Anyone who has seen the Thor 2 movie will have seen a short scene set on the world of Vanaheim. That movie does not reveal much of the nature of that world beyond it being a forested world. The next in my Nine Worlds series is set mainly on this world so I thought I would explore what we know from mythology of this world.
In Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology Vanaheim is mentioned as one of the Nine Worlds. However, not as much is known about it as with other worlds, such as Asgard. What then can we say about it? What did the Anglo-Saxons believe about this world and its inhabitants?
Vanaheim is the home world of the Vanir gods. These gods were considered a distinctly different race to the Æsir gods of Asgard. They are often associated with having power over the weather, fertility and crops and the harvest. Their world is described as having gentle winds and refreshing rain. So a green world with forests seems right. The Vanir are also thought to have more wisdom than the Æsir and possibly to have discovered the powers of magic before the Æsir did. They are also supposed to have had the ability to see into the future.
The Æsir-Vanir War
Not all the Vanir were good natured. One of them was a witch called Gullweig who travelled to Asgard to try to get gold from the Æsir by trickery. When the Æsir discovered her they killed her. The Vanir did not like this and a great war occurred – the first war in prehistory. Both sides were gods and so were powerful and the war raged on without conclusion. Eventually the Vanir actually breached the defences of Asgard, but could not defeat Woden’s forces. The stories tell of great damage and harm to both Asgard and Vanaheim’s armies. In the end, however, peace was made. To guarantee the peace hostages were exchanged. Two Asgardians went to Vanaheim whilst three Vanir gods went to Asgard.
Who were the Vanir?
We do not know as many names of the Vanir as we do of the Æsir. Most of the stories and legends are of the Æsir gods. But we do know a few. Firstly these included the three gods who went to Asgard at the end of the war – the god Njord and his son Frey and daughter Freya.
Njord was the god of winds at sea and would fill the sails of ship. He would also blow out wild fires in forests if he saw them. Freya was the same Goddess Freya who was mentioned in Shield Maiden, and who possessed the Brinsingammen and the Falcon Cloak. Her brother Frey was a god of fertility, which means that he helped plants and animals to grow and have young. His symbol was a boar after his own magical boar on which he rode through the heavens in midsummer, encouraging the sun to shine longer, and he helped the crops to grow by mixing sunlight and rain. When the Anglo-Saxons held feasts and ceremonies in his honour they would cook boar. Frey owned a sword called Gambantein. (See About Gambantein below.)
These three had left Vanaheim and lived in Asgard. Do we know any names of the other Vanir? Kvasir was a Vanir god known for his great wisdom but he was killed. (See About the Mead below).
Ullr appears to have been a Vanir god and also a warrior god, perhaps also a god of hunting. In fact he was worshipped quite early in our history, possibly dating back to prehistory. There are early references to him in inscriptions and jewellery. He is depicted as having a bow and arrow. He also is often shown as wearing skis – presumably to travel round the snow-covered Scandinavian landscape. He is still a patron saint of winter sports in Northern Europe. He only appears in the earliest Norse sagas and vanishes from the later stories.
We also know of Nerthus, a Vanir goddess associated with fertility, who was mentioned by the Roman historian, Tacitus. Tacitus say that Nerthus represents mother earth and once a year the high priest would drive a enclosed golden chariot around her hold island. The goddess herself was inside and wherever she passed war and work would cease for a while under her blessing.
So Nerthus and Ullr are more ancient gods. This fact and the fact that the entire Vanir race was mostly ignored by the later sagas and this might mean that the Vanir were worshiped by one group of Germanic-Scandinavian tribes and the Æsir by another. The latter group were perhaps more powerful and although the myths include them both, more attention is given to the Æsir.
About the Mead
As has already been mentioned, the Vanir were able to see the future. This was actually accomplished by making a special form of mead. Mead is similar to beer or cider, but is made from honey and is a sweet-smelling and tasting alcohol.in Anglo-Saxon times, mead, like beer, would have been drunk by children as well as adults, but batches produced for common drinking were much less alcoholic. The story goes that the Vanir had a special recipe that gave them the power of foretelling. This was made from honey, but also the blood of a wise Vanir god called Kvasir, who was killed by evil dwarves – or possibly dark elves. The mead is mentioned a number of times in the Norse legends and often is referred to as the “Mead of Poetry”.
Gambantein is a powerful sword. The gods possessed a number of powerful swords and Gambantein belonged to the Vanir God, Frey. It was said to be able to float and fight by itself and so was presumably intelligent. It could shine like the sun and maybe burst into flames. Magical runes added to it enabled it to suck life out of a foe or age them. The legends do indeed say that Frey gave it away to his servant as a reward for the servant arranging a marriage between him and Gerdr, the giantess. The servant actually threatened Gerdr with the sword to get her to agree! When she first met Frey she fell in love with him anyway, so perhaps Frey would have been better just talking to her in the first place!
The Falcon Cloak
Freya owned a suit or cloak made of Falcon feathers, which was capable of transforming the wearer into a falcon. She could use it to fly around the Nine Worlds.
The Nine Worlds series are historical fantasy novels for Middle Grade children and above. They blend the historical world of Anglo-Saxon Britain with the myths and legends our ancestors believed in. This is the world if the stories were true. http://www.richarddenning.co.uk/shieldmaiden.php