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“Tall and fair and blue eyed. Their god is Ymir, the frost giant, and each tribe has its own King. They are wayward and fierce. They fight all day and drink ale and roar their wild songs all night.”
^ Robert E Howard, ‘The Phoenix on the Sword’
Vanaheim- Home of the VanirEdit
Westernmost of the nations of the Far North, lying west of Asgard and North of Cimmeria and Pictland. The citizens are red-haired ravagers and raiders in longships, with ring mail, horsehide shields, spears and swords.
Vanaheim is westernmost of the nations of the Far North, lying west of Asgard and North of Cimmeria and Pictland. The Vanir are a red-haired barbarian people, worshippers of the god Ymir, Lord of the Giants. It is Ymir who gives them strength in battle and fuels their drive for conquest.
Vanaheim was a somber country, mostly a bleak tundra plain that was snow-covered through the long winters. Swampy taiga forests probably clothed its high southern regions thinly. Glaciers crept down from the Eiglophian Mountains in the south and the Blue Mountains on the frontier with Asgard. Far to the north were more mountains, crowned with a permanent ice cap that grew larger as the climate changed. Fierce storms came from the Western Ocean as well as the icy north.
The most felicitous part of Vanaheim as far as human needs were concerned lay along the western coast. This was most inhabited part of Vanaheim. There were numerous villages there where the people eked out a living by beachcombing, fishing, and hunting marine and land mammals. Children collected seabird eggs from the rugged cliffs of the seacoast. The lands there were less barren of life than those of the interior were since the sea moderated the climate.
At the time of the Cataclysm, a band of progenitors of the Hyborians, whose development was not much above that of the Neanderthal, fled to the north to escape destruction. They found the snow-countries inhabited only by a species of ferocious snow-apes—huge shaggy white animals, apparently native to that climate. These they fought and drove beyond the Arctic circle, to perish, as the savages thought. The latter, then, adapted themselves to their hardy new environment and throve.
Many centuries later, the more northern tribes of Hyboria were beginning to be harried by the gigantic blond savages, not much more advanced than ape-men.
A thousand years after this, golden-haired, blue-eyed barbarians, descendants of the
blond arctic savages, have driven the remaining Hyborian tribes out of the snow countries, except the ancient kingdom of Hyperborea, which resists their onslaught. Their country is called Nordheim, and they are divided into the red-haired Vanir of Vanaheim, and the yellow-haired AEsir of Asgard.
Vanaheim is a part of Nordheim, the area north of Cimmeria that includes Asgard. The Vanir are a numerous people, estimated at nearly five million red-haired northerners in all; they are not as numerous as their foes, the Æsir. Like the Æsir, Vanaheim is not a unified kingdom serving one supreme king. Essentially the Vanir are a village-based people who are bound by a common way of life, nothing else.
Legends said that Ymir, the frost giant, lived in the northern mountains of Vanaheim. He was the popular deity of the nation. He is the Lord of Storm and War, who lives (according to legend), in Valhalla, his castle far in northern Vanaheim. He, along with a myriad of lesser deities including Ymir’s sons and daughters. Ymir is a dark and war-like god, and the only way for the Nordheimer to honour him is in battle by killing their foes and conquering lands in his name. This philosophy of battle is more than likely the main cause of the incessant warring between the Vanir and the Aesir, though over the centuries many feuds and vendettas have grown to sustain the hated between the two sides. Life in Nordheim is meant to be embraced with savage enthusiasm and death is to be met in the same manner. The Vanir believe in an afterlife and the afterlife often mirrors how one lives life and meets one’s doom. For the common folk, the afterlife is dull and dreary, a life spent gathering and serving the warriors. For valiant warriors, however, the afterlife is ﬁlled with ﬁghting and feasting in the snowy plains and halls of Valhalla. This belief makes Nordheimr warriors terribly fierce in battle, and they often fight with no regard for their own safety.
Vanir Relationship with other CountriesEdit
The red-haired Vanir are isolated in the northwest and their mailed swordsmen therefore vent their warlike natures on their Asgardian kin to the east, the savage Picts to the south, or less often upon grim Cimmeria to the southeast. Many a hero of the Hyborian Age was of the Vanir and warriors of Vanaheim are known to be utterly fearless in combat. Born of hardy northern stock in the land known as Vanaheim, the Vanir share similarities with the Cimmerians: both peoples are considered barbaric by most other nations and live tribal existences where the males train almost exclusively to make war and hunt for food.
