who is the god of the sea in norse mythology

The sea gods in Norse mythology were Aegir and Njord. Besides, Tjatse, the father of jötunn Skadi, was the sea god of the jötnar. Aegir was the god of deep sea, but he was never loved and esteemed by people; they just feared his horrible power. Njord was the god associated with sea and summer in Norse mythology. He ruled the summer, ocean, storm, fishery and wealth, and was regarded as the guardian of voyagers.

Aegir, the god of deep sea

Aegir was also known as Aeger ( which means water). Sometimes he was called Hlér or Gymir. Aegir’s father was Fornjot, and his brothers were Loki and Kari. Aegir was married to Ran, by whom he had nine daughters. The nine sisters personified waves, and they had a son, Heimdallr. Besides, Aegir had two servants: Fimafeng and his wife Eldir.

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He was not a jötunn, the enemy of deities, but a descendant of ancient giants, the personification of ancient natural power. He was basically neutral between the Aesir or jötnar, neither supported nor opposed any of them. He would always exist, even when Ragnarök came and both the Aesir and jötnar died out. In appearance, Aegir had white hair and very lanky paws.

Different from another sea god Njord, a member of the Vanir, he was never loved and esteemed by people, and they just feared his horrible power. When a ship at sea was overturned, the treasures and merchandises onboard would become his properties. Therefore, his residence was filled with a variety of jewelries and wealth, and even illuminated with gold, which was thus called the “fire of Aegir”. It is said that his luxury residence was located at Laeso Island to the west of Midgard. Sometimes the deities would be invited to the gatherings at his residence. There is a story that Thor seized a huge boiler from the jötnar and gave it to Aegir for his winemaking. Therefore, some poets also call Aegir “the brewer of beer”.

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The Legends about Aegir

Legend 1

Aegir, the god of deep sea, was not of the same deity race as Njord, the god of summer and offshore sea. He was neither Aesir nor Vanir, but of his own race. The surfy open sea was his territory. In appearance, he was an old man who governed the waves and had long white hair and beard. He chased after ships, turned them over and dragged them down to his palace under the sea when he emerged from the water.

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Legend 2

Aegir was the son of primitive giant Fornjot (Ymir), and he lived on the Laeso Island. At first he refused to obey Odin, but was later awed by Odin’s sharp eyes. As we mentioned above, Aegir entertained Asgardian deities every winter in his palace illuminated by gold. Aegir’s two bright servants, Fimafeng and his wife Eldir, would serve the deities.

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The family of Aegir

Aegir was married to his sister Ran (“Robber”). The only recreation of this female giant was casting nets near dangerous reefs so as to capture ships passing by. She was as greedy and cruel as Aegir. Ran was also deemed as the goddess of death in the sea: anyone who was drowned in the sea would be brought down to her palace, where he feasted the dead like what Odin did in Valhalla. Because of her greed for gold, people must carry some gold with themselves so as to please her in case of drowning.

Aegir and Ran had nine daughters named the billow maidens. They all had snow white arms, blue eyes as well as gentle and enchanting figures. They loved to play in the water dressing their sheer white or green yarn clothes. Sometimes they pulled hair, rip clothes and yelled loudly on the reefs when their games turned into quarrels and fights. But usually they would not appear unless their brother, the wind, came up first. The nine sisters usually came out in trios; and they often chasing each other around Viking ships, helping them to arrive at their destinations.

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The names of the nine sisters are: Dröfn, Blodughadda, Bölge, Dufa, Hefring, Himminglaeva, Hrönn, Kolga and Ud, representing the nine kinds of waves. Together they gave birth to Heimdallr for Odin.

Njord, the god of shallow sea

The information and materials regarding Njord are mainly from the works of medieval mythologist Snorri Sturluson, including the Prose Edda. Besides, there are also some spells with his name passed down. Some academics connected him with the name Nerthus passed down from Tacitus.

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Places named after Njord (in most cases, with the second-person singular form Njarðar) are mainly located in the coastal areas of eastern Sweden, northern Norway and western Norway.

But there will be a problem if connecting Njord with Nerthus, as the Nerthus referred to by Tacitus is actually a goddess from a small regional tribe. In addition, there is a time difference between the works of Tacitus and the source of materials regarding Njord in Scandinavia. In the materials found in Scandinavia, Njord is a god. Regarding the solution to this problem, a variety of theories have been put forward. It is believed that Nerthus was gradually circulated to Scandinavia. Some people believe she is the goddess of all Germanic people. And her gender became male as a result of the development of language. There are some other people holding the opinion that Njord and Nerthus was a pair of deities. Tacitus emphasized the goddess Nerthus while Sturluson highlighted the god Njord.

