Æsir–Vanir War

In Norse mythology, the Æsir–Vanir War was a conflict between two groups of deities that ultimately resulted in the unification of the Æsir and the Vanir into a single pantheon. The war is an important event in Norse mythology, and the implications for the potential historicity surrounding accounts of the war are a matter of scholarly debate and discourse.

Fragmented information about the war appears in surviving sources, including Völuspá, a poem collected in the Poetic Edda in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; in the book Skáldskaparmál in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; and in euhemerized form in the Ynglinga saga from Heimskringla, also written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century.

Æsir-Vanir war by Frølich
Óðinn throws his spear at the Vanir host, illustration by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

Attestations

The following attestations provide information about the war:

Poetic Edda

Gullveig by Frølich
Gullveig is executed, illustration by Lorenz Frølich (1895).
Asen gegen die Wanen by Karl Ehrenberg
"The Æsir Against the Vanir" (1882) by Karl Ehrenberg.

In two stanzas of Völuspá, the war is recounted by a völva (who refers to herself here in the third person) while the god Óðinn questions her. In the first of the two stanzas, the völva says that she remembers the first war in the world, when Gullveig was stabbed with spears and then burnt three times in one of Óðinn's halls, yet that Gullveig was reborn three times. In the later stanza, the völva says that they called Gullveig Heiðr (meaning "Bright One"[1] or potentially "Gleaming" or "Honor"[2]) whenever she came to houses, that she was a wise völva, and that she cast spells. Heiðr performed seiðr where she could, did so in a trance, and was "always the favorite of wicked women."[1]

In a later stanza, the völva then tells Óðinn that all the powers went to the judgment seats and discussed whether the Æsir should pay a fine or if all of the gods should instead have tribute. Further in the poem, a stanza provides the last of the völva's account of the events surrounding the war. She says:

Odin shot a spear, hurled it over the host;
that was still the first war in the world,
the defense wall was broken of the Æsir's stronghold;
the Vanir, indomitable, were trampling the plain.[1]

These stanzas are unclear, particularly the second half of stanza 23, but the battle appears to have been precipitated by the entry of Gullveig/Heiðr among the Æsir.[3] Stanza 23 relates a difficulty in reaching a truce which led to the all-out war described in stanza 24. However, the reference to "all the gods" could, in Lindow's view, indicate a movement towards a community involving both the Æsir and the Vanir.[3] Ursula Dronke points to extensive wordplay on all the meanings of the gildi and the adjective gildr to signal the core issue of whether the Æsir will surrender their monopoly on human tribute and join with the "all-too-popular" Vanir; as their only alternative, they attack again.[4]

Prose Edda

In the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál (chapter 57), the god Bragi explains the origin of poetry. Bragi says that it originated in the Æsir–Vanir War, when during the peace conference the Æsir and the Vanir formed a truce by all spitting into a vat. When they left, the gods decided that it should not be poured out, but rather kept as a symbol of their peace, and so from the contents made a man, Kvasir. Kvasir is later murdered, and from his blood is made the Mead of Poetry.[5]

Heimskringla

In chapter 4 of Heimskringla, Snorri presents a euhemerized account of the war. The account says that Óðinn led a great army from Asia ("Asgard") to attack the people of "Vanaheim." However, according to Snorri, the people of Vanahiem were well prepared for the invasion; they defended their land so well that victory was up for grabs from both sides, and both sides produced immense damage and ravaged the lands of one another.[6]

The two sides eventually tired of the war and both agreed to meet to establish a truce. After doing so, they exchanged hostages. Vanahiem is described as having sent to Asgard its best men: Njörðr—described as wealthy—and his son Freyr in exchange for Asgard Hœnir—described here as large, handsome, and thought of by the people of Vanahiem well suited to be a chieftain. Additionally, Asgard sends Mímir—a man of great understanding—in exchange for Kvasir, who Snorri describes as the wisest man of Vanahiem.[6]

Oden vid Mims lik
Óðinn with Mímir's body, illustration by Georg Pauli (1893)

Upon arrival in Vanahiem, Hœnir was immediately made chief, and Mímir often gave him good counsel. However, when Hœnir was at meetings and at the Thing without Mímir by his side, he would always answer the same way: "Let others decide." Subsequently, the Vanahiem folk suspected they had been cheated in the exchange by the Asgard folk, so they seized Mímir and beheaded him and sent the head to Asgard. Óðinn took the head of Mímir, embalmed it with herbs so that it would not rot, and spoke charms over it, which gave it the power to speak to him and reveal to him secrets.[6]

