Investigations into Germanic Mythology: 
Toward the Origin of the
Vanir and the Alfar

The Sons of Borr Slay Ymir
Giovanni Caselli (1978)
  The following is a series of musings culled from the writings of several authors,
both published and private. No claim of authorship is made for this work.*

Whence came the Vanir and the Elves?

Germanic Mythology knows three divine races: the Aesir, the Vanir and the Alfar (or elves). The origins of the Vanir and Alfar are shrouded in mystery. The surviving sources offer us few clues. Thus nothing can be firmly established in this regard. All is speculation. But we do find some solid pieces of information preserved in ancient poetry to guide us.

"It should not have escaped notice that the Germanic theogony, as far as it is known, mentions only two progenitors of all the mythological races — Ymir and Buri. From Ymir develop two very different races of giants, the offspring of his arms and that of his feet — in other words, the noble race to which the Norns, Mimir and Bestla belong, and the ignoble line of thurses, which begins with the six-headed Thrudgelmir.

The primal cow, the first animal, licks a man from the ice. Considered divine, his name is Buri, which means "son".  Buri's breath gave birth to his son Borr, who in turn begets three sons with the giantess Bestla— they are Óðinn, and his brothers Vili and Vé () according to Gylfaginning 6. These names of Odin's brothers are most likely based on Lokasenna , which calls the same trio Vidrir, Vili and Ve.  a poem known to Snorri Sturluson. Lokasenna   Unless Buri had more sons, the Vanir and Elf-clans have no other theogonic source than that of the Aesir, namely, Burr.

"That the hierologists of the Germanic mythology did not leave the origin of these clans unexplained we are assured by the very existence of a Germanic theogony, together with the circumstance that the more thoroughly our mythology is studied the more clearly we see that this mythology has desired to answer every question which could reasonably be asked of it, and in the course of ages it developed into a systematic and epic whole with clear outlines sharply drawn in all details.

To this must be added the important observation that Ve and Vili, though brothers of Odin, are never counted among the Aesir proper, and had no abodes in Asgard. It is manifest that Odin himself with his sons founded the Aesir-race, that, in other words, he is a clan-founder and chieftain, and that his brothers, for this very reason, could not be included in his clan. There is every reason to assume that they, like him, were also clan-founders;  Beside the Aesir we find two other races of gods. This of itself makes it probable that Odin's two brothers were their progenitors and clan-chieftains.


"Odin's brothers, like himself, had many names. When Völuspá says that Odin, in the creation of man, was assisted by Hoenir and Lodur, and when the Prose Edda (Gylfaginning 9) says that, on this occasion, he was attended by his brothers, who just before (Gylfaginning 6) are called Ve and Vili, then these are only different names of the same powers. Hoenir and Lodur are Ve and Vili. It is a mistake to believe that Odin's brothers were mythical ghosts without characteristic qualities, and without prominent parts in the mythological events after the creation of the world and of man, in which we know they took an active part (Völuspá 4, 17, 18). The assumption that this was the case depends simply upon the fact that they have not been found mentioned among the Aesir, and that our records, when not investigated with proper thoroughness, and when the mythological synonymies have not been carefully examined, seem to have so little to say concerning them. 


"Danish genealogies, Saxo's included, which desire to go further back in the genealogy of the Skjoldungs than to Skjold, the eponym of the race, mention before him a King Lotherus. There is no doubt that Lotherus, like his descendants, Skjold, Halfdan, and Hadding, is taken from the mythology. But in our mythic records there is only one name of which Lotherus can be a Latinized form, and this name is, as Müller (Notæ ulterior ad Saxonis Hist.) has already pointed out, Lóðurr.

