As a professional scuba diver and small vessel operator, I can say, without much doubt, that the gods of the seas and waterways have played a larger part in my life than they do for many Heathens. In my personal practice, I have always had a strong Vanic affiliations, with Freya and Frey playing a large part in my personal spiritual life. When diving became more than a casual activity for me, they were joined by their father, Njord, as well as by Aegir and his wife, Rán.
One of the things I’ve found as I’ve researched the gods of the Northmen is that there were many regional gods and goddesses of various seas, rivers, and even springs, but in the major groupings of the gods, the Aesir and Vanir, there are precious few sea or waterway related gods and of those few, they’re entirely Vanir. The Aesir have boats, and Heimdall came from the sea (and may in fact be the child of Aegir and Rán’s daughters, the Nine Waves according to some scholars), but no Aesir god is directly involved with the ocean, seas, or waters. To me at least, this greatly recasts their relationship, but I’ll explore that more in a separate post. For those of us outside the region of Northern Europe, there are three primary ocean and water gods. These are Njord, Aegir, and Rán. Some scholars have speculated that Nerthus may be an ocean or water goddess as well, but I’m not familiar enough with her or her lore to say so.
Aegir is, depending on whose translation and interpretation you prefer, either a god of the sea, or the literal personification of the sea. Aegir was also a jovial host, and a master beer brewer. Often seen as a Jötnar, his hall is none the less a place where the Aesir were invited for feasts. In some ways, he can be seen both as an embodiment of the seas and waters, but also as a god of beer and hospitality. Aegir is also associated with wealth, in the form of gold, which may represent the bounty of the sea, or the value of the beer he brews. As I see him, Aegir is a force of nature, sometimes peaceful, at other times forceful, but never malign. Aegir, like the oceans and waterways he represents, simply “is”.
Rán on the other hand, is not so friendly. Rán drowns sailors and seagoing folk, and brings them down to Aegir’s hall with her net. In lore, this appears to be seen a malicious act, although for a sailor lost overboard during a storm, it could be a mercy. As a diver, Rán represents the rapture of the deep to me, a state where a diver suffers from narcosis, and dives ever deeper, heedless of the risk until they finally run out of air and die. As such, Rán is, to me, a goddess to be respected and appeased, but still feared. The seafarers of old often carried gold, on the off chance they drowned or were caught in Rán’s net, so that they’d have something to offer her for her favour. Not an unwise policy.
Njord is, in many ways, the workaday god for people who make their living on or near the water. His home is Nóatún (ship enclosure or place of ships), and he has been associated with sailors, fishing, success on the water, and all manner of maritime pursuits. Njord also has associations with wealth, and like most of the Vanir, fertility. Njord is a hardy god to me, accepting of the challenges of a life on the water, the bounty that life brings, and the technology we need to work on it. Njord is also a leader and a warrior, but the calm, calculated sort. For me, he is a calm, paternal figure, eager for the challenges of the day, and willing to adapt to the changing situation of Aegir’s realm.
The seas and waterways of the modern world are in many ways, still as complex and unpredictable as they were in the past. Navigating then, living near them, or making a living from them requires a level of respect for them, as they can take life as easily as they support it. Get to know your local ways, learn how to read their moods, and how they are best traversed. Learn about how people make a living on the local waterways, or from them. These simple steps will take you a long way in understanding Aegir, Rán, and Njord, and how they interact with one-another and you.