Óðinn then appointed Njörðr and Freyr to be priests of sacrificial customs and they became Diar ("Gods") of the people of Asgard. Freyja, described as daughter of Njörðr, was the priestess of these sacrifices, and here she is described as introducing seiðr to Asgard.[6]

Theories

A number of theories surround the Æsir–Vanir War:

Proto-Indo-European basis

As the Vanir are often considered fertility gods, the Æsir–Vanir War has been proposed as a reflection of the invasion of local fertility cults somewhere in regions inhabited by the Germanic peoples by a more aggressive, warlike cult.[3] This has been proposed as an analogy of the invasion of the Indo-Europeans.[3] Georges Dumézil stated that the war need not necessarily be understood in terms of historicity more than any other myth however.[7]

Scholars have cited parallels between the Æsir–Vanir War, The Rape of the Sabine Women from Roman mythology, and the battle between Devas and Asuras from Hindu mythology, providing support for a Proto-Indo-European "war of the functions." Explaining these parallels, J. P. Mallory states:

Basically, the parallels concern the presence of first-(magico-juridical) and second-(warrior) function representatives on the victorious side of a war that ultimately subdues and incorporates third function characters, for example, the Sabine women or the Norse Vanir. Indeed, the Iliad itself has also been examined in a similar light. The ultimate structure of the myth, then, is that the three estates of Proto-Indo-European society were fused only after a war between the first two against the third.[8]

Other

Many scholars consider the figures of Gullveig/Heiðr and Freyja the same.[9] These conclusions have been made through comparisons between the figure of Gullveig/Heiðr's use of seiðr in Völuspá and the mention of Freyja introducing seiðr to the Æsir from the Vanir in Heimskringla.[3] This is at times taken further that their corruption of the Æsir led to the Æsir–Vanir War.[3]

Lindow states that he feels that even if the two are not identical, the various accounts of the war seem to share the idea of a disruptive entry of persons into a people.[3] Lindow compares the appearance of Gullveig/Heiðr into the Æsir to that of Hœnir and Mímir's disruption amongst the Vanir in Heimskringla.[3] Lindow further states that all three accounts share the notion of acquisition of tools for the conquest of wisdom; the practice of seiðr in two accounts and the head of Mímir in one.[3]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Larrington (1996:7).
  2. ^ Lindow (2001:165).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lindow (2001:51-53).
  4. ^ Dronke (1997:134).
  5. ^ Faulkes (1995:61—62).
  6. ^ a b c d Hollander (1964:7-8).
  7. ^ Dumézil (1973:Chapter 1).
  8. ^ Mallory (2005:139).
  9. ^ Grundy (1998:62).

References

  • Dronke, Ursula (Ed. and Trans.) (1997), The Poetic Edda volume 2: Mythological Poems. Clarendon Press ISBN 0-19-811181-9
  • Dumézil, Georges (1973). Gods of the Ancient Northmen, trans. Einar Haugen. University of California Press ISBN 0-05-200350-7
  • Faulkes, Anthony (Trans.) (1995). Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Everyman. ISBN 0-460-87616-3
  • Grundy, Stephan (1998). "Freyja and Frigg" as collected in Billington, Sandra. The Concept of the Goddess.. Routledge ISBN 0-415-19789-9
  • Hollander, Lee Milton (Trans.) (1964). Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. University of Texas Press ISBN 0-292-73061-6
  • Larrington, Carolyne (Trans.) (1999). The Poetic Edda. Oxford World's Classics ISBN 0-19-283946-2
  • Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515382-0
  • Mallory, J. P. (2005). In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27616-1
Freyja

In Norse mythology, Freyja (; Old Norse for "(the) Lady") is a goddess associated with war, death, love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, and seiðr. Freyja is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot pulled by two cats, is accompanied by the boar Hildisvíni, and possesses a cloak of falcon feathers. By her husband Óðr, she is the mother of two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi. Along with her brother Freyr, her father Njörðr, and her mother (Njörðr's sister, unnamed in sources), she is a member of the Vanir. Stemming from Old Norse Freyja, modern forms of the name include Freya, Freyia, and Freja.

