The Æsir (Old Norse: [ˈɛ̃ːsez̠]) are the gods of the principal pantheon in Norse religion. They include Odin, Frigg, Höðr, Thor, and Baldr.[1] The second Norse pantheon is the Vanir.[a] In Norse mythology, the two pantheons wage war against each other, resulting in a unified pantheon. Unlike the Old English word god (and the Old Norse word goð), Æsir was never converted over to Christian use.

Æsir gathered around the body of Baldr. Painting by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg 1817

EtymologyEdit

 
The modern Swedish word for atmospheric thunder - åska - "the god's ride" - retains the name. That Thor caused lightning and thunder was still a living tradition in the countryside when compulsory education started teaching what was known from the Eddas.

Æsir is the plural of áss, ǫ́ss "god". In genitival compounds, it takes the form ása-, e.g. in Ása-Þórr ("Thor of the Æsir"), besides ás- found in

ás-brú "gods' bridge" (the rainbow),
ás-garðr "gods' garden",
ás-kunnigr "gods' kin",
ás-liðar "gods' leader",
ás-mogin "gods' might" (especially of Thor),
ás-móðr "divine wrath" etc.
Landâs "national god" (patrium numen)

is a title of Thor, as is

allmáttki ás "almighty god",

while it is Odin who is "the" ás. There is also Old East Norse dialectal

*ās-ækia (OWN: *áss-ekja), i.e. "god ride" (Thor riding in his wagon),

resulting in the modern Swedish word

åska for atmospheric thunder

(the form åsekia attested as late as the 17th c.).[2](p 1202) The feminine form is ásynja (plural ásynjur).[b]

The word áss is attested in modified form in other Germanic languages, such as Old English ōs () (plural ēse), denoting a deity in Anglo-Saxon paganism, preserved only as a prefix Ōs- in personal names (e.g. Osborne, Oswald) and some place-names, and as the genitive plural ēsa.[c]

In Old High German, Old Dutch and Old Saxon, the word is only attested in personal and place names, e.g.

Ansebert, Anselm, Ansfrid, Vihans.

The Old High German is reconstructed as *ans, plural *ensî.[3]

Gothic has ans- as reported by Jordanes, who wrote in the 6th century CE, presumably a Latinized form of actual plural *anseis), as a name for euhemerized semi-divine early Gothic rulers.[3][4][d]

The reconstructed Proto-Germanic form is *ansuz (plural *ansiwiz). The ansuz rune, ⟨⟩, was named after the Æsir. *ansuz, itself comes from Proto-Indo-European *h₂énsus (gen. h₂n̥sóus) "life force" (cf. Avestan aŋhū "lord; lifetime", ahura "godhood", Sanskrit ásu "life force",[5] ásura "demons" ( *h₂n̥suró). It is widely accepted that this word is further related to *h₂ens- "to engender" (cf. Hittite hass- "to procreate, give birth", Tocharian B ās- "to produce").[6]

Norse mythologyEdit

The interaction between the Æsir and the Vanir has provoked a considerable amount of scholarly theory and speculation.

While other cultures have had "elder" and "younger" families of gods, as with the Titans versus the Olympians of ancient Greece, the Æsir and Vanir are portrayed in myth as contemporaries: The two clans of gods fought battles, concluded treaties, exchanged hostages (Freyr and Freyja are mentioned as hostages), and intermarried.

An áss like Ullr is almost unknown in the myths, but his name is seen in a lot of geographical names, especially in Sweden, and may also appear on the 3rd century Thorsberg chape, suggesting that his cult was widespread in prehistoric times.

The names of the first three Æsir in Norse mythology, Vili, Vé and Odin all refer to spiritual or mental state, vili to conscious will or desire, to the sacred or numinous and óðr to the manic or ecstatic.

