On The Vanir
The Germanic mythology, like the Vedic mythology, knows two high clans of gods. In character, both clans completely correspond to one another. Among the Teutons, these clans are called the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir’s call is to defend the order of the world against its foes. For this reason, they inhabit a realm called Asgard, high in Yggdrassil’scrown, with a view in every direction from which danger lurks. They all are quick-witted gods of battle and victory, even the gentle Baldur. (Regarding Baldur in this capacity, see Frigg’s words in Lokasenna 27).
The Vanir’s call is to maintain the regular working of world events, governed by natural laws. It is the Vanir who look after the fixed motion of the starry firmament and the tides, the uniformity between years, the phases of the moon, and night and day, dividing the course of time’s events. It is the Vanir who insure the success of the crops and good harvests, and it is they who knit men and women together with bonds of love, attaching link after link to the chain of generations. But when a powerful action is needed to defend and protect, the Aesir appear.
After the separation, the Vanir4 or Adityas clan expanded on the Germanic side with divinities of which no trace occurs in Indo-Iranian mythology. The new Adityas are Njörd, Nerthus-Frigg, Frey and Freyja. Njörd and Frey’s rise to prominence within our mythic circle undoubtedly was due to cultural development. They could not be created by the imagination, acknowledged by bards, priests and the people, nor so eagerly and commonly worshipped as the testimony of witnesses confirm they were, if some need had not existed necessitating this course of events. What this need was is found in the significance of these gods. Njörd is an ocean divinity, the god of navigation and wealth. Frey, his son is the god of agriculture, cultivation, and horse-rearing. It should be noted in passing that perhaps there is some significance in the ―gentle,‖ ―beneficent‖ powers, as the Norse skalds referred to them, being placed in the relationship of father and son, the lord of coastal trade being the father and the lord of agriculture, the son.
The Germanic people were coastal inhabitants before they conquered the primeval forests for their primitive means of agriculture. In any case, it is obvious that Njörd and Frey would have been superfluous gods who could not stake claim to altars and temples, priests and sacrifices, if navigation and agriculture had not been significant enough to entitle them to those things by the time their worship arose. They must have received this significance during the Bronze Age. With reference to navigation, one need only recall the Bronze Age rock-carvings that depict men, some of them armed, in hundreds of similar well-manned ships, alongside the plowman and his plow drawn by two draught-animals. In regard to the Teutons of the Scandinavian peninsula specifically, it is necessary not to only assume that they were in contact with people on the other side of the Baltic and the North seas for a Bronze Age to rise among them, but also that this naval contact must have been fairly developed and active in order for the quantity of copper and tin that they used during the thousand-year span of the Bronze Age to reach them. The many products of foreign work, beside domestic products, particularly beautiful weapons and equipment extracted from Bronze Age graves, testify to this. Concerning horse-rearing, we find both riders and drawn wagons on the rock carvings. Sickles of bronze and hand-mills, which have been found here and there, confirm the testimony of the rock-carvings regarding the farmer’s tools.5
That navigation first received a representative in the IndoEuropeanOlympus and particularly in the Germanic Asgard after the Proto-Indo-European era and the end of the Stone Age does not mean that the Stone Age Indo-Europeans were unfamiliar with boat building. Stone Age navigation laid the foundation for Bronze Age navigation. The Stone Age term for vessel has been preserved in the Sanskrit naus, Old Persian nâvi, Greek σαύς, Latin navis, Germanic nacho, Celtic nau, and we rediscover it in the name of Njörd’s home, Noatun. The name for rudder, aritras, έρετμός, remus, rudor, has also been preserved in both eastern and western Indo-European languages. That these new Vanic powers were pan-Germanic in nature makes it certain that their worship began in a time when the regions that the Teutons inhabited were limited to coastal stretches along the North Sea and the Baltic, among which relations were common and when the Germanic dialects, in a practical sense, still constituted a single linguistic unity. To the same degree that their region expanded and dialects arose, the formation of common Germanic mythic structures must have become more complicated, even as local constructs became easier.
Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Volume 1 by Viktor Rydberg