Subgroup of the gods.
The generic name given to the Norse gods (the singular form is As), although some sources seek to make a distinction between two groups of deities, the Aesir and the Vanir, who, as we learn from the eddic poem Voluspa, once fought a mighty war. In general, the Aesir are associated with war, death, and power, the Vanir with growth and fertility, although the distinction is often far from clear. According to the 13th-century Icelander Snorri Sturluson, there are 13 male Aesir, which he lists in the following order: Odin, Thor, Njord, Frey, Tyr, Heimdall, Bragi, Vidar, Vali, Ull, Hoenir, Forseti, and Loki. In the same place, Snorri also lists eight goddesses, known as Asynjur, although elsewhere he gives a quite different list of no fewer than sixteen. Moreover, Snorri's effort to produce a list of 13 Aesir, of whom one (Loki) was to prove a traitor, looks suspiciously like an attempt to align the Aesir with the disciples of Christ and may account in part for his inclusion of some figures (notably Forseti) were seldom heard of elsewhere.
A similar motivation to explain away the deities of the pagan past surely lies behind the elaborate Euhemerism exhibited by Snorri and the early 13-century Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in their attempts to explain the term Aesir has related to Asia, whence the (in this view wholly human) Aesir are said to have come. In this way, the myths and legends of the North could be aligned with those of classical Greece and Rome, just as, say, the Middle English Arthurian poem Gawain and the Green Knight begins by describing Troy. Such a notion is purely the product of an impulse to 'dignify' indigenous vernacular tales by linking them to the illustrious world of Latin learning. By contrast, cognate forms of the term Aesir are well attested in other Germanic languages and helped to testify to its antiquity.