The Vanir differ from their Cimmerian neighbors to the south in that they are vicious raiders who attack others for slaves, plunder and sometimes just for amusement.
The Vanir live in snow-covered lands and are winter-bound throughout the majority of the year. During the warmer season they venture from their homes to prey upon the barbarian tribes around them. In this fashion, they believe, year by bloody year, they will eventually purge the world of their blood enemies, the Aesir and Hyperboreans. They despise each race with equal passion.
However, if there is a force attacking both men of Nordheim, the Vanir will fight with the Aesir, as seen when Hyperboreans were attacking the Aesir and Vanir after a battle.
In order to survive in their cold wastelands, the Vanir have built a religion around battle and warfare. Aggression is worshipped, and the Vanir are undoubtedly fierce warriors, chasing after life with intense enthusiasm, singing songs even as they die, swords in hand. As Nordheimr traits go, the Vanir feast in a loud, boisterous fashion and often engage in ‘friendly’ brawls when drunk.
Huge, they are giants among the races and even their women are strong, taking charge of the villages while the men prey upon other tribes, the Æsir, the Cimmerians or themselves. Though the Nordheimir women do not usually fight alongside the men in war, they are charged with the responsibility of managing and defending their longhouses while the warriors are away. Many a female Nordheimer has won renown by beating off a horde of raiders with a broadsword or battle-axe to protect her home and children. Nordheimir names tend to be Scandinavian and Germanic. It is likely that many of the Norse gods share names with the Nordheimir.
They are giant men who value honor, loyalty and reputation above all things, for their land is harsh, and they are hardened by generations of living in near-arctic conditions and almost constant warfare with the Aesir, the Cimmerians, the Hyperboreans and the Picts.
However, there are some Vanirmen who are gutless cowrds, men who attack other from behind rocks. Not even their own people claim them.
The head of a tribe is referred to a king, and it is the king who leads his menfolk to battle leaving their settlements of wooden homes in the care of the women. Such a settlement would not be an easy target for raiders as the Nordheimir women are also knowledgeable in the ways of war and will fight viscously to protect their homes.
Their economy is based on limited farming and extensive hunting, as well as war. A well-known prey of the Vanirmen are mammoths. Mammoths bear the same relationship to elephants that a hunting lion does to a house cat. The Hyborean mammoth is a colossal beast clad in shaggy brown fur, with curved tusks as long as a man is tall. They roam the lands of Nordheim in herds, hunted by the Vanir and the Aesir for food, fur and their precious ivory. The fur can be used as blankets and armor, the tusks are made into weapon handles or ivory jewelry and mammoth meat will feed a clan for some time simply because there is so much of it on even a single animal.
The Vanir are quick to fight among themselves and raid their neighbors. On occasion, the Vanir may deal with Zingaran merchants who travel up the coast to trade the trappings of civilisations for steel and hides, but such a merchant would be brave indeed to risk landing at a hostile settlement on the Vanaheim coast.
Their entire lifestyle is focused on battle. It is their livelihood, their religion and their culture. In battle, the red-haired Vanir sought courage, valor, honor and glory. In battle, they fight with broadswords, axes and spears, often ornately decorated with ferocious images of dragons, bears and birds. Their helmets, reinforced leather helms or steel caps, are usually horned. They wear mail shirts and leather-sheathed shields with a round metal hump in the centre.
Like the Æsir, the Vanir believe in appearance and are not a dirty people. They make combs from antlers and many carry small tools with them to clean their fingernails and ears. Their red beards and manes are often braided and groomed. The Vanir bathe weekly and use saunas for health reasons.
Clothing amongst the tribes is invariably practical, with thick woollen tunics, cloaks and furs favoured for the protection they grant against the snow and ice. Many Nordheimir also wear ornaments and decoration – simple arm-rings made by the tribe’s smiths or items of antler or bone are favoured over the flimsy jewellery of more civilised lands. Wealthy Nordheimir may be somewhat more ostentatious, having gold coins sewn to their clothing to display their wealth and even the fact that they are not afraid of thieves. In battle the Nordheimir wield heavy axes and swords and favour wooden shields covered in toughened leather for protection. Thick mail or scale armour is worn when it is available, and many warriors wear iron helmets adorned with horns or representations of animals such as bears or even more terrible beasts. Combined with their terrible ferocity in battle, such intimidating weaponry and headgear makes an enraged Nordheimir a most terrifying foe. For names amongst the Vanir, Vanir names tend to be Germanic and Scandinavian, with such names as Hoenig, Orsu, Tyr, and Borri. It is likely that many Norse gods share their names with these Vanir.
