Aegir & Ran: Norse Sea Gods (Portraits, Powers, Role)

Ægir is god of the sea (ægir, “sea”) or rather a Sea-giant, and he was married to his sister, the goddess Ran.

Ægir’s name comes from the Norse word for “sea”

In Norse thought the sea was regarded as a mighty being, which was personified or regarded as more or less distinct from the sea. The tales for Ægir show that, even inlate times, there was not a clear distinction between sea (ægir) and Sea-god (Ægir).

Aegir the Norse Mythology God of the Sea
Aegir the Norse Mythology God of the Sea

In norse mythological sources the word , “sea”, is called “husband of Ran”, “visitor of the gods”, “father of Ægir’s daughters”, “land of Ran”.

Ægir, the personal name, or ægir, “sea”, is connected with Gothic ahva, Latin aqua and Old Norse á  (water, river).

The Old Norse name of the river Eider (Egidora), Ægisdyr, is literally “door of the sea”.

Ægir is the kind and gentle sea, while Ran is the turbulent and violent sea

Kindly and good-humoured, Ægir represents the peaceful rather than the stormy sea. He was supposed to occasion and quiet the great tempests which swept over the deep.

Ægir was also very rich, and was celebrated also for great prudence and wisdom. His chief residence was in the island of Hlesey or Leesöe, in the Kattegat.

By contrast, Ran (whose name means ” robber”), Ægir’s wife and the queen of the ocean, was of a cruel and avaricious disposition, and it was she who caused all shipwrecks.

Ran the Norse Mythology Goddess of the Stormy Sea
Ran the Norse Mythology Goddess of the Stormy Sea

Her favorite pastime was lurking near dangerous rocks, where she would entice mariners.

There she spread her net, her most prized possession, and, having entangled the men in its meshes and broken their vessels on the jagged cliffs, she calmly drew them down into her cheerless realm.

All who were drowned were believed to go to her, a belief which the Swedish peasants still hold of the mermaid.

In the deep sea caves
By the sounding shore,
In the dashing waves
When the wild storms roar,
In her cold green bowers
In the Northern fiords,
She lurks and she glowers,
She grasps and she hoards,
And she spreads her strong net for her prey.

Ran was therefore also considered the goddess of death for all who perished at sea, and the Norse nations fancied that she entertained the drowned in her coral caves, where her couches were spread to receive them, and where the famed mead of poetry flowed freely as in Valhalla.

The goddess was further supposed to have a great affection for gold, which was called the “flame of the sea,” and was used to illuminate her halls.

This belief originated when the sailors first noticed the well-known phosphorescent gleams in the deep, and to win Ran’s good graces, they were careful to hide some gold about them whenever any special danger threatened them on the sea.

Ægir is a giant who learns magic from the gods

Ægir’s father is Fornjot, a giant, who is also father of wind and fire.

Though on the whole depicted as a friend of the gods, Ægir is of the giant folk. His name appears in the list of giants, and Hymiskvitha (Norse mythological poem) calls him bergbui and jötun, and describes him sitting merry as a child (barnteitr) like other giants.

As for his physical description, he was generally represented as a gaunt old man, with long white beard and hair, his clawlike fingers ever clutching convulsively, as though he longed to have all things within his grasp.

Why the sea should be a Mountain-giant (bergbui) is not clear in the Norse mythological sources.

The Bragarædur text (an introduction to the Prose Edda) describes Ægir as versed in magic. He often visits the gods in Asgard and partakes of their banquet, and as he sits next to the god Bragi, he learns many things from him of the doings of the Æsir  and the methods of skaldic art.

Ægir’s daughthers were the waves and billows of the sea

Ægir and Ran had nine beautiful daughters, the Waves, or billow maidens, whose snowy arms and bosoms, long golden hair, deep-blue eyes, and willowy, sensuous formswere fascinating in the extreme.

These maidens delighted in playing all over the surface of their father’s vast watery domain, lightly clad in transparent blue, white, or green veils.

They were very moody and capricious damsels, however, varying from playful to sullen and apathetic moods, and at times exciting one another almost to madness, tearing their hair and veils, flinging themselves recklessly upon their hard beds, the rocks, chasing one another with frantic haste, and shrieking aloud with joy or despair.

These maidens, however, seldom came out to play unless their brother, the Wind, were abroad, and according to his mood they were gentle and playful, or rough and boisterous.

The Waves were generally supposed to go about in triplets, and were often said to play around the ships of vikings whom they favored, smoothing away every obstacle from their course, and helping them speedily to reach their goal.

Ægir hosted a famous party and feast for the other Norse gods

The Norse mythological poem Hymiskvitha opens by describing a feast at which the great Norse gods found the ale too little. They consulted the divining-twigs and the blood and found that there was abundance in Ægir’s dwelling.

Thor asked Ægir to prepare a banquet for them, but Ægir, in order to cause trouble, said that Thor must procure a vessel large enough to brew ale for all the gods. This is the introduction to the story of Thor’s adventure with the giant Hymir to whom he goes to procure this vessel.

After Thor acquired the vessel, Ægir prepared the banquet in his halls, and to it came many gods and elves. The ale served itself and the banquet was proceeding splendidly, but the gods praised Ægir’s servants, Fimafeng and Eldir, for their cleverness, and this stirred Loki’s jealousy, who slew Fimafeng.

The bulk of the poem is taken up with Loki and his slanders of the gods and goddesses. Ægir takes no part in this: only at the end, where Loki goes away, does he address Ægir:

Ale hast thou brewed, O Ægir,
But nevermore wilt thou prepare a banguet
All thy possessions fiames shall play over,
Fire shall burn thy back,

The fire Loki mentions is the fire of Ragnarok, the one that will consume the world.

As brewer of ale for his banquet to the gods, Ægir is called “ale-brewer of all the gods” and as one present at their banquets he is the visitor of the gods.

Norse people considered gold to be “Ægir flame” or “brightness of Ægir”

In place of fire, bright gold served to give light in Ægir’s hall.

During the feast, Ægir had his servants bring bright gold and set on the floor. It illumined the hall and served as lights at the banquet. Hence gold is called fire, “light,’ or “brightness of Ægir”, of Ran, or Ægir’s daughters.

Gold is also fire of the sea. As Ægir seems to personity the calm sea, the brilliant gleam of the sun on its surface may have given rise to these tales and to the myth of the light-giving gold in his hall.

Ægir is known by other names such as Hler, Gymir or Eagor

In Anglo-Saxon the sea-god Ægir was known by the name of Eagor, and whenever an unusually large wave came thundering towards the shore, the sailors would cry:

“Look out, Eagor is coming!”

He was also known by the name of Hler (the shelterer) among the Northern nations, and of Gymir (the concealer), because he was always ready to hide things in the depths of his realm, never revealing the secrets intrusted to his care.

Other norse tales describe Ran, his wife, as “Gymir’s Volva” or the breakers or the murmur of the sea are “Gymir’s song” and the sea is “Gymir’s dwelling”.

And, because the waters of the sea were frequently said to seethe and hiss, the ocean was often called “Ægir’s brewing kettle” or vat.

Atlas Mythica

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