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Legends about Njord

According to the chapter Gylfaginning of the Younger Edda, Njord was the god of sea who lived in the “Ship Haven” Noatun and governed wind, water and fire on the sea. He was originally a member of the Vanir, born and raised up in Vanaheim. Later, he and his children Freyr and Freyja became hostages to Asgard, and were accepted as members of the Aesir.

According to the 56th chapter in the book Skáldskaparmál of Poetic Edda, heavily armed giant Skadi from Thrymheim came to Asgard to revenge for his father Thiazi, who was killed by the Asgardian deities. After Asgardian deities comforted and explained the whole matter to her, Skadi made one condition for her forgiveness: picking one of the gods to be her husband. The deities agreed with her condition, but they insisted that the candidates hide behind a curtain and only show their feet. Skadi wanted Baldr, because she thought this handsome god must have a pair of smooth and beautiful feet. Thereupon, she picked the cleanest pair of feet, but actually they belonged to Njord. As the god of sea, he stood in the sea throughout the year and thus his feet were very clean. Sturluson emphasized that, Skadi and Njord were sister and brother, such an incestuous relationship was accepted in Vanaheim but strictly prohibited among the Aesir.

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However, due to the failure to find an appropriate residence for both of them after marriage, they found it difficult to get along with each other. Both of them wanted to stay at their original residences, so in the beginning they decided to follow a period of twelve days. They spent nine days in Thrymheim first, then three days in Noatun (according to the Codex Regius, they spent nine years in total in both places). But in Noatun, which was near the seashore, the sound of seagulls made it difficult for Skadi to fall asleep; while Njord could not stand the howling of wolves in Thrymheim. Sturluson mentioned that Njord had two children, Freyr and Freyja. Viking-Age poet Egill Skallgrimsson was not sure about this. He believed the number of days Njord and Skadi spent in their residences respectively symbolized nine winter months and three summer months. In the three summer months, people were engaged in sailing, farming and fishing, which were governed by the Vanir. This shows that the legends of Njord were originated from the offshore area of western Scandinavia.

It is mentioned in the Prose Edda that the daughter of primitive giant Ymir used Njord’s mouth as urinal. According to the Heimskringla, Njord was a king in ancient Sweden and the successor of Odin. In ancient Sweden, the Aesir and the Vanir had a war, and they exchanged hostages after the peace negotiation. The Vanir sent Njord and his children Freyr and Freyja, while the Aesir assigned Hoenir. Odin appreciated the talents of Njord and his children, appointed them as priests in charge of the altar in Noatun. After the death of Odin, Njord took over the throne and maintained his ruling with a strong army. During his reign, people lived in peace and enjoyed good harvests for years. Therefore, he was worshipped as the god of fertility while most of the Aesir, his enemy, were burnt to death as sacrificial offerings. There are similar descriptions in ancient Norwegian historical works.

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Thiazi

Thiazi was the father of female giant Skadi. Thiazi kidnapped goddess Idunn who kept the golden apple that made people forever young. As this was caused by Loki’s secret date with Idunn, the deities ordered Loki to rescue her. With Frigg’s feather clothes, Loki shapeshifted into an eaglet, secretly flew into Thiazi’s castle, then turned Idunn into a walnut and flew back to Asgard with this walnut in his mouth. But unexpectedly, he was spotted by Skadi. Thiazi became a falcon and chased after them once learning this. When Thiazi was about to caught up with Loki, Tyr lit up a torch to burn the falcon, and thus Thiazi lost his life.

After her father Thiazi was killed by Asgardian deities, Skadi demanded compensation from Odin, who had no option but to allow her to look for a husband among the gods. Skadi wanted the god of brightness Baldr, but Odin was unwilling to accept this and played a trick to make Skadi married to the old and ugly sea god Njord. This couple divorced soon after their marriage.

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It seemed that the marriage of Njord and Skadi was not so happy, their habits and hobbies differed greatly, making it difficult to cultivate long-lasting love. Njord spent most time by the sea, listening to the sound of waves, watching the flying seabirds as well as the sunrise and sunset; Skadi grew up in the mountains, and loved to listen to the roaring of animals and the singing of birds. In the beginning, the couple was somewhat willing to accommodate each other, and thus decided to spend nine days in Skadi’s residence in the mountains and another nine days in Njord’s seaside palace. But Njord complained a lot after returning from the mountains as if he suffered much in there, and swore never to be back there. Similarly, Skadi was also discontented about Njord’s palace, and grumbled that the sound of waves kept her up all night. At last, this reluctant couple lived their own lives, and their marriage existed in name only.

Later Skadi became an Asgardian goddess as a result of her marriage with Njord. As she often ran briskly in the mountains in snowshoes, sometimes she was also called “the goddess in snowshoes”.

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