An introduction to Norse Pagan Practice

Our Sources

The History of Heathenry
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a book representing norse pagan practice

Our sources on Heathenry are unfortunately very scattered. We rely on a combination of historical sources and modern relations with Scandinavian countries.

Historical Sources

Old Norse religions were passed down through oral tradition. While the Norse did have a form of writing, it was almost exclusively used for short commemorative messages on objects like runestones. The Norse didn’t produce long codexes like other civilizations did.

When people refer to the “primary sources” of Heathenry, they’re technically referring to second-hand accounts written by observers of Old Norse culture, rather than first-hand accounts written by members of that culture. These sources are “primary” only in that they are the forefront authority on the matter. Some of our most important sources, the Eddas, were written after the Christianization of Scandinavia within a Christian culture.

These sources still are very valuable to Norse Paganism. Their authorship just means we need to approach them as biased and potentially misrepresentative. In other words, we need to take our sources with a grain of salt.

Some of our most important extant texts are listed below.

The Poetic Edda

The Poetic Edda is an Icelandic collection of poems written in Old Norse by an anonymous source. The Poetic Edda is one of our top resources on Norse Mythology, preserving stories from Icelandic oral traditions. One of its most significant iterations is the Codex Regius, a manuscript written sometime in the 1270’s.

The poems of the Poetic Edda are as follows:

In Codex Regius

  • Völuspá (The Prophecy of the Seeress)
  • Hávamál (Sayings of the High One)
  • Vafþrúðnismál (Vafthrúdnir’s Sayings)
  • Grímnismál (Grímnir’s Sayings)
  • Skírnismál (The Lay of Skírnir)
  • Hárbarðsljóð (Hárbard’s Song)
  • Hymiskviða (The Lay of Hymir)
  • Lokasenna (Loki’s Quarrel)
  • Þrymskviða (The Lay of Thrym)
  • Völundarkviða (The Lay of Völund)
  • Alvíssmál (All-Wise’s Sayings)

Not in Codex Regius

  • Baldrs Draumar (Baldr’s Dreams)
  • Gróttasöngr (The Mill’s Song, The Song of Grotti)
  • Rígsþula (The Lay of Ríg)
  • Hyndluljóð (The Lay of Hyndla)
  • Völuspá in skamma (The Short Völuspá)
  • Svipdagsmál (The Lay of Svipdag)
    • Grógaldr (The Spell of Gróa)
    • Fjölsvinnsmál (The Lay of Fjölsvid)
  • Hrafnagaldr Óðins (Odins’s Raven Song)*
  • Gullkársljóð (The Poem of Gullkár)*

* Late works not included in most editions after 1900.

The Prose Edda

The Prose Edda was written by Icelandic lawspeaker and politician Snorri Sturluson in 1220 C.E. It was written to demonstrate the poetic artform of “kenning.” The work uses the Norse gods and their stories as central figures in this work, but the overall work itself has heavy Christian leanings, reflecting the religious syncretism of the time. The book contains three parts: Gylfaginning (“The Tricking of Gylfi”), Skáldskaparmál (“The Language of Poetry”), and Háttatal (“Tally of Metres”).

Gesta Danorum

Gesta Danorum (“The Danish History”) was written by author Saxo Grammaticus as a fanciful and patriotic account of the history of the Danes. The accounts overlap with regional legends, mythologies, and folklore. Gesta Danorum contains stories of the gods not found in the Icelandic Eddas, including a Danish version of Baldr’s Draumar depicting Baldr as a formidable demi-god with impenetrable armor.

Gesta Danorum is a work that shows regional differences in Norse mythology.

Icelandic Sagas

Other Icelandic sagas provide insight into Iclandic old Norse culture and mythology, such as the Saga of the Volsungs, which gives us the Cursed Ring of Andvari myth.

The Faroese Ballads

The Faroese Ballads are a very late source of folklore, but important in how they demonstrate surviving Norse traditions. The Faroese Kvæði are songs that tell tales of heroes, gods, folklore, comedic events, and politics, some dating back to the 14th century and perhaps even earlier. Jens Christian Svabo began to compile a record of these Ballads starting in 1781, but they weren’t published until much later, from 1941-2003.

Beowulf

Beowulf is an Epic poem written in Old English around 700-1000 C.E. This book is important for many of its pagan elements, including its depiction of sumbel.

The Accounts of Ahmad ibn Fadlan

(Pending Information)

Germania

The Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus wrote Germania in 98 C.E, which details the beliefs and practices of ancient Germanic pagan civilizations. While not exactly Norse, it’s possible the customs of the Germanic peoples reflect broader customs in the Sandinavian regions.

A Note on Scripture

Our extant sources on Heathenry are not religious scripture. Scripture is a very specific kind of text designed to foster religious practice, belief, and community; it’s often treated as divinely-inspired. Most of all, it’s written by and for members of that religion. Some Heathens derive spiritual connection from our secondary written sources, particularly the Hávamál. But this is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

Archaeology

Archaeology remains an important source for understanding Old Norse and Viking culture. We gain insight into the Norse culture by looking at the things they made, the tools they used, the burials they laid, and the settlements they established. While archaeology can’t tell us everything about their ancient religions, it can help inform our modern-day Heathen practices.

Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of culture. Echoes of Old Norse culture can still be seen in Scandinavian countries today. By comparing these with what we know of the Norse past, we can identify key values and observances that endured throughout time.

Folklore

Many regional stories, creatures, sayings, and superstitions persist in Scandinavian countries. For example, Iceland is careful about where it builds roads and houses so as not to disturb the Alvar. Folklore gives us further depth into the animistic worldview that informs Norse Paganism.

The History of Heathenry
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