Freyja rules over her heavenly field, Fólkvangr, where she receives half of those who die in battle. The other half go to the god Odin's hall, Valhalla. Within Fólkvangr lies her hall, Sessrúmnir. Freyja assists other deities by allowing them to use her feathered cloak, is invoked in matters of fertility and love, and is frequently sought after by powerful jötnar who wish to make her their wife. Freyja's husband, the god Óðr, is frequently absent. She cries tears of red gold for him, and searches for him under assumed names. Freyja has numerous names, including Gefn, Hörn, Mardöll, Sýr, Valfreyja, and Vanadís.

Freyja is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; in the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, composed by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century; in several Sagas of Icelanders; in the short story "Sörla þáttr"; in the poetry of skalds; and into the modern age in Scandinavian folklore.

Scholars have debated whether Freyja and the goddess Frigg ultimately stem from a single goddess common among the Germanic peoples; connected her to the valkyries, female battlefield choosers of the slain; and analyzed her relation to other goddesses and figures in Germanic mythology, including the thrice-burnt and thrice-reborn Gullveig/Heiðr, the goddesses Gefjon, Skaði, Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr and Irpa, Menglöð, and the 1st century CE "Isis" of the Suebi. Freyja's name appears in numerous place names in Scandinavia, with a high concentration in southern Sweden. Various plants in Scandinavia once bore her name, but it was replaced with the name of the Virgin Mary during the process of Christianization. Rural Scandinavians continued to acknowledge Freyja as a supernatural figure into the 19th century, and Freyja has inspired various works of art.

Gullveig

In Norse mythology, Gullveig is a being who was speared by the Æsir, burnt three times, and yet thrice reborn. Upon her third rebirth, Gullveig's name becomes Heiðr and she is described as a knowledgeable and skillful völva. Gullveig/Heiðr is solely attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional material. Scholars have variously proposed that Gullveig/Heiðr is the same figure as the goddess Freyja, that Gullveig's death may have been connected to corruption by way of gold among the Æsir, and/or that Gullveig's treatment by the Æsir may have led to the Æsir–Vanir War.

Gungnir

In Norse mythology, Gungnir (Old Norse "swaying one") is the spear of the god Odin.

Heiðr

Heiðr (from the Old Norse adjective meaning "bright" or the noun meaning "honour") is the seeress and witch (völva) mentioned in one stanza of Völuspá, related to the story of the Æsir-Vanir war:

Heith they named her

who sought their home,

The wide-seeing witch,

in magic wise;

Minds she bewitched

that were moved by her magic,

To evil women

a joy she was.

—Völuspá (22), Bellows’ translationThe general assumption is that Heiðr is an alternate name for the witch Gullveig, mentioned in the previous stanza, who, in turn, is often thought to be a hypostasis of Freyja. But it is sometimes argued that the völva who recites the poem refers to herself.

Heiðr is also a seeress in several works such as Landnámabók (S 179 / H 45), Hrólfs saga kraka (3) and Örvar-Odds saga (2), where she predicts Örvar's death.

Heiðr is lastly a child of the giant Hrímnir according to Völuspá hin skamma (Hyndluljóð, 32).

Hœnir

In Norse mythology, Hœnir is one of the Æsir. He is mentioned as the one who helped Odin to create humans.

Kvasir

In Norse mythology, Kvasir was a being born of the saliva of the Æsir and the Vanir, two groups of gods. Extremely wise, Kvasir traveled far and wide, teaching and spreading knowledge. This continued until the dwarfs Fjalar and Galar killed Kvasir and drained him of his blood. The two mixed his blood with honey, resulting in the Mead of Poetry, a mead which imbues the drinker with skaldship and wisdom, and the spread of which eventually resulted in the introduction of poetry to mankind.

Kvasir is attested in the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, both written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, and in the poetry of skalds. According to the Prose Edda, Kvasir was instrumental in the capture and binding of Loki, and an euhemerized account of the god appears in Heimskringla, where he is attested as the wisest among the Vanir.

Scholars have connected Kvasir to methods of beverage production and peacemaking practices among ancient peoples, and have pointed to a potential basis in Proto-Indo-European myth by way of Sanskrit narratives involving the holy beverage Soma and its theft by the god Indra.

List of people, items and places in Norse mythology

Norse mythology includes a diverse array of people, places, creatures, and other mythical elements.

Mead of poetry

In Norse mythology, the Poetic Mead or Mead of Poetry (Old Norse skáldskapar mjaðar), also known as Mead of Suttungr (Suttungmjaðar), is a mythical beverage that whoever "drinks becomes a skald or scholar" to recite any information and solve any question. This myth was reported by Snorri Sturluson (Skáldskaparmál 5) (1). The drink is a vivid metaphor for poetic inspiration, often associated with Odin the god of 'possession' via berserker rage or poetic inspiration.

