The forces of Nature - Ægir

While the Æsir as major deities governed all the forces of Nature and
strove to direct them in the interest of mankind, almost every natural force
or element had its own indwelling divinity; this divinity, a kind of
personification of the natural force or element itself,
was able to set those forces in motion but unable to determine their
activities wholly. Thus Njord governed the winds and guided their course,


but he was not their prime mover; that function was fulfilled by the Giant
Ræsvelg (Hrœsvelgr, that is, Consumer of Corpses) who, sitting in the
guise of an eagle at the northern confines of the heavens, produced the
winds by the beating of his wings. So long as the rude powers of Nature
are left to themselves, their activities are rather harmful than beneficent, for
which reason it is no wonder that our fathers commonly regarded these
elementary divinities as Giants; for it was distinctly characteristic of the
Giants that they were seldom on good terms with the Æsir and that they
constantly had to be kept in subjection. The most powerful of these lesser
divinities were Fornjot and his kin. Fornjot, according to story, had three
sons: Ler, Logi, and Kari. Ler ruled the sea, Logi ruled the fire, and Kari
ruled the wind. Kari’s son was named Jokul or Frosti; Frosti’s son was
named Snjo; and Snjo in turn had four children: Thorri, Fonn, Drifa, and
Mjoll. Fornjot was no doubt originally a name for Giant; he was probably to
be identified with the primordial Giant Ymir. Kari means literally “wind,” and
Logi means “flame.” Jokul means “icicle”; Frosti, “frost”; Snjo, “snow”;
Thorri, “black frost”; Fonn, “perennial snowbank”; Drifa, “snowdrift”; Mjoll,
“fine driving snow.” The names themselves thus indicate what these
divinities represented. Most remarkable of them all was Ler, god of the sea.
He was also, indeed usually, called Ægir; and by reason of the similarity in
names, Snorri fixes his abode on the island of Læsø in the Kattegat. At first
he was no friend of the Æsir. Thor, however, intimidating him with piercing
eyes, constrained him to give a banquet for the gods each winter in his own
hall; later he in turn paid visits to the Æsir, who received him in a friendly
manner. His banquets were in very truth merrymakings, at which ale flowed
of its ownaccord; his hall was lighted by gleaming gold instead of candles; his brisk
serving men, Eldir and Fimafeng, ministered to the guests. Yet now and
again Ægir’s evil nature got the upper hand. He kept meditating vengeance
against Thor, who had presumed to lay commands upon him; at length he
hit upon the plan of having Thor find for him a kettle large enough to brew
ale for all the Æsir together. Such a kettle he knew was to be had from the
Giant Hymir alone, and it was only after running many a risk that Thor
succeeded in obtaining the kettle and carrying it away with him.1 Ægir’s
wife, Ran, endeavored by all possible means to bring mischance upon
mankind; she had in her possession a net, with which she made it her
constant pursuit to draw seafaring men down to herself in the deeps of the
ocean. Ægir and Ran had nine daughters; their names form various
designations for the waves, which explains why the skalds sometimes
describe the waves as Daughters of Ægir or of Ran. In the kenning for gold,
“Ægir’s Fire,” the name of the god of the sea also occurs; gold, it will be
remembered, was employed in the lighting of his banquet hall.

Sources:

Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 34-37.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.


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