Aegir and Ran, the God and Goddess of the Ocean

The gods and goddesses of mythology act as a way for people to understand the world they live in. It’s for this reason that so many of the deities occupy archetypical roles. Forces like death, war, love and the sun all had gods who were assigned to them in every mythology, and the Norse were no exception. The ocean, an important part of any society that isn’t landlocked, was also given a patron deity as well. The heathen Norsemen named the god of the ocean Aegir, and he lived on an island where he ruled the sea with his wife Ran, attended by his nine daughters.

Now, the mythology of the Norsemen is convoluted and only partially recovered from the distant past. However, the simple explanation is that there were two races of gods; the Aesir and the Vanir. There were also giants. There were two main giants of myth; the fire giants, and the frost giants. The giants and the gods warred constantly, and there was the prophecy of Ragnarok where their last battle would happen like some Viking Armageddon where the forces of civilization and that of the elements would clash. It’s pretty obvious to even the casual eye that the gods represent humanity, with skill and strategy, overcoming the primal forces of ice and fire in the giants. Because of this association though, almost any being which was considered ancient or truly powerful was referred to as a giant. Aegir, ruler of one of the most primal forces of the world, is therefore sometimes referred to as a giant. Other times though, he’s referred to as something older than the giants.

Aegir was considered remote and powerful, a king of forces the likes of which even powerful gods like the All Father Odin respected. Aegir was depicted as old, with a heavy beard, but still strong and in command. His wife Ran was beautiful, dressed in white and veiled, perhaps to represent the form that would lay atop the waves. They had nine daughters (the number nine being a very potent number in Asatru faith), each of which represented a different type of wave. Those daughters are all simultaneously the mother of the guardian god Heimdall, though different myths say that he has different fathers.

Now, Aegir was not the god of the sea. The sea is relatively close in, and that was the territory of the god Njord who was a god of plenty. The ocean was a vast, landless waste that was filled with terrors that would shatter the mind and horrors like the Midgard Serpent Jormundgand that even the thunder god Thor wouldn’t defeat till the end times. This view explains the terror and vast respect the Vikings, mariners by trade, held Aegir in. They often offered sacrifice, such as prisoners, to steady the sea and allow their journeys to bring them back to land. While cold, brooding and powerful. Aegir would also host great banquets in his hall for the other gods, boasting ale, mead and all sorts of delightful viands for the guests. This could be seen as a sign of the ocean’s great bounty, once you got past the brunt of the force and the sheer size it boasted to the peoples of the ancient world.

The main myth that mentions Aegir actually takes place during one of these feasts. It was after the death of Baldur, the god of beauty and the guests were sharing fond memories and toasting him. Loki, the secret murderer of Baldur, grew more and more wroth as he had to listen to all this good feeling poured out on his victim. Finally, in a fit of pique Loki began to deride all the gods, revealing himself as the Baldur’s killer. Though pursued, Loki escaped for a time until he was hunted down and captured by Odin’s son Vidar (though some myths mention one of Odin’s other children as the hunter).

More telling than the myths that Aegir is mentioned in though, are the ones he is absent from. Aegir isn’t mentioned in Ragnarok for instance, and by that we can assume that he endures just as the ocean itself endures over time. Aegir, much like some of the other powerful but rarely mentioned figures in Norse myth, simply is. He is neutral in the affairs of men and gods, and he takes what it is his without cruelty or malice.

“Aegir,” by Micha F. Lindemans at Pantheon
“Aegir,” by Anonymous at Monstropedia