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Author Topic: Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar; the differences?  (Read 473 times)

EnderDragonFire

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Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar; the differences?
« on: October 26, 2018, 04:18:12 am »
So, I have a question for all of the Heathen/Asatru users here on TC:

What are the differences between Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar? I'm not asking about their genealogical differences, but rather their physiological, psychological, mystical, and behavioral differences. How are they different from one another in nature? Or, for that matter, are they different, or are they merely different groups of within the same class of being?

I find it frustrating and confusing, because the PIE origins of these names can be tied to a lot of analogs in other religions, and people sometimes overreach with their conflation (Example; Aesir = Ahuras = Asuras).

Other times, people rely on pop culture, such as Marvel comics, to explain Norse things, which adds to the confusion. Finally, there are lots of Heathens that have racist views, and who try to radicalize the differences between these groups (so, they might say that they are all Gods, but different races of Gods, with the Aesir being the superior race over the others).

I'm wondering if there is any clear distinction between these groups in the original, historical Norse religion, or other ancient Germanic religions?   
"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

Louisvillian

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Re: Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar; the differences?
« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2018, 04:13:44 am »
What are the differences between Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar? ...How are they different from one another in nature?
Not a Heathen, but I am well-read on the subject (as far as an outsider can be). To my understanding, the three are frequently viewed as roughly similar to the Olympian/Titan/Giants distinction from Greek myth. Granted, part of that may stem from the Romanized lens that many transcribers of Norse myth had in the High Middle Ages.
But even in other sources, one can see a distinction that the Aesir are celestial gods representing cosmic order and civilization; they have power over things that only come with advanced civilized cultures: war, poetry, law, justice, agriculture, religion. While the Vanir are more closely associated with natural phenomena and primordial things. Though the distinction isn't always clear-cut; Thor is one of the Aesir, despite being a weather-god. And unlike the Titans and Olympians, they aren't necessarily a case of younger gods struggling against older gods, but of two competing clans with distinct areas of influence.

The jotnar are...interesting. The comparison with the Hellenic gigantes is apt, in that they are a third power that mostly acts as a constant background antagonist in the myths, though there are prominent instances of jotnar that marry into the Aesir and Vanir clans. But they're necessarily very large, but instead are depicted as grotesque, with a lot in common with Scandinavian trolls. They are somewhat more like the Fomorians in Irish myth, though they seem to be more primordial and elemental.

EnderDragonFire

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Re: Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar; the differences?
« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2018, 04:17:31 am »
But they're necessarily very large, but instead are depicted as grotesque, with a lot in common with Scandinavian trolls.

I wonder if they were necessarily always grotesque, or merely some of them? Or might it have been gendered, as is the case for Hindu Asuras? (Males are ugly, females are very attractive).

I ask because if they are supposed to be always ugly, Skaði must be an anomaly of some sort, because she is described as beautiful in most descriptions I have read of her.
"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

Megatherium

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Re: Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar; the differences?
« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2018, 03:23:05 pm »
So, I have a question for all of the Heathen/Asatru users here on TC:

What are the differences between Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar? I'm not asking about their genealogical differences, but rather their physiological, psychological, mystical, and behavioral differences. How are they different from one another in nature? Or, for that matter, are they different, or are they merely different groups of within the same class of being?

I find it frustrating and confusing, because the PIE origins of these names can be tied to a lot of analogs in other religions, and people sometimes overreach with their conflation (Example; Aesir = Ahuras = Asuras).

Other times, people rely on pop culture, such as Marvel comics, to explain Norse things, which adds to the confusion. Finally, there are lots of Heathens that have racist views, and who try to radicalize the differences between these groups (so, they might say that they are all Gods, but different races of Gods, with the Aesir being the superior race over the others).

I'm wondering if there is any clear distinction between these groups in the original, historical Norse religion, or other ancient Germanic religions?

Really brief answer here - In general I would say the main difference between the Aesir/Vanir and the Jotuns is that the Aesir/Vanir are willing to engage in the gift cycle with humans. A "Jotun" who does so, say like Skadi, would functionally be considered one of the Aesir. As to Aesir/Vanir differences, I've found the argument that there were no such distinctions to be credible (see link for the journal article with "the Vanir - an Obituary" by Rudolf Simek). To the extent that some modern Heathens consider them distinct, some will assert that the Vanir are more nature/fertility focused than the Aesir.

(Sorry, work post! Gotta go!)

https://www.helsinki.fi/sites/default/files/atoms/files/rmn_01_2010.pdf
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Zlote Jablko

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Re: Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar; the differences?
« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2018, 06:00:45 pm »
I wonder if they were necessarily always grotesque, or merely some of them? Or might it have been gendered, as is the case for Hindu Asuras? (Males are ugly, females are very attractive).

I ask because if they are supposed to be always ugly, Skaði must be an anomaly of some sort, because she is described as beautiful in most descriptions I have read of her.

That’s a good question. Most mythologies have no shortage of monsters. You’ll find that virtually every European country has its own Giants/ogres/trolls etc. Often times, polycephaly is associated with them. So the idea is probably not new. Monstrosity doesn’t preclude worship or mutual transactions however.

Louisvillian

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Re: Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar; the differences?
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2018, 01:21:51 am »
I wonder if they were necessarily always grotesque, or merely some of them?
Should have read as "not necessarily". They're sometimes large creatures, they're sometimes grotesque-- the latter more often than the former-- but it's not really an inherent part of who they are. As you allude to with Skadi, they are quite variable in their qualities and appearance. Unlike the Aesir, who are celestial and associated with order, or the Vanir, who are chthonic and associated with nature, the Jotnar don't have much of a coherent way to characterize them other than being powerful enough to be on the same footing as the gods, and usually antagonistic.

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