War has been a part of society for ages, and according to Norse myth, there was a great war fought at the beginning of time, the first war, a war of the gods known as the Aesir-Vanir War. During this war, the two clans of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir, met on the field of battle, their armies clashing violently.
The war began after, and probably as a result of, a woman named Gullveig (“gold-drink”) came to Odin’s Hall. The Aesir attacked the woman, but they found that their spears, no matter how many pierced her, could not kill her. They then bound her and burned her alive three times, but she was reborn each time. With her third rebirth, the woman was born a seeress skilled in prophecy and seid (an ancient type of divination and magic in general almost exclusively practiced by women, because it was considered unmanly and sexually perverse for a man to practice it, and it is this that often connects seid with sex). They called the woman Heid (“shiny”) and she used seid on the Aesir.
When they received word of the Aesir’s actions, the Vanir were outraged. They took up arms and marched to meet the Aesir in battle and Odin led the Aesir likewise. When the two armies met, Odin threw his spear into the ranks of the Vanir. The fighting was vicious and bloody. The Aesir were powerful warrior gods, but the Vanir were well prepared and had nearly impenetrable defenses and were indomitable as they trampled the field. During the fighting, the wall defending the Aesir’s stronghold in Asgard was broken.
After a long and bloody war, a truce was made between the clans. A thing was convened to pass judgment on the Aesir. It was deemed that the Aesir should pay a fine. They all spat into a kettle to seal the truce, from which the man Kvasir, who was so wise he could answer any question, was born.
The two sides exchanged hostages to be integrated into the other clan to ensure that the two clans would not fight again. Vanir gave Njörd, Frey and Freyja, three of the major leaders in the clan, to the Aesir. They were fully integrated into the Aesir clan.
The Aesir gave Hoenir, who they claimed was a great leader, and Mímir, who was just as wise as Kvasir, to the Vanir. Excited to have been given a great leader, the Vanir immediately made Hoenir their chief leader. However, the Vanir soon suspected they had been tricked because Hoenir could not lead unless he had the advice of Mímir in every meeting and decision. In meetings where Mímir was not present, Hoenir answered all questions by saying they should let someone else decide. The enraged Vanir decapitated Mímir and sent his severed head to Odin. Odin took the gift and preserved it, asking Mímir many questions and received his advice on many subjects. Odin was prophesied to seek Mímir’s advice in the days directly preceding Ragnarok.
As a note: The woman Gullveig/Heid may be the same woman as Freyja, a member of the Vanir clan of gods. This makes sense because in other sources it is she who brought seid to the Aesir and taught it to Odin himself. It also makes sense given the Vanir’s reaction to the Aesir’s actions toward her.
Real world significance: What really happened that caused this event to occur in Norse myth? Well scholars have speculated that there was a real war fought between people who worshiped the Vanir more and another the Aesir more. Perhaps one people was already there in Northern Europe and the other group came into the area, perhaps an Indo-European group migrating in from the east, and the two fought for dominance? Then the two groups came to a truce and eventually melded their groups of gods together and both began to worship and honor both the Vanir and the Aesir.
This is speculation, but Old Norse, the language of the people who practiced the rituals and created the Norse myths (you’d never guess right?), was a
Germanic language, a subdivision of Indo-European languages, so it is not that far a stretch to make. Interesting tangent, Ancient Greek was also an Indo-European language. Both Ancient Greek and the Germanic languages like Old Norse share a common linguistic root. They both evolved from the Proto-Indo-European language thousands of years ago. Since language links often are accompanied by cultural links, there might be, even should be, links between Norse and Greek culture, specifically their myths and religious practices. I find that fascinating and would love to explore that in greater detail at some point.
I have added in a photo (above on the right) detailing the language family tree starting from the first Indo-European language to Ancient Greek to Old Norse even all the way down to Modern English. Sorry about the size of the picture. If you want, you can open the picture by clicking on this link to a much nicer blown up version that you can actually read: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/IndoEuropeanTree.svg. It’s really interesting. If you’re interested in the subject and have questions, ask them in the comments and I will try my best to answer them.
By the way, I have minors in history and religious studies, so this kind of connect-the-dots with cultures through their languages and religion is like having my birthday coming early to me. I love it. Yes, I’m a nerd and yes I know it is true. I’m proud of it too!
Next week I will tell you the myth about what happened to Kvasir after the truce was struck. It wasn’t pretty, but people got drunk. That’s all I will say for now.
That describes about 95% of the known Norse myths though, come to think of it.
Have a great day everyone and until next time, DFTBA!
1. Norse Myth Part 1: The Cosmology: https://dmmaster42.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/norse-myth-part-1-norse-cosmology/
2. Norse Myth Part 2: The Creation Myth: https://dmmaster42.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/norse-myth-part-2-the-creation-myth/
3. Norse Myth Part 3: The Gods: https://dmmaster42.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/norse-myth-part-3-the-gods/