In Norse mythology, the cosmic realm is structured around 9 different worlds:
- Asgard, home of the Aesir such as Thor and Odin
- Alfheim, home of the elves.
- Midgard, home of humans.
- Jotunheim, a freezing world inhabited by ice giants.
- Muspelheim, a glowing fire world inhabited by fire giants, such as Surtr.
- Svartalfheim, home of the dark elves.
- Niflheim, a damp and cold realm home of the two primordial waters: the river Elivagar and the spring of Hvergelmir.
- Hel, which bears the name of the goddess Hel, Loki’s daughter. This is viewed as the traditional Norse afterlife for those who don’t enter Valhalla.
- Vanaheim, home of the Vanir gods.
All of these realms are connected to one another through the world tree, Yggdrasil.
Vanaheim can be translated as “Land of the Vanir”. The Vanir, along with the Aesir, being one of the two clans or tribes of Gods in Norse mythology.
On a linguistic level, Asgard and Midgard stand out among all the other 9 realms since they are formed with the word “gard” or “gardr“, translated as “yard” or “court”.
By comparison, “heim” or “heimr” means “home”, “land” or “world”. Thus, Asgard or Midgard can be understood to mean “Court of the Aesir” or “Middle Court”.
Through various descriptions in the Norse mythological Eddas, we know that both Asgard and Midgard were separated from the other realms through magnificent walls and other constructions. Their purpose was to keep enemies of these two realms at bay, up until they are destroyed during Ragnarock.
Thus, if Asgard and Midgard were built up and civilized, then by implication the “heim” realms of Norse mythology, including Vanaheim, can be described as open and rugged, place where nature dominates instead of the will of its inhabitants.
In the case of Vanaheim, this fits with the overall nature of the Vanir who live in the land, such as Njord, Frey or Freyja. The Vanir gods in Norse mythology are described as deities primarily concerned with the natural world: Njord is the god of the seas, Frey is the god of harvests and peace, while Freya was the goddess of love and fertility.
The location of Vanaheim
Not much is known about the location of Vanaheim, except that it is connected to the world tree Yggdrasil like all other worlds, and is also situated to the east of Asgard and Midgard.
Some scholars have also proposed that Vanaheim coresponded to a real location, situated somewhere around the ancient Greek colony of Tanais, at the shore of the Black Sea. If this interpretation is correct, it would align neatly concept of Vanaheim as an open realm, dominated by fields, forests and rivers since that is the geography of the area.
By contrast, Scandinavia, the land of the Norse people, is mountainous. As such it was natural for the Norse to view themselves living in an enclosed realm, and their gods living in a mountainous area.
In this case, it is proposed that the Vanir and Aesir were the gods of two different cultures that mingled and mixed together. This is backed up by the fact that the Aesir and Vanir were engaged in a brief war followed by reconciliation. This could be interpreted as two religions clashing, but then coming together as one.
Rulers of Vanaheim
Njord was the first ruler of the Vanir, and was created by “wise-powers”. He led the Vanir to victory in their war against the Aesir. As part of the peace treaty however, Njord and Frey were gives as hostages to the Aesir, while the Vanir received Hœnir and Mimir in exchange.
The Vanir thought Hœnir to be wise, so they placed him as their ruler. However, the Vanir found Hœnir to be both stupid and loyal to Odin, so they deposed him as ruler and then decapitated Mimir and sent his head to Asgard.
The Vanir then chose Lóðurr to replace Hœnir as the leader of Vanaheim.
What happens to Vanaheim
During Ragnarok, Asgard and Midgard are destroyed by the flames of the fire giant Surtr’s sword. However, Vanaheim is untouched by the destruction and Njord, a Vanir god given hostage to the Aesir, returns to his native homeland.
- The Mythology of All Races – Eddic by John Arnott MacCulloch, Louis Herbert Gray
- The Norsemen Myths and Legends by Guerber Helene Adeline
- Asgard and the Norse heroes by Katharine Boult
- Old Norse stories by Sarah Powers Bradish
- Teutonic Mythology by Viktor Rydberg & Anders Rasmus Bjorn
- Teutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm