Vanaheim (Vanheimr) in Norse Mythology: What Is It? Who Lives There?


Thanks to Marvel, most people are familiar with Asgard, home of Odin, Thor, and the rest of the Aesir. However, not as many people know about Vanaheim. 

Vanaheim, or Vanheimr, is one of the nine worlds spoken about in Norse mythology. Although little is known about it, most scholars agree it’s West of Asgard. It’s home to the other race of gods, the Vanir, and is the homeland of the famous Norse gods Frey and Freya and their father, Njord.

This article will piece together most of the remaining information about Vanaheim from the ancient texts. Most Norse literature scholars have today focuses primarily on Asgard, the Aesir, and famous Viking heroes. Still, a little information on Vanaheim exists even today.

Freyja goddess Vanaheim
Who was the king of Vanaheim? See below (image: Freyja)

What Gods Live in Vanaheim?

What little scholars know about the Vanir suggests that they were strong, beautiful, and powerful — every bit as worthy of being called gods as their rivals, the Aesir. Their numbers probably matched those of the Aesir, but few of their names are known today.

The Vanir lived in Vanaheim and were considered counterparts to the Aesir. They were gods and goddesses of life, fertility, prosperity, and the harvest. Frey, Freya, Njord, his unnamed sister, sometimes called Nerthus (the feminine version of Njord), and Gullveig are the only five undisputed Vanir.

Additionally, a few other gods lived in Vanaheim (at least partially) or had ties to the Vanir. These include: 

  • Odr
  • Gersemi
  • Hnoss 
  • Hoenir
  • Mimir
  • Kvasir
  • Heimdallr

The following sections will discuss these gods and goddesses and how they relate to Vanaheim. 

Norse god Freyr
What Are the Nine Realms in Norse Mythology? See below (image: Freyr)

Njord, Frey, and Freya

Of all the potential Vanir gods, these are the only ones who aren’t disputed. The three of them were sent to Asgard as “good faith” hostages after the Aesir/Vanir war. People who worshipped the Aesir usually worshipped these three right along with the rest. 

Njord was the god of the sea and the wind, and Vikings often prayed and sacrificed to him before their raids or voyages. He was the father of the twins Frey and Freya. 

Frey, or Freyr, is the god of fertility, light, prosperity, and rain. He had a boar with golden bristles that pulled his chariot and a mighty ship that he could fold up and put in his pocket when he wasn’t using it. 

Freya, or Freyja, was widely believed to be the most beautiful of all the goddesses. As such, she was the goddess of beauty, fertility, sex, love, and magic. However, she was also the goddess of war and death.

Nerthus

Although Nerthus is never named in any Edda stories, many historians and scholars use this name for Njord’s unnamed sister and goddess of the earth. She was also his wife and may or may not have been the mother of Frey and Freya. 

Gullveig

Not much remains about Gullveig. The sole mention of her as a goddess of the Vanir is in the Poetic Edda

The lines of the poem state that the Aesir tortured and then killed three times, leading to the war between the rival gods. 

Odr, Gersemi, and Hnoss 

Odr is Freya’s husband. However, the myths are unclear whether he came with her from Vanaheim or met him in Asgard, meaning he may never have lived in Vanaheim.

Gersemi and Hnoss were the daughters of Freya, though some scholars argue that the two were one person called by different names. It’s possible that they, too, never lived in Vanaheim. 

Hoenir and Mimir

Hoenir and Mimir were from Asgard but sent to Vanaheim as hostages after the war between the gods. Once they arrived, the Vanir made Hoenir their leader and eventually beheaded Mimir. They weren’t Vanir gods, but they did live for a while in Vanaheim.

Kvasir and Heimdallr

The evidence linking Kvasir and Heimdallr to the Vanir is more tenuous.

The gods made Kvasir together as part of the terms of their peace treaty. Both sets of gods chewed up berries and spat them into a vat, which became mead. Kvasir was born from that mead. Thus, he is both Aesir and Vanir. 

As for Heimdallr, his backstory is a bit of a mystery. The poems say that he was born from nine mothers, but they don’t say much more than that. However, a disputed translation of the Thrymskvitha links him to the Vanir. 

In some translations, the poem says, “Like the Vanir, he knew the future well.” In another translation, the line reads, “Like all the Vanir, he knew the future well.” 

He also has some Vanir-like abilities, so it’s really up to each reader to decide whether Heimdallr is Vanir or Aesir

Vanaheim illustration
Norse cosmology by Henry Wheaton (1831)

Who Was the King of Vanaheim?

Before the war between the gods, Njord was the ruler of Vanaheim, although he wasn’t explicitly called a “king.” After the war, he went to Asgard as a hostage, and Hoenir and Mimir of the Aesir went to Vanaheim as hostages. After this exchange, Hoenir became the new ruler of Vanaheim.

The Vanir made Hoenir their ruler because he was strong, handsome, and incredibly wise (or so they thought). 

However, while Hoenir was good-looking and a renowned warrior, it was Mimir who was wise. On the other hand, Hoenir couldn’t make a single decision without consulting Mimir for his advice. 

Once the Vanir realized that Hoenir was utterly ignorant, they were furious. Instead of punishing him, though, they chopped off Mimir’s head and sent it back to Asgard

What Are the Nine Realms in Norse Mythology?

According to Norse mythology, the nine realms are the nine worlds held in the branches and roots of the world tree, Yggdrasil. They include Asgard, Vanaheim, Midgard, Jotunheim, Niflheim, Muspelheim, Helheim, Alfheim, and Svartalvheim.

Of all the nine worlds, Asgard, Jotunheim, Midgard, and to a lesser extent, Vanaheim are probably the most famous. 

Asgard and Vanaheim are home to the Aesir and Vanir gods. Midgard is the world of men (Earth), and Jotunheim is home to the frost giants. 

Niflheim is the land of fog, mist, and clouds, while Muspelheim is the land of fire and the home of the fire giants. Helheim is where Hel has her kingdom of the “unworthy dead.” It’s cold, dark, and grim. 

Alfheim, home of the light elves, is closest to Asgard. It’s a beautiful place full of green grass, trees, rivers, and other typical nature scenes. The dwarves live in Svartalvheim. They live underground in caves and are the most phenomenal craftsmen in all the nine realms.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, much of the literature about Vanaheim – if there was any – has been lost. People will never know as much about it as they do Asgard.

References:
[1] Source

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