- For other meanings of Ve, see Ve (disambiguation).
- For other meanings of Vili, see Vili (disambiguation).
In Norse mythology, Vili and Vé are the brothers of Odin, sons of Bestla daughter of Bölþorn and Borr son of Búri:
- Hann [Borr] fekk þeirar konu er Bettla hét, dóttir Bölþorns jötuns, ok fengu þau þrjá sonu. Hét einn Óðinn, annarr Vili, þriði Vé.
Old Norse vili means "will". Old Norse vé means "sanctuary" (Old English weoh).
The three brothers are the first generation of the Æsir
who slay Ymir
ending the primeval rule of the race of giants (corresponding to the three brothers Zeus
defeating the Titans
in Greek mythology
). The first human couple, Ask and Embla
, Odin gave soul and life, Vili wit (intelligence) and sense of touch, Ve countenance (colour?), speech
, hearing and sight. The names given to Odin's brothers in the Völuspá
Rydberg (1886) speculates that as Odin is the progenitor of the Æsir, Vili and Vé would be the progenitors of the clans of the Vanir and Álfar, respectively. He positively identifies Vili and Vé with Lóðurr and Hœnir, further identifying Lóðurr (Saxo's Lotherus) with Mundilfori.
Note that in Proto-Norse
, the three brothers were alliterating
, *Wódin, Wili, Wé
*Wōdinaz, Wiljon, Wǣhaz
), so that the they can be taken as forming a triad of *wódz, wiljon, wǣhaz
, approximately "inspiration
(transcendent, mantic or prophetic knowledge), cognition
(will, desire, internal thought that leads to action) and numen
(spiritual power residing in the external world, in sacred objects)".
Compare to this the alliteration in a verse found in the Exeter Book
, Wôden worhte weos
"Woden wrought the sanctuaries
" where compared to the "triad" above, just middle will
etymon has been replaced by the work
etymon. The name of such sanctuaries to Woden Wôdenes weohas
(Saxon Wôdanes wih
, Norse Oðins ve
) survives in toponymy as Odinsvi
While Vili and Vé are of little prominence in Norse mythology as attested, their brother Oðinn has a more splendid career as the chief of the Norse pantheon. Oðinn however remains member of a triad, at the head of the three mightiest gods, Oðinn, Thôr, Freyr. Oðinn is also styled Thridi "the third", in which case he appears by the side of Hâr and Iafnhâr (the "high" and the "even-high" or co-equal), as the "Third High". At other times, he is Tveggi "the second". In relation to the Oðinn-Vili-Vé triad, Grimm (ch. 7) compares Old High German willa, which not only expressed voluntas, but also votum, impetus, spiritus, and the personification of Will, Wela in Old English sources. Keyser (1847) interprets the triad as "Spirit, Will and Holiness", postulating a kind of Germanic Trinity in Vili and Vé to be "blended together again in the all-embracing World-spirit in Odin. [...] he alone is Al-father, from whom all the other superior, world-directing beings, the Æsir, are descended."
According to Loki, in Lokasenna, Vili and Vé had an affair with Odin's wife, Frigg. This is taken by Grimm as reflecting the fundamental identity of the three brothers, so that Frigg might be considered the wife of either. According to this story Oðinn was abroad for a long time and in his absence his brothers acted for him. It is worthy of note, that Saxo also makes Oðin travel to foreign lands and Mithothin fill his place, and therefore Mithothin's position throws light on that of Vili and Ve. But Saxo, represents Oðin as once more an exile, and puts Oller in his place. The distant journeys of the god are implied in the Norse by-names Gângrâðr, Gângleri, Vegtamr, and Viðförull. It is not to be overlooked, that even Paulus Diaconus (1, 9) knows of Wodan's residence in Greece while Saxo removes him to Byzantium, and Snorri to Tyrkland.
- E. A. Philippson, Die Genealogie der Götter in Germanischer Religion, Mythologie und Theologie, Illinois studies in language and literature vol. 37, Urbana, Illinois (1953), 44-52.
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology (1835), ch. 7, ch. 19
- R. Keyser, The Religion Of The Northmen (Nordmændenes Religionsforfatning I hedendommen) (1847, trans. 1854), ch. 8
- Viktor Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi ) (1886, trans. 1889) ch. 83