Holy Texts & Scripture
Heathenry: Heathenry has no holy books or sacred scriptures. There are important historical texts that preserve folklore and mythology, such as sagas and the Eddas, but these are not scripture any more than Aesop’s Fables are. They also do not serve as guidebooks on Heathen living or as a key tool to understanding the gods, outside of preserving their stories. Norse mythology is largely treated as allegorical, rather than literal.
Christianity: Has the Holy Bible to serve as a guiding text. Stories are often taken literally.
Heathenry: There are no inherent religious mandates in Heathenry. What a Heathen chooses to observe in their practice is a matter of personal preference as opposed to something demanded by the religion.
Christianity: Many denominations of Christianity are high-demand practices due to denomination-specific requirements for behavior, beliefs, attitudes, tithing, and lifestyle choices. The definition of a high-demand religion is as follows: “Religions can be described as high-demand when they involve high time and resource commitments; emphasis on leadership, orthodox belief, and scriptural inerrancy or literalism; and strict behavioral codes including rules of diet, dress, tithing, education, sexual practices, media and technology use, language, social involvement, and marriage.”
Nature of God(s)
Heathenry: Deities are seen as representations of the natural world and humanity, as opposed to paragons to emulate or ideals to strive for. The gods are not omnipotent or omniscient—they are capable of bad behavior and making mistakes in the same way they’re capable of great wisdom and knowledge. To Norse Pagans this is exactly what makes the gods relatable: They’re like us. There are no “good” or “evil” beings in Norse belief.
Christianity: God is seen as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. It’s not a part of Christian belief to question, doubt, or challenge God.
Our Relationship with God(s)
Heathenry: Gods can be directly involved in our lives if we’d like them to be. Heathen relationships with deities are direct and do not require a mediator. They can also take on a variety of different dynamics, such as Parent/Child, Teacher/Student, friendships, and more. The Norse Deities are also not offended by our human behaviors or mistakes, and it’s very difficult to irritate them with our human proclivities. They also aren’t surveilling us, passing judgement on our behavior, or reading our private thoughts. They’re also not here to mete out punishments based on their own judgements.
Christianity: While this differentiates amongst denominations, relating to God follows very strict guidelines and often takes the form of a Lord/Servant dynamic.
Good & Evil
Heathenry: “Good” and “evil” are not really concepts found in Heathenry. They factor in only as far as our subjective ideas of these things go.
Christianity: Good and evil are seen as objective, and the Universe operates off of these two principles.
Heathenry: Magic is an integral part of Heathenry. While not all Heathens practice magic, Norse Paganism has its own kinds of magical practices.
Christianity: Magic is seen as taboo in some sects of Christianity.
Heathenry: These are seen as a choice of an individual. Morals, laws, and ethics are seen as properties of human social relations, rather than something divinely-mandated. While Heathens may have cultural values, they are not required to adopt a certain set of morals to be considered Heathen.
Christianity: Right and wrong are considered divinely-mandated and objective to the Universe itself, and following the righteous path is necessary for being Christian.
Heathenry: The Heathen concept of fate can be described as “the most likely outcome given our current trajectory.” Fate is never set in stone, can shift with new circumstances, and is something you have control over. This is discussed more in Wyrd & Orlog.
Christianity: A very large attitude of “God has a plan for you” permeates Christian thinking. There is also the belief that God knows your own best interests better than you do.
Faith & Magical Thinking
Heathenry: Belief in the gods or belief in certain principles does not grant a Heathen more favor in the eyes of the Norse Deities. Additionally, Heathens can doubt, question, and challenge the existence and authority of the Gods if they wish. Miracles and wishes are not granted based on a system of belief. Likewise, bad things don’t happen to Heathens because they didn’t believe in the Gods hard enough.
Christianity: Having an unconditional belief in God is an integral part of Christian belief.