Æsir and VanirEdit

The second clan of gods mentioned in Norse mythology is the Vanir: The god Njörðr and his children, Freyr and Freyja, are the most prominent Vanir gods who join the Æsir as hostages after a war between Æsir and Vanir. The Vanir appear to have mainly been connected with cultivation and fertility and the Æsir were connected with power and war.

In the Eddas, however, the word Æsir is used for [male] gods in general, while Asynjur is used for the goddesses in general.[7] For example, in the poem Skírnismál, Freyr was called a "Prince of the Æsir". In the Prose Edda, Njörðr was introduced as "the third among the Æsir", and among the Asynjur, Freya is always listed second only to Frigg.

In surviving tales, the origins of many of the Æsir are unexplained. In the ostensibly oldest stories, there are only Buri's three sons: Odin and his brothers Vili and Vé. Odin's sons by giantesses are counted as Æsir. Heimdallr and Ullr's connection with the Æsir is not clearly mentioned. Loki is a jötunn (apparently a cousin and foster-brother of Odin) and Njörðr is a Vanir and his two children are hostages, but they are often ranked among the Æsir.

Scholarly theories and interpretationsEdit

Given the difference between their roles and emphases, some scholars have speculated that the interactions between the Æsir and the Vanir reflect the types of interaction that occurred between clans (or social classes) within Norse society at the time.[8](p 3–4, 18)[9](p 159–162) According to another theory, the Vanir (and the fertility cults associated with them) may be more archaic than that of the more warlike Æsir, such that the mythical war may mirror a half-remembered religious conflict. This argument was first suggested in 1877 by Wilhelm Mannhardt.[8](p xxiii)[10](p 288) On a similar note, Marija Gimbutas argues that the Æsir and the Vanir represent the displacement of an indigenous Indo-European group by a tribe of warlike invaders as part of her Kurgan hypothesis. See her case in The Living Goddess for more details.[citation needed] Another historical theory is that the inter-pantheon interaction may be an apotheosis of the conflict between the Roman Kingdom and the Sabines.[9](p 161, esp. 37 ff)

Finally, M. Eliade (1958)[11] speculated that this conflict is actually a later version of an Indo-European myth concerning the conflict between and eventual integration of a pantheon of sky / warrior / ruler gods and a pantheon of earth / economics / fertility gods, with no strict historical antecedents.[e]

List of ÆsirEdit

The Prose Edda lists both male and female gods of the Æsir, in the 34th and 35th passages of the Gylfaginning. The Gylfaginning does not include Odin or Loki in this portion, perhaps considering them outside the ranking.

  1. (21.) Thor is the foremost of them. He is called Asa-Thor, or Oku-Thor. He is the strongest of all gods and men, and rules over the realm which is called Þrúðvangr.
  2. (22.) Odin's second son is Baldr
  3. (23.) the third asa is he who is called Njörðr.
  4. (24.) Njörðr, in Noatun, afterward begat two children: a son, by name Freyr, and a daughter, by name Freyja. They were fair of face, and mighty. Freyr is arguably the most famous of the asas. He rules over rain and sunshine, and over the fruits of the earth. It is good to call on him for harvests and peace. He also sways the wealth of men. Freyja is the most famous of the goddesses. ...
  5. (25.) There is yet an asa, whose name is Týr. He is very daring and stout-hearted. He sways victory in war, wherefore warriors should call on him.
  6. (26.) Bragi is the name of another of the asas. He is famous for his wisdom, eloquence and flowing speech.
  7. (27.) Heimdallr is the name of one. He is also called the white-asa. He is great and holy; born of nine maidens, all of whom were sisters. He is also called Hallinskide and Gullintanne, for his teeth were of gold.
  8. (28.) Höðr hight one of the asas, who is blind, but exceedingly strong; and the gods would wish that this asa never needed to be named, for the work of his hand will long be kept in memory both by gods and men.
  9. (29.) Víðarr is the name of the silent asa. He has a very thick shoe, and he is the strongest next after Thor. From him the gods have much help in all hard tasks.
  10. (30.) Váli, is the son of Odin and Rindr. He is daring in combat, and a good shot.
  11. (31.) Ullr is the name of one, who is a son of Sif, and a step-son of Thor. He is so good an archer, and so fast on his skis, that no one can contend with him. He is fair of face, and possesses every quality of a warrior. Men should invoke him in single combat.
  12. (32.) Forseti is a son of Baldr and Nanna, Nep's daughter. He has in heaven the hall which hight Glitner. All who come to him with disputes go away perfectly reconciled. Just to listen to People's Future. No better tribunal is to be found among gods and men. ...
  13. (33.) There is yet one who is numbered among the asas, but whom some call the backbiter of the asas. He is the originator of deceit, and the disgrace of all gods and men. His name is Loki, or Lopt. ... His wife hight Sigyn, and their son, Nare, or Narfe.[12]

