Ran: The Goddess of The Sea

A personification of the sea, Ran is one of the most powerful Norse goddesses. She and her husband, Aegir, are …

A personification of the sea, Ran is one of the most powerful Norse goddesses. She and her husband, Aegir, are the divine powers of the ocean. Ran creates all the sea storms and is the cause of death for many unfortunate seafarers.

Short Facts

Tribe: Vanir

Goddess of: Depths, freshwater, lakes, rivers, sea storms, springs, the drowned dead, and the sea

Wife of: Aegir

Mother of: Nine Daughters (personification of the waves)

Sister of: Fjorgyn and Hertha

Other names: Rana, Ranar

Ran responsibilities

Catching sailors with her fishing net and drowning them, causing shipwrecks, disappearances at sea, lakes, making sea storms, rivers, springs, and the sea.

Associated Animals with Ran

An arctic grayling, a common loon, and a great blue heron.

Ran weapon/domain of power

The sea goddess Rán pulls men into the sea, where they meet their watery doom among the bones and corpses of others.
Johannes Gehrts, via Wikimedia Commons

Any body of water, sea storms, the net with which she traps and drowns sailors dragging them to her hall, and waves.

Mother Nature of freshwater

Ran is the goddess of the sea. She embodies the sea and every piece of freshwater. Ran is also associated with sea storms and the drowned dead. The jotunn Aegir, god of the ocean, is her husband. Together they have nine daughters that are said to personify the waves. Ran’s name means ‘robber’ in Old Norse, and she is often referred to as the Mother of the sea.

Ran and Aegir lives in their splendid hall called Aegirheim, situated on the bottom of the sea. There the divine couple feasts with the souls of the drowned seafarers. While Aegir is portrayed as a benevolent deity, Ran tends to demonstrate opposite features. She is depicted as a beautiful mermaid only to lure unlucky sailors. Once close enough, her sharp, pointed teeth and clawed fingers appear and the end is imminent.

But, Ran often uses her large fishing net to catch mariners. With that, she pulls them underwater and drowns them. The souls of the drowned then join Ran and Aegir in their magnificent hall. Hence, sailors would fill their pockets with gold to gain Ran’s favor lest they didn’t return to dry land.

Aegir and Ran are on good terms with the rest of the gods, especially the old ones. Ran, in particular, is an ally to Hel and Loki. Ran hands over the souls of the drowned she doesn’t need to Hel. And one time she even lent her net to Loki.

In the old texts

Ran appears in the poem Sonatorrek having claimed the life of a man who drowned during a sea storm.

In the Poetic Edda, Ran is mentioned in the poems Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, and Reginsmal.

In the Prose Edda, Ran is referred to many times in Skaldskaparmal and Hattatal.

Ran also appears one time in the Volsunga saga.

FAQs

Is Ran an evil goddess?

In the old days, Vikings would never travel with at least one piece of gold in their pockets. It was a custom to distribute gold among the sailors when a sea storm was about. Ran was considered a treacherous goddess, preying on everyone at sea. It would be unwise for a mariner to sail without dropping a gold piece in the sea. It wasn’t so much prayer to Ran as a means to appease her. But, that doesn’t necessarily show that Ran was evil. Gods and goddesses work in their own ways. They don’t act as humans do; good or evil. A simpler explanation would be that Aegir and Ran represented the two faces of the sea. Aegir was the calm waters, fish – abundant while Ran was the wild tides; death hidden in the sea storms.

Why is Ran called the death goddess?

Because of her connection with Hel, the goddess of death, Ran would often be called a death goddess as well. At some point, she must have been named the goddess of Death due to her killing men at sea. The souls she would gather in Aegirheim to entertain and keep her company shows that link with death. Nevertheless, Ran is a sinister goddess associated with the dark and dangerous sea.

Is Ran the grandmother of Heimdall?

Nine Mothers did Heimdall have. Could those have been the nine daughters of Ran? Some scholars say that Ran’s daughters were Heimdall’s mothers. All of the available texts however don’t agree on this. The names are there, but is this a fact or just an assumption? Yet, one can say that Ran is indeed Heimdall’s grandmother. There is nothing that seems to contradict this view.

Featured Image Credit: Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1845-1921) after an original by Friedrich Wilhelm Engelhard (1813-1902)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Vasilis Megas

Vasilis Megas (a.k.a. Vasil Meg) lives in Athens, Greece. He is a Greek- and Norse Mythology enthusiast. Vasilis has written and published 16 books - mostly fantasy and science fiction - and he is now working as a content writer, journalist, photographer and translator.