Who are Aegir and Ran, the Giant Friends of the Gods


Aegir (Old Norse Ægir, pronounced “EYE-gir”) and Ran (Old Norse Rán, pronounced “RAN”) are respectively husband and wife, and two of the most often-mentioned giants in Norse literature.

Ægir, Ran and their daughters

The couple lives in a magnificent hall beneath the ocean. Aegir is a gracious host, famous for his high quality beer and often holding lavish banquets for the Gods. While Aegir represents some of the more benevolent aspects of the Ocean, his wife Ran seems to correspond to its more sinister aspects, often mentioned in the context of drowning unfortunate seafarers and dragging them down to dwell in her underwater abode.

Ran’s unstable nature was a cause of worry for the Vikings, whose lives were deeply associated with the sea. When the seafarers found the sea agitated, they often blamed it on Ran being angry, avoiding to set sail if possible.

“Ran” by Johannes Gehrts (1901)

It was a common practice to try to appease Ran with offerings before setting sail, and archaeologists once excavated many offerings in the lake Tissø, but it is still unclear if the offerings were directed to appease Ran, to gain the favor of the God of the sea Njord or - which is more likely - offerings to the God Tyr, as Tissø actually means Týr’s lake. A working theory is that the nature of the offerings may have depended upon the time of year and on which Gods were being sacrificed to.

Aegir and Ran enjoy an overwhelmingly friendly relationship with the Gods, and even Thor underwent a quest in their benefit, to retrieve a large cauldron in order to increase Aegir's famous beer production (read more here). Njord, the God of the sea also keeps a friendly relationship with the giants, often frequenting their hall as the Skáldskaparmál poem tell us.

J. P. Molin's fountain relief featuring Ægir and his nine daughters

The couple has nine beautiful daughters, whom we know as the Nine Sea Maidens. Each daughter's name reflects poetic terms for waves and they appear in the Poetic Edda. Their names are Blóðughadda, Bylgja, Dröfn or Bára, Dúfa, Hefring or Hevring, Himinglæva, Hrönn, Kólga and Uðr or Unn; and authors still discuss the meaning of their names today.

According to two books of the Prose Edda, the Gylfaginning and the Skáldskaparmál, the God Heimdall was the son of the Nine Sea Maidens, but this information is contradictory, as the names presented for the Nine Daughters of Aegir and Ran and the Nine Mothers of Heimdall (as found in Völuspá hin skamma) do not match.

Heimdal and his Nine Mothers (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

Unfortunately, much knowledge has been lost since the Viking age and what we have today is fragmentary. Since Aegir and Ran are personifications of the sea, and the Vikings are natural seafarers, stands to reason that much knowledge about them has been lost, or simply not written, kept in oral tradition.

If you know more about them, share in the comments below!

 

Sources:

Lindow, John. 2002. Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515382-0

Orchard, Andy. 1997. Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-34520-2

Simek, Rudolf. 2007 [1993]. Translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1

 


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