Subgroup of the gods.
The vanir are distinguished from the æsir, the dominant group to which Odin and Thor and their consorts belong, but they are also subsumed within it, so that the word æsir generally refers to both groups. The word vanir is related etymologically to the word for “friend” in the Scandinavian languages and to words in other languages meaning “pleasure” or “desire.” The vanir joined the æsir as a result of a war between the two groups. The deities explicitly referred to as vanir are Njörd, Frey, Freyja, and possibly Heimdall. Njörd is the father of Frey and Freyja, with his sister, according to Snorri in Ynglinga saga, because that was the custom among the vanir. But among the æsir such incestuous liaisons were not permitted, and they therefore ended with the incorporation of the two groups of gods. Scholars generally think of the vanir as gods of fertility, perhaps especially because Frey’s major moment in the mythology involves a marriage to the giantess Gerd. But a poetic formula refers to the “wise vanir,” and Thrymskvida, stanza 15, says that Heimdall can see the future, “like other vanir.”
See also Æsir-Vanir War; Frey; Freyja; Heimdall; Njörd
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