Corresponding to the fourteen Æsir listed above, section 35 lists fourteen asynjur (goddesses):

"Ganglere asked: Which are the goddesses? Har answered:"

  1. Frigg is the first; she possesses the right lordly dwelling which is called Fensaler.
  2. The second is Sága, who dwells in Sokvabek, and this is a large dwelling.
  3. The third is Eir, who is a goddess of medicine and medical care.
  4. The fourth is Gefjon, who is a may, and those who die maids become her hand-maidens.
  5. The fifth is Fulla, who is also a may, she wears her hair flowing and has a golden ribbon about her head; she carries Frigg's chest, takes care of her shoes and knows her secrets.
  6. The sixth is Freyja, who is ranked with Frigg. She is wedded to the man whose name is Oder; their daughter's name is Hnos, and she is so fair that all things fair and precious are called, from her name, Hnos. Oder went far away. Freyja weeps for him, but her tears are red gold. Freyja has many names, and the reason therefor is that she changed her name among the various nations to which she came in search of Oder. She is called Mardol, Horn, Gefn, and Syr. She has the necklace Brising, and she is called Vanadis.
  7. The seventh is Sjöfn, who is fond of turning men's and women's hearts to love, and it is from her name that love is called Sjafne.
  8. The eighth is Lofn, who is kind and good to those who call upon her, and she has permission from Alfather or Frigg to bring together men and women, no matter what difficulties may stand in the way; therefore "love" is so called from her name, and also that which is much loved by men.
  9. The ninth is Var. She hears the oaths and troths that men and women plight to each other. Hence such vows are called vars, and she takes vengeance on those who break their promises.
  10. The tenth is Vör, who is so wise and searching that nothing can be concealed from her. It is a saying that a woman becomes vor (ware) of what she becomes wise.
  11. The eleventh is Syn, who guards the door of the hall, and closes it against those who are not to enter. In trials she guards those suits in which anyone tries to make use of falsehood. Hence is the saying that "syn is set against it," when anyone tries to deny ought.
  12. The twelfth is Hlín, who guards those men whom Frigg wants to protect from any danger. Hence is the saying that he hlins who is forewarned.
  13. The thirteenth is Snotra, who is wise and courtly. After her, men and women who are wise are called Snotras.
  14. The fourteenth is Gna, whom Frigg sends on her errands into various worlds. She rides upon a horse called Hofvarpner, that runs through the air and over the sea. Once, when she was riding, some vanir saw her faring through the air. ...
  15. Sól and Bil are numbered among the goddesses, but their nature has already been described.[12]

The A-runeEdit

The a-rune, ansuz, , Younger Futhark ᚬ, was probably named after the Æsir. The name in this sense survives only in the Icelandic Rune Poem as Óss, referring to Óðinn, who is identified with Jupiter:

Icelandic Rune Poem
   Icelandic    English translation
Óss er algingautr
ok ásgarðs jöfurr,
ok valhallar vísi.
Jupiter oddviti.
 
