© Copyright 2023 Fran Carey, All Rights Reserved.
From 800 to 1050 C.E., coastal villages throughout the British Isles prayed nightly, "Lord, save us from the Northmen and their awful ships." Long symbolic of force and lawlessness, the Vikings also left a rich legacy of myths and traditions, some still observed today. But who were the gods who inspired the fearless sea raids of their followers, and such modern traditions as Santa Claus? Where are they today?
Archaeologists still dispute the origin of the proto-Indo-Europeans, the predecessors of the modern Germanic peoples. Strong evidence points to the area now known as southern Russia. The migration to their present homes in northern Europe and, ultimately, the rest of the world, began between five and six thousand years ago, with settlements being established in Scandinavia, Norway, Denmark and the German regions, then, later, in Iceland, Greenland, England, Ireland and France.
The Viking period, the era which perhaps left their greatest mark on Western civilization, was a result of a population crisis in the previously settled areas. Younger sons of the landed class were not eligible to inherit the land, and thus had no means of substantial income or employment. These younger sons took to the seas in wooden boats, raiding and trading as far south as the Mediterranean and as far west as North America.
The Germanic peoples left behind weapons, jewelry, inscribed stones and other artifacts in their travels. Among better know items are those found at the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Great Britain and many battle sites in the British Isles. Dublin, Ireland was once a Norse trading post, as were many coastal English villages.
Another strong legacy is in the myths and traditions which remain. Santa Claus has been traced to Odin, the Father God, the giver of gifts to his followers. The Christmas tree is a remnant of the winter Solstice sacrifice tree, on which animals were hung as offerings to the Gods to insure a prosperous new year. Even the names of our days echo the old beliefs. Moon day. Tyr's Day. Odin's Day. Thor's Day. Freya's Day. To the Latin for Saturn's Day, then back to Norse for Sun Day.
We have two main contemporary sources for the myths and legends of these ancestors. The Poetic, or Elder Edda, of unknown ultimate origin, which we have as a collection of poems gathered over the years from throughout the Germanic realms. The other is the Prose, or Younger Edda, a textbook on Viking poetry by Thirteenth Century Christian monk Snorri Sturluson. These tell us of the ethical views, cultural life, and religions beliefs of the Vikings and their families.
They include creation stories, god stories, and an explanation of the structure of the universe, as well as definitions of the types of magical and religious workers found in the culture, and information on the Runes, the mystery symbols used for secular writing, as well as for divination and magical workings.
There are two classes of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir. The Vanir are the older, agricultural/nature gods and goddesses. The two about whom we have the most tales are Freyr and Freya, Lord and Lady, their personal names unknown. Freyr is the northern cognate of the Horned God, the Lord of the fertility and plentitude of the Earth. His symbol is the erect phallus.
Freya is the goddess of love and of war, fertility and death. She is the leader of the Valkeries, the choosers of the slain, and of the Dises, the protectresses of home and hearth. Her symbols are the cat and the necklace Brisingamen, which, as long as it remains whole, ensures fertility in humans and the Earth itself.
Among the Aesir we find the chief of the pantheon, Odin, the All Father, and lord of the slain. He is the god of poets and warriors, kings and magic workers. He obtained the Runes through self-sacrifice on the World Tree, and gave his eye to learn to use them. He is the archetypal wounded healer and a teacher god. His symbols are the wolf, the raven, and the interlocked triple triangle of the Valknut.
His son, Thor, was perhaps the best-loved god. He is the protector god, as well as a god of fertility. His hammer Mjollnir, when thrown, strikes the earth and produces thunder. It is to Thor that the worker goes after death. His hammer is his symbol.
The Trickster god is Loki, brother of Odin and god of fire. He is both beneficent, as the obtainer of such gifts as Thor's hammer and Odin's magical spear, and destructive, as the thief of Freya's necklace and the father of the monsters foretold to destroy the world, the wolf Fenris and the Midgard Serpent. Earthquakes are caused by his thrashing in pain as the snake venom drips on him in his captivity, where he was bound for trickery by the gods.
The worship of the gods is a daily thing, as well as having, like any religion, feast days and other forms of ritualized worship. It also features distinct types of magic. Seidr magic is the shamanistic aspect, very similar in theory and practice to modern Wicca. It is practiced by Volvas, and gets its name from the word "seethe", to steep in a pot or cauldron, a name indicative of the herbal, naturistic face of this female-dominated practice, which the god Odin studied under Freya.
Galdr magic is the traditional term for Rune magic. It is more ceremonial in structure, based as it is on written symbols. It is predominantly male, and is the creation of Odin. Practitioners are called Vitkis. They use the symbols to manipulate elemental and subconscious forces through conscious will. It is a very powerful form of magic and very dangerous if practiced without proper training and attention.
Worship is led by the godhi (male) or gydhia (female) in ritual and by the head of the household on a daily basis. These may focus on Aesir or Vanir, or both. Two main organizations for the study and practice of the religion in the U. S. are the Ring of Troth and the Rune Gild, the Gild being more focussed on the Runes.
The Troth, or truth, tradition teaches the Nine Noble Virtues, courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance and perseverance, and the Six-fold Goal, right, wisdom, might, harvest, frith, or peace, and love.
There is no basis in Northern teachings for prejudice, racism, or any of the other evils associated with it by its improper appropriation and misinterpretation by the Nazis and their descendants. Hitler got the superiority of the Aryan peoples part from Helena Blavatsky and Frederic Nietzche, and an improper reading of their work at that.
The primary faces of Norse religion today are Asatru, the worship of the Aesir, Vanatru, followers of the Vanir, Odinism, worshippers of Odin, Odians, who don't worship the god, but seek to become like him, and Seax Wicca and other Celtic/Nordic blends. None of these practice animal sacrifice, ritual torture, or other anti-humanistic rites.
Rune magic does involve blood, but only that of the practitioner. All paths teach respect for life in all its forms, from the plant we thank as we pick its fruit, to the animal that gave its life so that we may eat and live. No one path is by nature superior to the others. Each seeker needs a specific thing at a specific time, and the Northern traditions live for those who need them now.
|Children of Ash and Elm||Norse Mythology|
|Modern Guide to Heathenry||Poetic Edda|