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Njord

Njord

Njord is in Norse mythology one of the Vanir gods. In the Icelandic sources, Njord is linked to the sea and god of seafaring, including fishing and trade, winds and fertility.

The East Norse material suggests that Njord was seen as a god of fertility and prosperity, linked to the inland, in contrast to the West Norse, where he was linked to the coast.

In the Viking Age, he was almost supplanted as a fertility god by Freyr, who had probably taken over some of the attributes and qualities originally attributed to his father.

He is married to Skadi, but they do not live together. His children are Freyr and Freya, whose mother is unknown today. After the war between the Aesir and the Vaner, he and his children become hostages of the Aesir, among whom he takes up residence.

Njord has been the subject of several scientific theories and discussions. His name is etymologically closely related to the older Germanic goddess Nerthus, mentioned by Tacitus.

Together with the many instances of place names containing his name, this has given rise to speculation that he was of far greater importance in Norse religion than the extant sources indicate.

Characteristics

In the mythology preserved in Icelandic literature, Njord is described as one of the gods living in Asgard. His domain is called Noatun, meaning shipyard, a name that no doubt derives from his connections with fishing and seafaring.

He was therefore associated with human activities on and by the sea, not the sea itself. The Norse sea gods were instead the giants Aegir and Ran. Njord is the father of the fertility gods Frey and Freya.

Their mother's name is not found in any known source. Njord belongs to the lineage of the Vanir and lived in Vanaheim, but after the war between the Aesir and the Vanir he was exchanged as a hostage as part of the peace treaty.

Together with his children he moved to Asgard. In the Yngling saga it is said that he had been married to his own sister, but the Aesir forbade such incestuous relationships.

A remnant of the pre-Christian view can possibly be deduced literarily, as in Icelandic translations of classical literary works the Roman god Saturn was translated as Njord.

Another of the few surviving myths starring Njord is found in the Younger Edda. Here is the story of how the giantess Skadi, in compensation for the Aesir killing her father Thjazi, she is allowed to choose a husband from among them - though she may only choose from their feet.

She chooses the most beautiful pair of feet, believing them to be Balr's, but they turn out to be Njord's. They live apart, however, because neither can bear to live in the place the other prefers.

Skadi wants to live in the cold and wild mountain regions, while Njord prefers the rich fishing grounds and fertile farmlands near the sea. The motif of choosing a spouse by the feet seems to have traces of an ancient marriage ritual it can be found, for example, in Indian tales and in the fairy tale of Cinderella.

Etymology

The name Njord can be traced to the Proto-Germanic word Nerþuz, and the Indo-European *nerthuz, which probably had the meaning force. This interpretation is based primarily on the possible connection to the Gaelic word nert, meaning force or power.

The Viking name Njörðr corresponds to the name of an older Germanic fertility goddess, Nerthus, mentioned by the Roman writer Tacitus in his 1st century AD work Germania.

It has been suggested that Njord changed gender because nouns in the feminine with u-stems disappeared from Germanic languages, so only masculine u-stems were known in the Viking Age.

However, others believe that such changes cannot be due to grammatical changes alone, but must be the result of religious changes. Njörðr may also be related to the Norse goddess Njörun.

viking-jewelry

Theories of function and origin

The scarce sources of Njord's role in Viking religion, and the relics that suggest that he may have had a much greater role in religion in the past, have led to much speculation about the god's original significance in older times.

Nerthus

One of the biggest questions is Njord's connection to the goddess Nerthus, described by Tacitus in the 1st century AD. "Nerthus" is a Latinized version of the reconstructed Germanic name *Nerþus, i.e. "Nerthus", is the feminine version of what Njörðr must have been called in the 1st century. The connection is thus based on a linguistic affinity, but the direct link between Iron Age Nerthus and Viking Age Njord is unknown, as she does not appear in the younger sources, just as Njord is not known from the older ones.

However, it has been suggested, for example, that the god has changed gender, was previously thought to be a hermaphrodite, or that Nerthus is Njord's sister and original wife, whose existence is mentioned in Lokasenna, but whose name is not mentioned.

One of the most common theories is that Nerthus is a later forgotten partner in an original divine sibling pair, structurally similar to the sibling pair Freyr and Freya, who have taken over their place in the religion.

Hadingus

Parallels have also been drawn between Njord and the 13th-century hero Hading (Hadingus) from Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum. These include parallels to the marriage with Skadi.

One of them is found in the account of how Hading is chosen by his later wife Regnhild, this happened by her choosing him during a feast from among the other men, while she could only see their lower legs and feet.

Later in the story, Hading complains about how life away from the sea torments him and that he is disturbed by the howling of wolves at Regnhild's house. She, in turn, complains about life by the sea, where she is annoyed by the gulls' cries.

Georges Dumézil has interpreted this legend as the hero Hading's passage through all three functions of his hypothesis of the tripartite Indo-European society.

Dumézil thus believes that Hading finally becomes an Odin hero, i.e. attains the status of king and magician. This, he argues, parallels Njord's transformation from vane to ape in the War of Apes and Vanes.

Svafrþorinn

In stanza 8 of the oath-digged Fjölsvinnsmál, Svafrþorinn is mentioned as the father of the Menglöð, whom the hero Svipdagr pursues. Several scholars have speculated that Menglöð is identical with the goddess Freya, and that Svafrþorinn is another name for Njord.

However, this theory is complicated by the etymology of the name Svafrþorinn (þorinn means 'brave' and svafr means 'gossip' (or perhaps more accurately 'sleep'), which, according to Rudolf Simek, is difficult to link with what is known about Njord.

Source material

Archaeological remains

Several "sacred white stones" are known from Norway. These are carved phallus-shaped stones, dated to between 400 and 600 AD. Their age makes them likely to be relics of a widespread Njord cult.

They are all light-coloured, which must have been an important feature. However, there is a great variation in size. They are usually associated with habits, because phallus worship is usually closely linked to fertility.

Moreover, they are often found near sites with names that include Njord and near burial sites; the link between fertility and death is not unusual, but widespread in many different religions, including the Norse.

Topographical relics

Njord is included in many place names in several places in the Nordic countries: for example, many sites along the coast of Norway testify to a widespread Njord cult in those regions.

They include Njarðarlög and Njarðey (now Nærøy). Such place names are also known from Sweden, e.g. Nærdhæwi (today Nalavi), Njærdhavi (today Mjärdevi), Nærdhælunda (today Närlunda) and Nierdhatunum (today Närtuna) in Sweden, as well as Njarðvík in eastern Iceland. Njord's name can also be found in a name for a mushroom; Njarðarvöttr ('Njord's mitten').

Written sources

Njord is mentioned in several poems from the Old Edda, which was collected and written down in the 13th century in Iceland, but is based on older pre-Christian sources. He also appears in several of the stories in the prose work Younger Edda, which is a euhemeristic retelling of older mythological material.

This work also dates from the 13th century and was sponsored by Snorre Sturlason. Here Njord is mentioned as a Swedish legendary king. Another of Snorre's works, Heimskringla, refers to some of his myths. He is also mentioned in Hauksbók from the 14th century.