Deities Of

The Sea


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"Germanic Sea Deities"

by Jordsvin

(first printed in "Idunna" Magazine)

Greatly inspired by Vol. V of The Road to Bifrost by Thor and Audrey Sheil, back in print at:

Since this issue of Idunna is dedicated to the Sea, an article on the Gods and Goddesses most associated with the sea fits in very well. Three of them will come as no surprise to many readers. The fourth is speculative and lore-feasible but not lore-proven.

The Sea was and is very important in the lives of northern peoples. Where the land could provide little sustenance to folks, whether due to mountainous terrain, loss of soil to repeated glaciations, cold climate, or a combination of all of these; the frigid but rich northern oceans gave bountifully.

Our first Sea-God is of the Vanir and is, of course, Njordh, father of Frey and Freya. We know from the Eddaic poem "Lokasenna" that Njordh begot them on his own sister. She evidently stayed home in Vanaheim when the rest of the family moved to Asgardh. The belief of most modern Heathens is that that sister was Nerthus, the Earth Goddess mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania, written in 98 C.E. Etymologically, the names "Njordh" and "Nerthus" are from the same root, showing only the phonetic changes which took place over the thousand years between the writing of Germania and the composition of the Eddaic poems, as Proto-Germanic evolved into Old Norse.

Another point of contrast is that the Nerthus-worshippers lived in fertile southern Denmark, near Germany, while Njordh is only known from Scandinavia, where the produce of the sea was and is often more important than farming for sustaining the people. According to Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology, in his entry for Njordh, most place-names incorporating Njordh's name are to be found in central Sweden (where his son Ingvi Freyr was the tutelary God of the people) and western Norway, where it was pretty much fish or starve! According to E.O.G. Turville-Petre's Myth and Religion of the North, few if any are to be found in Denmark.

In addition to his association with the seas, Snorri ascribes to him control of the wind and of fire (constant dangers to seafarers in open, wooden boats!) Njordh was and is called upon by fishermen and sailors and can grant wealth, a not unexpected talent for a Vanir God! As for his other functions, remember that Germanic Gods and Goddesses tend to be multifunctional, with considerable areas of overlap.

Njordh is more of a God of the coastal seas, where most fishing took place in those days (there were no engines, no big enclosed boats and perhaps most importantly of all, no on-board preservation facilities for the catch.) He is quite popular in contemporary Heathendom, and is seen by most who contact him as friendly, practical, affable, and generous.

His wife is Skadhi, a ski and mountain Goddess who was originally a Jotun. They are said, in a now-lost poem, to not spend a lot time due to their preferences for very different climates. Perhaps, as Thorr Sheil suggests, this is a mythological expression of the contrast between the land and sea in Norway, where there are mountains and sea with at best tiny strips of flat land suitable for building homes and raising crops.

Njordh's symbol today is a bare footprint. These appear frequently as petroglyphs in Scandinavia. However, the choice of a footprint for Njordh's symbol also reflects the myth where Skadhi was made to pick her husband (part of the were-gild owed her by the Gods for her father's death) by looking only at the FEET of her potential mate! She picked the prettiest ones, hoping for Balder, but got Njordh instead!

While academic research is important, it is also extremely valuable to actually WORK with our Gods and Goddesses. Here are some observations by Thor Sheil, a teacher of mine, on Njordh's nature: "Njord(h) can be invoked to calm troubled situations….does not take too kindly to people who arouse strife…generous…usually lend(s) his assistance without question…will never make an issue of your mistakes…Do not mistake Njord(h)'s kindness for weakness…will not idly help you continue repeating the same mistakes, nor will he view spitefulness in a good light…tolerant and understanding, but will not abet nonsense…corrects people in a steady voice. Angry outbursts are not his manner." (From Thorr and Audrey Sheil's The Road to Bifrost, Volume V: The Mysteries on Bifrost's Path, sadly out of print least for now). I think you can understand from all this why the Sheils have nicknamed him "Onkel." My own patron, Frey, has a lot of his father in him. Both of these Gods are good choices for beginning journeywork.

