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Aesir Gods

October 21, 2023 13 min read

Aesir gods

Aesir Gods | The history and origin of the Viking gods

 

In Norse mythology, the Aesir are the main deities of the Viking religion associated with the god Odin. Thus, Thor, Freyja, and even Loki are all part of the Aesir god family, or Æsir.

However, the list of Norse deities is still quite long. Indeed, the majority of Norse myths tell the stories of these deities, starting with that of Odin!

In this regard, did you know how Odin created the universe and the nine worlds? How did Loki become a member of the Aesir? Or how will these gods rebuild the world after Ragnarök?

To get the answer to all these questions, we tell you in this article the story of the Aesir gods, from the birth of this family to Ragnarök. Get ready to experience a fantastic epic discovering the history and origin of the Aesir gods.

The Aesir gods: the birth of the Aesir and the kingdom of Asgard

Kingdom of Asgard | Viking Heritage

The Aesir are the main deities of Norse mythology. They are benevolent gods who live in the kingdom of Asgard, one of the nine worlds of Scandinavian mythology.

In addition to being the protectors of the universe's balance, the Aesir gods protect the world of men, Midgard, against the forces of evil embodied by the jötunn, the ice giants. That's why these gods and goddesses are worshipped by the Vikings, and a significant part of Scandinavian mythology revolves around their life story.

Unlike many pagan deities, the Aesir gods are not immortal and can even suffer. This detail becomes crucial when a seer predicts to the god Odin the end of times and the destruction of the kingdom of Asgard.

However, before we get there, we will first trace the history and origin of the main Aesir gods, starting with that of the first Æsir, the god Odin.

Odin, father and king of the Aesir gods

Odin Aesir God | Viking Heritage

Odin, Vili, and Vé, the three sons of an ancient god Bur and a giantess Bestla, are the first Aesir gods of Norse mythology. They were born in the "Ginnungagap" before the creation of the Norse universe. The Ginnungagap is an endless void, called "primitive chaos", which separates the original places of fire and ice.

Endowed with powerful abilities, Odin and his two brothers wage an endless battle against a race of chaotic beings, the jötnar or ice giants. It's an endless war that the three brothers fight due to the ever-increasing number of their enemies.

To put an end to it once and for all, Odin decides to directly confront the original giantess Ymir, the mother of all jötnar. After a perilous battle against Ymir, Odin and his brothers manage to defeat her.

Upon her death, a tidal wave of blood pours from her body into the Ginnungagap. This deluge was so colossal that it eradicated the entire race of giants, except for Bergelmir and his wife, and was used to create the world's oceans.

Believing they had ended the scourge of the ice giants, the three brothers decide to create the world. They use Ymir's flesh to create Midgard, which would become the realm of men, while they use the rest of her body to:

  • Build mountains from the giantess's bones;
  • Form cliffs using her teeth;
  • And finally, create the sky and clouds with her skull and brain.

It was only later that Odin settled in the realm of Asgard and founded the family of Aesir gods. This marks only the beginning of the adventures of the god Odin, which you can discover in this article.

Frigg, the queen of the Aesir gods

Frigg Aesir Goddess | Viking Heritage

The goddess Frigg is the wife of the god Odin and thus the queen of the realm of Asgard, as attested in chapter 9 of the Gylfaginning:

"His (Odin's) wife was named Frigg, daughter of Fjörgvinn. From their blood comes the lineage we call the Aesir family, who populated the Old Asgard and all the realms attached to it, and this family is a divine lineage."

In Norse mythology, Frigg is the goddess of fertility and love. She was revered by all the Viking people who implored her benevolence to alleviate the suffering of the sick.

In addition to her healing powers, she has a divinatory gift that allows her to know the destiny of all individuals. However, she never reveals the future and does not interfere with the course of events, except when she foresees the death of one of her two sons.

Furthermore, Frigg is the only goddess depicted surrounded by twelve handmaidens, unlike other Aesir gods who are depicted with pets. Moreover, she is the only deity who can sit with Odin on his throne, the "Hlidskj√°lf", from where she can observe the nine worlds.

Thus, Odin and Frigg founded the dynasty of the Aesir gods!

Baldr, the god of light and beauty

Baldr God of Light | Viking Heritage

Baldr is the god of light, of happiness, and beauty. The second son of Odin and Frigg, he is the most beloved Ase god in Asgard, praised by all for his benevolence. Chapter 22 of Snorri's Edda describes him as a being so beautiful and radiant that light emanates from his entire being:

"He is the wisest of the √Üsir, the best speaker, and the most gracious; this quality accompanies him, and no one can contradict his judgments." ‚ÄĒ Gylfaginning, Chapter 22.

