Approaches to Norse Pagan practice vary greatly from person to person. They also vary between communities and even regions. Family practices look different from solo practices, solo practices look different from organization practices, Icelandic practices look different from Norwegian practices, reconstructionist practices look different from revivalist practices look different from living traditions, and so on.
Heathenry’s decentralized nature means this has always been the case. How practices are supplemented and what they’re informed by after that is a matter of personal preference and circumstance.
Reconstructionism & Revivalism
Two popular approaches to Heathenry are Reconstructionism and Revivalism. Reconstructionism tries to recreate Old Norse religious practices as accurately as possible given what we know of the past. Revivalism seeks to revive the Old Norse practices in a modern setting with modern approaches.
Both approaches are essential to the integrity and functionality of modern-day Heathenry. How Reconstructionist or Revivalist a Heathen is depends on their personal preference. Both methods have their benefits. Oftentimes, Reconstructionism informs our direction while Revivalism fills in the gaps. Revivalism also makes Heathen practice accessible for many people.
Both can have unhealthy appearances, particularly when taken to extremes. Unhealthy Reconstructionism turns Heathenry into a high-demand religion, treating the past as gospel and using historical essentialism as a measure of “true Heathen practice.” Unhealthy Revivalism is deceptive or appropriative, passing off new or stolen practices as “ancient.” They also may misrepresent Norse Heathenry entirely. This spreads misinformation about what Heathenry is.
Healthy Reconstructionism accounts for the needs of modern people and ethics of our modern times, while healthy Revivalism is honest about new material. Neither way is an incorrect approach to Norse Pagan Heathenry.
Early Reconstruction Efforts
Early reconstruction efforts are riddled with ideological and methodological issues. Due to modern Norse Heathenry’s origins in German Romanticism, early reconstructionism was geared towards giving white Germans a sense of storied national history as opposed to genuinely and faithfully reconstructing Old Norse practices. These early cases almost always carried connotations of cultural imperialism to them, along with antisemitic and anti-Catholic sentiments.
However, no early efforts actually lead to a genuine and successful reconstruction of old Norse practices. The Old Norse civilizations were used as an aesthetic baseline for a national identity as opposed to a theological baseline for a renewed religious identity. This remains an implicit (or explicit) goal in many reconstructionist branches of Heathenry to this day.
A Note on Reenactment
Some Norse Pagan Heathens may use reenactment as a way to connect more with their Heathen practice, but Heathenry is not synonymous with viking reenactment.
Perhaps outside of the category of either Reconstructionism or Revivalism are surviving Heathen practices. Rather than dying out completely, Old Norse religions became syncretized with Christian practices. These were passed down from generation after generation in the centuries that followed, often in family lines. Unique observances rose from these lines that may not be found in typical Revivalist or Reconstructionist approaches. Galdrastafir is one example of such a practice.
How Heathens interact with each other socially can determine the approaches they have to their practices. These practices can be solo, familial, communal, or cultural.
Solo practices are just what they say on the tin; a practice someone forms for themself. This is a typical approach for someone just starting a Heathen practice, and often the solo practitioner tailors their practice to their needs and sensibilities. In some heathen paths, solo practice may sometimes be referred to as a “hearthcult.”
Family traditions survived and were passed down through generations. These are family Heathen practices and may have a long legacy behind them. Other family traditions are new, forming a new lineage for Heathenry to be passed through.
Sometimes Heathens seek out groups and communities to be a part of and celebrate together, whether it’s through small gatherings or larger organizations. These communities offer guidance and spiritual services similar to many other religions.
Practice styles are different across countries. What’s culturally found amongst Heathens in one country may not be found amongst Heathens in another. For example: Some US Heathens will give themselves spiritual names that demonstrate patronage to a deity (i.e. “Odinsdottir”), but this is viewed as disrespectful in Danish traditions. Another example: Loki is thought to cause spilopper (tricks both good and bad) in Norway, but in Denmark this is thought to be caused by the nisse. During Midsummer celebrations in Denmark, massive fires are lit along the shores that can be seen from Sweden.
A Note on “True Heathenry”
Sometimes Heathen discussion ends up being very focused on finding the truest, least-Christianized version of Heathenry. But Old Norse religions were decentralized and we never may know much about them without first-hand accounts.
Because of this, pre-Christianized Heathenry may not be possible to find, but de-Christianized Heathenry certainly is. It requires understanding what concepts are Christian in nature as opposed to religious in nature. This can be done through comparative religious studies.