Here are some things associated with Njordh, from the same source as above:

Colors: indigo, purple, gray, shagreen (no surprises there).

Metals: lead, gold.

Woods: driftwood, ash, alder.

Critters: whales, dolphins, seagulls, and sandpipers.

Stones: moonstone, pearl, sodalite, blue-lace agate.

Weapons: ax, trident, net, ships, knives.

Energy: dark blue to sea-green, friendly and calming.

Usual appearance in journey and visionwork: Older, rough-featured sailor, greenish hair. Wears simple, dark clothes and heavy boots.

Usual abodes: his hall, Noatun (place for ships or shipstead), harbors, ships, coastal waters, seaports, fishing, shipping, cartography, weather, beaches, seaside businesses, boardwalks, marinas, ecology…

Ran and Aegir, as Goddess and God of the deeper, more dangerous, less forgiving offshore waters, remind us that the sea's gifts come with a heavy price. Ran is said to drag down sailors with her nets. Thorr Sheil compares her with Rudyard Kipling's "old grey widow-maker." Once she has them, however, she feasts them well. Sailors kept a bit of gold on them to gift Ran upon entering her hall. Gold shining on her hearth served in place of fire. The sailor's gold earring was a custom long maintained. If he came to rest on the seafloor, Ran got it. Think of "Davy Jones' Locker." There was a tradition that if a drowned sailor's ghost was seen at his funeral feast, it meant that Ran and Aegir had received him well. If the body washed ashore, it served as payment to whomever found it for burying the corpse.

It should not be surprising that the drowned sailors feasted well. Ran and her husband Aegir, who is a good match for her in appearance and temprament, are the brewers for Asgardh, and most of the Gods' parties take place in their abode! Heimdall's nine mothers are probably their daughters, seen as nine waves, and the cauldron of Ran and Aegir has overtones of the Runes Laguz and Perthro and has connections with cauldrons in other mythologies, most specifically the Welsh.

Ran and Aegir are at least as much Jotnar as Gods. Their realm is for only the more experienced journeyers. I cannot stress this enough. If you deal with Giants and/or Jotunheim at all, do so with extreme caution. Some idiots in New Jersey, I believe, once decided that seeing real monsters would be most cool and conjured some. The results were very unpleasant. Remember this simple rule: if you leave the jotnar, trolls, and monsters alone, they will almost always return the favor. Inviting them into your life is to court disaster! For the unprepared, their raw, primal energy, according to Thorr Sheil, can even bring insanity! I have heard of much the same happening to those who journey in seidhr into Hel and face its Mistress before they have eared that right. Like Ran and Aegir, Hel(la) is a cthonic Deity with much of the Jotun about her (she has two Jotun parents).

Interestingly enough, a good indication of a person possibly having an affinity for these Two, besides of course skill at brewing, is the ability to put together great impromptu dishes with a pinch of this and a pinch of that. If you are one of those infuriating cooks whose recipes have no measurements (I'm one, to my mother's great chagrin), you may hit it off well with Ran and Aegir! They can give good hints in both cooking and brewing and finding excellent supplies for those endeavors at a good price. For example, after a session of working with Ran and Aegir, Thorr and Audrey Sheil discovered that bulk and generic spices are almost always every bit as good as the expensive ones in fancy, name-brand bottles. They don't have much finesse in some other matters, though. A modern chef once invoked them when his boss insisted on cutting back on food quality. There were a number of nasty accidents involving kettles of boiling water until the frightened owner made things right again.

As for the fourth possible Sea Deity; according to the Sheils it is: Frigga! She rules over the very deepest, quietest depths of the Sea. The lore hints: her hall is Fensalir, the marsh halls (note the hints of someplace wet and sunken). Saga, whom many identify as an aspect of Frigga, dwells in Sokkvabekk, the sunken bank or treasure bank. The silent depths of the Sea are identified by many with the Deep Unconscious, and Frigga is both all-knowing and silent. For me, it makes perfect sense that She who sits with Odin upon Hlidskjalf in the highest hights is also to be found in the deepest depths. Hail Frigga!

Created by Chandonn and Jordsvin

all works used by permission of the authors

last modified 08/14/2007