I have felt drawn to the Vanir for a long time and thus researched them for years now. Of course I first heard of them through the Edda but their mythology there always seemed so incomplete, at times even wrong and more like Aesir stories – which might be because what is most known about them are the stories that were written down after they have become one of the Aesir. In fact, the Edda begins with how Freyja, Freyr and Njörd go to Asgard and get integrated.
As interesting as that is I want to take a closer look at who the Vanir originally were before the Aesir came and changed them. For example the story of how Freyr forced Gerda into marriage, and how she later killed herself because of it – this is not a relationship I consider vanir, more aesir-like.
But it surely is too simple to look at Vanic as peace and at Aesir as war. I get that there are people who connect with the Edda stories and e.g. feel that Freyr and Gerda make a happy couple, in spite of what is written down. I can understand that because I have made experiences of the real Gods being different than to what is written in the Edda. Of course that is perfectly fine as well; it’s just not what I feel right for me.
But what exactly am I looking for?
The term Vanatru describes an established religion. It is listed right next to Asatru; and, as I understand it, describes people who worship the Vanic gods of the Edda as mentioned above. The word ‘Vanir’ itself comes from Snorri Sturluson. It seems to be either his invention or a term that was only common in (later?) Scandinavian mythology. In the continental Proto-Germanic and earlier religions there was no such distinction between the Gods, there they all seemed to be of the same kind or family.
Snorri described Asgard as being located at the Black Sea and the river Tanais (nowadays Don, in South-Russia). That river was once called Wanaquisl and between his arms Snorri located Wanaland or Wanaheim, today known as Vanaheim, and the people he described as ‘Vanir’ were either the proto-Slavic Venedi or – more likely because of his use of Germanic names – the east Germanic ‘Vandals’, who had been in that region for more than a thousand years.
So going by Snorri one could assume that the Vanir were the Gods of the Vandals, a tribe fighting with their neighbors, and eventually mixing with them.
But there’s more to it.
We can look at the translation of the Old Norse word ‘Vanir’. It means ‘the shining ones, the bright ones’, and identifies the Vanir as a group of gods associated with fertility, vegetation, wisdom, nature, magic, but also the underworld. From this view they are said to be peaceful, just and to keep everything in balance. These are gods of nature, the home, the family and the hearth.
Those are the gods I’m looking for. But the term vanir is bound to Norse Mythology while ‘the bright gods’ are found in many (earlier) cultures. A good example would be Proto-Germanic (Tiwaz-) Ingwaz along along with his wife Frija. Baltic gods fall in this category, too. And while a specific term for the gods isn’t known from Proto-Germanic it is actually reconstructed for the Proto-Indian-Europeans as *Ausos: ‘those that shine with a golden light’.
So what to call the act of worshiping gods that fit the broader definition of the Vanir as old forces of nature, golden gods and friends of the people and aren’t ‘Snorri-Vanic’ but rather PIE gods? Ausostru? (Nope, I don’t see this catching on soon.)
I called this blog Freiatru for lack of a better term, yes, but also because Freia is the most known goddesss and leader of the Vanir. Her name developed from Pria to Frija to Freyja and various other spellings, and I use ‘Freia’ as the modern German version. She is the Great Goddess around all things resolve although I view her as equal to her counterpart Ingvi – but that is the topic for another post.