Norse Vanir Gods & Goddesses: Facts & Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Norse mythology recognized two sets of deities. In this lesson we'll look at the Vanir tribe and discover what they meant to Norse mythology and history, and how they related to the other members of the Norse pantheon.

The Vanir Gods and Goddesses

As many of us have discovered, group projects can be stressful. It always feels like one group takes control over the other, someone's not pulling their weight, and nobody can quite agree. Well, the ancient Norse, the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Northern Germanic people of Northern Europe and Iceland, must have understood this. In Norse mythology, there are actually two different tribes of gods and goddesses. The primary tribe is the Aesir, other tribe is the Vanir, and while they generally work well together, they don't always see eye-to-eye.

Vanir Figures

While there are quite a few Vanir deities, three principle figures emerge. First is Njord. Njord was generally associated with wealth, fertility, and seafaring. He had a short marriage to the giantess Skadi, which ended because he hated her home in the mountains and she couldn't stand his home on the beach.

Njord sits and misses the sea
Njord

Njord had two children named Freya and Freyr, and while we're not quite sure who their mother was, these two were also prominent Vanir deities. Freya was a fertility goddess, characterized by a love of beauty and material possessions. In many stories of the gods, she's the partier; the one who likes to let her hair down and have a good time. This doesn't mean, however, that she was weak. Freya taught the gods the magical art of controlling the fates of the cosmos and could basically bend anyone or anything to her will. Freyr, her brother, was another fertility god, associated with prosperity, benevolence, and well-being. So, it's really not surprising that Freyr was one of the most beloved gods, both in terms of mythology and actual daily Norse life. He brought peace, bountiful harvests, and health and travelled on a magical ship that could be folded up and carried in a bag.

Freya
Freya

History and Mythology of the Vanir

Now, as this secondary tribe of deities, the Vanir hold a really interesting place in Norse mythology. In fact, some scholars believe they may be evidence of a secondary Germanic religion that was introduced into the Scandinavian world centuries ago. There are some reasons for this. For one, most of the Vanir gods are strongly associated with fertility, which could signify that they came from a fertility-based religion, which did exist amongst Germanic tribes. Additionally, there is a fair amount of mixing between Vanir and Aesir myths that indicates that the role of these figures changed over time. In fact, for various parts of Norse history, Freya was even worshipped as the wife of Odin himself, chief of the Aesir. We see this mixed role of the Vanir deities in two major sources. First is the Poetic Edda, one of the most important collections of Old Norse poems. The other source is the Prose Edda, a scholarly treatise on Norse mythology compiled by the 13th-century Icelandic Christian scholar Snorri Sturluson. However, even in these sources the Vanir tribe appears infrequently, leaving the question this tribe's mythological and historic origin.

Tribes of gods clashed in the Aesir-Vanir War
Aesir-Vanir War

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