 "It can be demonstrated that the anthropomorphous Vana-god Heimdall was sent by Vanir as a child to the primeval Germanic country, to give to the descendants of Ask and Embla the holy fire, tools, and implements, the runes, the laws of society, and the rules for religious worship. It has been demonstrated that, as an anthropomorphous god and first patriarch, he is identical with Scef-Rig, the Scyld of the Beowulf poem, that he becomes the father of the other original patriarch Skjold, and the grandfather of Halfdan. From this it follows that when the authors of mythic genealogies related as history wished to go further back in the Skjoldung genealogy than to the Beowulf Skjold, that is to say, further back than to the original patriarch Heimdall, then they must go to that mythic person who is Heimdall's father, that is to say, to Mundilfari, the fire-producer. Mundilfari is the one who appears in the Latinized name Lotherus. In other words, Mundilfari, the fire-producer, is Lóðurr. For the name Lóðurr there is no other rational explanation than that which Jakob Grimm, without knowing his position in the epic of mythology, has given, comparing the name with the verb lodern, 'to blaze.' Lóðurr is active in its signification, "he who causes or produces the blaze," and thus refers to the origin of fire, particularly of the friction-fire and of the bore-fire."

"Using these names, we can explore the mythic genealogy a bit further. One of the Fornaldarsögur, "Hversu Noregur byggðist" (How Norway became populated), contains the following:


Finnálfr inn gamli fekk Svanhildar, er kölluð var gullfjöðr. Hún var dóttir Dags Dellingssonar, er kölluð var gullfjöðr. Hún var dóttir Dags Dellingssonar ok Sólar, dóttur Mundilfara. Sonr þeira var Svanr inn rauði, faðir Sæfara, föður Úlfs, föður Álfs, föður þeira Ingimundar ok Eysteins.
"Finnálfur the Old married Svanhildur, known as Gullfjöðr. She was the daughter of Dagr, son of Dellingr and Sól, daughter of Mundilfari. Their son was Svanr the Red, father of Sæfari, who was the father of Úlfr, who was the father of Álfr, who was the father of Ingimundr and Eysteinn."

Some might assume that the phrase "their son" refers to a son of Finnálfur and Svanhildur, but it could just easily refer to a son of Dagr and Sól — a reading which can be supported by an earlier passage in the same source, where we learn that Álfr and Finnálfr are the same person:

Raumr konungr átti samdrykkju um jól við Bergfinn, son Þryms jötuns af Vermá, ok gekk þá í rekkju Bergdísar, systur hans. Ok eptir þat gat hún þrjá sonu, Björn, Brand ok Álf. Hann fóstraði Bergfinnr, ok var kallaðr Finnálfr.
Björn var með móður sinni ok var kallaðr Jötunbjörn. Brand sendi hún Rauma, föður hans, en hann gaf hann guðunum, ok var hann kallaðr Guðbrandr.
"King Raumr drank at Yule with Bergfinnr, son of Þrymir, giant of Bergá, and slept with his sister Bergdís. She had three sons, Björn, Brandr, and Álfr. Álfr was fostered by Bergfinnr, and thereafter known as Finnálfr.
Björn stayed with his mother and was known as Jötunbjörn. Brandr went to  his father, Raumr, but he gave Brandr to the gods, and thus he was known
as Guðbrandr."


We hear an echo of this same genealogy in Hyndluljóð 12-13. Here Hyndla is speaking to Freyja's lover Óttar, who is none other than Svipdag.

12. Þú ert, Óttar         
borinn Innsteini, 
en Innsteinn var   
Álfi inum gamla,
Álfur var Úlfi,
Úlfur Sæfara, 
en Sæfari 
Svan inum rauða   
Thou art, Óttar,
borne of Innsteinn,
but Innsteinn was (borne)
of Elf the Old.
Elf was (borne of) Wolf,
Wolf (was borne of) Seafarer,
but Seafarer (borne of)
 Swan the Red.
13. Móður átti faðir
þinnmenjum göfga,
hygg eg,
að hún héti
Hlédís gyðja,
Fróði var faðir þeirrar,
en Friaut móðir;
öll þótti ætt sú
með yfirmönnum.
Your father was
betrothed to (your) mother,
 adorned with necklaces,
whose name, I believe,
was the priestess Hlédís.
Fróði was her father,
and Friaut her mother.
Noble was all that family.

