The Æsir and Vanir- in brief (very)

Collectively the gods of norse mythology are the æsir, but it’s not quite that simple. While “æsir” is the term often employed for the gods as a whole, there is also the vanir, which is a separate group (so they’re sometimes divided into Æsir and Vanir). Or was at once point. As Lindow describes it:

The vanir are distinguished from the æsir, the dominant group to which Odin and Thor and their consorts belong, but they are also subsumed within it, so that the word æsir generally refers to both groups. (311)

We don’t really have any direct explanations for where they came from, but they were originally separate groups and, in fact, had a war.  It’s not clear why.  From a socio-historical perspective “the war has often been understood as the reflection of the overrunning of local fertility cults somewhere in the Germanic area by a more warlike cult, perhaps that of invading Indo-Europeans.” (Lindow, 53) but this is debated. The two groups are usually divided into the categories of war and fertility generally, for the æsir and vanir respectively. 

What we do know is that that war didn’t last. There was a truce with an exchange of hostages (which is some stories resulted in a beheading(it turned out fine…they returned the head and Odin talked to it when he needed advice)) and the vanir came to be considered part of the æsir. Though it’s possible some division still existed because Norse cosmology has the worlds of Vanaheim and Asgard, for the Vanir and æsir respectively.


Lindow, John, Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, Oxford University Press, 2001

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