Perhaps one of the most enigmatic of the Norse gods, Hœnir seems to have varied and conflicting roles within the pantheon. He is sometimes known through kennings as Mud King, or Swift God, and he is attested in the Prose and Poetic Eddas, as well as Snorri’s Heimskringla.
According to Snorri, Hoenir and Óðin’s uncle Mímir, were traded to the Vanir to end their clan conflict with the Æsir. Though he was particularly handsome and adept at battle, Hoenir wasn’t bright – indeed, he couldn’t make a decision without Mímir’s counsel – and the Vanir didn’t discover this until after they’d made him a chief. Having sent the Æsir some of their best and brightest (Freyr, Freya, and Njörðr) their anger at such a poor trade and betrayal is the reason why Mímir is generally known to us as a talking, disembodied head.
However, the Völuspá contains another story concerning the origins of mankind which also involves Hoenir; and rather than a pretty-and-dumb character, this Hoenir is a brother of Óðin. One of the three brothers who murder Ýmir and create the world, in fact – though you would probably know him by the name Vili in a similar rendition of the story told by Snorri. Together, Óðin, Vili, and Vé formed the first man and woman out of wood, and it was Vili / Hoenir who gifted mankind inspiration – and this is quite a different flavour to his story than the previous one.
In Völuspá, we find out that Hoenir is to be one of the few gods who survives Ragnarök.
Thoughts on Hœnir
In the lore, Hoenir seems to vacillate between useless tit and important creator. Just as with so many other poorly attested gods, we may never know for certain what his role in the Norse pantheon actually was, or if he had different roles depending on the location and culture within which he was acknowledged.
It seems as though Snorri took great care to include Hoenir in his writings, where other gods and characters were afforded little more than a line or two, so it’s tempting to assume that he was a very important god at one time. Snorri definitely had access to the Poetic Edda, as he borrowed heavily from it, so we know that the creation story involving Hoenir was also known to him. So why did he write the same story with different names – Vili and Vé? Why use Hoenir’s name in a different story altogether, and dumb him down? It may have simply been poetic license on Snorri’s part.
I think it’s important to remember that Snorri was, at heart, a poet and creative writer, as well as a Christian – and so it makes sense that the lore he presents is filled with exaggerations, characters altered to suit his purposes, and verbal bridges linking disparate mythologies from different cultural centres and different timelines. He started with a bunch of vaguely related, conflicting myths and sat down to write a story that his contemporary readers could understand. He had a great love of the mythologies, but no great motivation to record them exactly as they were.
There are some elements of Hoenir’s various stories that do make sense. If he was Óðin’s brother, he would have made a grand and honourable trade for the Vanir fertility gods, along with Mímir, who was already well respected for his great wisdom. Along with his peers, Hoenir would have been worshiped more, or less, and given different attributes according to where in the world he was being worshiped, so the fact that the stories paint wildly different pictures of him isn’t such a surprise after all.
I mean, we’re talking about a culture that put Óðin at the head of the pantheon in Germany, Óðin as Woden in the Saxon lands, Freyr as chief in Sweden, and then Thor – renamed as Perun and given an axe instead of a hammer – as the chief in some of the Slavic lands. In the end, we are left to decide for ourselves and create our own portrait of Hoenir, just as Snorri was.
Signs and Symbols:
Perhaps personal symbols that represent inspiration or decisiveness would bring Hoenir’s influence into your practice. A piece of Ash or Elm as a reminder of his gifts to the first man and woman.