The mythological dualism, of Aesir and Vanir, inherent in Nordic mythos is a puzzling one. The orthodox account has it that the split represents the gods of two cultures, an ancient indigenous one, worshipping the Vanir, and 'new comers' who brought the Aesir mythos. But while there is no doubt some truth to this it is not a satisfactory explanation. This kind of cultural sedimentation occurs in all cultures, and usually results in mythic synthesis rather than dualism.

An alternative theory put forward by Nietzscheans has it that the Aesir-Vanir polarity represents a northern version of the Apollo-Dionysos polarity. This makes sense, the Vanir are wild forces of nature, worshipped communally, an essentially Dionysian mode of myth, while the Vanir are atomic personalities (often originating in ancestor figures), representing domains important to humans in a highly culturally specific way (often bearing laws) related to on a purely personal level, an Apollonian mode of myth. The figure of Kvasir produced by their fusion, is remarkably like Orpheus, the great mediator between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, his Aesir equivalent Mimir, even loses his head in the same way as the Greek seer.

This thesis is very convincing, though it has some problems, for one, Woden last ruler of the Aesir, whose name means 'fury', is very Dionysian (as are some other Aesir), also many Aesir represent impersonal forces of nature. Secondly, the Vanir are just as Germanically culturalised as the Aesir and share many features with them. So the distinction is not entirely clear. However given the power of the Nietzschean interpretation these problems might be explainable in terms of later mythic synthesis on top of the dualism (perhaps after the significance was lost). On the other hand any synthesis does appear to be quite ancient. Woden for instance is held by some to be a fusion of the (Vaniric) storm giant Wode, with an ancestorial shaman archetype, who later merged with the Aesiric Sky Father and his cultural order.

Then again perhaps the originators of the mythos were more sophisticated than commonly thought and recognised that every pole of a duality contains its opposite. We shall never know.

Aesir Corporation was the source of Max Payne's descent in to vengeance in the video game Max Payne, released in 2001 by Remedy Entertainment.

Like the literal definition of the word Aesir, the corporation was based upon a godlike figure, CEO Nicole Horne (voiced in the game by Jane Gennaro), a valkyrie-ish thug woman intent on the ruin of many for her own financial gain. It was she, through her Aesir Corporation, that distributed the drug Valkyr (another word from Max Payne that's based in Norse mythology), a strong hallucinogen and stimulant best described as an infinitely more potent version of PCP. Valkyr addicts were responsible for the murder of Max Payne's wife and child, thus setting into motion the game's storyline. The final level of the game takes place in the monolithic Aesir corporate headquarters, during a Nordic-like blizzard.

(Warning: spoilers ahead)

Max Payne was responsible for the destruction of the Aesir Corporation at the end of the game with the death of Nicole Horne, whose helicoptor was crushed mid-flight by a cell tower on the roof of Aesir Plaza that Max Payne shot down.

mirv suggests that the wintry setting of the game is a reference to Fimbulwinter, the year-long winter that preceeds Ragnarok in Norse mythology. (Makes sense to me; a club called Ragnarok is the setting of one of the game's levels, as a nod to this.)

Old Norse: Æsir

"Sky Gods"

In Norse Mythology, the Aesir* were the principal race of gods (though the goddesses were sometimes called Asynjor). Headed by Odin, the Aesir were warlike, symbolizing power and wisdom, and they ruled the lives of mortal men. Their homes were two palaces in Asgard: Gladsheim, residence of the gods, and Vingolf, residence of the goddesses. Predictably, while the gods of the Aesir were immortal and very powerful, they were not infallible and they were subject to many human desires and weaknesses. In fact, without the apples provided by Idun, the deities aged rapidly.

Some of the primary deities of the Aesir were:

Odin, the All-Father
Balder, the god of beauty
Bragi, the god of eloquence
Forseti, the god of mediation
Freyr, god of fertility, originally of the Vanir
Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge
Hod, the blind god
Loki, the trickster god of fire
Njord, the sea god, originally of the Vanir
Thor, the god of thunder
Tyr, the god of war
Vili, a brother to Odin**
Ve, a brother to Odin
Vidar, Odin’s son
Freya, the fertility goddess
Frigg, Odin’s wife
Sif, Thor’s wife
Idun, keeper of the apples of youth

The gods of the Aesir were of a younger race than the more gentle Vanir (who had mysterious roots in the time before creation). Odin was the oldest of the Aesir. His grandfather was Buri, who was formed when Audhuma’s licking melted a salt-block of Ginnagagap. Buri birthed a son, Bor, who was the father of Odin, Vili and Ve. The three gods, who disliked living under the rule of the giant Ymir, then created Asgard and Midgard, religious shrines*** and also gathered wealth for themselves. They determined the routes that the sun, moon and stars should follow. Odin, Vili and Ve also created the first humans: Ask and Embla. It is only after this point that other deities of the Aesir are mentioned.

After the creation of all things was finished, the first war erupted, which was between the Aesir and Vanir (headed by Heimdall). Some stories give the reason for the conflict as the Aesir’s denial of the Vanir’s godhood. Other sources blame the war on the murder of Gullveig, the oracle and sorcerer, who was visiting the Aesir. Rather than providing magic or insight, Gullveig over and over again told the Aesir of her love for gold (or,in some stories, corrupted them with drink). They listened to her until they could stand no more and then pushed her into a fire to kill her. But, though she was burned to ash three times, she survived each time (possibly being a variant of Freya). The attempted murder made the Vanir very angry and they made the first strike.

In the end, the Vanir and the Aesir declared a truce and the Vanir were assimilated into the Aesir. The two groups collectively were known as the Asa.

During Ragnarok, the gods of the Aesir will fight against the monsters and giants, with the exception of Loki, who becomes an ally of the frost giants. The treasures of the Aesir will be scattered throughout the worlds, and all the gods will be killed except for seven who go on to recreate the world:

Vidar, son of Odin
Vali, god of the battlefield
Honir (Hoenir), the long-legged god
Magni, son of Thor, god of might
Modi, son of Thor, god of wrath
Balder, god of beauty
Hod, the blind god


* The name Aesir might have been derived from the old-Teutonic word Ase, which was a common word for "god"
** It is interesting to note that the relatives of majors deities were recognized as gods but would usually not be worshipped. Presumably they existed merely to further the tales that illustrated the major deities' attributes.
*** It is not known to whom the shrines were built.

Aesirs are also disturbingly agile hover-planes found in THQ's Red Faction, infamous for its geo-mod technology. They come equipped with homing uber-missiles and twin vulcan cannons, and unless one is playing on Impossible, an Aesir is largely indestructible.

Æ"sir (?), n. pl. [Icel., pl. of Ass god.]

In the old Norse mythology, the gods Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, Frigg, and the others. Their home was called Asgard.


© Webster 1913

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