Baldr marries Nanna, the goddess of joy and peace, and rules over the abode of Breidablik, a celestial place where no impurity can exist. However, although Baldr is the most important god after Odin, a tragic fate binds him to his brother Höd.

Höd, Odin's forgotten son

Höd is Odin and Frigg's eldest son. He is a blind god, whose name means "fighter or warrior" in Old Norse. All that is known about him is that he is as powerful as Odin and no man has the right to worship him.

Truth be told, his story was deliberately erased by the Ase gods because he accidentally killed Baldr.

This legend begins when Baldr starts having prophetic dreams of his own death. Frigg then decides to break her vow never to interfere with fate and tries to save her son. She rushes to make everything in existence swear never to harm her son, but forgets the fragile mistletoe tree.

When Loki, the god of mischief, learns of this, he decides to play his final trick. Thus, as the Ase gods celebrate Baldr's presumed invulnerability and amuse themselves by throwing various projectiles at him, Loki deceives Höd to kill him:

"Hödr stood outside the group because he was blind. Loki then said to him: "Why don't you shoot at Baldr?" He replied: "Because I can't see where Baldr is, and also because I don't have a projectile." Loki then said: "Do like the other (Ase gods) and honor Baldr. I will tell you where he stands; shoot at him with this stick." - Gylfaginning, Chapter 49.

Unaware that the stick in question was a Mistletoe arrow, Höd pierces Baldr, who falls dead in front of all the Ase gods. This tragic death marks the beginning of the end and heralds the onset of Ragnarok.

Thor, the mighty god of thunder

Thor Ase Gods | Viking Heritage

Thor, the god of thunder, is the son of the god Odin and the goddess Jörd. He is the most popular Norse deity of the Viking age, and even today. Considered the strongest warrior of the Ase gods, he defeats giants with his Mjöllnir Hammer. Indeed, Scandinavian mythology recounts countless legends where Thor saves Midgard from the jotunn plague.

Thor marries Sif, an Asyne goddess associated with the earth, with whom he has a daughter named Thr√ļd. In addition to her, Thor has two other sons, Magni and Modi, from two other marriages. He and his entire family reside in the residence of Bilskirnir, the largest mansion of the nine worlds.

Moreover, Thor has other attributes besides Mjöllnir. According to the Snorri's Edda, they are:

  • J√°rngreipr: a pair of special gloves forged by black dwarves. Thanks to these, he can wield Mj√∂llnir without worrying about its too short handle;
  • Megingjord: this is the name of Thor's magic belt. It multiplies his strength and power;
  • Tanngrisnir and Tanngnj√≥str: these are two magical goats that pull the chariot of the god of thunder.

Although Thor symbolizes the strength of the Viking warrior, he is also linked to fertility and prosperity. Protector of the realm of men, he is a just and benevolent god who remains close to Viking civilization.

In this regard, if you want to learn more about the legend of Thor, don't hesitate to read the article dedicated to him!

Sif, the goddess with golden hair

Sif Ases Goddess | Viking Heritage

Sif is Thor's wife, known for having golden hair, the most beautiful among the Asyne goddesses. Although her reputation is far from matching that of her husband, she remains one of the most important goddesses in the Aesir family.

Indeed, Sif is somewhat the half that completes Thor. He is the master of the sky and the elements, while Sif is the deity of the earth and the good harvest.

Despite this, stories about this Asyne are very rare in Viking mythology. However, her role remains crucial in the legends where she is present. For example, she is the direct cause of the creation of the most important attributes of the Aesir gods, such as Odin's spear "Gungnir" or the Mjöllnir hammer.

Magni and Modi, the legacy of the Aesir gods

Magni and Modi are the sons of Odin who will inherit his Mjöllnir hammer after the end of Ragnarök. Indeed, these gods will survive the end of times and will help govern the world alongside other Aesir gods.

It is through the prophecy of a very wise giant "Vaf√ĺr√ļ√įnir" that we learn the fate of the Aesir gods after the end of Ragnar√∂k. The conversation between Odin and this giant is transcribed in stanza 51 of the Vaf√ĺr√ļ√įnism√°l poem from the Poetic Edda:

"Vidarr and V√°li

Will inhabit the gods' sanctuaries

When Surtr's flame has gone out;

Módi and Magni

Will have Mjölnir

At the end of Thor's battle."

Thus, a new world is born, and Thor's legend continues through Magni and Modi.

