Njörðr is from the Vanir tribe of gods, and found himself amongst the Æsir when the warring tribes declared a truce and exchanged hostages. He also arrived with his children, the twins Freyr and Freya. His name may mean “force” or “power” and he is the Ásgardian god of the sea, merchants, and commerce.
Njörðr is attested in the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, and Snorri’s Heimskringla. His name also appears in Hauksbók, a 14th century Icelandic manuscript written by Haukr Erlendsson, in which he is one of three gods invoked in a ring oath. Numerous Scandinavian place names exist in his honour. He may be mentioned in the Gesta Danorum, as Hadingus.
In Grímnismál, Njörðr is described as a “prince of men” who is “lacking in malice” and who rules over a “high-timbered temple” in his realm of Nóatún. In the Prose Edda, Njörðr is not only god of the sea, but he rules over the winds, having the ability to calm both sea and fire, and he can be invoked by sailors and fishermen alike. He is considered to be a very wealthy and prosperous god, even amongst the Æsir, and that he can also grant wealth in land and valuables to those who request his aid.
He eventually marries the jötunn goddess Skaði, and in the poem Sólarljóð, he is said to have nine daughters in addition to his famous twins, though only two are listed – the eldest Ráðveig and the youngest Kreppvör (this may be a parallel or muddling of the nine daughters of Ægir, the jötunn god of the sea, who also had nine daughters – the mothers of Heimdallr.) The mother of Freyr and Freya is theorized to be Nerthus (sometimes called Njörun) Njörðr’s own sister, which seems to have been a theme amongst the Vanir gods.
When Óðin has his battle of wits with the giant Vafþrúðnir, the sea god is listed as one of the survivors of Ragnarök:
“In Vanaheim the wise Powers made him and gave him as hostage to the gods;
at the doom of men he will come back home among the wise Vanir.”
By far the best known of Njörðr’s tales is his marriage to Skaði. The determined jötunn stormed into Ásgard after the death of her father, demanding her choice of husband as part of her compensation for the loss. She was of course after beautiful Baldr, but she was forced to choose her spouse by his feet only. She picks the most attractive set of feet, but immediately discovers that they’re attached to the sea god, Njörðr. Her initial disappointment dissolves as she discovers how kind and stable her new husband-to-be is.
After their marriage, the only thing left to sort out is where the newlyweds should live. Skaði wants to live in her ancestral mountain home, Þrymheimr, while Njörðr of course wants to live in Nóatún. They agree to stay nine nights in one and then nine in the other (or by some accounts, nine Winters in each) … the results are famous:
“Hateful for me are the mountains,
I was not long there,
only nine nights.
The howling of the wolves
sounded ugly to me
after the song of the swans.”
Skaði then responds:
“Sleep I could not
on the sea beds
for the screeching of the birds.
That gull wakes me
when from the wide sea
he comes each morning.”
The two continue to alternately visit the two locations, and also enjoy their own personal times within the realms. It is often theorized that the two divorced, but there is much more evidence to the contrary, which makes them a pleasantly unconventional marriage in the eyes of a modern reader.
Thoughts on Njörðr
As a bountiful god of wealth and prosperity, Njörðr is still actively invoked by Heathens around the world. As with all the Norse gods, he’s not a cosmic cash machine – you’ll need to do the work.
Njörðr is often confused with the jötunn god of the sea, Ægir. The two have overlapping realms, but as a god, Njörðr is chiefly involved in the sea as cultivated by humans, especially seafaring merchants and merchant ports. This is rather like the relationship between Freyr and his wife Gerð, a giantess. Gerð represents the untamed land, whereas Freyr is the tamer, or the cultivator who brings abundance to the fertile land so that humans can benefit. Ægir is the open, untamed ocean, whereas Njörðr is the bringer of order and abundance – a boon to communities who relied upon their ships for sustenance and trade. The Vanir sea god is also married to a giantess, and while he is away in Skaði’s realm, the seas ice over and become unsailable. The Old Norse had to wait out the Winters before resuming sea-based trade (and later, raids.)
Nerthus seems to be a big point of discussion amongst modern Heathens. She is never specifically named in conjunction with Njörðr, but her name is etymologically the feminine equivalent. It was common in the old days to have sacred god and goddess pairs, and we can see this in brother-sister pairs like Freyr and Freya, and surviving place names that hint at other pairings (such as Ullr and Ullin.)
It is revealed by Loki that Njörðr slept with his sister to produce Freyr and Freya (and also hinted at that Freya may have also slept with her brother – those Vanir, I tell ya!) and even though this sister is not specifically named, it makes sense that it would be Nerthus. The fact that most brother-sister pairs were also complimentary (take Freyr and Freya again, two sides of the fertility coin) makes Nerthus an even more convincing lost sister of the sea god, as she is a goddess of fresh water and transitional boundaries between water and land. As in many other cases, holes in the lore have caused centuries of confusion and muddling, and Nerthus has developed several other names, been combined with other goddesses, and been dismissed altogether in some cases.
The Vanir are the gods of the human tribe, presiding over all things cultural, social, and ancestral. Many prayers and invocations for Njörðr still exist from Scandinavia, and he is a kind and approachable god for modern Heathens. He is similar to the Roman god of seafaring and fishing, Triton.
Signs and Symbols
Water, especially seas and oceans. Sailboats and wind. Trade vessels, fishing equipment, and bustling ports. Coins, gold, jewels, and other forms of wealth and currency. Sea birds, fish, whales, and other ocean animals. The sign Pisces. Especially beautiful feet!
Njord, Njoerd, Njorth, Hadingus, and Njor.