"Óss is Aged Gautr
and prince of Asgard
and lord of Valhalla
chieftain Jupiter."

The name of 𐌰 a in the Gothic alphabet is ahsa. The common Germanic name of the rune may thus have either been ansuz "God, one of the Æsir", or ahsam "ear (of corn)"

AsleikrEdit

The personal names Old Norse Ásleikr (Latinised as Ansleicus), Old English Óslác (modern "Hasluck") and Old High German Ansleh may continue the term for a sacrificial performance for the gods in early Germanic paganism (*ansu-laikom). Grimm's Deutsches Wörterbuch[13] (s.v. "Leich"[citation needed]) compares *laikom to the meaning of Greek χορος, denoting first the ceremonial procession to the sacrifice, but also ritual dance and hymns pertaining to religious ritual.

Paul Herrman (1906)[14] identified as such *ansulaikom the victory songs of the Batavi after defeating Quintus Petillius Cerialis in the Revolt of the Batavi in the year 69 CE according to Tacitus' account, and also the "nefarious song" accompanied by "running in a circle" around the head of a decapitated goat sacrificed to (he presumes) Wodan (Odin), sung by the Lombards at their victory celebration in 579 CE.[15][14][16]

Personal namesEdit

Gothic has Ansila and Ansemund.

Theophoric names of the Anglo-Saxons containing the os element:

Osburh, Oslac, Oswiu, Oswin(e), Osbert, Oswudu,
Osred, Oslaf, Øsa (with i-mutation from a presumed *ós-i-), and Osgar (Anglo-Saxon form of Ásgeir).

These names were notably popular in the dynasty of Bernicia. Still in wide use are the surnames

Osborn, Osgood, Osmund, and Oswald.

As occurs in many Scandinavian given names:

Asbjørn, Asgeir (Asger, Asker), Asmund, Astrid, Asdîs, Asgautr, Aslaug, Åse, etc.

Old High German had Anso, Anselm, Ansgar, Anshilt, Anspald, and Ansnôt, and Lombardic has Answald and Ansprand.

As also occurs in some English names. In 874, King Asketil was one of four Viking nobles who sacked Repton, the capital of Mercia, England. As 'ketil' means 'cauldron' (whence the English word 'kettle' is derived), his name means 'God's cauldron'. The English surname Astle is derived from his name; however, it is not related to the name Astley. Less common alternative spellings of Astle include

Astel, Astell, Astill, Astyll and Astull.

ÁsatrúEdit

Ásatrú, a kind of Heathenry whose name means "faith in the Æsir", is a new religious movement of polytheistic reconstructionism based on Norse paganism. As of 2007, Ásatrú is a religion officially recognized by the governments of Denmark,[17] Iceland,[18] Norway, and Sweden.[19]

Most adherents do not emphasize worship of the Æsir in particular and refer to their practice as "Forn sed / sidr / siður" meaning old customs. The Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið describes Ásatrú as "Nordic pantheism" involving "belief in the Icelandic / Nordic folklore" including all the "spirits and entities" besides "gods and other beings" this entails.[f]