Status among the Vanir is achieved through combat prowess or wealth. Those Vanir who achieve a level of wealth often display this wealth. This is not considered vanity, but just another part of their culture.
Hiding one’s wealth is cowardly, showing fear of thieves. Coins are sewn onto clothes and armour or worn as jewelry. Precious items, such as statues and the like, plundered from other races are melted down and recast as wearable items, such as bracelets. If the Vanir need money for trade, they just hack off a piece of jewelry they wear and use that. The Vanir will be willing to take off jewelry or finery off of people they killed, such as strippping the harness off the horse of a wealthy man.
The Vanir have a Nordic culture of tribes ruled by a king who lives in a great hall about which the tribal village is built. The Vanir have many kings, for each village is like a kingdom unto itself. A king, to the Vanir, is any local warrior who could maintain a following, using both income and honor to hold onto that following. The king always led his warriors into battle, which meant that most Vanir kings died young, but with barbaric honor and pride.
Vanir men have only a single mate, although they seek sexual relations with all women who are not of Vanir blood. To the Vanir, this type of sexual activity is not considered adultery and is perfectly acceptable, even to the Vanir women. Vanir names tend to be Germanic and Scandinavian. It is likely that many Norse gods share their names with these Vanir.
Vanir are fond of the spear, axe, and sword. They use wooden shields covered in horsehide and wear horned helmets and scale mail shirts.
Vanir raids are known to be especially brutal. The Vanir are famed for burning all they cannot carry away with them. Vanirs dislike intrusions into their territories and will always destroy any settlements which come within several days’ march of their villages.
It should be known that in battle, the Vanir do not quit so easily. Even when outnumbered and far from home, the Vanir would fight right to the very end. This determination can be seen in the set of their feet and their eyes. However, there have been a few exceptions; usually a commander offers his life in the return for his men to return to their homes alive. They will also take caution of formidable opponents as well as flee from supernatural creatures
- King: A king is a chieftain who has consolidated more than one tribe or clan under his rule.
- Chieftain: The chieftain has the responsibility of enforcing the laws of Nordheimir society. A chieftain is expected to be generous in all things and to protect the honor of the clan against outsiders. The chieftain must be a good leader, a powerful warrior, an excellent speaker and an inspiration to his men. He is required to attend every Thing or Althing lest he lose his position.
- Jarl: The Jarls are the upper class, the wealthiest of Nordheimir.
- Hirdmadr: The Hirdmadr are those who have sworn Allegiance to the king or chieftain and ﬁght by his side.
- Leiding: A leiding is a man who rents or leases his land to another in return for payment in food. A leiding is usually a wealthy land-owner or farmer and his tenant can be anyone from a former slave to a chieftain. He is a free man with all the rights and duties of such in Nordheimir society.
- Hauldr: A hauldr is a true free man with full rights and duties in Nordheimir society. The hauldr owns his own land and has a hereditary right to that land; his family has owned the land for at least six generations. Most people in Nordheimir society belong to this class of people.
- Løysing: A løysing is a slave who has been set free by his owner because of hard work or exceptional service. He is usually still dependent upon and owes duties to his former owner. The children of løysing parents are free. Members of this class often participate in raids and military excursions in order to supplement their wealth. The only right they lack is a hereditary right to land.
- Thrall: Thralls are slaves; thralls are not protected by the law but are treated as property. Killing a slave is not murder, so the killer need only replace the slave if it was owned by someone else. Children born of slaves are the property of their mothers’ owners. Slaves work hard and the only thing they are allowed to own are knives. Slaves are captured during raids into Pictland, Asgard, Cimmeria, the Border Kingdom and Hyperborea. Other Nordheimir might become slaves if they ﬁnd themselves unable to pay the mulct (ﬁne) imposed by the Althing or Thing or unable to provide for themselves and/or their families
- Skald: A skald is a Nordheimir poet who retains the oral history, culture and traditions of the clan.
- Lawspeaker: Usually a skald, a lawspeaker is a Nordheimir who has memorized the laws of the Thing or Althing. He recites the laws at the outset of these gatherings to ensure the laws are remembered and obeyed by all present.
