Give Me That Old Norse Religion


While polytheistic religion is a definite minority nowadays, you can probably find groups and individuals worshipping any god or group of gods if you look hard enough. Worship of the old Norse pantheon is known as Asatru, or worship of the Aesir, although some apparently prefer the term Odinism. As an atheist, I can’t help but think the old Scandinavians were just as likely to have hit on the correct gods as the ancient Israelites.

There is a problem, however, in that we know very little about how believers in the Aesir worshipped them. I have heard that human sacrifice to Odin was common at one point in time, and I hope no modern followers of Asatru are doing that. As I indicated in my last post, most of what we do know about Norse religion comes from Christian sources. We have more first-hand accounts from other societies, including the Greeks, the Egyptians, and of course the Jews. Mind you, even as these groups continued to worship the same gods, the methods of worship changed throughout the years. People who want to recreate the exact practices of these religions are hampered by the fact that there rarely was one specific way to worship Odin or Thor, not to mention Zeus, Ra, or even Yahweh. There are practical considerations as well, such as the human sacrifice issue I mentioned earlier. Some pagans mix together elements from various cultures, like how Wiccans celebrate both Norse and Celtic holidays, but others strive for accuracy that they’re unlikely to achieve.

The people who claim their religion is just like that of the ancient Norse or whatever are likely wrong, but in the end, does it really matter? What DOES matter is what I mentioned earlier about the racist element to some Germanic paganism, which unfortunately has somewhat of a legacy. When German nationalists wanted gods who were distinctly their own and didn’t have the Jewish roots that Jesus did, they latched onto the Aesir. There was some antisemitism present in the works of Wagner, such as his portrayal of the dwarf Alberich. And of course Hitler took it to extremes. More recently, white supremacists have gotten disturbed over how the majority of Asatru members are NOT racist, and decided to call themselves Wotanists. Wotan is the German name for Odin, but also can stand for “Will of the Aryan Nation.” I wish I were making this up, but I’m not. It’s hardly fair, but it’s not like other religions haven’t also been used to support racism. The other thing that tends to be associated with Viking religion is heavy metal, because if there’s one thing that makes sense to tie in with pre-Christian Germany and Scandinavia, it’s electric guitars.

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3 Responses to Give Me That Old Norse Religion

  1. Another good post, Nathan. One of the things that’s interesting in the OT is that Yahweh strives to get his people to worship him a very singular way, not in a syncretic, part-Mosaic-Law, part-Canaanite way, which is what kept happening time and again, as the Jews were constantly attracted to the sexualized, superstitious and violent worship of Baal and Ashtoreth that seemed to bring results. The Mosaic Law is very specific as to how YHVY is to be worshiped, and how its followers are to live in terms of their moral code.

    I always find it funny when some scholars say that the Jews are actually a branch of Canaanites, when their culture, religion and moral code are so radically different than any of the tribes that descended from Canaan.

    • Nathan says:

      An interesting question is how much Jewish monotheism might have been influenced by Akhenaten of Egypt’s attempts at instituting a monotheistic religion in that country.

      • Freud was amongst the first to propose that theory. The two bear some fascinating similarities (as does the Great Hymn to Aten with Psalm 104), particularly in Amenhotep IV’s (Akhenaten) ninth year, when he determined that Aten was not the sun itself, not Ra-Horus, but a spiritual being, and that the other gods were not gods at all, which is definitely interesting. Yet, references to the Shasu (Nomads) of YHW occur during the reign of Amenhotep III, Akhenaten’s father. So, it’s possible that Akhenaten’s monotheistic leanings were either independent of the Semitic rise of monotheism, or actually influenced by Hebrew worshippers of YHWH, and not the other way around.

        I tell you, if more money was put into archaeology and historical preservation, then in the mass destruction of war, power and plunder (of land and resources), we’d have uncovered so much more by now. There’s entire remnants of cities lying underground just waiting to be brought back to the surface.

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