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ The Vanir are discussed here briefly, see separate article Vanir.
  2. ^ The feminine suffix -ynja (Proto-Norse: -unjō[2]) is known from a few other nouns denoting female animals (such as apynja "female monkey" and vargynja "she-wolf"). A cognate word for "goddess" is not attested outside Old Norse. The corresponding West Germanic word would have been separately derived with the feminine suffixes -inī or -injō.[2](p xxix)
  3. ^ The Old English word ēsa is known from ANGLIC ēsa gescot & ylfa gescotLATIN jaculum divorum et geniorum – "the shots of anses and of elves", i.e. "elfshot".[citation needed]
  4. ^ "Tum Gothi, magna potiti per loca victoria, jam proceres suos quasi qui fortuna vincebant, non puros homines, sed semideos, id est anses vocavere." — Grimm 1882–1883[3](ch 13, p 29)
  5. ^ This pattern of divided groups is discussed by noted scholar comparative religion Eliade (1958).[11]
    Supporting this position, Turville-Petre (1964)[9] notes, "In one civilization, and at one time, the specialized gods of fertility might predominate, and in another the warrior or the god-king. The highest god owes his position to those who worship him, and if they are farmers, he will be a god of fertility, or one of the Vanir".[9](p 162)
  6. ^ The Icelandic version[20] has
    "Ásatrú is a pagan tradition based on tolerance, honesty, magnanimity and respect for nature and all life."
    (Ásatrú eða heiðinn siður byggir á umburðarlyndi, heiðarleika, drengskap og virðingu fyrir náttúrunni og öllu lífi.)[20]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Aesir". Encyclopedia Britannica. Scandinavian mythology. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Hellquist, Elof (1922). Svensk etymologisk ordbok [Swedish Etymological Dictionary] (in Swedish). Lund, SV: Gleerup. p. 1202.
  3. ^ a b c Grimm, J. (1882–1883). Deutsche Mythologie [German Mythology]. I. Translated by Stallybrass, James Steven. London, GB: Bell. p. 25.
  4. ^ de Vries, Jan (1970) [1956–1957]. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte [Old Germanic Religious History]. 2 (2nd ed.). Berlin, DE: De Gruyter. p. 7.
  5. ^ "asu". vedabase.net. Sanskrit. Archived from the original on 8 May 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  6. ^ Adams, Douglas Q. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 330. ISBN 978-1884964985.
  7. ^ Norse Mythology A to Z. Facts on File. Infobase Publishing. 2009. ISBN 978-1438128016.
  8. ^ a b Dumézil, G. (1973). Haugen, Einar (ed.). Gods of the Ancient Northmen. (Introduction by) C. Scott Littleton & Udo Strutynski. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520020448 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b c d Turville-Petre, G. (1964). Myth and Religion of the North: The religion of ancient Scandinavia. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. ISBN 0837174201.
  10. ^ Munch, P.A. (1926). Olsen, M. (ed.). Norse Mythology: Legends of gods and heroes. Translated by Sigurd Bernhard, Hustvedt. New York, NY; London, GB: American-Scandinavian Foundation; H. Milford / Oxford University Press.
  11. ^ a b Eliade, M. (1958). "The supplanting of sky gods by fecundators". Patterns in Comparative Religion. New York, NY: Sheed & Ward. § II, p 30.
  12. ^ a b Sturluson, Snorri; Anderson, Rasmus B., eds. (2017). Prose Edda [Gylfaginning]. USA. ISBN 1-4209-5637-X. OCLC 1010983003.
  13. ^ Grimm, J.; et al. (Brothers Grimm) (13 April 1854). Deutsches Wörterbuch [German Dictionary]. Leipzig, DE: Allgemeine Zeitung.
  14. ^ a b Herrmann, Paul (1908). Nordische Mythologie in gemeinverständlicher Darstellung. Engelmann. p. 342.
  15. ^ The Lombards’s 579 CE victory celebration is reported in
    Pope Gregory I. Dialogues. chapter 28.
  16. ^ Herrmann, Paul (1928). Altdeutsche Kultgebräuche. E. Diederichs.
  17. ^ "Kirkeministeriet" (in Danish). Archived from the original on 9 February 2007. Retrieved 9 February 2007. Forn Sidr – Asa – og Vanetrosamfundet i Danmark
  18. ^ "Listi yfir skráð trúfélög og lífsskoðunarfélög". syslumenn.is (in Icelandic). Sýslumenn. Retrieved 10 January 2021. Ásatrúarfélagið
  19. ^ Törnberg, Ulf (14 February 2007). "Freja, Oden och Tor får officiell status". Sydsvenskan.se (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  20. ^ a b "Ásatrúarfélagið". 2006. Archived from the original on 5 December 2006.

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