How did the Aesir-Vanir War end?

The Aesir and Vanir are two prominent groups of gods in Norse mythology.

The Aesir are the primary group of gods in Norse mythology, associated with order, war, and governance. Key members include Odin (the chief god), Thor (god of thunder), Frigg (Odin’s wife), Baldur (god of light), and Tyr (god of war).

Æsir gathered around the body of Baldur. Painting by Danish painter Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg 1817

The Vanir are a group of gods associated with fertility, prosperity, prophecy, and natural forces. Key members include Njord (god of the sea and wind), his children Freyr (god of fertility) and Freyja (goddess of love and fertility).

Vanir gods and goddesses. Image: Njörðr, Skaði, and Freyr as depicted in The Lovesickness of Frey (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

What caused the Aesir-Vanir War?

Óðinn throws his spear Gungnir at the Vanir host, illustration by Danish artist Lorenz Frølich (1895)

It’s a legendary conflict between the Aesir and Vanir. The exact cause varies by account, but it often revolves around issues of honor and respect.

Some scholars have associated the character Gullveig to conflict. In the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá, a völva (seeress) provides a possible explanation of the source of the conflict. In the poem, Gullveig is brought to the hall of Hárr (The name Hárr is one of the numerous names Allfather Odin uses.

The Æsir lift Gullveig on spears over fire as illustrated by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

Therefore, its safe to say that Hárr was Odin’s hall Valhalla). For reasons unknown, the Æsir spear and burn her three times, but she is reborn each time. After her third resurrection, she starts practicing seiðr magic and adopts the name Heiðr. There have been some that say that Gullveig is the same as the Vanir goddess Freyja. If that were the case, that would explain the source of animosity between the Aesir and Vanir gods.

End of the war

The Aesir-Vanir War ended in a truce. Both groups of gods realized that neither side would emerge as a clear victor and that continued fighting would be mutually destructive. To solidify the newfound peace and to ensure it lasted, they exchanged hostages.

From the Vanir side, the principal deities Njord and his children, Freyr and Freyja, went to live among the Aesir. Njord and his offspring became key figures in the Aesir pantheon after the war. Freyja, in particular, introduced the Aesir to the practice of seidr, a form of Norse magic that she was proficient in.

From the Aesir side, the wise Mimir and Hoenir were sent to the Vanir. However, the Vanir felt they were deceived in this exchange. While Hoenir looked like a leader, he seemed to lack wisdom without Mimir’s counsel. In retaliation, the Vanir beheaded Mimir and sent his head back to the Aesir. Odin preserved Mimir’s head using magic, ensuring it could continue to offer advice.

After the exchange and the truce, the two groups of gods began to coexist and intermingle more closely, leading to a unified pantheon in Norse mythology.

As a result of this reconciliation, the Vanir were effectively integrated into the ranks of the Æsir, blurring the distinction between the two groups. Thus, while the Vanir maintained their unique identity and characteristics, in many contexts, they came to be considered part of the larger Æsir pantheon.

This truce also symbolized the importance of unity and the realization that war was not always the solution to disagreements.

Questions and Answers about the Aesir and Vanir in Norse mythology

“The Æsir Against the Vanir” (1882) by Karl Ehrenberg.

How are the Aesir and Vanir represented in Norse sagas and eddas?

Both groups feature prominently in ancient Norse texts, with the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda being primary sources. Both groups of deities are also attested to in the Heimskringla, a collection of Old Norse kings’ sagas written by Icelandic poet and politician Snorri Sturluson.

These texts provide tales of their deeds, adventures, and the intricacies of their relationships.

What are some of the works that attest to the Aesir-Vanir War?

In the Poetic Edda, a collection of ancient Norse poems, the Vanir are mentioned in several poems, including Völuspá, Vafþrúðnismál, Skírnismál, Sigrdrífumál, and Þrymskviða. Specifically, the poem Völuspá recounts the Æsir–Vanir War, highlighting the Vanir’s strength as they breached the Æsir’s fortress and their unstoppable force as they trampled the plains. The Vanir’s significant presence and role in these events underline their importance in Norse mythology.

In the Prose Edda books Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál, the Vanir are discussed. High, an enthroned figure, explains in Gylfaginning that Njörðr grew up in Vanaheimr. During the Æsir–Vanir War, as a peace gesture, the Vanir sent Njörðr as a hostage to the Æsir, while the Æsir reciprocated by sending the god Hœnir to the Vanir. This exchange of hostages contributed to the eventual peace between the two groups.

Bragi, in chapter 57 of Skáldskaparmál (a poem in the Prose Edda), traces the origins of poetry to the Æsir-Vanir War. To solidify their truce at the end of the war, both groups spat into a vat. Instead of discarding this, the gods fashioned a man from it named Kvasir. Kvasir was later killed by dwarves, and from his blood, the Mead of Poetry was created, symbolizing the profound connection between poetry and the divine peace pact.

The single surviving page known as the Kringla leaf (Kringlublaðið) is kept in the National and University Library of Iceland in Reykjavík.

How did the Vanir influence the Aesir after the war?

After the truce, the Vanir not only lived among the Aesir but also significantly influenced their practices. For instance, it is said that it was from the Vanir that the Aesir learned the practice of seidr, a form of Norse magic often associated with Freyja.

Norse gods

Nils Johan Olsson Blommér: Freja sökande sin make..NM 1198

Why are the Aesir more well-known than the Vanir?

While both groups are integral to Norse mythology, the Aesir’s stories, particularly those of Odin and Thor, have been more widely popularized, especially in contemporary media.

What happened to the Aesir and Vanir during Ragnarok?

Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world, saw the death of many gods from both groups, including Odin, Thor, and Freyr.

How do the Aesir and Vanir compare to gods from other mythologies?

Similar to the Greek or Roman pantheons, the Aesir and Vanir represent various natural elements, human characteristics, and concepts. However, the division into two groups, as well as their distinct characteristics and stories, make the Norse pantheon unique.

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