Mimir (sculpture)

Mimir is an outdoor 1980 bronze and concrete sculpture by Keith Jellum, located in northwest Portland, Oregon. The sculpture was commissioned by the Portland Development Commission and Tom Walsh of Tom Walsh Construction, and is part of the City of Portland and Multnomah County Public Art Collection courtesy of the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Mímir

Mímir (Old Norse "The rememberer, the wise one") or Mimir is a figure in Norse mythology, renowned for his knowledge and wisdom, who is beheaded during the Æsir-Vanir War. Afterward, the god Odin carries around Mímir's head and it recites secret knowledge and counsel to him.

Mímir is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson of Iceland, and in euhemerized form as one of the Æsir in Heimskringla, also written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. Mímir's name appears in the names of the well Mímisbrunnr, the tree Mímameiðr, and the wood Hoddmímis holt. Scholars have proposed that Bestla may be Mímir's sister, and therefore Odin's uncle.

Njörðr

In Norse mythology, Njörðr is a god among the Vanir. Njörðr, father of the deities Freyr and Freyja by his unnamed sister, was in an ill-fated marriage with the goddess Skaði, lives in Nóatún and is associated with the sea, seafaring, wind, fishing, wealth, and crop fertility.

Njörðr is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, in euhemerized form as a beloved mythological early king of Sweden in Heimskringla, also written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, as one of three gods invoked in the 14th century Hauksbók ring oath, and in numerous Scandinavian place names. Veneration of Njörðr survived into 18th or 19th century Norwegian folk practice, where the god is recorded as Njor and thanked for a bountiful catch of fish.

Njörðr has been the subject of an amount of scholarly discourse and theory, often connecting him with the figure of the much earlier attested Germanic goddess Nerthus, the hero Hadingus, and theorizing on his formerly more prominent place in Norse paganism due to the appearance of his name in numerous place names. Njörðr is sometimes modernly anglicized as Njord, Njoerd, or Njorth.

Norsemen

The Norse people or Norsemen were a group of Germanic people who inhabited Scandinavia and spoke what is now called the Old Norse language between c. 800 and 1300 AD. The language belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages and is the predecessor of the modern Germanic languages of Scandinavia. In the late eighth century Norsemen embarked on a massive expansion in all directions. This was the start of the Viking Age.

In English-language scholarship since the nineteenth century, the Viking Age Norsemen, seafaring traders, settlers and warriors have commonly been referred to as Vikings. The Norse Scandinavians established polities and settlements in what are now England, Scotland, Iceland, Wales, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Russia, Belarus, Greenland, France, Belgium, Ukraine, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Poland and Canada as well as Sicily.

Sister-wife of Njörðr

In Norse mythology, the sister-wife of Njörðr is the unnamed wife and sister of the god Njörðr, with whom he is described as having had the (likewise incestuous) twin children Freyr and Freyja. This shadowy goddess is attested in the Poetic Edda poem Lokasenna, recorded in the 13th century by an unknown source, and the Heimskringla book Ynglinga saga, a euhemerized account of the Norse gods composed by Snorri Sturluson also in the 13th century but based on earlier traditional material. The figure receives no further mention in Old Norse texts.

The situation is further complicated in that narratives describing the birth of Freyr and Freyja contradictorily cite the birth of the siblings occurring either after or before Njörðr left Vanaheimr to live among the Æsir. In addition, Freyr is referred to as the "son" of Njörðr and the goddess Skaði in the Poetic Edda poem Skírnismál.

In his 1 CE work Germania, Tacitus describes rituals surrounding a deity by the name of Nerthus, a theonym that is etymologically ancestral to Old Norse Njörðr. However, the figure described by Tacitus is female. Based on this scholars have suggested a Proto-Germanic hermaphroditic deity or a gender aspectual pair (similar to Freyja and Freyr), identified the obscure Old Norse goddess name Njörun as a potential name for the otherwise unnamed goddess, and in some cases identified a potential reflex of a narrative about Njörðr and his sister-wife in Saxo Grammaticus's 12th-century work Gesta Danorum.

Tabu Homosexualität

Tabu Homosexualität: Die Geschichte eines Vorurteils (German: The Taboo of Homosexuality: The History of a Prejudice) is a standard work of Germanophone research into homophobia, written by German sociologist, ethnologist, and sexologist Gisela Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, and first published in 1978.

