What Is Norse Paganism?

Although people often use Norse Paganism as an umbrella term for both the ancient and modern practice of the pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian religions, it is a relatively modern phrase.

This religious or spiritual tradition goes back thousands of years but has seen some changes along the way.

Norse Paganism is the modern practice and revival of the ancient religion of the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Germanic peoples, originally practiced between the prehistoric period and Medieval eras. 

Most Norse Pagans embrace and appreciate the mythological tales and pantheon we inherited from the ancient Scandinavian and Germanic peoples.

However, every practitioner has a different relationship with these stories and deities. Let’s explore more about the fascinating world of Norse Paganism. 

Also, see What Are Runes? to learn more.

Do Norse Pagans Believe in Norse Mythology?

Some Norse Pagans believe in Norse mythology. Other practitioners of Norse Paganism see the stories and gods of Norse mythology as metaphors and allegories for the natural world around them, worshiping the bounties of nature from an animistic perspective. 

While Norse Paganism is one of the most popular forms of Paganism, there is no one right way to practice it in the modern day.

There are no enforcers, few organized centers of worship, and limited leaders in this religion. Thus, faith practitioners have varying beliefs, practices, and ideas. 

For example, some Norse Pagans may only practice this religion to understand history better. 

Also, see Do Norse Pagans Pray? Get The Facts to learn more.

What Do Norse Pagans Believe? 

Most of our evidence of Norse religion comes from the Christian era, as the Pagans of the North sought to record and preserve their religious traditions before they disappeared entirely at the onset of Christianity. 

The most important of these works are the Eddas, which include an Icelandic collection of songs about heroes and gods and a prose description of several mythological stories of the Old Norse religion. [1]

Norse Cosmology and World Order

In Norse Paganism, the center of the universe is a tree called the Yggdrasil. 

From this tree, nine different realms stretch from the branches, roots, and trunk, creating a divided world order with parallel dimensions where gods, spirits, and humans reside. [2] 

These realms are: 

  • Asgard, where the Aesir gods reside. Inside Asgard are Valhalla, the resting place of honorable warriors, and Folkvangr, the resting site of all others who died in battle. 
  • Midgard, where all humans live, joined to Asgard in some accounts by the rainbow bridge called Bifrost
  • Alfheim, where the glistening elves reside
  • Svartalfheim, the realm of black elves
  • Jotunheim, the kingdom of giants
  • Nidavellir, where dwarves reside
  • Muspelheim is a land of fire and smoke. There lives a giant who would rise from his realm at Ragnarok, representing the end of all nine domains. 
  • Niflheim, the realm of ice and mist
  • Vanaheim, where the Vanir gods reside

Looking closely at this list, you will see that the Norse world consists of opposite forces—land and sky, small and large, black and white.

While none of these are “good” or “evil,” they are constantly pushing and pulling to keep the world in order. 

The only realm outside these opposing forces is the human realm, which both gods and humans keep in order with the following:

  • Wars
  • Peace
  • Treaties
  • Trade
  • Worship
  • Human affairs

However, some of these realms changed after the Christianization of Scandinavia, reflecting a new afterlife realm called Hel.

This place was where the spirits of most deceased people would go, and it most reflects the Christian idea of limbo, a dark and neutral place where people existed without any change. [3]

This world order would persist until Ragnarok, when a jotun, often translated as giant or troll, named Surtr would rise from Muspelheim to battle with the Aesir in Asgard.

As written in the Eddas, they7 foretell the resulting chaos—great flames that would engulf and destroy the entire universe. [4] 

Then, the world would be reborn under a new world order. 

Norse Pagan Divinities: The Aesir, Vanir, and Minor Gods

In the polytheistic pantheon of Norse Paganism are the Aesir and Vanir, groups of gods of different tribes of divinities. Let’s explore them in more detail.

The Vanir 

Traditionally, the Vanir are gods of the earth, in charge of fertility, forests, humankind, and all things terrestrial. These gods include:

The Aesir 

The Aesir are of the heavens, controlling abstract emotions, weather, and all the sky’s movements. The Aesir include some of the most influential and popular gods, such as: 

  • Thor, the god of thunder, the clouds, the sky, and protection
  • Odin, the god of poetry, the dead, the rage of war, magic, divination, and wisdom (also see What is Seidr in Norse Mythology?)
  • Tyr, the god of victory in battle

These gods originally resided in separate realms but, following a war, made peace and exchanged hostages to solidify their agreement. 

This division and treaty tell us much about Norse values of alliances, war, and hospitality.

In addition, it illustrates the Norse Pagan’s worldview, with the celestial sky gods working together and, sometimes, at odds, with the land, water, and plant deities on earth. 

Hence, only when all gods are on good terms are the fields full of crops, the battles few, and the tribes at peace. 

Animism in Norse Paganism

Norse Pagans are animists, which means that they believe everything has a spirit within. Every tree, rock, river, place, and object is spiritual. Thus, religion was and is part of a Norse Pagan’s everyday life. 

A Norse Pagan sees the world and everything in it as divine; thus, each object and place is holy and warrants respect. 

Do Norse Pagans Worship Their Gods?

Norse Pagans may worship their gods by offering a “blot” or a sacrifice to one or more gods or spirits, praying to their gods, setting up altars in honor of their favorite gods, or incorporating symbols from the old religion into their lives.

While Norse Pagans may still worship their gods, how they do so might be unfamiliar to many today. 

Instead of assembling in churches, Norse Pagans are usually either solitary practitioners or worship their gods on special seasonal holidays in small groups. 

They often choose outdoor places for religious observances, such as on the banks of streams, atop scenic lookouts over the mountains, or in the woods.

Traditionally, practitioners of the old Norse religion would construct heaps of stones, called a hörgr, or a hearg, in reverence to one or more gods. [5]

Modern Norse Pagans may do the same, even in their backyards. 

Some Norse Pagans may also create indoor or outdoor shrines or altars to their favorite gods, traditionally called ve.

These shrines may contain depictions of a god or goddess, an offering plate, specific depictions of runes representing the chosen god or goddess, or other symbols associated with a deity. 

[1] Source
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[5] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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