Aegir, Father of the Sea

Winter FjordThe oldest—and likely the first—northern sea-god is Aegir, the Lord of the Ocean. Aegir commands almost every ocean in the Nine Worlds, and can cross over into our world in any ocean, although he and his family prefer the cold northern waters. He is nominally allied with the Aesir (the sky Gods), as long as it suits him, and is known to feast them heartily in his underwater hall. He is also allied with the Vanir (the agricultural Gods) whose realm lies close by his hall. Aegir’s original name seems to have been Hler, which scholars translate as either “shelterer” or “concealer”, and he was the third and youngest son of an ancient giant named Fornjotr by an island-giantess. Later, after becoming the chief of the growing number of sea-giants, he took on the name Aegir, which simply means “ocean”. Even today in parts of the world, Aegir’s name is called before faring out to sea, and a certain type of storm-wave is referred to as an “aeg”.

Aegir is generally shown as a middle-aged Jotun (the word for the “giants” or pre-Indo-European deities/spirits) crowned with seaweed, with blue-green skin and green hair and beard. He carries a spear—one of the poetic names for the sea in Old English is garsecg, or spearman. (In this way he much resembles Poseidon, who looks and acts similarly, although his “spear” is the trident.) The sea god himself comes across as very jovial—he is the brewer of the best beer in the Nine Worlds, which is imported all over and highly prized, as is the fine table that he sets for visitors. His beer is brewed in a mile-deep kettle that Thor and Tyr took from Tyr’s father Hymir, in order that they might extort him for even more food and drink.

 Of all his connections, Aegir is most closely allied with the Vanir. Indeed, his alliance with the Aesir seems to be largely one of business, and rather shady business at that. In the saga of Hymir, Aegir is seen as being blatantly shaken down for food and ale by the Aesir, who routinely move in on him in the winter, demanding his hospitality and stripping his supplies. Aegir is himself a generous and magnanimous host, and his famous food and beer, more than anything else, has gained him alliances. His hall is accessible off the coast of Hlesey Island near Vanaheim, where merfolk escort visitors down to eat, drink, and be merry. Nixies and mermaids serve and hang around the hall, seducing visitors. The cups in his hall are always full, magically refilling themselves with his copious beer. As no fire can burn there, light and warmth is provided by a pile of enchanted gold in the middle of his floor, which led to “Aegir’s Fire” being yet another kenning for gold.

LionfishThe other side of Aegir, however, makes us remember that he is still a powerful elemental god. A ship that was wrecked at sea was referred to as having gone “into Aegir’s jaws”. He caused storms at sea, either to do in the ungrateful or just because he felt like it. Sailors both loved and feared him, often making elaborate sacrifices to him; fifth-century Saxons routinely sacrificed a tenth of their captured victims to Aegir when they were ready to leave a conquered land over the sea. “The sea has snapped the ties of my kindred,” says Egill in the great poem of mourning, the Sonatorrek, composed after his young son was lost at sea. “Could I have avenged my cause with the sword, the Ale-Brewer would be no more.” Behind the jovial front lies a relentless deity who demands sacrificial victims of one sort or another. Aegir’s fingers are clawed, reminding us of that part of his nature.

While his hall is beautiful, bedecked with coral and gems, it is also laid about with the wealth that he has taken from every sunken ship, which is quite a lot of stolen plunder. If he is pleased with you, he may give you some of his collected valuables to take back, although this is rare—he likes the physical plunder as much as his wife enjoys the plundered souls.

Offerings to Aegir might include bread, or polished stones, or anything that he would not be likely to get otherwise. If you don’t live near an ocean, make a large bowl of salt water and drop food into it for him. Don’t try to give Aegir “corporate” beer; he seems vaguely offended by modern chemical-soaked beers. Home-brew or locally brewed beer is better. An altar to Aegir may contain anything of the sea, and feature any of the sea’s colors.


Aegir from the Giants' Tarot
Hail, Lord of the Sea-Foam,
Father of Fishes, Father of Vastness,
Brewer of ale in the great cauldron
Stolen from the honor-god's ancestral home.
Hail, generous one, host of Aegirheim,
Husband of the Robber-Queen,
Father of the Nine Waves,
Master of Fimafeng and Elrir.
Hail to the Lord whose windows
Are every foot of ocean's water.
May you look well upon us,
You who feed so many of us with your bounty,
Even when our foolishness and greed
Overstrip you of your treasure,
And may you forgive our carelessness
With the great cold kingdom that is your realm.

Ritual: Bread For The Sea Father

FishWhile it is acceptable, as we have said, to do ritual for the Sea Gods with bowls of salt water if you are trapped inland, if you are able to go to the ocean for Aegir's rite you must do it out on the water, in a boat. Not just a little way out, either - far enough from land that it is at best a tiny strip along the horizon, and better still has vanished entirely. Unlike his wife and daughters who dally with the coastlines and beaches, Aegir is the Lord of the vast depths, and he wants you to be alone with him and that vastness, the water all around as far as the eye can see.

I like to bring him bread and propitiate him on the ferry from Boston Harbor to the tip of Cape Cod; everyone else hides inside in the climate-controlled cabin with the bar while I am usually alone on deck with the whipping winds and churning spray, feeling the greatness of his power. I've flung loaves of bread overboard on sailboat trips between the Maine islands, much to the bewilderment of the captain and crew. Aegir's specialty is feeding others - not only does he make sure that the Aesir and various drowned human souls are fed, he also - like a good father - has the care of feeding every living thing in the northern oceans. To him, on some level, we are also food - bodies that can fall overboard and feed many of his small subjects. Because of this, I give him bread for their sustenance.

These days, I ask nothing of Aegir except for safe passage across whatever piece of ocean I am suspended over. Instead, I give back - I send energy to help him repair his tattered realm and heal our depredations. My ritual is very simple: I speak his invocation, I throw him bread, and then I sing wordless music. I try to harmonize the music to the roar of the waves, and I use it to channel what healing energy I can from whatever source I can hook into (usually the earth) so that he can use it to help all the bodies in his care.

Coral Reef