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Odin throws his spear at the Vanir host, illustration by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

In Norse mythology, the Æsir–Vanir War was a war that occurred between the Æsir and the Vanir, two groups of gods. The war ultimately resulted in the unification of the two tribes into a single tribe of gods. The war is an important event in the canon, and the implications of the war and the potential historicity surrounding the accounts of the war are a matter of an amount of scholarly debate and discourse.

Fragmented information about the war appears in surviving sources. The war is described in Völuspá, a poem collected in the Poetic Edda in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, in the book Skáldskaparmál in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in euhemerized form in the Ynglinga saga from Heimskringla, also written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century.



The following attestations provide information about the war:


Poetic Edda

Gullveig is executed, illustration by Lorenz Frølich (1895).
"The Æsir Against the Vanir" (1882) by Karl Ehrenberg.

In two stanzas of Völuspá, the war is recounted by a völva (who refers to herself here in the third person) while the god Odin questions her. In the first of the two stanzas, the völva says that she remembers the first war in the world, when Gullveig was stabbed with spears and then burnt three times in one of Odin's halls, yet that Gullveig was reborn three times. In the later stanza, the völva says that they called Gullveig Heiðr (Meaning "Bright One"[1] or potentially "Gleaming" or "Honor"[2]) whenever she came to houses, that she was a wise völva, and that she cast spells. Heiðr performed Seid where she could, did so in a trance, and was "always the favorite of wicked women."[1]

In a later stanza, the völva then tells Odin that all the powers went to the judgment seats and discussed whether the Æsir should pay a fine or if all of the gods should instead have tribute. Further in the poem, a stanza provides the last of the völva's account of the events surrounding the war. She says:

Odin shot a spear, hurled it over the host;
that was still the first war in the world,
the defense wall was broken of the Æsir's stronghold;
the Vanir, indomitable, were trampling the plain.[1]

John Lindow states that the stanzas are very unclear and that he has particular trouble translating the second half of stanza 23, but says that the stanzas seem to relay information about a battle precipitated by the entry of Gullveig/Heiðr among the Æsir.[3] Lindow posits that stanza 23 seems to relate to an inability to reach a truce during the war and that, if so, it flows well into the all out war described in stanza 24, though that wording in stanza 23 could also indicate a movement towards a community involving both the Æsir and the Vanir.[3]

Prose Edda

In the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál (chapter 57), the god Bragi explains the origin of poetry. Bragi says that it originated in the Æsir–Vanir War, where during the peace conference where both the Æsir and the Vanir formed a truce by spitting into a vat. When they left, the gods decided that it shouldn't be poured out, but rather kept as a symbol of their peace, and so from the contents made a man; Kvasir. Kvasir is later murdered, and from his blood is made the Mead of Poetry.[4]


In chapter 4 of Heimskringla, Snorri presents a euhemerized account of the war. Snorri states that Odin led a great army from Asia ("Asaland") to attack the people of "Vanaland." However, according to Snorri, the people of Vanaland were well prepared for the invasion; they defended their land so well that victory was up for grabs from both sides, and both sides produced immense damage and ravaged the lands of one another.[5]

Snorri states that the two sides eventually tired of the war and both agreed to meet to establish a truce. Snorri continues that the two sides did so and exchanged hostages. Vanaland are described as having sent to Asaland their best men: Njörðr—described as wealthy—and his son Freyr in exchange for Asaland's Hœnir—described here as large, handsome, and thought of by the people of Vanaland well suited to be a chieftain. Additionally, Asaland sends Mímir—a man of great understanding—in exchange for Kvasir, who Snorri describes as the wisest man of Vanaland.[5]

Odin with Mímir's body, illustration by Georg Pauli (1893)

Snorri continues that, upon arrival in Vanaland, Hœnir was immediately made chief and Mimir often gave him good counsel. However, when Hœnir was at meetings and at the Thing without Mimir by his side, he would always answer the same way: "Let others decide." Subsequently, the Vanaland folk suspected they had been cheated in the exchange by the Asaland folk, so they seized Mimir and beheaded him and sent the head to Asaland. Odin took the head of Mimir, embalmed it with herbs so that it would not rot, and spoke charms over it, which gave it the power to speak to him and reveal to him secrets.[5]

According to Snorri, Odin then appointed Njörðr and Freyr to be priests of sacrificial customs and they became Diar ("Gods") of the people of Asaland. Freyja, described as daughter of Njörðr, was the priestess of these sacrifices, and here she is described as introducing seid to Asaland.[5]


A number of theories surround the Æsir–Vanir War:

Proto-Indo-European basis

As the Vanir are often considered fertility gods, the Æsir–Vanir War has been proposed as a reflection of the invasion of local fertility cults somewhere in regions inhabited by the Germanic peoples by a more aggressive, warlike cult.[3] This has been proposed as an analogy of the invasion of the Indo-Europeans.[3] Georges Dumézil stated that the war need not necessarily be understood in matters of historicity more than any other myth because it is set before the emigration from the Middle East and, he states, accounts are more focused on the truce than on details regarding the battles.[6]

Scholars have cited parallels between the Æsir–Vanir War, the The Rape of the Sabine Women from Roman mythology, and the Mahabharata from Hindu mythology, providing support for a Proto-Indo-European "war of the functions." Explaining these parallels, J. P. Mallory states:

Basically, the parallels concern the presence of first-(Magico-juridical) and second-(warrior) function representatives on the victorious side of a war that ultimately subdues and incorporates third function characters, for example, the Sabine women or the Norse Vanir. Indeed, the Iliad itself has been examined in a similar light. The ultimate structure of the myth, then, is that the three part Proto-Indo-European society were fused only after a war between the first two against the third.[7]


Many scholars consider the figures of Gullveig/Heiðr and Freyja the same.[8] These conclusions have been made through comparisons between the figure of Gullveig/Heiðr's use of seid in Völuspá and the mention of Freyja introducing seid to the Æsir from the Vanir in Heimskringla.[3] This is at times taken further that their corruption of the Æsir led to the Æsir–Vanir War.[3]

Lindow states that he feels that even if the two are not identical, the various accounts of the war seem to share the idea of a disruptive entry of persons into a people.[3] Lindow compares the appearance of Gullveig/Heiðr into the Æsir to that of Hœnir and Mimir's disruption amongst the Vanir in Heimskringla.[3] Lindow further states that all three accounts share the notion of acquisition of tools for the conquest of wisdom; the practice of Seiðr in two accounts and the head of Mimir in one.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Larrington (1996:7).
  2. ^ Lindow (2001:165).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lindow (2001:51-53).
  4. ^ Faulkes (1995:61—62).
  5. ^ a b c d Hollander (1964:7-8).
  6. ^ Dumézil (1973:Chapter 1).
  7. ^ Mallory (2005:139).
  8. ^ Grundy (1998:62).



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