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Odinism: Ideology, Customs, and Practices

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Saved by Geirrod the Ruthless
on December 2, 2009 at 2:25:46 pm




Odinism is the modern revival of an ancient religion widely practiced by various people throughout northern Europe, primarily, the Norse. Odinism goes under many names. To those who study the religion from the outside, it may be called “Germanic Neopaganism.” For those who practice the religion, it may go under the title Heathenry, Ásatrú, and a slew of other names (but to save time, this paper will refer to the whole under the umbrella term “Odinism”). While the religion has technically been in existence since the creation of it by the Norse people, the modern revival of these beliefs began in the early 20th century.


Research Direction

Odinists would say that their religion has never had a revival, and that the same beliefs and practices that are done today are the same practiced by their Norse ancestors. Within Odinism, beliefs and practices vary widely. Some may have a focus on the traditional practices of their heritage (which will sometimes call themselves “Heathens” to differentiate from pagans whose rituals come from modern sources). Others may romanticize the Viking belief system and take more of a occultic or mysticist approaches. In either case, all contemporary accounts of Odinism are based off of existing records of Norse mythology dated back to the 11th century.


Because of the connection to ancient Germanic identity, some Odinists today have links to Neo-Nazism and white supremacism. While the Neo-Nazi’s that practice their ancient indigenous religion will always call themselves Odinists, and usually never Ásatrú, not all Odinists will call themselves Neo-Nazi’s. This difference is illustrated between “folkish” Odinists, which believe that you must have ancestral blood to be a follower, and “universalist” Odinists, which believe anyone can be a follower. However, my research will not focus on the racialist aspect, as my research partner has covered that extensively here. In my research, I will clearly identify what it means to be an Odinist through looking at the history, practices, ideologies, and customs of Odinism. I will then be comparing this contemporary take on the faith to the “religion” of the historical Norse, or Vikings.


Basic Tenants of Odinism



Early Germanic Paganism


All religions of the ancient times before monotheism, specifically the Juedeo-Christian belief, are pagan. The ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, etc. all practiced paganism, or polytheism. Among these ancient civilizations we can also mention the Teutons, of which one branch of paganism descended from, which can be called Germanic Paganism.

The Teutons, or Germanic peoples, consist of several different tribes in northern Europe, possessing a common origin and sharing many cultural affinities, who speak one or other of the Germanic languages. The important Germanic tribes of ancient times include the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Lombards, Franks, Burgundians and Vandals. All of these nations were originally worshippers of the gods and goddesses of the same pantheon. The descendents of these tribes include the modern peoples of the Germans, Dutch, Flemings, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders, and the Anglo-Saxons of England and lowland Scotland.


While the Odinic gods and goddesses are often synonymous with the Vikings, or the Scandinavian peoples, it actually is a product of the aforementioned Germanic people. While the Gods may go under different names, their nature is quite similar. For example, the Germanic Mercury, the Old English Woden, and Norse Odin all descend from the common “poetic warrior God” of Wodanaz. While the Viking period lasted 500 years, Germanic paganism (which includes Odinism under its umbrella) has an organized history of about 8000 years. Most of what is known about this Germanic religion is derived from descriptions by Latin writers such as Julius Caesar and Tacitus, descriptions from early Christian missionaries, and archaeological evidence including cult objects, amulets, grave goods, and place names. The Germanic brand of paganism is one of the oldest pre-Christian religions that is still in practice today.


The success of Christianity largely displaced paganism in Europe during the medieval period. Norse Paganism, the brand of Germanic Paganism that Odinists have revived, died out during this period as well. Anglo-Saxon England was converted from Norse paganism in the 7th century, Scandinavia in the 10th century, and finally, Lithuania officially converted in 1386, which was the last Norse pagan stronghold in Europe. Worship of the Odinic gods and goddesses only lingered in secret in underground movements such as the Odin Brotherhood.


First Revival


Of all the brands of Germanic Paganism, Norse Paganism was easily survived due to being much better documented than any of its predecessors through Norse mythology depicted in the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, as well as the sagas, written in Iceland during 1150 – 1400 A.D. Because of the preservation of these documents, popular and scholarly interest for the history and culture of the Vikings became part of 19th century Romanticism. This movement was called The Viking Revival, or Septentionalism, of which Thomas Gray, William Blake, William Blake, and J.R.R. Tolkien were apart of.


One individual, Guido von List, became particularly interested in the Runes. In 1862, von List visited the crypt of St. Stephens Cathedral (which was a former pagan shrine), and swore an oath to build a temple to Wotan (the Germanic Odin). This was the birth of Germanic Neopaganism. Von List contributed to other organized pagan and occultic groups during this time, such as the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft (which still exists) and the Thule Society, which studied German antiquity. While many members of the Nazi Party were part of these movements, Adolf Hitler discouraged such pursuits, and Neopagan societies were even persecuted during this time.


Second Revival


With the first resurgence of the religion squashed, the second revival began, properly, the birthplace of the Viking Sagas and the Eddas; Iceland. In 1972, a farmer and poet named Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, created an organization called Ásatrúarfélagið (“Fellowship of the Aesir faith”). This organization was instrumental in helping to gain recognition by the Icelandic government for Odinism in 1973. This allowed the church, whose godi (or priest) was Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, to conduct legally binding ceremonies and collect a share of the church tax. During most of his life, membership did not exceed 100 people.


Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, first contemporary Odinist priest.


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