Loki, the Aesir god of jotunn origins

Loki Aesir God | Viking Heritage

In Viking mythology, Loki represents the god of cunning and discord. A complex character embodying several facets of human psychology, he is the main antagonist orchestrating the events of Ragnarök. He is characterized by a turbulent spirit and a metamorphic power that allows him to transform into other creatures or change gender.

Son of the giant Farbauti, called lightning, and Laufey, which means leafy island. This union would be likened to a tree struck by lightning, symbolizing the chaos and disaster brought by the god of mischief. Married to the goddess Sigyn, he has two sons, Nari and Vali. From his concubine, the giantess Angrboda, he has 3 children: the serpent Jörmungand, the wolf Fenrir, and Hel, goddess of the dead. Moreover, the god Loki is the mother of Sleipnir, Odin's 8-legged mount.

Although he is part of the jotunn, Loki is welcomed into the pantheon of the Aesir gods by Odin himself. Despite his ingenuity, intelligence, and many qualities, he always feels inferior to other Viking gods. That's why he plays a lot of pranks.

Indeed, he is notably responsible for the theft of Mjöllnir and the Anvari's gold affair, among many other misadventures.

He committed a serious crime, the murder of Baldr, Odin's son. Because of this, he was expelled from Asgard, chained under a serpent, and condemned to receive its venom on his face until Ragnarök, the day when all bonds will break. On this occasion, he leads the war against the Aesir gods, leading the ice giants of Helheim in the assault. Heimdall, an Aesir god, and Loki end up killing each other.

However, the god Loki remains a very complex character that might surprise you. Discover all his facets in this article.

Aesir and Vanir, the war of the Nordic gods

The Aesir are not the only group of Nordic deities. Indeed, there are two other divine families, the Dises and the Vanir. The Aesir wage a long war against the latter. This is the first confrontation between the Scandinavian deities described in the poem "Völuspáva" and in Snorri's Edda.

The battle between the Aesir gods, led by Odin, and the Vanir, led by Njörd, will last for centuries. It will end with the first defeat of the Aesir gods and the destruction of the old Asgard.

However, this war will have a surprising outcome as it ends with a hostage exchange. Thus, the two sides agreed on a truce:

  • The Aesir gods send Mimir and Hoenir to live among the Vanir and make the latter their new leader;
  • On their side, the Vanir give Freyja, Freyr, and Nj√∂rd as a pledge of reconciliation.

Finally, the two families of gods celebrate this pact by spitting into a cup, and from their saliva was born the god Kvasir.

Freyja and Freyr, the hostages of the Aesir gods

Freya Goddess Aesir | Viking Heritage

Freyja and Freyr are siblings and the children of Njörd and Nerthus. Although they originally belong to the Vanir gods, they are welcomed into the pantheon of the Aesir deities and become full members of this family.

Freyja is the goddess of beauty and love. She is a major Nordic deity who embodies the first valkyrie of Viking mythology. Indeed, she has her own Germanic cult and shares with Odin half of the warriors who died in battle. Moreover, she teaches him the secret art of divination.

However, goddess Freyja is a deity that still hides many secrets that you can fully discover in the article dedicated to her.

Furthermore, her twin brother, Freyr is the god of fertility, prosperity, and life. He is first introduced in chapter 24 of Snorri's Edda:

"Freyr is the most glorious of the Aesir. He has power over rain and the brightness of the sun, and thereby over the fruits of the earth, and it is good to call upon him for prosperity and peace. He also has power over the fortune of men." ‚ÄĒ Gylfaginning, chapter 24.

He is a kind and benevolent Nordic god loved by all men. He will fight alongside the Aesir gods during Ragnarök, but will perish at the hands of the giant Surt:

"Freyr will face Surt, and it will be a terrible encounter until Freyr falls. The reason for his death will be that he will lack the excellent sword he gave to Skirnir." ‚ÄĒ Gylfaginning, chapter 51.

Kvasir, the god of wisdom and knowledge | Viking Heritage

Kvasir is the god of wisdom and knowledge in Norse mythology. He was born from the saliva of the Aesir and Vanir gods when they decided to end their war. He embodies knowledge as explained in Snorri's Edda:

"He was so wise that no one could ask him a question to which he did not have an answer. He traveled long distances across the world to teach men science." ‚Äď Sk√°ldskaparm√°l, chapter 2.

Unfortunately, his power was so great that it was coveted by the dwarves Fjalar and Galar. They eventually killed him and used his blood to create mead,a drink that allows one to acquire the knowledge and wisdom of Kvasir.

