Ran, Mother of the Sea

Woman on beachRan, the wife of Aegir, appears as a delicate-looking woman with blue-green skin. Her long black hair drags on the ground behind her when she walks through Aegir’s hall; its ends trail off into nothingness, and this is because her hair is magically linked to all the seaweed that grows in all the northern oceans. Like her daughters, she can appear in mermaid form or with legs, although she is more likely than they are to take the latter shape, perhaps because her job as hostess of Aegirheim requires her to spend more time walking on mother-of-pearl floors than swimming. Her weapon is the net, with which she drags people down to their deaths; her name is translated by scholars as meaning “robber” or “ravager” or “plunderer” (though Alby Stone has proposed that ‘Ran’ is derived from the old Indo-European word rani meaning ‘lady’). Ran is very much the flirtatious siren—of all the etins, female sea-giants are most likely to make eyes at humans, although to take them up on it can be disastrous. She is the maker of all sea-storms in the northern oceans.

In many ways, Ran acts out the darker and more destructive side of the sea’s nature; unlike Aegir who comes across as friendly but might then turn on you, Ran makes no bones about being a ravager. She is beautiful, but her teeth are sharp and pointed and her fingers are clawed. When she smiles, your blood runs cold—or it ought to. Her hobby is collecting dead souls, with which she populates Aegirheim. While Aegir is both an “honorary” Aesir and an “honorary” Vanir, and tries to balance alliances with all of them, there is no question where Ran’s alliances lie. She is on good terms with Hela, the goddess of Death, and prefers the company of the older gods.

Ran by Nell McKellarA folk-belief quoted in one of the Icelandic sagas is that if drowned people appeared at their own funeral feasts, it was a sign that Ran had given them a good welcome into her hall. In Fridhjof’s Saga, it is said to have been a lucky thing to have gold on one’s person if lost at sea, and the hero went so far to distribute small pieces of gold among his men when they were caught in a storm, so that they should not go empty-handed into Ran’s hall if they were drowned. Ran’s hospitality might extend for centuries, with the drowned souls feasting and partying and singing in her hall, but sooner or later the capricious Queen of the Sea tires of them, and sends them away to Hela’s realm, Helheim the land of the Dead.

On the other hand, dropping gold over the side of a ship and saying a prayer might well mollify her into granting you safe passage and good journeying. Those who were lucky at sea were said to be much loved by Ran, although this was granted to be an ambivalent blessing, as if she liked you enough, then it was only a matter of time before she brought you to be with her.

An altar to Ran can feature any color of the sea, but she is partial to the greener shades. As well as the various shells and sea life, she likes gold jewelry and symbolic “pirate treasure”, dried seaweed, and small toy ships to symbolize the ones that she takes.



image by Jenn Bechtel

Ran from the Giant's Tarot
Hail, Lady of the Northern Seas,
Whose hair lies in all the waving weed
In all the shoreline waters.
Hail, wife of Aegir, mother of the Nine,
Goddess of the salt waters,
Mother of plankton, mother of barracudas,
Mother of great and branching coral reefs,
Mother of anglerfish and anemones.
Hail, Lady who challenges us to see
That Nature is not under our control,
That we are only a small part of the world,
And that we must not be too arrogant,
That we are flesh and flesh can drown.
Hail, Lady of ocean's bounty
And ocean's cold destructiveness,
And may we come to appreciate your realm
Before you take it from us forever.


Ritual: Weregild

shipwreckThe term “weregild” means the giving of gold for the wrongful death of a man. In Ran’s case, we give gold (and she does love gold!) for the wrongful death of so many of her creatures. To do this rite, go to a beach with lots of seaweed, or if you are trapped on land, fill a bowl with water and sea salt, and sprinkle dried seaweed into it. (You can usually find it at health food stores, if nowhere else locally.) Buy something of real gold – an earring, a necklace, something made of the real stuff – and a small ship made out of untreated paper (which is biodegradable). Attach the gold firmly to the boat, and take it out to the ocean, or to your bowl.

If you are at the beach, bind a long piece of seaweed around your head and speak Ran’s invocation. (I’ve also found that she very much loves Rudyard Kipling’s poem Harp Song of the Dane Women, done to Leslie Fish’s tune, sung to her.) Tell her how much you value the ocean and that you will do what you can to help it, and ask her to aid you in finding the best way to do that. Throw the ship with the gold into the ocean, or drown it in your bowl and leave it to dissolve, and then sell the gold and give the money to a sea-protection organization.

Artwork by Nell McKellar