Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
The Aesir were a fierce lot. Ruled by Odin -- but led into battle by his son, the Mighty Thor -- they swept down from the heavens and battled the giants that inflicted Earth. They protected the mortal Vikings that worshiped them,and fought the Vanir for control of the Nordic universe. They were warlike -- just like the Vikings that yearned for their salvation. And, above all, they were the rulers.
In the intricate -- and often complicated -- realm of Norse mythology, the primary gods were divided into two groups, the Aesir and Vanir. They fought one another, made peace, exchanged hostages and members, fought together as allies, and ultimately took part in the final and apocalyptic battle called the Ragnarök.
Having groups of gods was not new to ancient myths. The Greek myths had the Titans (the old Gods) and the Olympians (Zeus and the new Gods). However, what made the organization of the Norse myth unique was that the Gods among the Aesir and Vanir were contemporaries – in some cases, siblings.
One Rules Heaven, Other Rules Earth
The two groups were divided into regions, as well. The Vanir were known as “earth gods”; they represented nature and fertility. The Aesir were sky gods. The Aesir had a world of their own, as well. It was called Asgard, which was one of the Nine Worlds the Norse mythology.
There were hierarchies and subgroups within the Aesir. The major Aesir were Odin (the supreme being), Thor, Loki and Freyja. The minor Aesir were deities such as Forseti and Nanna.
The subdivision may have to do more with whom the Vikings worshiped rather than their powers. For example, there were more temples dedicated to Thor than to any other god or goddess, combined. Also, this grouping may have resulted from written information available to scholars who studied Norse mythology.
Also, there was group known as non-Aesir deities. These gods belonged to both groups or could not be classified as either Aesir or Vanir. Still, they held strong stature in Norse Mythology (as well as having sibling or children within the ranks of the two groups). One example is the sea god, Aegir.
This came after a war between the two groups. As part of a peace treaty, Njord, Frey and Freyr became Aesir.
The Hierarchy Among the Aesir
Discussion of the non-Aesir leads us to another revelation about the Aesir. Many had relations with each other, and nepotism was extremely high. In a sense, the Aesir was a family of powerful deities.
The fathers and mothers made up the major Aesir. Usually, but not often, the minor Aesir were their children. One example is the God of Thunder. Thor’s sons, Magni (the god of strength) and Modi, were minor Aesir.
However, minor gods had a shot of joining the ranks of the major Aesir. Again, an example is Thor and his son. Magni would eventually take over his father’s role as bearer of the magic thunder-hammer, Mjollnir. Modi would eventually become the god of war and wrath.
Although the Vanir were separate gods, some of them eventually joined the Aesir. This came after a war between the two groups. As part of a peace treaty, Njord, Frey and Freyr became Aesir.
According to the website Timeless Myths.Com, Aesir -- which is plural --have different names for their “gods” and “goddess.” The singular name for a male god Aesir was “As”. The female version was Asynia (plural for Asynior or female Aesir).
Some Aesir proved to be more popular than others. Of the twelve major deities, four were celebrated and held in high regards by various Germanic and Norse tribes. They were Odin, Frigg, Thor, and Tyr.
These proved to be so popular that many Germanic tribes melded these gods into their unique mythologies With name changes to Wodan( Odin), Donar (Thor), Frigg and Tiw (Tyr), they became part of the Teutonic deities of the Germanic tribes.
These gods were important to the Norse for they represented both the good and evil in human nature. The Vikings lived in a warrior’s society. However, they needed their gods to ensure them of safety, justice and victory in all of their endeavors.
Today, only a few Aesir (Thor, Loki, and Odin) are well known to the public. In most cases, they represent the qualities of strength, power and justice that today’s warriors must have.
Extra: Brief Description of Popular Aesir (Major and Minor)
So who were the Aesir? Here’s a list (major and minor) of some of them.
- Odin: chief god of wisdom and war (the supreme god)
- Frigg: the chief goddess
- Loki: the trickster god and foster-brother of Odin
- Thor: God of thunder and battle and the most popular deity among the Vikings.
- Ve: brother of Odin who gave humans the gift of speech.
- Forseti: the god of justice
- Sif: the golden-haired wife of Thor
- Balder: the god of innocence
- Nanna: wife of Balder
- Hoenir (Vili): giver of spirit and understanding to the first man and woman.
- Tyr: One-handed god of war and possible son of Odin.
- Njord : God of wind and sea (originally a Vanir)
- Freyr: God of light, fertility and prosperity
- Heimdall:Also known as
- Rig, the creator of mankind or human society.
- Bragi: God of poetry.
- Vidar: the silent god and second most powerful god.
- Vali: The avenger.
- Hod: The blind god who controlled winter and darkness.
- Hermond: messenger of the gods
- Mimir: The wisest Aesir who brokered the peace treaty.
- Magni and Modi: sons of Thor and god of strength (Magni) and god of war and wrath (Modi).
- Freyja: Goddess of love, beauty and fertility (former Vanir).
© 2014 Dean Traylor
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on August 25, 2015:
Hello Dean, powerful piece of writing here.
You've obviously put a lot of time into this page and it shows. Where does your interest in the Norse pantheon stem from? I'd give this a 9/10 for presentation and content.
Any more in the pipeline? How about the Frost Giants and their allies the Dark Elves, or the creation with the giant Ymir and the cow Audumla licking the ice to free Buri? (Then it all starts to happen...)