Why is Norse Mythology Considered Mythology?

According to a 2017 article in The Atlantic, Asatru, the worship of the old Norse gods, is the largest and fastest-growing “non-Christian religion” in Iceland. [1]

And the belief in and worship of Norse mythological figures isn’t limited to Iceland, either.

With people all over Scandinavia and other parts of the world believing in Norse gods, it isn’t apparent to some that these beliefs are still considered mythology

Norse mythology is considered mythology because it explores the origins of the Nordic cultures while utilizing fictional events and mythical supernatural beings.

While modern Asatru followers may argue that their beliefs are neither fictional nor mythical, the world at large classifies them as such.

This article will further explore why Norse mythology is still considered mythology rather than organized religion in most places.

It will also discuss Asatru and some of the most notable areas with groups practicing the religion today.

Also, see Vanir vs. Aesir: What’s the Difference? to learn more.

Norse Mythology Has All the Required Markers To Be Considered Mythology 

Two critical factors qualify something as mythology. 

First of all, myths are traditional tales that often explain the natural events of the world using larger-than-life, magical or supernatural beings. 

However, that definition could also include fairy tales, folklore, legends, and fables. 

The second crucial qualifier is the one that sets myths apart from these other traditional tales. It states the stories must have a religious element; they usually embody a specific culture’s religious or cultural beliefs. [2]

Norse mythology accurately fits both of those definitions. 

The Norse myths were traditional Scandinavian oral tales that explained the natural events of the world. They included mystical elements and more-than-human magical beings, including: 

  • Gods
  • Giants
  • Valkyries
  • Magical animals
  • Dwarfs
  • Elves
  • Monsters
  • Oracles
  • Witches
  • And more!

However, Scandinavians also worshiped the gods from their tales. They believed in Odin, Loki, and all the rest and sacrificed and prayed to them regularly in hopes of earning their favor.

Therefore, the Norse tales easily fit the definition of what the modern world calls mythology, even though it still has worshipers today.

Norse Mythology Predates the Word Religion

Norse mythology was prevalent in the world during the Viking era (the period that extended from approximately 793 AD – 1066 AD).

That predates the Medieval period when the word religion first appeared. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, religion was first used sometime around 1200 AD. [3] Before that time, there was no word for religion – organized or otherwise. 

When the French coined the term religion, Norse mythology wouldn’t have made the cut. Christians would never have referred to the Norse beliefs as a form of religion, only heathenism or paganism. 

The Norse tales were primarily spread orally from generation to generation. And their polytheistic nature certainly wasn’t in line with the more popular Christian views of the time.

Therefore, Viking beliefs were never considered a religion, only as something strange, wrong, and entirely fictionalized. 

Are Norse Gods a Myth? 

Whether or not Norse gods are a myth depends on who you ask.

Globally, most people would agree that, yes, Odin, Thor, Loki, and the other Norse gods are a myth. However, people who believe in them may disagree. 

It’s important to remember that one of the key components of a myth is the fictional aspect. For those who believe their gods are real, the term mythology could potentially be offensive. 

However, one could argue that figures from even the world’s most popular modern religions – Christianity, Islam, etc. – are all mythological creatures.  

They do fit the definition. Christian tales from the Bible and Islamic tales from the Quran are stories that explain natural occurrences of the world using larger-than-life, more-than-human beings.

They’re also important stories that make up a culture’s religious and cultural beliefs.

Therefore, non-believers worldwide refer to these religions as mythologies all the time. Even Wikipedia has entries for Christian mythology and Islamic mythology. [7][8] 

Discussions like these can upset people, and it’s easy to fall into murky waters.

However, strictly speaking, and in literary and dictionary terms, most belief systems could be classified as mythology, even if people still practice them today.  

Places Where People Still Worship the Old Gods

Today, most people live in a more tolerant world. Christianity isn’t the only popular or officially recognized belief system in most countries.

For example, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Asatru all appear on the United States Department of Defense’s list of recognized religions. [4]

Furthermore, Asatru is hugely popular in some of the Nordic countries, most notably Iceland, Norway, and Denmark. [1][5]

Asatru is also an officially recognized religion in Sweden, various UK countries, and the United States. 

There are even websites, such as Asatru Alliance in the US and Asatru UK in the UK, that allow people to locate Asatru communities and events near them. 

Though it isn’t and may never be as popular as some of the Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam, Asatru has a devoted group of followers worldwide who keep the belief in the Norse gods alive. 

Why Is Norse Mythology Still Called Mythology Today?

To the followers of Asatru, belief in and devotion to the Norse gods isn’t mythology; it’s their reality. They believe in the gods, at least in an abstract sense, and worship and offer gifts to them. [6]

They don’t see them as fictional, so why do people still consider these beliefs part of Norse mythology?

Unfortunately, these people’s belief in the gods isn’t enough to move the Norse tales out of their mythological designation. 

To the vast majority of the world, Norse mythology is just that – mythology.

Though most people recognize others’ right to worship the Norse gods, they still see them as made-up beings and the stories as fictional tales.

Furthermore, even if everyone in the world suddenly agreed that the Norse gods were real, Norse mythology still meets all the requirements of mythology, just like Greek, Roman, and other popular mythologies. 

Fortunately, as long as everyone remembers to be kind to one another and respect each other’s beliefs, the terminology isn’t hugely important. 

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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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