Eir, in Old Norse, translates to mercy, help, or protection. She is often referred to as the goddess of healing, but there is debate over the old texts about whether Eir was a goddess of a Valkyrie or even one of the Norns. To compare Eir to a Greek goddess; she shares many similarities with the goddess Hygieia.
A healing goddess, Eir resides on Lyfjaberg, or the healing mountain, along with other healing handmaidens. In Icelandic Norse paganism, prayers to Eir aid in medical healing and childbirth.
The role of Eir in Norse mythology is hotly debated among scholars. While she’s referenced in three separate Skaldic texts, her role often changes. Sometimes she is the handmaiden to Menglod; other times, she is referenced as a manifestation of Frigg or listed as a Valkyrie.
Who Is Eir?
The answer to this question boils down to who you ask. Eir is a bit of a mystery, and a compelling mystery at that.
She is referenced only a few times in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda, and Snorri Sturluson pulled a few conclusions about this elusive goddess. Or Valkarie. Or Norn. One thing that Snorri did point out, however, is that she was listed as one of the most important goddesses of Norse mythology.
What we do know about Eir, however, is that she was closely tied to healing. Whether her role was a goddess or Valkyrie, she aided in recovery in battle or otherwise.
Goddess or Valkyrie?
Eir’s origins remain a bit murky because she is found in three different Skaldic texts. Each time that she appears, her role changes. Sometimes she’s a goddess, and sometimes she’s a Valkyrie.
In the book Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, Snorri lists Eir as an Ásynjur (or Æsir) with other Æsir Norse gods such as Thor, Odin, Freyja, Hel, and Loki. So, Eir was a goddess of healing, right? Not necessarily.
In the next book of the Prose Edda, Skáldskaparmál, she is also listed among the Valkyries but is not found under the list of Æsir gods. Unlike other Valkyries that escorted dead Vikings to the halls of Valhalla within Asgard, Eir helped heal wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
Perhaps she was a goddess or a Valkyrie, or maybe she was both. While she appears in multiple passages of the Prose Edda, some scholars believe they are not about the same person. Even today, scholars debate whether Eir was a goddess or a Valkyrie.
Eir Attestations in Old Norse Literature
Eir appears in old Norse poetry in the Poetic Edda, Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, and runic inscriptions.
As we have learned, her role changes every time Eir shows up in Skaldic poetry. However, although she shifts from a goddess to a Valkyrie (sometimes even a Norn), her role as a healer never changes.
Attestations in the Poetic Edda
In the Poetic Edda in the poem Fjölsvinnsmál, Eir is a handmaiden to Menglöð, a maiden that lived in Gastropnir.
She lived with other handmaidens named Hlíf, Þjóðvarta, Björt, Blíðr Blíð, Fríð, Hlífþrasa, and Aurboða, in addition to Eir.
Attestations in the Prose Edda
Snorri Sturluson lists Eir in a list of goddesses and Valkyries. And this is where things get confusing.
While he lists Eir as one of the Æsir gods in the list of goddesses in Gylfaginning, his role immediately changes to that of a Valkyrie in the Skáldskaparmál. In the Skáldskaparmál, she’s listed as a Valkyrie and omitted from the list of the Æsir.
Was it a mistake, or was he correcting an error in the Gylfaginning?
Why Is Eir such A Mystery?
Even today, scholars debate the role of Eir in Norse mythology and whether she was a goddess or a Valkyrie. With limited references in old texts and even some conflicting accounts in the Prose Edda, Eir may forever remain a mystery.
To make matters even more complicated, some believe she was a Norn- a goddess of fate that could tell the future. In the Lokasenna (Poetic Edda poem), Odin claims that Eir was familiar with the fates as much as himself. For some scholars, it’s a bit of a stretch to deduce that she was a Norn from this passage, but it’s possible.
Whether she was a goddess, a Valkyrie or a Norn are all possible scenarios. However, one thing about Eir that remains certain, as depicted by Snorri in the Gylfaginning, was that she was a very gifted physician.