Exploring the origins of the Norse Gods: The Æsir and the Vanir
Snorri Sturlason is one of the author’s of the Nordic Saga’s – in the form of the prose Edda and Heimskringla, telling of the original homelands of the Norse Gods. These medieval texts have their sources in much older tales, past down from one generation to the next. Many believe the Nordic myths have a foundation in real events, lost to history, but still preserved in the tales and the sagas resulting from them. One such believer was the Norwegian adventurer-explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
The Legend of Swegde
Sveigðir, Sveigder or Swegde was a Swedish king of the House of Yngling in Norse mythology. He was the son of Fjölner, whom he succeeded as king, and he married Vana of Vanaheimr, probably one of the Vanir. Sveigdir ‘s saga goes something like this:
Swegde took the kingdom after his father, and he made a solemn vow to seek Godheim (Ásaland, Asgard, the land of the Gods) and Odin. He went with twelve men through the world, and came to Turkland, and the Great Svithiod, where he found many of his connections. He was five years on this journey; and when he returned home to Sweden he remained there for some time. He had got a wife in Vanheim, who was called Vana, and their son was Vanlande. Swegde went out afterwards to seek again for Godheim/Asaland, and came to a mansion on the east side of Swithiod called Stein, where there was a stone as big as a large house. In the evening after sunset, as Swegde was going from the drinking-table to his sleeping-room, he cast his eye upon the stone, and saw that a dwarf was sitting under it. Swegde and his man were very drunk, and they ran towards the stone. The dwarf stood in the door, and called to Swegde, and told him to come in, and he should see Odin. Swegde ran into the stone, which instantly closed behind him, and Swegde never came back.
Could these tales have some true geographical and historical basis?
Thor Heyerdahl devoted the last years of his life to finding the origins for the tales of Odin the great King of the South: Heyerdahl made four visits to Azerbaijan in 1981, 1994, 1999 and 2000. He had long been fascinated with the rock carvings that date back to about 8th-7th millennia BCE at Gobustan (about 30 miles west of Baku). He was convinced that their artistic style closely resembles the carvings found in his native Norway. The ship designs, in particular, were regarded by Heyerdahl as similar and drawn with a simple sickle–shaped lines, representing the base of the boat, with vertical lines on deck, illustrating crew or, perhaps, raised oars.
Based on this and other published documentation, Heyerdahl proposed that Azerbaijan was the site of an ancient advanced civilization. He believed natives migrated north through waterways to present-day Scandinavia using ingeniously constructed vessels made of skins that could be folded like cloth. When voyagers traveled upstream, they conveniently folded their skin boats and transported them via pack animals.
On Heyerdahl’s visit to Baku in 1999, Heyerdahl spoke of a notation made by Snorri Sturluson, a 13th-century historian-mythographer in Ynglinga Saga which relates that “Odin came to the North with his people from a country called Aser.”
(see also House of Ynglings and Mythological kings of Sweden).
Heyerdahl accepted Snorri’s story as literal truth, and believed that a chieftain led his people in a migration from the east, westward and northward through Saxony, to Fyn in Denmark, and eventually settling in Sweden. Heyerdahl claimed that the geographic location of the mythic Aser or Æsir matched the region of contemporary Azerbaijan – “east of the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea”.
“We are no longer talking about mythology,” Heyerdahl said, “but of the realities of geography and history. Azerbaijanis should be proud of their ancient culture. It is just as rich and ancient as that of China and Mesopotamia.”
One of the last projects of his life, Jakten på Odin, ‘The Search for Odin’, was a sudden revision of his Odin hypothesis, in furtherance of which he initiated 2001–2002 excavations in Azov, Russia, near the Sea of Azov which received a lot of harsh criticism in Norway.