Honir: Mythology's Most Insignificant God
Ancient mythology has its fair share of significant deities. Some can lift mountains, others can ford streams. And then there are those that can create universes with the mere snap of their fingers. They can illicit fear and awe among the mortal beings that pray to them.
Then there is Honir, the Norse God who didn’t have any of these qualities. With no magical powers, this God should have been forgotten and play no significant role in a world inhabited by Thor, Odin, or even Loki. However, he has some qualities, such as his stellar good looks.
Tall, long-legged, and physically impressive, Honir looks the part of a Viking god; but that’s where the qualifications end. Hampered by indecisiveness and being dim-witted, Honir manages to get by on pure look and likability.
Still, unbelievably, this insignificant and powerless god played a major role as a pawn between the Aesir and Vanir. And, even more incredible, he managed to survive the civil war — better known as Ragnarok — between these two Nordic groups of gods, nearly unscathed.
Even to this day, Honir manages to find a place in the mythos of comic books, albeit a very minor role.
A Bizarre God – Brief History
Lineage made him a member of the powerful gods, the Aesir. His brother was Odin and his nephew was Thor. That’s a lot to live up to. On top of that he was surrounded by an impressive array of powerful deities that created the elements of the world or life itself.
Having a god with of no real significance is bizarre, especially for the Vikings who worshipped strength, cunningness and power. Most likely, this god didn’t have a temple like his brethrens had. Still, he became an important bit player in Nordic mythology.
The sources of his story contradicts the image of his established persona. In the Ynglinga and Voluspa saga, Honir was described as being present when the first man (Ask) and woman (Embla) were created. He helped his father Odin and his brother Lodur. What he did is not exactly clear; however, he is described as being responsible for giving the gift of wisdom to humans. This is a strange contribution, considering that other sagas claimed he personally lacked this quality.
This contradiction can be found in the most definitive text on Norse mythology, the Prose Edda. Not only did it take away Honir’s power of wisdom, it changed his name. It placed the gods Vili and Ve in the same position as Honir and Lodur during the creation period.
Somewhere along the way, Honir changed. Starting with the Prose Edda, his most significant story converted him into a minor god with little or no power. On top of that, he lost his wisdom, but, interestingly, not his looks. In fact, it would be his dignified looks that would play a pivotal role in the events leading up to Ragnarok.
The “new” Honir started after the first major war between the Aesir and Vanir. The two sides fought to a standstill. Each side was looking for a way to stop the war. A peace deal was reached, and to ensure that this peace would last, the two groups agreed to exchange members. The Aesir got the wealthy Njord and his children, Frey and Freya. The Vanir got the wise god Mimir (who got his powers from a magic well) and Honir.
A Bad Trade
To convince the Vanir to take Honir, the Aesir described him as being a natural leader – as well as a good looking god. Despite this lie, the Vanir were impressed with these qualifications. They immediately promoted him as a leader.
In the beginning, the trade was looking good for each side. The Vanir truly believed that they had a great leader. In truth, Honir ruled with the help and guidance of Mimir. When the Vanir consulted with Honir without Mimir, they began to notice that something was amiss. Instead of getting a decisive decision from him, their questions would be answered with noncommittal grunts.
It didn’t take long for the Vanir to realize that they had been tricked by the Aesir. In retaliation, the Vanir removed Honir from power and beheaded Mimir. They sent the severed head to Odin and the rest of the Aesir, thus momentarily destroying the truce between the two.
Honir Earns New Title: Survivor
Later, the two groups would assimilate into one entity. But this union would be short-lived. Ragnarok would happen and nearly all the Norse gods would be killed. Honir got lucky; he managed to survive. He was the least likely to survive, yet he defied the odds and was set to start a new era.
In many respects, however, Honir didn’t survive in the hearts and mind of the people who once worshipped these Norse gods. His insignificance was enough to make him into a minor god. He was nearly forgotten and lost to time.
Marvel Comics Remembers Him, Thanks to Conan
Eventually, Honir would make a brief appearance in the new form of mythology - comic books. Yet, unlike other Norse gods who had their own title or were principle players in the Marvel Comic universe (such as Thor, Loki, and Odin), Honir was relegated to the role of a mortal sidekick to Conan the Barbarian. In Conan the Adventurer #2, Conan became the member of a mortal tribe called the Aesir. He and Honir went out on an adventure when they were ambushed and captured by a rival tribe called the Vanir.
Conan escaped leaving Honir behind. Eventually, Conan rescued Honir and they returned to the Aesir, thus ending a story of strange coincidence to the mythological tale from days of the Vikings. And, just like Norse mythology, Honir’s role was diminished.
Still, he'd play a pivotal role in a Thor story line. In this case, he would become known as Honir the Hunter and hold the distinction of being the best spear thrower in Asgard. In one story line he helps Thor regain his power (from Journey into Mystery #106).
Final Thoughts on Honir
Some respect, although minute, should be given to Honir. He managed to get by, despite his predicaments. Luckily, he had chosen his friends well, in particular, the god of wisdom and knowledge, Mimir.
Still, one wonders why Honir never drank from Mimir’s magic well and gained the wisdom that the water possessed. He may have become a major god.
Then again, Honir seemed to get by on luck. Possibly that was his greatest power.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Dean Traylor