The Vanir – Venus
Posted by Fredsvenn on November 3, 2015
One of the most important goddesses of reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion is the personification of dawn as a beautiful young woman. Her name is reconstructed as Hausōs (PIE *hewsṓs- or *hausōs-, an s-stem), besides numerous epithets.
Derivatives of *hewsṓs in the historical mythologies of Indo-European peoples include Indian Uṣas, Greek Ēōs, Latin Aurōra, and Baltic Aušra (“dawn”, c.f. Lithuanian Aušrinė). Germanic *Austrōn- is from an extended stem *hews-tro-.
The name *h₂ewsṓs is derived from a root *hwes / *au̯es “to shine”, thus translating to “the shining one”. Both the English word east and the Latin auster “south” are from a root cognate adjective *aws-t(e)ro-. Also cognate is aurum “gold”, from *awso-.
The name for “spring season”, *wes-r- is also from the same root. The dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring, involved in the mythology of the Indo-European New Year, where the dawn goddess is liberated from imprisonment by a god (reflected in the Rigveda as Indra, in Greek mythology as Dionysus and Cronus).
Besides the name most amenable to reconstruction, *h₂ewsṓs, a number of epithets of the dawn goddess may be reconstructed with some certainty. Among these is *wenos- (also an s-stem), whence Sanskrit vanas “loveliness; desire”, used of Uṣas in the Rigveda, and the Latin name Venus and the Norse Vanir. The name indicates that the goddess was imagined as a beautiful nubile woman, who also had aspects of a love goddess.
As a consequence, the love goddess aspect was separated from the personification of dawn in a number of traditions, including Roman Venus vs. Aurora, and Greek Aphrodite vs. Eos. The name of Aphrodite may still preserve her role as a dawn goddess, etymologized as “she who shines from the foam [ocean]” (from aphros “foam” and deato “to shine”).
J.P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams (1997) have also proposed an etymology based on the connection with the Indo-European dawn goddess, from *abhor- “very” and *dhei “to shine”. Other epithets include Erigone “early-born” in Greek.
The Italic goddess Mater Matuta “Mother Morning” has been connected to Aurora by Roman authors (Lucretius, Priscianus). Her festival, the Matralia, fell on 11 June, beginning at dawn.
The abduction and imprisonment of the dawn goddess, and her liberation by a heroic god slaying the dragon who imprisons her, is a central myth of Indo-European religion, reflected in numerous traditions. Most notably, it is the central myth of the Rigveda, a collection of hymns surrounding the Soma rituals dedicated to Indra in the New Year celebrations of the early Indo-Aryans.
Numerous theories have been proposed for the etymology of Vanir. Scholar R. I. Page says that, while there are no shortages of etymologies for the word, it is tempting to link the word with “Old Norse vinr, ‘friend’, and Latin Venus, ‘goddess of physical love.’”
In Norse mythology, Njörðr is a god among the Vanir. Njörðr, father of the deities Freyr and Freyja by his unnamed Vanir sister, was in an ill-fated marriage with the goddess Skaði, lives in Nóatún (Old Norse “ship-enclosure”), described in the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning as located “in heaven”, and is associated with sea, seafaring, wind, fishing, wealth, and crop fertility.
In Germanic paganism, Nerthus is a goddess associated with fertility. Nerthus is attested by Tacitus, the first century AD Roman historian, in his ethnographic work Germania. The name Nerthus is generally held to be a Latinized form of Proto-Germanic *Nerþuz, a direct precursor to the Old Norse deity name Njörðr.
While scholars have noted numerous parallels between the descriptions of the two figures, Njörðr is attested as a male deity. Various scholarly theories exist regarding the goddess and her potential later traces amongst the Germanic peoples, including that the figure may be identical to the unnamed sister-wife of Njörðr mentioned in two Old Norse sources.
In Germania, Tacitus records that the remote Suebi tribes were united by their veneration of the goddess at his time of writing and maintained a sacred grove on an (unspecified) island and that a holy cart rests there draped with cloth, which only a priest may touch.
The priests feel her presence by the cart, and, with deep reverence, attend her cart, which is drawn by heifers. Everywhere the goddess then deigns to visit, she is met with celebration, hospitality, and peace. All iron objects are locked away, and no one will leave for war. When the goddess has had her fill she is returned to her temple by the priests. Tacitus adds that the goddess, the cart, and the cloth are then washed by slaves in a secluded lake. The slaves are then drowned.
Nerthus is often identified with the van Njörðr who is attested in various 13th century Old Norse works and in numerous Scandinavian place names. The connection between the two is due to the linguistic relationship between Njörðr and the reconstructed Proto-Germanic *Nerþuz, Nerthus being the feminine, Latinized form of what Njörðr would have looked like around the first century.