In Icelandic, it is quite natural to interpret the line "móður átti faðir þinn" (your father had a mother) as "your mother", not as "your father's mother". This is 12 describes Ottar's lineage through his father, verse 12 through his mother.

So what can we be certain of here? Innsteinn is Svipdag’s father Egil, therefore Hlédís is Gróa. Fróði is also Sigtryggr, Gróa's father. Álfr inn gamli can be no other than Ívaldi.

Then who is Wolf, Ívaldi's father? And Seafarer, his grandfather? And who is the Red Swan?

All of this is, of course, a pseudo-genealogy intended to show how the kings and rulers of Norway were descended from gods. But there are obvious remnants of undiluted mythic material here. The passage above goes on to describe how various portions of Norway were allotted to the three sons of King Raumr. In the final part it states that the portion given to (Finn)álfr was known as Álfheim.


Something similar can be detected in the meaning of the personal names used here:

Finnálfur "Finn-Elf". Finn, as Rydberg demonstrated, is practically synonymous with "Elf". In the opening prose of Völundarkviða, Völund, the elf-prince (cp. verse 16) is son of a Finnish king.  In historical times, a district in Finnland is named Alfheim.

Svanhildr. Swan-maidens form a part of the Elven mythos. When Völund and his brothers go into exile in a winter-cold land, they are joined by a trio of swan-maidens, ill at ease in their new found home.

Gullfjöður "Golden Feather". "Gold" is practically a synonym for "Red". Cp. "rauðagull" (red-gold), presumably a name for a common type of gold and copper alloy. A Swan-maiden named Goldfeather? Can Swan the Red be far away?

Dagr (Day), son of Dellingr. Snorri confirms the relationship. Dell- is probably related to the -dall in the name Heimdallr, and it’s entriely possible that Dellingr= Odin’s brother Lóðurr.

Sól (Sun), daughter of Mundilfari. Snorri agrees.


Now, if we merge the two genealogies in question:


  Dellingr /Mundilfari    
m. Sól
 I Innsteinn/Eysteinn m.              I

 Since Óttar in Hyndluljod is Svipdagr, Innsteinn/Eysteinn must be his father Egill, and Hlédís his mother Gróa.

Fróði is =Sigtryggr. Rydberg identifies him as Ívaldi's brother.


Álfr (Finnálfr) is Ívaldi, Svanhildur is = Hildigunnur/Sunna.

If Dellingr is Lóðurr, and since Lóðurr is Mundilfari, this means that Dagr and Sól are siblings. Somehow, Dagr and Sól must beget Elves. We don’t know the identities of Swan, Seafarer and Wolf, but Heimdall may lurk behind one or all of them. He is definitely a Seafarer. He might be Wolf because of his mothers being Giantesses. And Grimnismál 21 may call him Thjóð-vitnir, literally “the great wolf” but also “the one with extraordinary senses,” an apt moniker for Heimdall.

Might SWAN have been a sort of totem animal for Lóðurr? Óðinn's other brother, Hænir, is seen as a wading bird, “the long-legged” “king of the marsh”—  and indeed the name Hænir does suggest a male bird. Note that Day and Night,  Sun and Moon are now all logical members of the same "clan".

The Sons of Borr Slay Ymir and fill Ginnungagap
Katherine Pyle (1930)
A Proposed
Geneology of the Alfar and Vanir

  Lóðurr/Mundilfari/Dellingr   Nótt ("Night and her Ninefold")  
m. I
m. I
    ?    I 
  I I  
Sigtrygg   Ivaldi/Finnálfr m.

m. Baldur
I     I
I   Three Swan-Maidens      
I   Sif Idunn-Svanhvit Auða      
I The Sons of Ivaldi (and Greip)
m. m.
Slagfinn-Gjuki, Iði

This would establish the origin of Elves from Lóðurr via Heimdallr.

