Night’s Family Tree: Nótt as Mother of the Vanir?

Night’s Family Tree: Nótt as Mother of the Vanir? February 27, 2019

by Y. Beletsky, used under creative commons license

In my earlier post on Nótt, I talked about Her parentage and Her nature, the impressions I get from Her and the textual evidence we have. From here on out, it gets pretty speculative. This rings true with what I’ve experienced of the Vanir and have been told by Nerthus, an ancient Germanic Goddess to whom I am devoted. It’s only my experience and UPG with some scholarship to justify it, so be warned as I move ahead that none of this is proven!

I believe that Nótt is the progenitor of the Vanir that live in Asgard and are mentioned in Eddic poetry, mother of Njord and His sister-wife, and grandmother of Frey and Freyja. This also makes Thor and Frey and Freyja half-siblings. It sounds like a tall claim at first, but if you follow my logic you might not find it as unreasonable.

In the Gylfaginning of the Poetic Edda, we learn that Nótt is the mother of Jord, who is the personification of the Earth and mother of Thor. In the Ynglinga saga, Snorri states that “While Njorth lived with the Vanir he had his sister as wife, because that was the custom among them. Their children were Frey and Freya.” (Lee Hollander’s translation).

Ahnentafel von Herzog Ludwig by Jakob Lederlein in 1585

Joseph S Hopkins in his article Njorun and the Sister-Wife of Njordh (featured in the Retrospective Methods Newsletter) posits that Njorun, a little known and rarely mentioned Goddess, is Njord’s sister-wife. He goes on to say that this name is a reflex of the ancient Goddess name Nerthus, attested by Tacitus as the Germanic Earth Mother.

Okay, so we now have Nerthus, Earth Goddess, as one of the Vanir; She is sister to and married to Njord. This is not universally accepted in Heathenry, but in my experience is accepted by a large number of Heathens. There are similarities between Her rituals and Frey’s that seem to corroborate the linguistic evidence. Here’s where things get a little sketchier and a little less widely accepted.

I identify Nerthus and the Norse personified Earth, Jord, as one and the same. Just as the Germanic cult of the sun diminished in importance over the ages, I believe the cult of Nerthus, once widespread, became less important until She was represented in Eddic poetry as a Jotun. But She was still seen as consort of and mother to two of the most honored deities. In the Sigrdrifumal, the valkyrie Sigrdrifa hails “night and her daughter” (Bellows’s translation) in her prayer to the Heathen deities.

Lake Vuoksa by Dmitry A. Mottl, used under creative commons license

There are also interesting connections, though admittedly tenuous, between Nerthus and Nótt. Nótt is called “the Hood” in Bellows’s translation of the Alvíssmál, “mask” in Andy Orchard’s translation. Though obviously these kennings can refer to the night’s ability to hinder what we see, I find it interesting that in Nerthus’s ritual as attested by Tacitus, Nerthus and Her wagon are covered and are too holy to be seen by human eyes. In fact, there are slaves whose job it is to uncover the wagon and wash it and the image of the Goddess; when they complete this task they are immediately drowned.

Nerthus is often seen, because of this passage, as a dark deity who presides over death and decay as well as fertility and prosperity – see for example Nicanthiel Hrafnhild’s devotional Birch, Boar, and Bog. This association with death is one I believe Nótt (and all the female Vanic deities we know of) share. She is Goddess of rest, the long sleep that is death.

Yet another connection comes from Nótt’s first marriage where She bore Her son Aud, meaning Wealth. William Reaves argues in his article Nerthus: Towards an Identification that Aud can be equated with Njord, a deity largely associated with the wealth and commerce that come from the sea. This identification brings us back around to the idea of Njord and His sister-wife, Aud’s sister of course being Jörd. This connection is tenuous, but nonetheless interesting.

If I am correct in my assumptions and logical leaps, Nótt is the ancestor of all the named Vanir attested in the Eddas, as well as the grandmother of Thor. For me, this knowledge of Her as primal mother as well as darkness unlocked a different aspect of Her character and mysteries. Like Melissa Hill wrote in her article of the daughters of Night, seeing Her children throughout mythology is fascinating.

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