In Old Norse, Æsir (or áss, ás, ǫ́ss, plural æsir, feminine ásynja, plural ásynjur) is the term denoting a member of the principal groups of gods of the pantheon of Norse paganism. They include many of the major figures, such as Odin, Frigg, Thor, Baldr and Týr. They are one of the two groups of gods, the other being the Vanir. In Norse mythology, the two are described as having waged war against one another in the Æsir-Vanir War, resulting in the unification of the two into a single tribe of gods.
The cognate term in Old English is ōs (plural ēse) denoting a deity in Anglo-Saxon paganism. The Old High German is ans, plural ensî. The Gothic language had ans- (based only on Jordanes who glossed anses with uncertain meaning, possibly 'demi-god' and presumably a Latinized form of actual plural *anseis). The reconstructed Proto-Germanic form is *ansuz (plural *ansiwiz). The ansuz rune, ᚫ, was named after the æsir.
Unlike the Old English word god (and Old Norse goð), the term ōs (áss) was never adopted into Christian use.
Æsir is the plural of áss, óss "god" (genitive case āsir), which is attested in other Germanic languages, e.g., Old English ōs (gen. pl. ēsa), Old Dutch ans and Gothic (as reported by Jordanes, who wrote in the 6th century CE) anses "half-gods". These all stem from Proto-Germanic *ansuz, which itself comes from Proto-Indo-European *h₂énsus (gen. h₂n̥sóus) "life force" (cf. Avestan aŋhū "lord; lifetime", ahura "godhood", Sanskrit ásu "life force", 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").
Old Norse áss has the genitive áss or ásar, the accusative æsi and ásu. 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, 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.
The feminine suffix -ynja is known from a few other nouns denoting female animals, such as apynja "female monkey", vargynja "she-wolf". The word for "goddess" is not attested outside Old Norse.
The latinization of Danish Aslak as Ansleicus, the name of a Danish Viking converted to Christianity in 864 according to the Miracles de St. Riquier, indicates that the nasalization in the first syllable persisted into the 9th century.
The cognate Old English form to áss is ōs, preserved only as a prefix Ōs- in personal names (e.g. Oscar, Osborne, Oswald) and some place-names, and as the genitive plural ēsa (ēsa gescot and ylfa gescot, "the shots of anses and of elves", i.e. "elfshot", jaculum divorum et geniorum).
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. Jordanes has anses for the gods of the Goths.
The interaction between the Æsir and the Vanir has provoked an 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 were portrayed as contemporaries. The two clans of gods fought battles, concluded treaties, and exchanged hostages (Freyr and Freyja are mentioned as hostages).
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, vé to the sacred or numinous and óðr to the manic or ecstatic.
Æsir and Vanir
Further information: Æsir-Vanir War A second clan of gods, the Vanir, is also mentioned in Norse mythology: 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 gods in general, while Asynjur is used for the goddesses in general. For example, in the poem Skírnismál, Freyr was called "Prince of the Æsir". In the Prose Edda, Njörðr was introduced as "the third among the Æsir", and among the Asynjur, Freyja is always listed second only to Frigg.
In surviving tales, the origins of many of the Æsir are unexplained. Originally, there are just three: Odin and his brothers Vili and Vé. Odin's sons by giantesses are naturally counted as Æsir. Heimdallr and Ullr's connection with the Æsir is not clearly mentioned. Loki is a jötunn, and Njörðr is a Vanir hostage, but they are often ranked among the Æsir.
Scholarly theories and interpretations
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 were occurring between social classes (or clans) within Norse society at the time. According to another theory, the Vanir (and the fertility cult 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 by Wilhelm Mannhardt in 1877 (as described in Dumézil, xxiii and Munch, 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. Another historical theory is that the inter-pantheon interaction may be an apotheosisation of the conflict between the Roman Kingdom and the Sabines.
Finally, the noted comparative religion scholar Mircea Eliade 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.
- Odin is the greatest and oldest of the Æsir. He is the god of wisdom, healing, death, royalty, the gallows, knowledge, battle, sorcery, poetry, frenzy, and the runic alphabet. He is the Allfather of the gods, the husband of Frigg, and the King of Asgard. He is the son of Borr and giantess Bestla.
- Thor is Odin's first and favorite son by Jörð (the Earth giantess). He is the god of thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, hallowing, fertility, the protection of mankind and of the fortress of Asgard. He is married to Sif.
- Baldr is Odin's second son by Frigg. He is the god of light, joy, purity and the summer sun. He is husband of Nanna and father of Forseti. He is killed by Höðr (tricked by Loki) and avenged by Váli.
- Týr is the god of war, law and heroic glory, and many warriors pray to him for victory in battle. His hand was bitten off by the Fenris Wolf. He is the son of Odin and Sága.
- Bragi is the god of poetry and skaldship. He is husband of Iðunn and third son of Odin and Frigg.