Hænir would then be the "grandfather" of the Vanir. Hænir=Fjörgynn. He, also, cohabits with Nótt, begetting the twins Njörð and Frigg. Frigg is also known as Jörd, Nerthus, and Hlín, among other names [See Odin's Wife: Mother Earth in Germanic Mythology] Njörð and Frigg incestuously beget Freyr and Freyja during the beginning of days. Later Frigg is married to Óðinn and moves to Ásgarðr, where she becomes the mother of Baldr and Þórr.

Based on what little evidence we have available, it can be speculated:

There are two primal, autonomous creatures: YMIR and AUDUMLA, representing the two opposites: COLD and HEAT. They are the ancestors of all living creatures. Ymir may be represented as a WHITE (ICE, male) BULL, Audumla as a RED (FIRE, female) COW. They were positioned at extreme ends of the primal world, Ymir in the NORTH, Audumla in the SOUTH.

1.From his feet was born a son, named Hrímgrímnir, or Þrúðgelmir. He was a monstrous multi-headed creature, and like his father White and Cold as Ice. From him all the Rime-Giants are descended. His son, likewise created through the act of masturbation, was named Bergelmir, or Hrímnir. Next, in Ymir’s his left armpit were born of three sisters of giant kind: Urður, Verðandi, and Skuld, the three Norns of Fate. From under his right armpit, twin giants were born, named Mímir and Bestla. Mímir's first act of procreation resulted in the birth of a daughter, who was called NOTT (Night). His second act resulted in the birth of seven sons, who are known as DVERGAR (Dwarves).

1.b Audhumla licked the salty rocks of the primordial Matter, and a human shape gradually came into being. This giant was name Buri, and was of divine nature. He sucked the milk from Auðumla's udder, and was filled with the creative force contained therein. A son, named Bor, was born to him, as a result.
2. Bor and Bestla were the first living creatures who were able to mate. They had three sons: Hoenir (Ve), Lodurr (Vili), and Odin, who were destined to become the ancestors of a new type of being. Odinn was the ancestor of the Aesir, Hoenir and Lodurr were ancestors of the Vanir. The three brothers may be represented as the Setting Sun (Hoenir), the Rising Sun (Lodurr), and the Sun in the Zenith (Odin).
3.a. Hoenir (Fjorgynr) was the eldest of the three brothers. He may be represented as the WHITE STORK of the WEST. His nature is that of WATER mixed with EARTH, and as such he is known as "Mud-King". Hoenir mated with Nott, who bore him twins: NJORD and FRIGG (Nerthus, Jord). Njord and Frigg mated as well, and again twins were born: FREYR and FREYJA. This family is that of the TERRESTRIAL VANIR. They are concerned with things "below", i.e. the earth and the ocean, all living creatures, vegetation, sex, and birth. Their home is in Vanaheim in the West.
3.b Lodurr may be represented as the RED SWAN of the EAST. His nature is that of FIRE. He also mated with Nott, who bore him three children: SOL (Sun), MANI (Moon), and DAG (Day, also known as HEIMDALL). SOL and MANI mated, and their offspring were two daughters: SUNNA (the sun-maiden) and NANNA (the moon-maiden). DAG (Heimdall) and SOL also mated. Their descendants were a new clan of divine creatures, known as ALFAR (Elves). They represent the STARS of the heavens, and are the fairest of all creatures. This family is that of the CELESTIAL VANIR. They are concerned with things "above", the revolution of the heavens and the counting of hours, months, seasons, and years. The Elves reside in Alfheim in the East.
3.c Odin was destined to be the ancestor of the AESIR, the clan of guardian gods, residing at the apex of the heavens. He may be represented as a the GREY EAGLE of the CENTER. He married Njord's sister, Frigg (Jörd), who bore him three sons: BALDUR, HODUR, THOR. He also fathered various other sons with giant maidens.


see also: Dainn and Dvalinn
*The editor of this composite work wishes to remain anonymous.
The writing presented above freely incorporates the work of others, including Viktor Rydberg.
The words & ideas expressed here are the copyright of their respective authors.
No claim to authorship is made for this work. If you wish to cite this work, please reference this webpage.