The rich tapestry of Norse sagas and literature is often full of testosterone-dripping warriors; the pages seem to be soaked with blood from the many battles regaled, and the cult of the warrior permeates every action and interaction. 

However, standing proudly apart from this glorification of gore is the Norse goddess, Eir. 

A benevolent force dedicated to the well-being of both the gods and we mere mortals, she is often associated with healing and medicine. 

However, not even Eir escapes the warrior cult that was so evident throughout Norse society, as she is also sometimes described as a Valkyrie, one of the female warriors whose job was to swoop down on a battlefield and select the best and bravest fallen soldiers. 

Through their brave deeds on the battlefield, these chosen few earned the right to feast in Valhalla with the almighty All-Father of Norse mythology, Odin

There is also some speculation about the meaning of her name, with modern linguists translating it to mean something akin to "mercy" or "help." 

This linguistic choice reflects her primary role as a compassionate and nurturing goddess, embodying the virtues of care and assistance. 

As one of the Norse pantheons lesser-known deities, Eir's importance lies in her contribution to the balance of the divine realm, where her healing abilities serve as a vital counterpoint to the more martial aspects of Norse mythology

Facing the dual threats of brutal warfare and unforgiving nature, Vikings relied not on earthly means but on divine intervention from Eir and other gods to navigate their perilous existence. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Offering physical and psychological healing and protection 

Eir is most associated with the concept of healing, encompassing physical, spiritual, and mental well-being. 

People in Viking societies lived in an era of high insecurity, a world that was fraught with battles, conflicts, and uncertainties. 

These communities faced numerous challenges, from harsh climates to the threat of warfare, whether in the Viking homelands of Scandinavia or further abroad. 

Bloody violence was also often simmering underneath the surface of seemingly every personal interaction. 

There was a societal need for protection, and in the absence of medicine, hospitals, or a police force, it was the Norse gods that were called upon in times of need. 

There was a deep positive psychological impact of being able to call upon divine protection, in the form of Eir, from up high to interject and protect. 

This was no doubt a reassurance for many in Viking societies, be they a warrior nervously waiting for battle or a mother nurturing a sick child. 

Eir's abilities were said to extend beyond mere curing of ailments, as she is also invoked for protection against illnesses and afflictions, highlighting her proactive role in protecting both gods and mortals. 

In times of illness or injury, an individual would invoke her name, seeking her healing touch and protection. 

This widespread appeal reflects the universal human desire for health and well-being – something that we still have in common with our Viking ancestors in the medical and technological comfort of the 21st century. 

The Norse looked up to Eir for her unparalleled understanding of herbal remedies, seeing in her a connection to the earth that was both practical and profoundly spiritual. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Nature, medicine, and spirituality 

The symbolic imagery commonly associated with Eir plays her role as a divine healer, protector, and even nurturer. 

She was said to invoke healing herbs and plants often, emphasizing her connection to the natural world. 

Norse mythology, which was deeply rooted in the landscape and the natural world for many people in Viking societies until the later medieval period, was not a mere collection of stories but part of their religious and spiritual beliefs

The incorporation of botanical elements by Eir underscores the close relationship between the divine and earthly realms, between Asgard and Midgard. 

Her role as a healer draws inspiration from the flora that indigenous people with whom the Norse interacted (e.g., the Sami people of northern Scandinavia) relied upon for medicinal purposes. 

For many people during the Viking Age, the natural world and the harsh environment they lived in were both the cause of and solution to many problems. 

Rudimentary medicine was practiced by the careful selection of botanical cures, in the form of plants or herbs, that were believed to cure an entire range of ailments. 

Eir was said to possess a deep knowledge of medicinal herbs and plants, which helped reinforce the idea that healing acts were sacred and divine. 

This added to a deeply ingrained connection between nature and medicine throughout many Viking societies. 

In early medieval Scandinavia, invocations and prayers to the Norse gods were as important as medicinal herbs in healing, reflecting the belief in a fluid boundary between the spiritual realm and the natural world. Illustration: The Viking Herald

What are some of her attestations? 

Unlike other more famous Norse deities, there is scant mythology surrounding Eir. Yet, this mystery adds another intriguing layer to her character. 

Perhaps the most notable mention of Eir comes from the pages of the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems compiled in the 13th century by Icelandic poet and politician Snorri Sturluson

In the poem, Fjölsvinnsmál, Eir is directly invoked along with other healing entities as the speaker seeks knowledge and guidance. 

She is also mentioned briefly in the Prose Edda by the figure of High. 

Here, in Chapter 35 of the Gylfaginning, High gives an account of each member of the Æsir

Sadly, Eir only receives the briefest of descriptions as she is listed as only "an extremely good physician." 

Upon calling for her protection, many in Viking societies hoped that this description, though brief, would ring true. 

It is not only on the pages of literature that Eir features. 

In what is surely one of the more bizarre archeological finds of the Viking era, a 14th-century CE stick was uncovered in Bergen, Norway. 

This stick had a runic inscription that recorded a commercial transaction and a poem. 

The poem, comprised of two kennings and featuring Eir, is believed by modern linguists to have its author moaning about his marriage and how miserable women make him. 

Clearly, whoever the poem's author was, money could not buy him happiness... or maturity! 

Eir stands out in Norse mythology as the embodiment of healing and kindness, her very name a symbol of the care and aid she extends to gods and humans alike. Illustration: The Viking Herald

The healing touch of Eir 

In the rich tapestry of Norse mythology, Eir emerges as a beacon of healing and compassion, her name resonating with the essence of mercy and assistance. 

While her narrative may lack the detailed epics that characterize some of her divine counterparts, Eir's significance lies in her role as a nurturing force within the pantheon. 

As the goddess of healing and medicine, she embodies the profound connection between the divine and the well-being of both gods and we mere mortals. 

Her subtle presence speaks volumes about the delicate balance in Norse mythology, where even amidst chaos and conflict, the healing touch of Eir provides a vital counterpoint, affirming the enduring value of mercy in the Norse cosmos. 

For more information on the modern incarnation of the Old Norse religion, visit the National Museum of Denmark here

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