Theomachy

A theomachy is a battle among gods in Greek mythology.

An early example is the Titanomachy (War of the Titans), in which the Olympian Gods fought against the preceding generation, the Titans. The war lasted ten years and resulted in the victory of the Olympians and their dominion over the world. Another case is the Gigantomachy.

The gods were once again divided against one another, each supporting a different side during the Trojan War. In the Iliad, multiple theomachies occur. One is fought between Diomedes with the direct aid of Athena against Ares (part of Diomedes' aristeia in Book 5). Ares is wounded by the spear guided by Athena; this is the first theomachy to occur chronologically in the Iliad. Book 20 begins with Zeus' grant of permission to the gods to participate in the battle and is traditionally known under the title Theomachia. In Book 21 (478ff.) there is fighting between Hera and Artemis. This battle is shown by Homer to be almost playful as Hera is smiling while she boxes the ears of Artemis, which causes Artemis to fly away in tears. Also in Book 21, Poseidon challenges Apollo to fight. Apollo rejects his offer and comments on the triviality of gods fighting over the whims of mortals while their own pain from injury would be transitory and quickly healed. Theomachy is purposely added to show the unbridgeable gap between mortal men and the immortals who rule them. By showing the triviality of divine pain, human suffering is highlighted.

Titanomachy

In Greek mythology, the Titanomachy ( Greek: Τιτανομαχία Titanomakhia, "Titan battle") was a ten-year series of battles fought in Thessaly, consisting of most of the Titans (an older generation of gods, based on Mount Othrys) fighting against the Olympians (the younger generations, who would come to reign on Mount Olympus) and their allies. This event is also known as the War of the Titans, Battle of the Titans, Battle of the Gods, or just the Titan War. The war was fought to decide which generation of gods would have dominion over the universe; it ended in victory for the Olympian gods.

Greeks of the Classical Age knew of several poems about the war between the gods and many of the Titans. The dominant one, and the only one that has survived, is the Theogony attributed to Hesiod. A lost epic, Titanomachia, attributed to the blind Thracian bard Thamyris, himself a legendary figure, was mentioned in passing in an essay On Music that was once attributed to Plutarch. The Titans also played a prominent role in the poems attributed to Orpheus. Although only scraps of the Orphic narratives survive, they show interesting differences from the Hesiodic tradition.

Vanaheimr

In Norse mythology, Vanaheimr (Old Norse for "home of the Vanir") is one of the Nine Worlds and home of the Vanir, a group of gods associated with fertility, wisdom, and the ability to see the future.

Vanaheimr is attested in the Poetic Edda; compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda and (in euhemerized form) Heimskringla; both written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, Vanaheimr is described as the location where the Van god Njörðr was raised. In Norse cosmology, Vanaheimr is considered one of the Nine Worlds.

Vanir

In Norse mythology, the Vanir (; singular Vanr) are a group of gods associated with fertility, wisdom, and the ability to see the future. The Vanir are one of two groups of gods (the other being the Æsir) and are the namesake of the location Vanaheimr (Old Norse "Home of the Vanir"). After the Æsir–Vanir War, the Vanir became a subgroup of the Æsir. Subsequently, members of the Vanir are sometimes also referred to as members of the Æsir.

The Vanir are attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, both written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; and in the poetry of skalds. The Vanir are only attested in these Old Norse sources. Vanir is sometimes anglicized to Wanes (singular Wane).All sources describe the deities Njörðr, Freyr and Freyja as members of the Vanir. A euhemerized prose account in Heimskringla adds that Njörðr's sister—whose name is not provided—and Kvasir were Vanir. In addition, Heimskringla reports a tale involving king Sveigðir's visit to Vanaheimr, where he meets a woman by the name of Vana and the two produce a child named Vanlandi (whose name means "Man from the Land of the Vanir").

While not attested as Vanir, the gods Heimdallr and Ullr have been theorized as potential members of the group. In the Prose Edda, a name listed for boars is "Van-child". Scholars have theorized that the Vanir may be connected to small pieces of gold foil found in Scandinavia at some building sites from the Migration Period to the Viking Age and occasionally in graves. They have speculated whether the Vanir originally represented pre-Indo-European deities or Indo-European fertility gods, and have theorized a form of the gods as venerated by the pagan Anglo-Saxons.

Óðrerir

In Norse mythology, Óðrerir, Óðrørir or Óðrœrir refers either to one of the three vessels that contain the mead of poetry (along with Boðn and Són) or to the mead itself.

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