Vár: The Norse Keeper of Vow that Punished Oath Breakers

Posted by Ms Elly on

Vár: The Norse Keeper of Vow that Punished Oath Breakers

In the Viking Age, anyone that broke their oath would be considered to be a coward that should not dwell in the community. To the Vikings, the oath was sacred and any attempt to break it was disgusting. Any god or goddess associated with solemn vow was worshipped. 

Tyr is the first name popping up in my mind when it comes to keeping oath as he was the god of Justice and Honor. Another name associated with this power was Vár or simply Var who was also associated with agreements and vows. 

Var the Keeper of Promise in Norse mythology

In Old Norse, Vár meant "pledge". She was the Keeper of the Vows and Pledges. Some accounts mentioned Var as a goddess. Yet, no official conclusion about her real position in Norse mythology has been made. 

She could be invoked to become the witness of the vowing ceremonies. She would appear to observe people making their solemn vows and do her best to make people not to go back on their vow. Yet, the humans were inconsistent and many people later went back on their promise. Var who had been evoked to witness the vowing rituals would feel disrespected when someone broke their words that they made in front of her. She then would punish those people for breaking their oath. She did have that right. 

In Norse mythology, Var was the Keeper of Promise. She would be evoked during the vowing ritual as the holy witness

Var was the Keeper of Promise in Norse mythology. She was commonly evoked during the vowing rituals as the holy witness. Anyone who broke their vows would be punished by Var.

Her name comes from the word "Varar" meaning "private contract". It is a cognate of "vow" and "guarantee". 

The symbol of Var is the oath-ring. In the Viking Age, it was alleged that every Viking man coming of age would have an oath-ring for themselves. It presented the oath of the man with either his chieftain or his clan. 

Viking Arm Ring is the symbol of Var the Goddess of Pledge and Vow in Norse mythology

Viking Arm Ring is the symbol of Var the Goddess of Pledge and Vow in Norse mythology

Var appeared in the Poetic Edda. There, she was evoked to witness the vow between Thrym and his "bride" (Thor in disguise).

Then loud spake Thrym,
the giants' leader:
"Bring in the hammer
to hallow the bride;
On the maiden's knees
let Mjollnir lie,
That is both the hand
of Vor may bless.

Her name also appeared in a runic inscription found in Norway dating back to circa 12th century:

Wise Var of wire ["woman of filigree," meaning "wise bejeweled woman"] makes (me) sit unhappy

The scholars explained this sentence that "Var" in this case appeared as the kenning for the woman. It simply meant "women made me miserable". Sometimes, they translated that "marriage made me miserable" because Var was the keeper of promise and this time it referred to the promise between a man and a woman which was commonly known as a wedding. 

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