The first proto-Norse culture appeared in Scandinavia around 1700 BCE. What is known about their mythology is murky, but they seemed to have connected the movement of the sun with that of animals, in the form of a horse drawing the sun across the sky like a chariot. This motif survives in Norse mythology in the form of Skinfaxi and Hrímfaxi, the horses who pull the sun and moon.
The Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus writes Germania, an ethnography of ancient Germanic civilization. Despite its questionable reliability, this work was a pivotal influence in later Germanic Pagan movements.
Gesta Danorum or “The Danish History” is one of many sources of Norse folklore. It was written by author Saxo Grammaticus as a fanciful and patriotic account of the history of the Danes. The accounts overlap with regional legends and mythologies, some of which look strikingly different from the Icelandic versions found in the Eddas.
The Prose Edda, written by lawspeaker and politician Snorri Sturluson, is a textbook demonstrating the poetic artform of “kenning.” While heavily Christianized, the Prose Edda remains an extensive source of Icelandic mythological Norse stories.
The Codex Regius is the oldest and most influential manuscript of the Poetic Edda, an ancient collection of anonymous poems attributed to the Norse people. The Poetic Edda is a highly-valued source of Norse mythology, preserving cultural stories that might’ve otherwise been lost to time.
The Faroe Islands were settled by the Norse between the 8th and 10th centuries. 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. You can read the ballads in their original Faroese here.
Marked by a rejection of antiquity and classical models, German Romanticism focused on revitalizing the German identity through art, philosophy, and culture. Amongst this included explorations into pre-Christian Germanic Paganism. However, these first attempts at reconstructing Germanic Heathenry were more fiction than they were reality. These fictional narratives played large roles in later Germanic nationalist movements, and also informed much of the bedrock that became "Odinism."
The Victorian Era was an age of scientific development in Western society, relying on something other than Church and God to explain how life works and why things exist. With the development of Natural History and Biology came an interest in another field: The Occult. Séances, ghosts, psychic powers, secret societies, and metaphysical publications rose in popularity. This was the origin of many Western metaphysical practices we see today.
The Germanic Völkisch Movement was the social precursor to Nazism and also where the term “Folkish” in “Folkish Heathenry” comes from. Born from a combination of Germanic Romanticism, glorification of the Holy Roman Empire, and disdain for global modernization, Völkisch proponents advocated for Germany to return to its ancient folk practices and establish an Aryan ethno-nation; a nation for white Germans only. Anti-semitism, racialism, and Aryan supremacy were essential to Folkish philosophy. Even though the movement formally ended with Nazi Germany, Folkish beliefs continued into the modern day with various forms of neo-pagan Heathenry, such as Odinism and some iterations of Asatru.
The Austrian occultist Guido Von List was a critical figure in the Völkisch Movement and laid the groundwork for future Odinist movements. He was a self-described “Wotanist” who pioneered a form of “Aryan Esotericism” called Ariosophy or Armanism with his constituent Adolf Joseph Lanz. This branch of esotericism, which promotes racialist ideologies under the guise of "Germanic paganism," was designed to glorify the Aryan race. List created the ahistorical Armanen Runes for this esotericism. Needless to say, List's Odinism doesn't resemble the animistic Heathen practices of the past or present, but it continues to complicate Heathen spaces to this day.
Nazi Germany was a totalitarian dictatorship controlled by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. This dictatorship was responsible for the Shoah, or the Holocaust, a genocide that killed no less than 11 million people, 6 million of which were Jews. Far less known than their atrocities—but significant to modern Norse Paganism—is the Nazi creation of the Black Sun (sonnenrad), an alternative occult symbol for the Nazi Swastika. While allegedly inspired by Old Norse “sun wheel” motifs, the Black Sun itself should not be mistaken for an old Norse symbol.
Motivated by the writings of Guido Von List, the Australian Alexander Rud Mills founded the Anglecyn Church of Odin in 1934. Mills is significant for his expansion on Odinism, soaking it deeper in Nazi ideology, as well as Christianity.
Born in Denmark in 1913, Else Christensen fell under the influence of the National Socialist Workers’ Party of Denmark—the largest Nazi party in Demark—in the 1930’s. After moving to North America in 1951, she learned about Odinism through Mills’ writing and from a New York Nazi constituent. Inspired by these sources, Christensen established the Odinist Fellowship in 1969, creating the first Heathen organization in the US. But like List's Odinism, this Odinism did not (and does not) derive from surviving animist practices, and is thoroughly a product of Nazi ideology instead.
Ásatrú roughly translates to “true to the Aesir” or, colloquially, “belief in the [pre-Christian] gods,” and was coined by Icelandic Norse Pagans to give a name to old Icelandic Heathen practices. This corresponds to the founding of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið in 1972.
Sometimes referred to as the “Old AFA,” the Asatru Free Assembly was an American Folkish Heathen organization and the precursor to the current Asatru Folk Assembly. It was created by Stephen McNallen, growing out of the Viking Brotherhood he founded in 1972. The Old AFA was disbanded in 1986 due to internal disputes. From the ruins of the Old AFA rose two new organizations, the Folkish Ásatrú Alliance and the universalist Troth. Both are active to this day.
The Nine Noble Virtues is a code of morals found in some sects of Asatru and Odinism. Two sets of Virtues were originally created. The first was made in 1974 by John Yeowell, a former member of the British Union of Fascists, and John Gibbs-Bailey of the Odinic Rite. The second was allegedly created by white nationalist and occultist Stephen Flowers (a.k.a Edred Thorsson) during his time spent in the Asatru Free Assembly, and later canonized by Stephen McNallen in 1983.
Huginn’s Heathen Hof publishes Declaration 127, a public denouncement of the Asatru Folk Assembly. This statement has been signed by many individuals, kindreds, organizations since its initial release.
The white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally took place on August 11-12 in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was held in protest to the removal of Confederate statues and memorials from the area, and was attended by varying white nationalist groups, including the KKK. Norse pagan and Heathen symbols were featured prominently during this event.
The insurrection at the US Capitol took place on January 6, 2021 in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. The violence resulted in the breach of the Capitol building and the deaths of multiple people. The rioters consisted of Trump supporters, members of the alt-right, and white nationalists. Amongst them was the QAnon Shaman, a Christian Q-Anon conspirator who became the focus of attention in American Heathen communities due to his large mjolnir, Yggdrasil, and valknut tattoos. Many American Heathen organizations released official statements condemning the insurrection. The assault on the Capitol triggered a mass-takedown of white supremacist groups and pages on all major social media platforms.