Most of us are familiar with the word ‘Viking,’ in general, because of its numerous vivid cinematic interpretations, which gained worldwide popularity. These shows so move people mostly due to the plethora of aspects about this culture that remains unexplored and, if explored, becomes even more mysterious and intriguing. One such aspect is the Viking Religion, which forms the basis of the rich history and diversity. Many shows have attempted to throw light upon the religious entity of the Vikings. But, to what extent do these portrayals do justice to the actual cultural significance? This article might help you distinguish that. As people of the 21st century, it would be hard to take in their beliefs and rituals, although they carve out some deep symbolism. In this, we have brought forth the religious progression of the Vikings and their journey from paganism to Christianity, which is one of its kinds.
Table of Contents
- The Viking Religion started with the onset of the worship of the Norse Gods. The Norse mythology consisted of the worship of many gods and goddesses, giants, strange and powerful creatures, elves, dwarfs, and land spirits. This was often described as ‘paganism’ in Viking sagas of the 13th century.
- The best-known Gods of the mythology include Odin, God of Wisdom, Poetry and War; Odin’s son, Thor- the God of Thunder, and the goddess of fertility Freyr and Freyja. The pre-Christian belief systems shared many ecological, economic, and cultural ties.
- Norse religion was a folk religion that focused on the survival and the regeneration of society. It was not an organized religion. It included various rituals and customs such as beliefs of Sacrifice, communal feasting with beer and mead, etc.
- Vikings hailed to the Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish ancestry who began to raid towns, churches, and monasteries in coastal regions. They were fearless explorers who also attempted to become competent traders and merchants. These raids became more frequent in the late 8th century.
VIKINGS’ INTERACTIONS WITH THE CHRISTIAN SOCIETY
- Earlier invasions generally left out the regions with churches and monasteries, these being a place of religious importance. However, these Vikings, with their pagan beliefs, had no sense of moral, cultural influences. So, they did not hesitate to raid these religious institutions.
- These expeditions, however, brought them in contact with the Christian moral world. And because of various reasons such as peaceful settlements, trade purposes, and political pressures, compelled them to turn to Christianity. Therefore, it is believed that many Vikings had to undergo ‘temporary christening.’
- People of the region attributed their meanings to the religion. Thus along with the old ideas, new ideas were formed based on economic and cultural influences. “Thus, Nordic religion at any given point in space or time could be seen as both an artifact of its past and a reflection of its present.” as is mentioned in the book ‘Nordic Religions in the Viking Age.’
- Before the invasions, they had a familiarity with the religion; however, some Danes believed “that Christ certainly was a god, but claimed that other gods were greater than he, since they revealed themselves through greater signs and omens,” as Widukind of Corvey mentions.
THE COEXISTENCE OF THE OLD AND THE NEW GODS
- There was a phase when the old gods co-existed along with the Christian gods. The people did not want to upset the old gods as the belief goes. The most striking example of this was the Gosforth Cross. There were even churches with the carvings of Norse myths.
- The hybrid religious environment propagates the fact they did not take Christianity as one set of beliefs. They adopted it in installations as they went by it. There were no forceful conversions that took place. People religiously adopted religion without any obstruction. Before the formal conversion, they were partially converted as they were part Christian and part pagan.
THE PROCESS OF CONVERSION INTO CHRISTIANITY
- As early as the year 725, many attempts were made to convert Scandinavia. Christians and Pagan worshippers lived beside one another in the city of Hedeby. Around the year 950, Hakon attempted to do the deed. However, he realized that he would only lose their support by forcing them, so he backed out.
- In this journey of conversion, one of the most eminent names is of Olav Tryggvason. He returned to Norway in the summer of 995. This was revolutionary in the history for the start of Christianity in the region. The total conversion, however, took place over centuries.
- As the historian Richard Fletcher said, “We may be confident that the conversion of Scandinavia was gradual, piecemeal, muddled and undisciplined.” Christianization came under the wave of Europeanization that Norse societies were undergoing simultaneously.
- Viking rulers were the first to have converted to form alliances mostly. After them, their followers joined them in the movement, including the nobility, common people, merchants, and traders.
- As mentioned above, the Norse worshipped the god they believed were right for them. The gods that offered them peace and gave them strength. And as for as the conversion is concerned, this is the motive that is believed to have driven them towards a full conversion to the religion Christianity.
VIKINGS IN THE CHRISTIAN CONTEXT
- However, Catholic propaganda is responsible for most of the modern misconceptions related to the Vikings. The term ‘Viking’ generally means “pirate raid,” which emerged as their tradition in summers. And this tradition, which later was identified as savage loots, was an innocent attempt to discover new land and trade.
- The Christian context has tended to portray them as ruthless savages, and that is how they are portrayed in most of the video games and movies or shows, which generally not the case most of the time. They possessed a certain legal system that ensured both men and women’s rights to a certain extent.
This was the evolvement of Viking Religion from unorganized paganism to organized Christianity.