Heathenry: Divinity is a property of all things similar to color, mass, and form. Because of this, no actions bring you closer or further away from divinity in Norse Heathenry, which means the concept of sin doesn’t exist. Consequences are a result of imminent reality, not divine mandate. The closest we have to this concept is “being a dickbag.”
Christianity: Sin is defined as doing anything that separates someone from God’s light. What this is depends on the denomination and dogmas involved.
Guilt, Shame, Confession
Heathenry: Guilt, shame, and confessing infractions are not a part of Heathenry. No inherent system within Heathenry is designed to put people into states of shame and motivate them to get out of them. If this is found in Heathenry, it was artificially put there by the group.
Christianity: Confession is found in Catholicism, and guilt and shame (but most of all, fear) are used as heavy motivators in the religion.
Celibacy & Sexual Behavior
Heathenry: There are no universally-recognized rules or taboos when it comes to sexual behavior in Heathenry. As a life-affirming spirituality, Norse Heathens often view the body as something to be cared for and enjoyed on any level it needs. The body, and by extension the hamr, often plays an important role in the Norse concept of “self,” so its needs are respected. The same respect is also extended to partners in sexual acts.
Some American Heathens may argue that ragr or ergi is a form of sexual taboo in Norse Heathenry—that is, to be the passive recipient in same-sex intercourse. This word and its connotations originate from historical texts, which describe ragr as a cultural taboo of post-Christianized Scandinavia. It’s important to remember that American Heathens also make the mistake of treating history as Norse Heathenry’s bible, for lack of any other guiding scripture. Norse Heathenry as a spirituality does not make any demands for practitioners to observe certain sexual practices.
Christianity: Many denominations have rules about celibacy, “waiting until marriage,” or taboos surrounding sexual acts.
Death & The Afterlife
Heathenry: There are many different conditional afterlives in Norse Paganism, but a good afterlife is guaranteed with one’s ancestors in Helheim (different from the Christian Hell), so life is not lived in order to earn a certain afterlife. Norse pagans have many different beliefs about death. Some even believe in reincarnation. There is no Norse concept of “damnation.”
Christianity: Heaven and Hell (and sometimes Limbo and Purgatory) are all afterlives, but effort is needed to achieve the good afterlife of Heaven.
Heathenry: While Norse Paganism has the story of Ragnarok, this event is not usually interpreted as a literal end-times prophecy. Instead, it’s treated as an allegory, and sometimes as an event that has already passed.
Christianity: The Rapture and end-times prophecies play a key role in Christianity.
Heathenry: Someone’s worth is inherent to their very existence.
Christianity: Someone’s worth is conditional.
Heathenry: Norse Pagan Heathenry has no ambitions to convert others to the religion.
Christianity: This is a main practice of the religion.
Additional Concepts NOT Found in Heathenry
- A Satan or “Tempter” figure
- A Divine Plan
- An all-powerful deity
- A Christ figure
- The Separation of the Sacred and the Profane
- The need to maintain a state of ecstasy
- Inherent Moral Codes
- Karmic Debt
- Left-Hand and Right-Hand paths
Shifting Your Perspective
In Norse paganism, actions are not done to please deities or to avoid a bad afterlife, but instead are done to foster spiritual connection for ourselves in whatever ways we need. This changes our entire baseline understanding for why we do something, and even changes the way we ask questions.
Consider the following popular questions and how reframing them in your mind will give you more agency, freedom, and depth in your practice:
- What do I need to do or believe to be Norse Pagan?
- What aspects of Norse Paganism resonate with me? In what ways do I want to demonstrate this?
- How do I worship the gods?
- Do I want to connect with the gods? If so, what about the gods makes me want to connect with them? What sort of function would that fulfill for me?
- How do I set up an altar?
- What is a sacred space to me, and is it important for me to create one? If so, what function does this space serve in my practice?
- What’s the best way to make offerings?
- Why do I make offerings and what does that action mean in my practice?
- What’s the right way to be a heathen?
- What feels right for me?