Vanir
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Basic Information

The gods and goddesses of Norse Mythology can be roughly divided into two pantheons, the Aesir and Vanir.

The Vanir are an All-Fertility Pantheon. Every member of the Vanir is, to one extent or another, a deity of fertility, agriculture, earth or sex.

The Vanir are also known for their wisdom, secret knowledge, and ability to see the future.

They lived in Vanaheim, which is sometimes described as being near or adjacent to Asgard, and sometimes described as being deep underground.

The Vanir are most likely an older pantheon, one whose cult lost influence when the newer Aesir-based religion came to power. This is remembered in the myths by a war between the Aesir and Vanir.

List of Vanir

No complete or exhaustive list of Vanir survives to the modern day, but we know at least some of their numbers. At the least, the Vanir included:

That list is almost certainly incomplete. There were enough Vanir to wage war with the Aesir and destroy the wall around Asgard, but the known Aesir greatly outnumber that short list of known Vanir. No doubt the sweep of history has lost the names and tales of numerous old Vanir deities.

Scholars debate which other characters from Norse Mythology might also be Vanir in origin. The most likely names a scholar might add to the list are:

  • Ægir - Husband of Rán, but probably more accurate classified as a giant
  • Heimdall - A poorly understood figure in the Aesir pantheon, and there's one line in the Eddas that labels him as Vanir
  • Kvasir - God of poetry, born out of the truce between Aesir and Vanir
  • Ullr - Minor Aesir figure, but archaeological evidence suggests his cult was wider spread way back in prehistory
  • Vana and her son Vanlandi - named only in a collection of tales about the Kings of Norway

In addition, the following goddesses of agriculture-related topics do not appear on the list of Aesir in the opening section of the Prose Edda. I don't know if any legitimate scholars would classify them as Vanir, but it's a remote possibility.

  • Gefjun - goddess of ploughing
  • Iðunn - goddess of immortality and the golden apples
  • Njörun - earth goddess

Trading Gods

When the war came to an end, there was a trade of deities between the two pantheons.

  • Freyr, Freyja, and Njörðr joined the Aesir (and Hiemdall, if he was originally a Vanir, probably joined the Aesir at this time as well). Those three are considered to be the most powerful and most important of the Vanir.
  • Hoenir and Mímir joined the Vanir. This didn't end well for either Hoenir or Mímir. The Vanir disliked the brute Hoenir so much, they cut off Mímir's head and sent it back to Odin to tell him the trade wasn't fair. So, technically one could label Hoenir and Mimir as Vanir, but it'd be a little misleading.

Sources

Bibliography
1. Non-Fiction Book: Mythology for Dummies by Dr. Christopher W. Blackwell and Amy Hackney Blackwell
2. Non-Fiction Book: Usborne Illustrated Guide to Norse Myths and Legends by Cheryl Evans & Anne Millard
3. Non-Fiction Book: DK Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology by Phillip Wilkinson
4. Fiction Book: Norse Mythology: Great Stories from the Eddas by Hamilton Wright Mabie
5. Website: Wikipedia

Game and Story Use

  • Divine Real-Estate. Sometimes, if the plot involves some dimension hopping, extensive questing, or a war in the heavens like Ragnarok, it can be helpful to know where everyone lives. The Aesir and Vanir may be friends and allies, but the Vanir live in Vanaheim, not Asgard.
  • A campaign set far enough back in the past might involve Vanir but not Aesir, or might take place during their war. This would let you use a few familiar elements of Norse myth, but also build your own culture, pantheon and setting.
  • A prophecy turns up that says only a Vanir can do insert whatever it is the plot needs doing. You've just trimmed the NPC list down considerably, and conveniently cut out show-boating spotlight hogs like Thor and Odin.
    • Perhaps one or more of the PCs are descended from the Vanir. They are now the most likely heroes.
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