Roads to Vanaheim: Exploring the Vanir & Vanatru
A blog about the Vanir gods and other Vanic entities, gnosis and doxa, and thoughts on building a Vanic pagan practice.
From 2007-2010 I was one of the leaders of the Vanatru movement under the name Svartesol; in 2009 I put out a book called Visions of Vanaheim which was considered the essential Vanatru text (which has in 2014 re-released in a revised and expanded version, available in paperback and PDF). A rising star, I burned out pretty quickly, not having the interpersonal skills and boundaries that I have now… and when I burned out, I tried to walk away from the Vanir for awhile. One of the reasons why I call this blog Roads to Vanaheim isn't just because it's a catchy title within the limit of 18 characters, but because my own path with the Vanir has been a long and winding road – I've found myself lost a few times, I've been tired… but your heart knows where home is, and so it is that I keep crossing the ways into Vanaheim to know them, and invite them here into this world as well.
It also seems that my path isn't just to the Vanir themselves, but to serve them, one of the primary ways being as a public informational resource on the Vanir and Vanatru. Four years after I tried to walk away there still isn't a whole lot out there on them, and a lot of what is… is my material; if you look for things on the Vanir and Vanatru, you will inevitably run into me. As much as I didn't sign up for this PR job, wyrd rarely calls us to a place of our choosing. (Yes, I just totally paraphrased Transformers.)
As a spirit-worker, my life of service to the Powers has made things complicated for me in a lot of ways – there have been a lot of (often painful) sacrifices I've made to get back on the right path, and stay on it. In a world where too often people expect a feel-good spirituality and to get something for nothing, people see my intense dedication, and some of what it's cost me… and I am sometimes asked why. Why this? Why Vanatru? And why work so hard putting out information on a pantheon that so few people are aware of, promoting their cultus? Why devote my life to these Powers, this work?
For me myself and I, the short answer is "it's complicated", like it is with so much else. I have a history with them that goes deeper than this lifetime. But even if that were not the case… I love them. And there are many reasons why I love them.
As a child, back in the 1980s, I had a very strong connection to nature. I was a weird kid, an outcast… and so I spent a lot of time by myself, and when my nose wasn't buried in books, I was playing outside. My peers had Atari and Nintendo, I had trees and hills and fields of flowers. I grew up in New England, and the changing of the seasons was magical to me. The land sung in my heart, quickened my blood. This connection stayed with me over the course of my chaotic, trauma-filled life. As bad as things were at school, at home, at work, in relationships… I could go outside and everything would be OK. I could spend time in beautiful places in nature and be reminded that the seasons change, the weather changes, the land sleeps and wakes again, things bloom, wilt, and are reborn… and I would be reminded that life goes on. That in the end, we are all part of an ecosystem and there is a place for everything, everything in its place. It's just a question of finding it – like someone just moved there discovering that apple trees won't grow in southern California, sometimes it takes trial and error for us to figure out what our natural habitat is.
The Vanir are often called gods of fertility, I would say that they are more accurately gods of nature, but even this is very much oversimplifying it. However for the sake of this post, we'll go with the Vanir as gods of nature – I could feel them in the land around me... in the elements, and the experiences of being alive. Frey is called God of the World, which in my experience with him isn't just his connection to the land and changing seasons (and he is called upon traditionally for good seasons), but to life in this world… the blessings and wonders of everyday life. Freya is a love goddess – not just intimate relationships, but love of family, friends, love of living, the joy and passion to be found in an actualized life. Njord is a god of peace… not merely reducing conflict with others, but finding peace within oneself; he is sunshine on seawater, the serenity of the waves and salty breeze.
And as I found out in my over ten years in walking with the Vanir, there are more Vanir than just those three. Vanaheim is an entire world full of citizens who have long maintained ties with this world – many of them were known as elves (NB: The Vanir are not the only elves; in Northern cosmology there are also Ljossalfar and Dokkalfar [Svartalfar], which are two separate but related group); there is a corroborated gnosis among multiple individuals about Vanaheim having tribes of animal-shifters, and many of the fey of folklore who could take animal shapes – selkies, wulvers, kelpies – have their origins here. The Vanir are invested in Midgard and its people, they are our Elder Kin. As unanchored as I have felt for most of my life, rejected by my blood family, the Vanir have never failed me, as family. They are a source of support and strength for me. They keep me grounded here, keep reminding me that life is worth living, that there is beauty and goodness in this world… in other people. I have felt and seen them working in my life, putting things in their place… a bit like pruning a tree for awhile, and eventually, a forest fire to clear out detritus, with fresh, more vital green growth afterwards.
Their concern for humanity, and this planet, has also kept me from retreating into total misanthropic solitude. They have helped me maintain a sense of compassion for others even through being badly hurt many times. They have been an example for me of being a force for good, to brighten my own little corner of the world.
In the strength that I have drawn from my years with the Vanir – in the vitality that I have drawn from them, a greater fullness of life than what I would have had otherwise – I believe it's important to pay forward the gifts we are given. I'm not out to convert everybody to Vanatru – that's not our way, I don't believe there is one path for everyone and indeed one of the beautiful things about paganism, and polytheism in particular, is that there are many ways to kneel and kiss the ground. But I have met a good many people over the years who've been interested in the Vanir – I've helped some folks get their feet on the path, and they've benefitted for it, and it's good to see others finding the strength and the peace and the abundance of spirit that I have, that has pulled me through so much. In the turmoil of this modern age, in shifts and upheavals of a global society that changes faster seemingly day by day, the power of the Old Ones remains. They are a constant. When the world seems a storm, they are the calm center… the Vanir in particular, as gods of the world, spinning the cycles of life and death and back again.
May the Vanir ever be hailed, given thanks for this… for the precious, ephemeral gifts of being alive. For all of the sacrifices I have made to resume this work as a voice for them, they have more than repaid me, keeping me on the path and pulling me back there when times got hard… and showing me the scenic beauty of the journey.
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