Aside from overseeing all that swirled, swam, and sank through the seas, he was also a member of the Vanir clan and worshipped as a fertility god.

His marriage to Skaði was, perhaps, a foreshadowing example of modern-day custody arrangements.

King of the Waves

The Nordic and Baltic region, the birthplace of Vikings, has a strong relationship with the sea.

The oceans and seas connected the geographically rugged and remote region with the wider world. Perhaps the most well-known symbol of the Vikings, the longship, was the ultimate medieval mode of transport for warriors but also traders and colonists. 

People in Viking societies were indebted to the oceans and seas for livelihood, sustenance, and transport.

By the Viking era (c. 750 – 1100 CE), this deep interconnectedness with the watery word had developed into a spiritual reverence. The Norse god, Njörðr, personified the worship of the water.

This Norse god was not only the god of the sea but of wind, seafaring, the sea's plentiful bounty, fishing, and sailing. 

With a large majority of the people in Viking societies living near or depending on the seas, Njörðr was a popular and widely revered god.

Vanir and the natural world

Aside from being the master of the sea, Njörðr was also a prominent member of the Vanir clan in the Norse pantheon. Traditionally, the gods in what has been called a "divine clan" were associated with the natural world, fertility, and prosperity (the three were, for people in Viking societies, closely linked).

He was said to have control over the winds, tides, and currents, which were all vital elements for seafaring and ocean traveling in the early medieval period.

In fact, the prosperity of a village, clan, or even a family could depend on how all these elemental factors played upon a longship and its success or failure.

His role as a sort of patron of sailors, fishermen, and seafaring folk saw him often depicted with a fishing net or even holding a ship. 

He metaphorically held the fate of anyone who stepped aboard a ship or a boat right in his hands.

Coastal communities, especially in Norway and Sweden, saw a considerable reverence for him with ritualistic offerings to ensure a peaceful and prosperous return when venturing into his realm.

In the realm of Njörðr, the Vikings cultivated a profound spiritual connection with the treacherous yet nurturing seas. Illustration: The Viking Herald

A famous marriage and family

Like most Norse gods and goddesses, Njörðr had a large and famous family. Aside from gazing a paternal eye over any mortal on the waves, Njörðr was also the father of two other Norse deities: a daughter, Freyja, and her brotherly sibling, Frey. 

Whilst Freyja may well be the child that is now more commonly known, connected to love and beauty, Frey was also an important Norse god associated with sunshine and peace. Yet it was their mother who Njörðr had a most unusual relationship with.

A significant part of the Norse sagas and tales is devoted to what we, the Netflix generation, would call their "backstories." Part of this "story before the story" is the marriage of Njörðr. 

Like William Shakespeare would do centuries later with the Capulets and Montagues, people in Viking societies had the two clans of gods, the Æsir, and the Vanir, violently fighting each other. 

A peace deal was brokered where one god from each clan would marry one another to cement general feelings of felicitous harmony and joyful peace.

Njörðr was offered the hand of the winter goddess (who loved a good ski), Skaði, in matrimony.

However, things did not pan out well – granted that it is quite hard to ski on water, and it is almost impossible to swim in snow. 

The two gods took turns living in each other's realm until a new deal was brokered: they would spend alternating months in each other's domain and not be forced to live forever in one. 

It should also be noted that the mother of his two children was not Skaði but his unnamed sister.

Like most maritime civilizations, people in Viking societies had a spiritual reverence for the seas and oceans surrounding them.

Njörðr was worshipped for his protective paternalism of those plowing the open seas and represented their dependence on what lay beneath. 

His association with the maritime world as well as with fertility and abundance, saw him become a popular member of the Vanir.

Whilst he may not be as well known today as his Greek counterpart, Neptune, his family story remained a large part of the Norse canon of sagas and myths.

For a very modern (well, if you consider a famous band from the 1960s modern) take on Njörðr, click here to read how the Norse god of the sea inspired a new music video by Jethro Tull.

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