Heathenry is a modern neo-pagan spirituality informed by the folkloric practices, customs, beliefs, and worldviews of pre-Christian Northern European civilizations. People who practice Heathenry are known as “Heathens.” This particular guide focuses on a subsection of Heathenry known as Norse Heathenry, also called Norse Paganism, Asatro, or Forn Siðr/Forn Sed.

Like the name suggests, Norse Paganism is a modern adaptation of old spiritual practices and beliefs held by the ancient Norse people. We tend to think of “vikings” when we think of the Norse, but víkingr was a specific occupation and not all Norse people were vikings. The Norse were people like any other, and as such they had different occupations, observed different lifestyle choices, and held different values. The one thing they did share was culture, from which their spiritual practices originate.

This guide is designed to give readers essential tools to develop a fulfilling Norse Pagan practice. The aim is to be succinct but also effective in this purpose. But before diving into “how to practice Heathenry,” we need to understand how Norse Paganism functions as a spirituality.

Norse Heathenry is decentralized, animistic, pluralist, polytheistic, immanent, and orthopraxic. Let’s break down what it all means:

Decentralized

Has many appearances

Animistic

Built on Animism

Pluralistic

Many principles

Polytheistic

Many Deities

Immanent

Life-Affirming

Orthopraxic

Personal practice

Are we Vikings?

Disambiguation

Decentralized

Norse Heathenry is a decentralized religion, meaning it has no “central” authority or core ideology behind it. This is because Heathenry doesn’t have holy books, scriptures, or key religious figures that guide practices and beliefs, nor does it have doctrines, creeds, or dogmas.

This can seem very strange for something called a “religion.” Typically when many of us think of “religion,” we think of high-demand religions. In her paper Visualizing the Transition out of High-Demand Religions, Summer Anne Myers defines them 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.”

Heathenry lacks high-demand observances. Old Norse religions grew organically out of their cultures through family / community / regional customs, oral tradition, superstitions, and folklore. These all had differences to them across locations and time. Modern Heathenry likewise has variances from person to person, group to group, and region to region. Issues arise when high-demand requirements are added to Heathenry, as is often the case with Neo-Völkisch or “Folkish” Heathenry.

You’ll become more familiar with what the decentralized nature of Norse Heathenry looks like the more you explore.

Wait! What about the Eddas?

You’ve probably heard about these books if you poked around online Heathen spaces in any form. The Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda are ancient Icelandic texts that contain stories of the Norse gods and other heroes. They are some of the oldest and largest surviving compilations of Icelandic folklore.

Despite their cultural and mythological significance, old texts containing Norse folklore 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. Scripture is also written by and for members of its religion, but the Eddas were written by Christians long after Scandinavia converted to Christianity. The Eddas also only represent a regional version of Norse mythology and folklore, instead of what all of Scandinavia believed at the time.

Some Norse Heathens derive spiritual connection from these Eddas and their passages, particularly the Hávamál, but this is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

Animistic

Animism is the recognition that all things in life have agency and that no one thing has more inherent importance than anything else. Viewing things from an animistic lens means understanding that everything plays a part within the interconnected system it occupies—not for any moral goal or purpose, but simply because it exists. Things deserve respect for what they are, and through this we foster a spiritual relationship with the world around us.

The nature of animism means there’s no clear-cut division between the sacred and the profane in Norse Pagan worldview. The divine is part of this world the same way colors, sounds, and physical matter are; as a property of existence, rather than a condition to achieve or a presence to earn. (Because of this, there’s no such thing as “sin” in Norse Paganism, since actions don’t draw you closer or further away from divinity. You can read more about this in the Differences Between Christianity & Heathenry.)

Some view animism as the belief that all things have a “soul” or “spiritual essence” to them, but this greatly depends on the subjective definition of these words. Regardless, many Norse Heathens agree we can experience the metaphysical components to the world around us, which produces the shared lore in Norse Pagan Heathenry: We can form connections with our departed ancestors. We can perceive landvætter (“land-spirits”) within the land, trolls within large rocks and boulders, nisse and husvætter (“house-spirits”) dwelling in living spaces, Jötunn as embodiments of the wilderness, and the Aesir—our gods—as manifestations of the natural world and humankind. And on top of that, we can interact with these things of our own accord.