- Godi/Godar: Nordheimer shamans, known as godi in Vanaheim, tend to be more political than religious, taking an advisory or leaderlike role as well as ensuring the proper ceremonies are conducted for any given event.
- Völvas: A völva is a Nordheimir sorceress who practices seid, the Nordheimir version of Shamanism. Seid is considered unmanly in Nordheimir tradition because it is a manipulative practice, so almost all are female. Old women völvas are seen as representatives of the spirits of death.
Vanaheim itself is a snow-blanketed land of tundra and freezing winds. In the closing decades of the doomed Hyborian Age, it is destined to be one of the first nations to die under the encroaching glaciers, before sinking into the sea. That fate is a distant one, however. The warriors of the Vanir now raid south with vicious abandon. The berserkers of Nordheim fall on the natives, killing the scattered and disorganized Cimmerian warriors, raping their wives and taking their children as slaves.
In the great Nordic Drift, caused by the southward moving ice-fields threatening to crush their homeland, hordes of Vanir and Aesir swarmed into the lands, and the Pictish empire reeled beneath their strokes. Nemedia was overthrown, and the half-civilized Nordics fled before their wilder kinsmen, leaving the cities of Nemedia ruined and deserted. The Nordics who had conquered Hyperborea assailed their eastern enemies so savagely that the dark-skinned descendants of the Lemurians retreated into the steppes, pushed irresistibly back toward Vilayet. A tribe of Vanir adventurers had passed along the Pictish coast southward, ravaged ancient Zingara, and come into Stygia, which, oppressed by a cruel aristocratic ruling class, was staggering under the thrusts of the black kingdoms to the south. Unlike typical Vanir warfare, this seems to be an assault of conquest, not a lengthy raid. The red-haired Vanir led the slaves in a general revolt, overthrew the reigning class, and set themselves up as a caste of conquerors. They subjugated the northern- most black kingdoms, and built a vast southern empire, which they called Egypt. From these red-haired conquerors the earlier Pharaohs boasted descent. In the end, the western world was dominated by the Nordics (both Aesir and Vanir). The Nordics who settled in Brythunia were known as Brythunians, Brythons or Britons.
There was no such thing, at that time, as a consolidated Nordic empire. As always, the tribes had each its own chief or king, and they fought savagely among themselves. What their destiny might have been will not be known, because another terrific convulsion of the earth, carving out the lands as they are known to moderns, hurled all into chaos again. Great strips of the western coast sank; Vanaheim and western Asgard—uninhabited and glacier-haunted wastes for a hundred years—vanished beneath the waves.
The buckling of the land thrust up great mountain ranges in the central part of the northern continent. Whole Nordic tribes were blotted out, and the rest retreated eastward. The territory about the slowly drying inland sea was not affected, and there, on the western shores, the Nordic tribes began a pastoral existence, living in more or less peace with the Cimmerians, and gradually mixing with them.
The Vanir's descendants consisted of the Danes who were descendants of pure-blooded Vanir; the Goths—ancestors of the other Scandinavian and Germanic tribes, including the Anglo-Saxons—were descendants of a mixed race whose elements contained Vanir, AEsir and Cimmerian strains. The Cymric tribes of Britain were a mixed Nordic-Cimmerian race which preceded the purely Nordic Britons into the isles, and thus gave rise to a legend of Gaelic priority. The Cimbri who fought Rome were of the same blood, as well as the Gimmerai of the Assyrians and Grecians, and Gomer of the Hebrews. There are also strains of Vanir-blood mixed with Shemites in the Arabs, Israelites, and other straighter-featured Semites.
The Vanir are remembered as gods after the fall of the Hyborian Age.
When the Vanir surge south through the mountain borders, the northerners are led by Ymirish commanders, and these white-haired folk of frost giant bloodlines hold mysterious authority over the Vanir raiders.
Ymirish of Vanaheim Edit
The newest threat in the hordes of malicious Vanir raiders is the presence of white-haired, yellow eyed warriors known to their Nordheimer brothers as the Ymirish. These warriors serve as commanders in the ravening host, blessed with the blood of Ymir in their veins, making them taller, stronger and more savage than mere mortal Vanir.
Few Cimmerian warriors can stand against a Ymirish fighter in battle. Their strength is unrivalled because of their god’s blood, and though they are humans just as the Vanir and the Aesir of Nordheim, the Ymirish are also so much more than their northern kin. No one understands the exact nature of the Ymirish, or how truly divine their lineage is, but the blood of Ymir’s true sons, the frost-giants, beats in their bodies. It is thinner than in their warlord Grimnir Stormbringer, but it is enough to gift them with remarkable endurance and physical might.
