There’s a theory going around among Vanic types that goes like this:
1. The Vanir are an earlier race of deities than the Aesir and their Indo-European counterparts.
2. The Vanir embody a system of archetypes that are found throughout early European mythology.
1. The Vanir are the indigenous deities of Late Neolithic and Early Mesolithic Europe.
2. The Vanir are not Indo-European, but they were absorbed by Indo-European cultures.
3. The best way to revive the modern cult of the Vanir is through comparative mythology and syncretism, particularly of the “low” or “folk-religious” type.
A full explanation of this theory can be found here.
I don’t really have the linguistic knowledge or the know how to really critique this theory (although I will say that, according to Wikipedia, the names of all three of the Vanir can be traced to IE roots, which, unless someone can ever prove that Freyja and Freyr’s proper names aren’t IE, suggests that they do, in fact, have IE roots) but I don’t think I really buy this theory. It seems way too cut and dry, too neat, and it sounds uncomfortably similar to Marija Gimbutas’ widely discredited “Golden Age Matriarchy” theory.
Yes, I think it makes sense to conclude that early hunter-gatherers worshiped deities as “raw” forces of nature or that agricultural people were more concerned with the health of their crops than warfare (until they have a need to protect those crops). But the problem with postulating that X group of deities is really from the Neolithic or Mesolithic periods is that we….will never really know for certain who those deities were.
See, those darn prehistoric people had this annoying habit of not leaving written records, and even when early civilizations did leave writing, scholars don’t know what the heck to do with it because no one left them a “Linear A and Linear B to A Language We Recognize” dictionary. Hel, the only reason scholars were able to translate writing the Egyptians left behind was because they happened to find the Rosetta Stone, which had a translation in Greek. Scholars knew Greek, so they were able to translate the rest.
I mean, it’s possible that there might have been Proto-Njord or Proto-Freyr or Proto-Freyja, but even then, would that necessarily make them the same deity as the deities worshiped in the tenth century?
I think, overall, I can accept that Njord and co. are different than Odin and co. They seem to have more….relaxed….attitudes towards sexuality and are very friendly with the Jotnar, but does this mean that I subscribe to this (highly suspect, I must admit) theory that everyone was doing fine worshiping
the Goddess the Vanir before those eeeeevil patriarchs Indo-Europeans came along? No, I don’t.