Aesir and Vanir gods and he was revered by the Norse people as a shining god. He was found at the entry point of Asgard, and guarded the Bifrost- the rainbow bridge that connected the Aesir to the world of the humans (Midgard). He owned the Gjallarhorn (ringing horn), which was loud enough to be heard in all the 9 worlds and by all beings. He used the Gjallarhorn to summon all the various races of beings in Norse culture during the battle at the end of the world (Ragnarok). He stayed awake all day and night, and he had the ability to hear wool growing on a sheep and grass growing in the meadows.
Odr was a mysterious Vanir god who was married to Freya, the fertility goddess. He would go on long journeys to explore the 9 realms and wouldn’t return home for a prolonged time period. Because of this, his wife-goddess Freya- was always found crying tears of red god as she searched for her husband in desperation. According to different Icelandic literary sources, he had close similarities with the Aesir god Odin.