Aegir and Ran: The Light and Day of the Sea
In the case of Aegir and Ran, opposites attract, but what is the significance of these differences?
Aegir and Ran are the big personalities of the sea. One will welcome you with open arms and ply you with beer and the other will cast their net, drown you and add you to their collection of dead souls.
They are feared and revered in Norse mythology and probably contribute to the origins or confirmation of many European sea myths.
Sailors would offer them gold, in order for safe passage across the ocean, or at the very least that their dead souls be treated with respect in the realms of the great Aegirheim.
But which one was which?
Let’s find out more about Aegir and Ran.
Who Are Aegir And Ran?
Aegir and Ran are two of the most mentioned ‘giants’ in Norse mythology. That’s not to say there are many references, but enough to paint a good picture around these two colorful characters.
Even the ‘fact’ that they are both giants is contested. Ran is described as a sea goddess (not a giant) and Aegir as a giant in some sources.
Aegir (meaning ‘sea’) and Ran ( meaning ‘ ravager’) are a married couple that lives under the sea in a magnificent hall called Aegirheim. They have 9 daughters who are named after the waves.
Despite the giant connotations, they have a good relationship with the Asgard gods and Vanir gods, demonstrated by the invitations to feasts and the full attendance at their own hosted feasts.
Their Representation of the sea
As a pair, they indeed represent the ocean’s malevolence and benevolence.
Aegir is represented as a gracious host and seems to represent the benevolent aspects of the sea.
Ran corresponds more with the wilder and sinister side of the sea. The mentions of Ran in Norse mythology are usually because she’s been caught drowning unfortunate sailors and dragging them down into her realm to abide in Aegirheim to amuse her till she gets bored.
As a result of their differing personalities, Aegir is both an honorary Aesir and an honorary Vanir and has good relations with them. Although Ran will always be at his side on the feasts, her allegiances lie with Hela, the goddess of death. She prefers the company of the older gods.
This reflects the changing landscape of the sea – the calmness of Aegir and the destructiveness of Ran.
Nine Daughters of Aegir and Ran
The daughters of Aegir and Ran are referenced in section 25 of Prose Edda’s Skáldskaparmál when poets refer to the sea as “land of Aegir and Ran’s daughters.”
The Spirits of the waves is another name attributed to the nine daughters named after types of waves:
- Blóðughadda – bloody-hair
- Bylgja – billow
- Dröfn or Bára – comber or foaming sea
- Dúfa – pitching wave
- Hefring or Hevring – lifting one
- Himinglæva – transparent on top
- Hronn – welling wave
- Kolga – cold wave
- Uðr – frothy wave (also a name for Odin and a river)
What is the significance of there being 9 daughters? Norse mythology put a great deal of importance on the number 9. I can come up with this theory because if you are living in a cosmos with nine identifiable worlds, all held together by a tree. Nine is probably going to be of significance.
What Would Happen if You Got Caught?
Ran’s hobby is collecting dead souls, whom she takes down to Aegirheim. There is an Icelandic folk belief that if a drowned sailor appears at their own funeral feast, Ran has given them a good welcome.
Ran’s hospitality to the dead souls with feast and parties might last centuries, but when she finally tires of them, she sends them to Hela and Helheim – the land of the Dead.
Here are some ways that sailors could gain favor with Ran:
- They could carry gold coins on them, so they do not go empty-handed into Ran’s realm if they get caught by a storm.
- Or they could drop coins over the side of the ship to bribe Ran to let them pass.
- Or they could pray! Or perform rituals or spells to hope for safe passage over the seas without falling victim to Ran’s pleasures.
You couldn’t really win with Ran, as if she liked you, she’d still take your soul eventually.
The Best Mead in the Cosmos Provided by Aegir and Ran
Aegir, although a jötunn (giant), was on excellent terms with the Aesir and was often (with Ran) invited to the magnificent Asgard feasts.
The feasts held at Algerhiem were also well attended due to the delicious mead or beer that Aegir served. It was coveted throughout all 9 worlds. It could be, he used magic to create this popular brew in his cauldron.
He was known amongst the Aesir as having extraordinary magical abilities, which is probably why Odin liked to hang out with him. He didn’t drink beer, only wine.7
Yes, Aegir was known for his friendliness and generous nature, and his wife Ran, well, she was what can only be described as a siren and not to be crossed.
The Siren of the Northern Sea
Like Aegir and Ran’s nine daughters, Ran would often be depicted in mermaid form in later art depictions. However, she’d probably need her legs for all the feasts with Aegir and partying with her gathered dead souls.
From the meaning of her name, we can assume she is a robber of souls. Still, some folklorists suggest that the term ‘Ran’ means lady and is derived from the old Indo-European word ‘rani.’
She has a net which she used to catch sailors and drag them to her death. (as an aside, this net was once borrowed by Loki so he could capture the Andvari (the dwarf) who was at that time in the guise of a fish.
Could she be the original siren enchanting sailors and flirting with them to bring them to their death?
Either way, she is said to be the cause of all storms over the Northern Seas. In the Viking age, sailors would acknowledge Ran with an offering or tribute before embarking on an ocean journey in exchange for their safe journey.
Some offerings and jewelry have been found at Tissø in Denmark. Although there is no way of knowing if they were intended gifts/bribes for Ran, it is a distinct possibility.
From the tales and myths, it would seem that Ran would be highly unpredictable in these matters.
Aegir and Ran’s Very Famous Son-in-Law
Perhaps one of the reasons for this couple’s popularity was the fact that Odin was their son-in-law. Odin fell in love with all nine daughters of Aegir and Ran! And collectively, they had a son. That son was Heimdall.
He stayed with his nine mothers in the ocean until he grew up and joined his father at Asgard, who appointed him guardsman of Bifröst (the rainbow bridge).
That would be one whole gathering and feast just for the family then!
Look for Aegir and Ran and their 9 daughters next time you visit the sea (but run if you see Ran on her own!).