The Aesir-Vanir War

From BelegarthWiki

Revision as of 17:35, 22 March 2018 by Neko Wafer (Talk | contribs)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search

In Norse mythology, gods and goddesses usually belong to one of two tribes: the Aesir and the Vanir. Throughout most of the Norse tales, deities from the two tribes get along fairly easily, and it’s hard to pin down firm distinctions between the two groups. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case.

The War of the Gods

The Vanir goddess Freya was always the foremost practitioner of the art of seidr, a form of magic principally concerned with discerning and altering the course of destiny. Like historical seidr practitioners, she wandered from town to town plying her craft for hire.

Under the name Heiðr (“Bright”), she eventually came to Asgard, the home of the Aesir. The Aesir were quite taken by her powers and zealously sought her services. But soon they realized that their values of honor, kin loyalty, and obedience to the law were being pushed aside by the selfish desires they sought to fulfill with the witch’s magic. Blaming Freya for their own shortcomings, the Aesir called her “Gullveig” (“Gold-greed”) and attempted to murder her. Three times they tried to burn her, and three times she was reborn from the ashes.

Because of this, the Aesir and Vanir came to hate and fear one another, and these hostilities erupted into war. The Aesir fought by the rules of plain combat, with weapons and brute force, while the Vanir used the subtler means of magic. The war went on for some time, with both sides gaining the upper hand by turns.

Eventually the two tribes of divinities became weary of fighting and decided to call a truce. As was customary among the ancient Norse and other Germanic peoples, the two sides agreed to pay tribute to each other by sending hostages to live among the other tribe. Freya, Freyr, and Njord of the Vanir went to the Aesir, and Hoenir (pronounced roughly “HIGH-neer”) and Mimir went to the Vanir.

Njord and his children seem to have lived more or less in peace in Asgard. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Hoenir and Mimir in Vanaheim. The Vanir immediately saw that Hoenir was seemingly able to deliver incomparably wise advice on any problem, but they failed to notice that this was only when he had Mimir in his company. Hoenir was actually a rather slow-witted simpleton who was at a loss for words when Mimir wasn’t available to counsel him. After Hoenir responded to the Vanir’s entreaties with the unhelpful “Let others decide” one too many times, the Vanir thought they had been cheated in the hostage exchange. They beheaded Mimir and sent the severed head back to Asgard, where the distraught Odin chanted magic poems over the head and embalmed it in herbs. Thus preserved, Mimir’s head continued to give indispensable advice to Odin in times of need.

The two tribes were still weary of fighting a war that was so evenly-matched, however. Rather than renewing their hostilities over this tragic misunderstanding, each of the Aesir and Vanir came together and spat into a cauldron. From their saliva they created Kvasir, the wisest of all beings, as a way of pledging sustained harmony.

This storyline continues in the tale of the Mead of Poetry.

The Mead of Poetry

At the conclusion of the Aesir-Vanir War, the Aesir and Vanir gods and goddesses sealed their truce by spitting into a great vat. From their spittle they formed a being whom they named Kvasir (“Fermented Berry Juice”). Kvasir was the wisest human that had ever lived; none were able to present him with a question for which he didn’t have a satisfying answer. He became famous and traveled throughout the world giving counsel.

Kvasir was invited to the home of two dwarves, Fjalar (“Deceiver”) and Galar (“Screamer”). Upon his arrival, the dwarves slew Kvasir and brewed mead with his blood. This mead contained Kvasir’s ability to dispense wisdom, and was appropriately named Óðrœrir (“Stirrer of Inspiration”). Any who drank of it would become a poet or a scholar.

When the gods questioned them about Kvasir’s disappearance, Fjalar and Galar told them that Kvasir had choked on his wisdom.

The two dwarves apparently delighted in murder. Soon after this incident, they took the giant Gilling out to sea and drowned him for sport. The sounds of Gilling’s weeping wife irritated them, so they killed her as well, this time by dropping a millstone on her head as she passed under the doorway of their house.

But this last mischief got the dwarves into trouble. When Gilling’s son, Suttung (“Heavy with Drink”), learned of his father’s murder, he seized the dwarves and, at low tide, carried them out to a reef that would soon be covered by the waves. The dwarves pleaded for their lives, and Suttung granted their request only when they agreed to give him the mead they had brewed with Kvasir’s blood. Suttung hid the vats of mead in a chamber beneath the mountain Hnitbjorg (“Pulsing Rock”), where he appointed his daughter Gunnlod (“Invitation to Battle”) to watch over them.

Now Odin, the chief of the gods, who is restless and unstoppable in his pursuit of wisdom, was displeased with the precious mead’s being hoarded away beneath a mountain. He bent his will toward acquiring it for himself and those he deemed worthy of its powers.

Disguised as a wandering farmhand, Odin went to the farm of Suttung’s brother, Baugi. There he found nine servants mowing hay. He approached them, took out a whetstone from under his cloak, and offered to sharpen their scythes. They eagerly agreed, and afterwards marveled at how well their scythes cut the hay. They all declared this to be the finest whetstone they had ever seen, and each asked to purchase it. Odin consented to sell it, “but,” he warned them, “you must pay a high price.” He then threw the stone into the air, and, in their scramble to catch it, the nine killed each other with their scythes.

Odin then went to Baugi’s door and introducted himself as “Bölverkr” (“Worker of Misfortune”). He offered to do the work of the nine servants who had, as he told it, so basely killed each other in a dispute in the field earlier that day. As his reward, he demanded a sip of Suttung’s mead.

Baugi responded that he had no control of the mead and that Suttung guarded it jealously, but that if Bölverkr could truly perform the work of nine men, he would help the apparent farmhand to obtain his desire.

At the end of the growing season, Odin had fulfilled his promise to the giant, who agreed to accompany him to Suttung to inquire about the mead. Suttung, however, angrily refused. The disguised god, reminding Baugi of their bargain, convinced the giant to aid him in gaining access to Gunnlod’s dwelling. The two went to a part of the mountain that Baugi knew to be nearest to the underground chamber. Odin took an auger out from his cloak and handed it to Baugi for hill to drill through the rock. The giant did so, and after much work announced that the hole was finished. Odin blew into the hole to verify Baugi’s claim, and when the rock-dust blew back into his face, he knew that his companion had lied to him. The suspicious god then bade the giant to finish what he had started. When Baugi proclaimed the hole to be complete for a second time, Odin once again blew into the hole. This time the debris were blown through the hole.

Odin thanked Baugi for his help, shifted his shape into that of a snake, and crawled into the hole. Baugi stabbed after him with the auger, but Odin made it through just in time.

Once inside, he assumed the form of a charming young man and made his way to where Gunnlod guarded the mead. He won her favor and secured a promise from her that, if he would sleep with her for three nights, she would grant him three sips of the mead. After the third night, Odin went to the mead, which was in three vats, and consumed the contents of each vat in a single draught.

Odin then changed his shape yet again, this time into that of an eagle, and flew off toward Asgard, the gods’ celestial stronghold, with his prize in his throat. Suttung soon discovered this trickery, took on the form of another eagle, and flew off in pursuit of Odin.

When the gods spied their leader approaching with Suttung close behind him, they set out several vessels at the rim of their fortress. Odin reached the abode of his fellow gods before Suttung could catch him, and the giant retreated in anguish. As Odin came to the containers, he regurgitated the mead into them. As he did so, however, a few drops fell from his beak to Midgard, the world of humankind, below. These drops are the source of the abilities of all bad and mediocre poets and scholars. But the true poets and scholars are those to whom Odin dispenses his mead personally and with care.

Personal tools
People & Places
For Fighters
For Craftsman