Heathens like to engage in participating with these things the same way we like engaging with each other; these relationships foster a sense of connection and add a ceremonial component to our participation in the natural world. But how this is done is different for everyone. There’s no singular “correct” way to approach divinity, not even with the gods.

Pluralistic

Religions are built on many philosophies. One philosophy that religions try to address is the way things spiritually relate to one another.

Heathenry is pluralistic. It believes things contain multitudes, are built on numerous principles, and contain different, multiple, or even shifting truths. This stands in contrast with dualism (two principles) and monism (one principle).

Christianity and Wicca are examples of dualist religions. In Christianity, things are categorized as either “good” or “evil” and this relation is the source of constant conflict in the world. Wicca views things as having opposites, such as the “divine masculine” and “divine feminine,” and that this duality should be honored.

Pantheism is an example of a monist belief. It believes everything is an expression of one thing—the Universe. The New Age concept of “Source” is similar, in that the essence of all things comes from one vital energy or spiritual origin.

Because Heathenry is pluralist, it doesn’t view people, entities, or forces as “good” or “evil,” nor does it believe there’s one principle force behind everything. Dualist and monist concepts may enter Heathenry from time to time, but it causes problems when they’re used for doctrines or attitudes unsupported by pluralism.

Polytheistic

Polytheism is the belief in multiple gods. All forms of Heathenry are polytheistic, including Norse Heathenry.

The Norse Deities themselves are very numerous. Some are very well-known, such as Odin, Freyja, Loki, and Thor, while others are very obscure. Much like the rest of Heathenry, the Norse pantheon was never centralized, so different gods experience different levels of popularity at different places and times. A Scandinavian town by the sea may frequently venerate Njord or Ægir, while a mountain village may do the same with Skadi and Ullr.

The decision to venerate deities at all is up to the individual. The ins and outs of working with, worshipping, and venerating deities are discussed on the veneration page.

Immanent

There are two categories a spirituality or religion can fall into: It can be an immanent faith, or a transcendent faith. Sometimes it can be a bit of both.

Immanent faiths focus on the quality, actualization, and fulfillment of our current lives and the relationships we have with the world around us. Practices and observances are centered upon our immediate reality, wellbeing, and lived experience.

Norse Heathenry is an example of an immanent faith. Our focus lies on the experience of animism and the relationships we cultivate with ourselves and others. Practitioners aren’t required to live their lives in certain ways to get a good afterlife. Many of us believe we will automatically rejoin our ancestors unless we choose to pursue something else, such as an afterlife in Valhalla, in which case there are conditions to how we live or die. But this is something we elect to do, rather than something we must do to be Heathen. For more information, see Death & the Afterlife.

Transcendent faiths focus on moving above or beyond immediate reality. How this is done, and for what purpose, varies with each faith. Staples of transcendent philosophy include concepts like enlightenment and the ascension of the soul. Transcendent faiths may also focus heavily on the afterlife and how to attain a desirable one.

Christianity is an example of a transcendent faith. In Christianity, all lifestyle choices and actions either bring someone closer to God or push them further away, which determines whether they go Heaven or Hell after death. What actions do this are determined by doctrines and dogmas.

Though Norse Heathenry is primarily an immanent faith, it does have a few transcendent elements to it. The most obvious example is the belief that those who die in battle go to Odin’s hall, Valhalla. Other potential examples include the work of the völva and the frenzy of the berserkír. However, these transcendent elements are optional, rather than essential. We choose whether or not we want to add transcendent ideologies to our practices.

Orthopraxic

Two schools of religious thought are orthodoxy (“right belief”) and orthopraxy (“right action”). Religions tend to employ one, the other, or both. Heathenry is an orthopraxic religion, meaning it prioritizes experience, integrity of practice, the creation/continuation of lineage, and legacy as staples of its approach. This is different from an orthodox religion, which prioritizes faith and adherence to creeds, dogmas, and doctrines.

“Right action” also means something a little different in a decentralized religion. “Right” is generally defined by what’s “right” for the individual, as opposed to what’s “right” according to an authority. While some lineages have long-observed customs and practices, these are specific to that lineage as opposed to Norse Heathenry as a whole.

Return to Index

Norse Heathenry

Explore Norse Paganism

Recommended Resources

Books, Media, Articles and More

Store

Original Norse Heathen Designs

Latest Articles

  • Sägen and Saga: Interpreting Nordic Tales

    April 19, 2022
  • Did ‘One True Heathenry’ Exist?

    August 24, 2021