This has led to theories about the relation of the two, including that Njörðr may have once been a hermaphroditic deity or that the name may indicate the otherwise forgotten sister-wife in a divine brother-sister pair like the Vanir deities Freyja and Freyr.
While developments in historical linguistics ultimately allowed for the identification of Nerthus with Njörðr, various other readings of the name were in currency prior to the acceptance of this identification, most commonly the form Hertha. This form was proposed as an attempt to mirror the Old Norse goddess name Jörð ‘earth’.
Writing on this topic in 1912, Raymond Wilson Chambers says “strange has been the history of this goddess Nerthus in modern times. Sixteenth century scholars found irresistible the temptation to emend the name of ‘Mother Earth’ into Herthum, which nineteenth century scholars further improved into Hertham, Ertham. For many years this false goddess drove out the rightful deity from the fortieth chapter of the Germania”.
Freyr or Frey is one of the most important gods of Norse religion. The name is conjectured to derive from the Proto-Norse *frawjaz, “lord”. Freyr was associated with sacral kingship, virility and prosperity, with sunshine and fair weather, and was pictured as a phallic fertility god, Freyr “bestows peace and pleasure on mortals”.
Freyja (Old Norse for “(the) Lady”) is a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death.Her name is the name for Friday in many Germanic languages. Freyja’s husband, the god Óðr, is frequently absent. She cries tears of red gold for him, and searches for him under assumed names.
Scholars have theorized about whether Freyja and the goddess Frigg ultimately stem from a single goddess common among the Germanic peoples. Various plants in Scandinavia once bore her name, but it was replaced with the name of the Virgin Mary during the process of Christianization.
“Gold” is cognate with similar words in many Germanic languages, deriving via Proto-Germanic *gulþą from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰelh- (“to shine, to gleam; to be yellow or green”). The symbol Au is from the Latin: aurum, the Latin word for “gold”.
The Proto-Indo-European ancestor of aurum was *hé-hus-o-, meaning “glow”. This word is derived from the same root (Proto-Indo-European *hu̯es- “to dawn”) as *héu̯sōs, the ancestor of the Latin word Aurora, “dawn”. This etymological relationship is presumably behind the frequent claim in scientific publications that aurum meant “shining dawn”.
The term Golden Age (Greek: chryseon genos) comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five (or more) Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and then the present (Iron), which is a period of decline, sometimes followed by the Leaden Age. By definition, one is never in the Golden Age.
By extension “Golden Age” denotes a period of primordial peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity. During this age peace and harmony prevailed, did not have to work to feed themselves, for the earth provided food in abundance. They lived to a very old age with a youthful appearance, eventually dying peacefully, with spirit living on as “guardians”.
Plato in Cratylus (397 e) recounts the golden race of humans who came first. He clarifies that Hesiod did not mean literally made of gold, but good and noble. The English word elf is from the Old English word most often attested as ælf (whose plural would have been *ælfe). Although this word took a variety of forms in different Old English dialects, these converged on the form elf during the Middle English period.
During the Old English period, separate forms were used for female elves (such as ælfen, putatively from common Germanic *ɑlβ(i)innjō), but during the Middle English period the word elf came routinely to include female beings.
The main medieval Germanic cognates of elf are Old Norse alfr, plural alfar, and Old High German alp, plural alpî, elpî (alongside the feminine elbe). These words must come from Common Germanic, the ancestor-language of English, German, and the Scandinavian languages: the Common Germanic forms must have been *ɑlβi-z and ɑlβɑ-z.
Germanic *ɑlβi-z~*ɑlβɑ-z Ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *alp- or *albʰós is generally agreed to be cognate with the Latin albus (‘(matt) white’), Old Irish ailbhín (‘flock’); Albanian elb (‘barley’); and Germanic words for ‘swan’ such as Modern Icelandic álpt.
These all come from an Indo-European base *albh-, and seem to be connected by whiteness. The Germanic word presumably originally meant ‘white person’, perhaps as a euphemism. Jakob Grimm thought that whiteness implied positive moral connotations, and, noting Snorri Sturluson’s ljósálfar, suggested that elves were divinities of light.
This is not necessarily the case, however. For example, Alaric Hall, noting that the cognates suggest matt white, has instead tentatively suggested that later evidence associating both elves and whiteness with feminine beauty may indicate that it was this beauty that gave elves their name.
A completely different etymology, making elf cognate with the Rbhus, semi-divine craftsmen in Indian mythology, was also suggested by Kuhn, in 1855. While still sometimes repeated, however, this idea is not widely accepted.
The Ribhus are three at first mortal beings who according to Sayana attained godhood by austerities. Their individual names were Ribhu (or Rhibhu), Vaja and Vibhvan, but after the name of their leader they were collectively called Rhibhus or Ribhus (ṛbhú-, pl. ṛbhava).
