View Full Version : Sacred Animals Connected With the Vanir

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 03:35 PM
The primary creature associated with the Vanir, both for Freyr and for Freyja, is the boar. This wild creature is biologically related to the domestic pig in the same way that the wolf is related to the domestic dog (i.e. it is the ancestor of them). Freyr's boar is called Gullinbursti or 'golden bristles' and Sli­rugtanni or 'cutting tusks' and it is said to pull his chariot. A myth survives which explains how Freyr came to own this magical boar, which is one of the treasures of the gods.

Snorri tells of Loki cutting off Sif's hair and having to atone by sorting the problem out. Loki goes to the dwarves and gets them into a competition which creates two treasures for each of the main gods: Sif's hair from gold and Mjollnir - his sacred hammer - were created for ١rr, Gungnir - his spear - and Draupnir - his gold armring which dripped another eight gold rings on the ninth night - were created for Ë­inn whilst Gullinbursti was created by Brokk for Freyr to run across the sky and sea faster than any horse and the light shed from its' bristles meant that nowhere it went was dark. The other treasure created for Freyr was Ski­bladnir - the magical ship designed to take all the fully armed Ăsir and immediately sail but fold up, when not wanted, into a pocket.

Freyja also has a named boar: Hildisvini or 'battle-boar' which has golden bristles like her brother's boar. In Hyndluljˇ­ she is described as disguising her devotee Ottar as her boar and then riding him to the giantess Hyndla to get Ottar the genealogical lore he needs. Freyja says in the eddic lay that Hildisvini was created by the dwarves Dain and Nabbi. The boar is known to have adorned military helmets in the Dark Ages and it is appropriate that Freyja, in her role as collector of the dead (She has the first choice of the fallen warriors) has a boar. One of her own by-names is Sřr or 'sow'. Interestingly Tacitus, in his first century account of the Germanic tribes (The Germania), wrote of the Aestii tribe who worshipped ..
'the Mother of the gods, and wear, as an emblem of this cult, the device of a wild boar ...' 1

Another very important animal associated with the Vanadis is the cat: Snorri says they pulled her chariot. The modern American Asatruar, Diana Paxson, has charmingly suggested the names TrÚgull or 'tree-gold/amber' and Břgull or 'Bee-gold/honey' as appropriate for these cats. There is some archaeological evidence of the significance of cats in Scandinavia, although we cannot say these are definitely linked to Freyja: a small amber cat figure has been found at Birka and the sledge-posts found in the Oseberg burial have carved cat heads. I believe that it was the Romans introduced the domestic cat into Europe (having been developed in ancient Egypt) but Europe has always had its' own native wildcat, which still survives in Scotland today. In appearance it looks like a large, long-haired tabby cat and is a different form of the species to the domestic or feral cats found in Britain today.

One bird associated with Freyja is the falcon through the falcon 'cloak' which is said to carry her through all the worlds and which she loans a few times to Loki, such as in verses 3-4 of Ůrymski­a or in Skaldskaparmal, where he loans her falcon shape to go to Thiassi to get Idun and the apples back.

Her brother Freyr also has other animals associated with him. One is the horse and his is/was called Blˇdughˇfi or 'bloody hooves'. It is not known precisely why he has this name but I would suggest that it comes from Freyr riding out to battle and his horse picking up the blood from the wounds of the injured on the battlefield. One fact known about it is that in the Lay of SkÝrnir Frey says:

'My steed I lend thee to lift thee o'er weird
ring of flickering flame' 2

The sword, which was also lent for this adventure, was notoriously missing afterwards as this was said to be the reason why Freyr was without his sword at Ragnarok. However the horse is not so listed and presumably was given back when the reason for its' loan was finished.

Another animal which could be reasonably associated with Freyr is the stag. Freyr was said to have killed Beli with just a stag's antler in Snorri's Prose Edda. Thorskegga Thorn suggested in her 'Lay of Beli, published ' in issue no. 3 of 'The Wain', that this was used as a wand and that Freyr used natural Vanic magic to overcome Beli. Whilst in 'Our Troth' by Ring of Troth, it has been suggested as a sign of his singular fighting skills and that Freyr could be taken as a patron of martial artists.

When it comes to Njor­r, there are a few creatures which are mentioned in connection with him. Pat Deegan, in Noatun Notes of issue no. 6 of 'The Wain, has pointed out that the whale can be seen as Njor­r's animal (mammal) from a consideration of a kenning listed by Snorri. The story of Skadi's unsuccessful marriage to Njor­r also suggests a couple of birds: the swan and the seagull.

When Njor­r complains of his time in Thrymheim, he specifically compares unfavourably the howling of the wolves with the song of the swan, which he obviously loves, whilst Skadi complained of the cry of the gulls in the morning when she was Njor­r's place.

There are other possibly Vanic, or Vanically linked, figures who could be considered: Nerthus who might be argued as the missing sister of Njor­r, the etin brides of the Van gods, Ska­i and Ger­, or even the enigmatic Heimdall who has been suggested as a Van.3 But that can wait ......

1 Tacitus [H. Mattingly trans.], The Agricola and The Germania, (Penguin 1970), 45.
2 Lee M. Hollander [trans.], The Poetic Edda, (University of Texas Press 1994), v8
3 E.O.G. Turville-Petre notes that the author of Ůrymskvi­a thought that Heimdall belonged to the Vanir - pg. 154, Myth and Religion of the North, (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson 1964)

Source: The Wain, Issue No. 7

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 04:31 PM
Where did I read that Hereward the Wake carried a banner with a Boar on it onto battle with the Normans :scratchhe: can't remember....

I think the Boar has been a powerful symbol to Celtic/Germanic peoples since Hallstatt. It seems almost ubiquitous at times.