R is for Rán

Rán is the Norse goddess of the sea. She is most often listed simply as the wife of Aegir and mother of the nine wave-maidens, but like most women, she is more than simply wife and mother.

Even more than Aegir, Rán is the deity that needed to be placated to make a safe crossing. You might pray to Njord to protect your ship and your livelihood, you might pray to Aegir that his eye pass over your ship, but it was Rán you yelled to when things looked desperate. Many soliders carried bits of gold to throw overboard during a bad storm, in the hopes of placating her, or to offer to her when they had drowned to earn her favor.

Rán’s name means “ravager” with connotations of plundering or taking. When she calls a storm and readies her golden net, she has her heart set on bringing sailors down into the hall she shares with Aegir under the sea. Some people say that she simply offers succor to those who drown, gently catching them in her net, but this doesn’t seem to be what the lore points to. In the Prose Edda, Snorri refers to “The wave, with red stain running/Out of white Rán’s mouth.” This is not the image of the gentle goddess waiting patiently for poor drowning victims to come to her.

Aegir and Rán’s hall is an afterlife destination as surely as Valhalla and Helheim are to the Norse. Whether the dead stay there or move on when Rán tires of them is impossible to say.

Of Ran’s lineage, I’ve been able to find little documentation. Some modern sources describe her as being of jotun blood like her husband, and occassionally as his sister. Others describe her as Vanir and consider Aegir to be Vanir by marriage.

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