Their name’s meaning is “clever, skillful, inventive, prudent”, cognate to Latin labor and Gothic arb-aiþs “labour, toil”, and perhaps to English elf. In the Rigveda the adjective in its lexical meaning “skillful” is also applied to Indra, Agni and the Adityas.
There are analogous concepts in the religious and philosophical traditions of the South Asian subcontinent. For example, the Vedic or ancient Hindu culture saw history as cyclical, composed of yugas with alternating Dark and Golden Ages.
The Kali yuga (Iron Age), Dwapara yuga (Bronze Age), Treta yuga (Silver Age) and Satya yuga (Golden Age) correspond to the four Greek ages. Similar beliefs occur in the ancient Middle East and throughout the ancient world, as well.
In classical Greek mythology the Golden Age was presided over by the leading Titan Cronus. In some version of the myth Astraea also ruled. She lived with men until the end of the Silver Age, but in the Bronze Age, when men became violent and greedy, fled to the stars, where she appears as the constellation Virgo, holding the scales of Justice, or Libra.
European pastoral literary and iconographic tradition often depicted nymphs and shepherds as living a life of rustic innocence and simplicity, untainted by the corruptions of civilization — a continuation of the Golden Age — set in an idealized Arcadia, a region of Greece that was the abode and center of worship of their tutelary deity, goat-footed Pan, who dwelt among them. This idealized and nostalgic vision of the simple life, however, was sometimes contested and even ridiculed, both in antiquity and later on.
There are hints that Freyr was associated with elves, particularly that Álfheimr (Old Norse: Ālfheimr, “Land Of The Fairies”), also called Ljosalfheim (Ljósálf[a]heimr, “light-elf home”), one of the Nine Worlds and home of the Light Elves in Norse mythology, is mentioned as being given to Freyr in Grímnismál.
In medieval Germanic-speaking cultures, elves seem generally to have been thought of as a group of beings with magical powers and supernatural beauty, ambivalent towards everyday people and capable of either helping or hindering them. However, the precise character of beliefs in elves across the Germanic-speaking world has varied considerably across time, space, and different cultures.
For a long time, views about elves in Old Norse mythology were defined by Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, which talks about svartálfar, dökkálfar and ljósálfar. However, these words are only attested in the Prose Edda and texts based on it, and it is now agreed that they reflect traditions of dwarves, demons, and angels, partly showing Snorri’s “paganisation” of a Christian cosmology learned from the Elucidarius, an encyclopedic work or summa about medieval Christian theology and folk belief, originally written in the late 11th century by Honorius Augustodunensis, influenced by Anselm of Canterbury and John Scotus.
Scholars of Old Norse mythology now focus on references to elves in Old Norse poetry, particularly the Elder Edda. The only character explicitly identified as an elf in classical Eddaic poetry, if any, is Völundr, the protagonist of Völundarkviða.
Although the relevant words are of slightly uncertain meaning, it seems fairly clear that Völundr is described as one of the elves in Völundarkviða. As his most prominent deed in the poem is to rape Böðvildr, the poem associates elves with being a sexual threat to maidens.
The same idea is present in two post-classical Eddaic poems, which are also influenced by romance or Breton lais, Kötludraumur and Gullkársljóð and in later traditions in Scandinavia and beyond, so may be an early attestation of a prominent tradition. Elves also appear in a couple of verse spells, including the Bergen rune-charm from among the Bryggen inscriptions.
However, elves are frequently mentioned in the alliterating formulaic collocation Æsir ok Álfar (‘Æsir and elves’) and its variants. This shows a strong tradition of associating elves with the Æsir, or sometimes even of not distinguishing between the two groups. A kenning for the sun, álfrǫðull, is of uncertain meaning but is to some suggestive of a close link between the elves’ and the sun.
The collocation is paralleled in the Old English poem Wið færstice; in the Germanic personal name system; and in Skaldic verse the word elf is used in the same way as words for gods. Sigvatr Þórðarson’s skaldic travelogue Austrfaravísur, composed around 1020, mentions an álfablót (‘elves’ sacrifice’) in Edskogen in what is now southern Sweden.
There does not seem to have been any clear-cut distinction between humans and gods; like the Æsir, then, elves were presumably thought of as being human(-like) and existing in opposition to the giants. Many commentators have also (or instead) argued for conceptual overlap between elves and dwarves in Old Norse mythology, which may fit with trends in the medieval German evidence.
Because Snorri Sturluson identified Freyr as one of the Vanir when that word is rare in Eddaic verse, very rare in Skaldic verse, and is not generally thought to appear in other Germanic languages, it has long been suggested that álfar and Vanir are, more or less, different words for the same group of beings, and even that Snorri invented the Vanir. However, this is not uniformly accepted.