Ymirish warriors are often found at the head of Vanir patrols or as leaders of Nordheimer camps set up in Conall’s Valley in northern Cimmeria. They are distinctive not only for their height and snow-white or yellowish hair, but for their night-glinting eyes, reflecting moonlight like the eyes of wolves. When Cimmerians and Vanir meet in battle, it is the Ymirish who end the lives of the most foes, and the Ymirish that take first fill of the women once victory is claimed. Such is their prowess on the field of war, and the respect they hold over their own men.
Vanir of Ymirish heritage have also been known to possess a flair for the dark arts. Many of the Vanir hold within them the sinister potential to hear and answer Ymir’s Call. The mystical black power of their evil god wells up in them, eating away at their physical forms, using the strength of their own bodies to fuel dark magic. In Vanir encampments within the conquered lands of northern Cimmeria, the gold-haired sorcerers who have answered Ymir’s Call work their foul spells, lending their god’s sorcery to the feral savagery of their warrior kin.
By the end of the Hyborian Age, Vanaheim would be swallowed by the last great continental glaciation. Ultimately, it was submerged beneath the waters of the Norwegian Sea.
Major Geographical Features of VanaheimEdit
- Blue Mountains: A range in far Vanaheim, presumed to mark the border with Asgard. This range of rocky and frozen mountains forms the border with Asgard. The mountains tower over ice plains and appear blue in the distance. It is said that Ymir walks abroad in these cold mountains.
- Blue River: A wide, deep river that drains the snowmelt of the taiga and mountains of northern Vanaheim. Its source is in the Blue Mountains.
- Eiglophian Mountains: A high range trending east and west along the southern borders of Vanaheim, Asgard, and Hyperborea. An incredible mountain range that separates Asgard, Vanaheim and Hyperborea from the southern kingdoms. The Eiglopian Mountains to the east have harsher weather conditions but also maintain a large population of Vanaheim. Passes through this impressive range of rock and ice are usually blocked during the winter by weather conditions but otherwise afford traffic between the frozen north and the warm south. The mountains loomed over northern Cimmeria and harbored a relict population of cannibalistic pithecanthropoids, as well as such fauna as snow dragons and vampiric ice-worms. The passes were open only in spring and summer.
- Western Ocean: To the west of Vanaheim lies the Western Ocean. The west coast has a moderate climate and the villages there mostly depend on the Sea for their sustenance. Though "fierce storms" from the Ocean can prove dangerous. The fishermen and hunters of marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals, etc) among the Vanir travel its waters with their vessels. Others have a chance to turn to piracy or marine trade, though these activities are rarely depicted.
- Howling River: A watercourse in the far north of Vanaheim. It has many cataracts and rapids, hence its name. Its source is the glaciers of the Far North.
- Lireigh, Village of: A settlement in Vanaheim on the western coast, named for its chieftain
- Skaun: A town of Vanaheim, renowned for its pit fighting.
- Starkadsgarth: A fjord in Vanaheim.
- Starkad's Great Hall: The long-house of the Vanir chief Starkad, located above the fjord called Starkadsgarth, in Vanaheim.
- Swords, Isle of: An isle located on a large lake in southwestern Vanaheim. The island was home to a tribe of Vanir, led by a chief named Thorfel the Fair. They lived in a place called the Hall of the Lake Dwellers.
- Three Rivers Town: A trading town of the far north of Vanaheim that lies on the junctions of the Howling, the Blue, and one other unknown river.
- Umiank Island: A small island located off the north coast of Vanaheim, in the Western Ocean. The island was home to the Umiank, a tribe that in modern times would be called Eskimos.
- Wulfstan's Hall: Located up the coast from Starkad's hall in Vanaheim.
Overview of the Vanir and their LandEdit
- Population: nearly 5 million
- Capital: None
- Ruler: Various petty kings and chieftains
- Major cities: Lireigh (pop. 4,500), Skaun (pop. 8,700). There are an estimated 8,800 villages and 62 towns in Vanaheim.
- Resources: Timber, fishing, furs and pelts
- Imports: Steel weapons
- Allies: None
- Enemies: Asgard, Cimmeria, Pictland, Hyperborea
- Tech level: Dark ages
- Religion: Ymir