The Pantheon of the Aesir Nordic Deities

In addition to the main Viking deities, other iconic characters are part of the Aesir gods. Let's discover together Vidar, Heimdall, Tyr, and Bragi, legendary Nordic gods found in Viking mythology.

Vidar, the God of Vengeance

Vidar God Aesir | Viking Heritage

Renowned for his discretion and impartiality, it is however Vidar, the eternal silent one, who will carry out the vengeance for the god Odin. Born from the union of the latter with the giantess Gr√≠√įr, he assists Thor in terms of physical strength. He is sometimes called the fearless son, sometimes the silent Ase.

In Icelandic, V√≠√įarr means "he who reigns from afar". However, in Old Norse, it would derive from the root vidre which means "wood", which explains his title of lord of the forests. He resides in a palace located in an impenetrable enchanted forest, Landvidi.

Vidar is described in Snorri's Edda as follows:

"There is another called Vidar, the Silent Ase. He has a thick shoe and is almost as strong as Thor. From him, the gods receive great assistance in all trials." ‚Äď Gylfaginning, chapter 29.

That said, his interventions in the myths we have are rare, apart from the great battle of Ragnarök. He is notably mentioned for his participation in Ægir's feast, recounted in the poem Lokasenna.

However, the Ase god of vengeance is better known for having killed the wolf Fenrir during the prophetic end of the world. The gigantic creature completely swallowed Odin on the battlefield. As prophesied, his son avenges him.

According to the Völuspá, he pierces Fenrir with his legendary sword, wide and sharp, straight into the heart. In Snorri's Edda, it is said that he tore its mouth open. He would support its lower jaw with magical leather shoes, while he propelled its head towards the heavens.

He survives the Ragnarök alongside Vali, and participates in the renewal of the world. They reign in Idavoll, the city that sat where the old kingdom of Asgard was.

Heimdall, Herald of the Ragnarök

Heimdall, Herald of the Ragnarök

Son of Odin, Heimdall is the Viking god of light, the moon, and fire. It is said that he has 9 mothers: 9 waves from the world of giants who seduced Odin and merged to bear this child. As a result, he would have inherited the qualities of giants: a great size, advanced hearing, and a sleep shorter than a bird's.

Heimdall is also the guardian of the bifrost, a rainbow bridge connecting Asgard to the lower Viking worlds, especially to the realm of the Jötuns. He lives close to this fiery passage, at Himinhbjörg.

On the other hand, this Ase god has a very special accessory, the Gjallarhorn. It is a horn that Heimdall will blow to announce the advent of the Ragnarök. It is mentioned in the Völuspa that this call will be heard in the 9 worlds.

According to the Poetic Edda, he descends to the realm of men under the name of Rig. He embodies a leadership role, thus defining the three classes of Viking society: the jarls, the free men, and the slaves.

Heimdall is destined to die at the hands of Loki, during his final battle of the Ragnarök.

Tyr, the God of War and Justice

In Old Norse, Tyr is a generic name that is synonymous with deity. However, in mythology, it specifically designates the god of the sky, war, and justice. He borrows his name in the Germanic language from a day of the week, Tuesday.

Historians agree that he was the main Viking god, then Odin and Thor took over during the Viking invasion period. His main function is to defend the rights of men.

The god Tyr is thus considered to be the son of the god Odin. He has the qualities of wisdom, courage, but especially a pronounced sense of law and justice. To cultivate his wisdom, he embarked on long journeys throughout the Viking universe.

In this sense, he stands opposite the god Loki, who represents malice and cunning. The latter reproached him for seeking conflicts rather than promoting reconciliation between adversaries.

The most striking story about him is the sacrifice of his hand. The Aesir gods, concerned about Fenrir's growth, tried to bind him with iron threads using several tricks.

None were effective, which is why they turned to the dwarves to create a magical silk thread to restrain him. However, Fenrir refused this time, skeptical, unless one of them was willing to put his hand in his mouth as a pledge.

It was Tyr who volunteered, thanks to which the wolf remained bound until the Ragnarök. The king of the sky and justice is destined to face the guardian dog of Helheim on that day.

Bragi, the Viking God of Poetry

According to Gylfaginning, an Eddic poem, the god Bragi is the one who invented poetry. His name comes from Old Norse bragr, which means poetry. He is endowed with legendary eloquence and an extraordinary pen.

He is also called the god with the long beard, and he is said to have been present at Ægir's feast. He is also said to be the husband of the guardian of the apples of youth in Norse mythology.

Unlike the other Aesir gods, Bragi is only mentioned in Snorri's Edda. His absence from other major historical sources of the Viking era leads some authors to believe that it might be Odin, who is also gifted with words.


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