- Höðr is the son of Odin by Frigg, and twin brother of Baldr. Höðr was blind. He killed Baldr unknowingly (he was manipulated by Loki) and was in turn killed by Váli.
- Heimdallr is the son of Odin and the nine wave goddesses, daughters of Æsir the sea-giant and Ran. He guards the Bifrost bridge and at Ragnarök will blow the Gjallarhorn to signal the beginning of battle, where he will kill and be killed by Loki.
- Ullr is the son of Sif and an unknown giant. He is step-son of Thor and is god of skiing and archery. After Skaði married Njörðr, the sea god, she was unhappy and left for her wintery mountain home. She eventually married Ullr.
- Hœnir is a son of Odin. After the Aesir-Vanir war, he was sent to Vanaheimr to become chief of that pantheon of gods.
- Hermóðr is a messenger god and son of Odin. He was tasked with riding to Niflheim to beg for the return of Baldr to the realm of the living.
- Víðarr is the son of giantess Gríðr (violence) and Odin. He is the second strongest asa.
- Váli is the son of Odin by Rindr (a Russian princess). His sole purpose on Earth was to avenge Baldr by killing Höðr.
- Forseti is the son of Baldr and Nanna. He is the god of judgement.
- Loki is actually a giant (son of giant Farbauti and giantess Laufey), but blood-brother of Odin. He is the god of mischief, trickery and fire.
- Vili is the brother of Odin and god of intelligence and the sense of touch, giving these to the first humans (Ask and Embla).
- Vé is the brother of Odin and god of countenance (appearance, facial expression), speech, hearing, and sight.
- Máni is the god of the moon and was created by Odin and his brothers.
- Magni is the son of Thor and Sif.
- Móði is the brother of Magni and both are gods of strength.
- Hjuki was a mortal who was carried up by Mani (along with his sister Bil) and now follows him across the sky.
- Frigg is the goddess of marriage, fertility & motherhood; keeper of Domestic Arts, and Queen of Asgard. She is the wife of Odin, and daughter of the giants.
- Sága is the goddess of of prophecy and wisdom. She is the mother of Týr, son of Odin.
- Eir is the goddess of magical healing and daughter of Frigg and Odin. Eir knew the secret powers of herbs, with which she could even resurrect the dead
- Gefjun is the goddess of maidens and daughter of Odin and Frigg. Those who die maids become her hand-maidens.
- Fulla is sister of Gefjun and is Frigg's hand-maiden
- Sjöfn is the goddess of love and daughter of Frigg and Odin
- Lofn is the sister of Sjöfn and is another goddess of love
- Vár is the daughter of Odin and Frigg and is goddess of oaths and promises
- Vör is the daughter of Frigg and Odin and is so wise that nothing can be concealed from her.
- Syn is the sister of Vor and Var. She guards the door of the hall, and closes it against to those who are not to enter
- Hlin guards those men whom Frigg wants to protect from any danger and is Frigg's daughter
- Snotra , who is wise and courtly, is the daughter of Frigg
- Sól is the goddess of the sun and was created by Odin and his brothers along with Mani
- Gná , whom Frigg sends on her errands into various worlds
- Bil was a mortal who was carried p by Mani (along with her brother Hjuki) and now follows him across the sky
- Iðunn is the daughter of Odin and Frigg, wife of Bragi and owner of the Apples of Eternal Youth.
- Sif is the wife of Thor, and mother of Magni and Móði.
- Þrúðr is the daughter of Thor and the giantess Jarnsaxa.
- Nanna is the daughter of Nep (giant) and an unknown giantess. She is the wife of Baldr.
- Sigyn is the wife of Loki. She is of unknown parentage.
The a-rune, ansuz, ᚫ, 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:
ᚬ 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)"
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 (s.v. "Leich") 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) identified as such *ansulaikom the victory songs of the Batavi after defeating Quintus Petillius Cerialis in the Revolt of the Batavi in the year AD 69 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 according to the report of Pope Gregory I (Dialogues ch. 28).
|Gods and goddesses of Norse mythology|
|Gods||Baldr • Bragi • Dellingr • Freyr • (Ingunar-Freyr • Yngvi) • Forseti • Heimdallr • Hermóðr • Höðr • Hœnir • Ítreksjóð • Kvasir • Lóðurr • Loki • Máni • Magni • Meili • Mímir • Móði • Njörðr • Odin • Óðr • Thor • Týr • Ullr • Váli • Vé • Víðarr • Vili|
|Goddesses||Bil • Eir • Freyja • Frigg • Fulla • Gefjon • Gerðr • Gersemi • Gullveig • Gná • Hlín • Iðunn • Ilmr • Irpa • Lofn • Nanna • Njörun • Rán • Rindr • Sága • Sif • Sigyn • Sjöfn • Skaði • Snotra • Sól • Syn • Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr • Þrúðr • Vár • Vör • Hnoss • Sister-wife of Njörðr|