The collective name of the principal Norse gods who lived in Ásgarðr. At the beginning of time, the Æsir fought a war with the Vanir, and the truce led to the incorporation of both into a single unified group of gods.
In Gylfaginning, Snorri Sturluson has Gangleri ask Hárr who the Æsir are. In the subsequent chapters Hárr enumerates the twelve male Æsir: Odin, the highest and the eldest, Thor, Baldr, Njörðr, Freyr, Týr, Bragi, Heimdallr, Höðr, Víðarr, Váli, Ullr, Forseti, and Loki. The latter, though not a deity, is often listed among the Æsir, and is equally at home among them and their enemies, the jötnar. These names are also found in the Nafnaþulur section attached to Skáldskaparmál, with the single omission of Ullr. In Völuspá hin skamma, there were eleven Æsir present when Baldr was laid on the funeral pyre.
The Æsir hold their tribunal at Urðarbrunnr. Each day they ride on their steeds towards that place over Bifröst. The names of these steeds are found in Grímnismál, although it is not specified which horse was assigned to which god. Only Thor walks to the judgment.
Two of the Æsir die in the eddic poems: Baldr, who was killed by Höðr; and then Höðr himself, slain by Váli in revenge for Baldr's death. According to Völuspá, both shall be restored to life after Ragnarök. Völuspá also foretells the deaths of Odin and Thor; they shall die during the cataclysmic events of Ragnarök. The surviving gods shall afterwards meet in Iðavöllr.
In the preface to Gylfaginning, where Snorri euhemerizes the gods, he seems to suggest that Æsir means "men of Asia," saying:
When the king learned of the coming of those men of Asia, who were called Æsir, he went to meet them, and made offer to them that Odin should have such power in his realm as he himself wielded. These Æsir took wives of the land for themselves and for their sons, and they spread out over the region.
The female deities are called Ásynjur.
Anglo-Saxon Ós, from Proto-Germanic *Ansuz. Etymologically, áss seems to derive from an Indo-European root meaning "breath," suggesting an association with life and life-giving forces. Another commonly found term is goð or guð, both cognate with English "god."
- Grímnismál, 30.
- Gylfaginning, 15, 20-33.
- Skáldskaparmál, 1.
- Völuspá hin skamma, 1.