As a devout practitioner of Norse Wicca, I have decided to include a section detailing this specific form of Wiccan worship, as well as introducing and describing the Norse gods and goddesses, and providing a general introduction to the worlds which they inhabit.
The majority of Wiccans today are eclectic, meaning that they follow no specific tradition, and are therefore free to borrow from whatever tradition they prefer in their religious and magickal practices. They revere the Goddess and God equally, are truly pantheistic in their veneration for Deity, as they see the Goddess and God manifested in all of the natural world, both in the animate and the inanimate spheres of existence. The Goddess and God are deified personifications of the Supreme Being of this universe, sometimes referred to as the One or the All by Wiccans, but known by numerous other names in many different faith systems. This seemingly conscious creator-force is actually genderless at its core. The Goddess and God are this unique Creator split into two distinct gender personas, the concept of two distinct genders being a universal concept in our everyday reality. Eclectic Wiccans are also free to use any goddess and god form they choose to represent the Goddess and God for themselves in ritual, be it Brigid and Cernunnos (Celtic), Diana and Pan (Greco-Roman), Freya and Frey (Norse, see below), or any other of numerous personifications from the various pantheons of ancient mythology. Many Wiccans simply revere the Goddess and God without an accompanying mythological persona, however.
Nevertheless, other branches of Wicca, such as Celtic and Norse Wicca, are somewhat more polytheistic, in that they pay homage to an entire pantheon of deities culled from two of the many historical legions of such beings who were objects of worship in many different civilizations of the past. The Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Hindu, and Native American deities are likewise revered by many modern Pagans, and no one pantheon of deities is any less important or powerful than any other. However, the Norse deities are perhaps the most popular of all the deities to currently receive homage in Pagan circles (though far from the only one's, as the Egyptian and Celtic deities are also becoming increasingly popular). Different Pagan religions revere the Norse god-forms, with possibly the most prominent contemporary Pagan faith to do so being Asatru (a Nordic word meaning "faith in the gods"). Other groups include the Odinnists (who worship only the Aesir contingent of the Norse deities, and focus more on the magickal aspects of their rituals than do the Asatruar) and Theodists (a largely European phenomenon that honors the Norse deities alongside a sacred "king"). Asatru is perhaps the leading polytheistic religion in the Western and Northern world today, and they are distinct from Norse Wicca. The basic religious and mystical practices of the two groups are quite different, but they also differ in their basic belief of what the deities actually are. Asatruar believe that the deities are literally real, sentient, and independent entities of great power who inhabit an alternate universe, but nevertheless have a great deal of power over our world. The deities are not considered to have physical form in the same sense that humans do, but whether they have any physical reality at all will be the basis of another section of this site in the future.
Wiccans, on the other hand, would be more inclined to believe that the deities are metaphysical aspects of the primary Goddess and God, and are simply sources of energy and transitional personas from which to perfom different types of spellwork with, to invoke different sub-personas of the prime Goddess and God for ritual purposes, and to produce different effects on the physical plane.
Other groups, such as psychologists with a Jungian bent, would believe that the deities are archetypes, i.e., universal symbolic entities of the collective unconscious, who manifest to greater humanity as specific quasi-independent personalities, which can be called upon to various effects by the conscious mind due to their closeness to humanity's own collective racial memory "database." For example, as particular aspects of different universal cultural archetypes, Odin would be an aspect of the Wise Old Man, Loki an aspect of the Trickster, Balder an aspect of the Great Martyr, Thor an aspect of the Valiant Hero, etc. Thus, to use the jargon of those who are part of the magickal community, the deities would actually be personifications of deeply-rooted ideas and concepts that exist as part of the collective psyche of the entire human race, and are thus 'inhabitants' of the mental level of existence, who can be willfully "contacted" for assistance via various ritualistic methods, as well as retaining the ability to contact and interact with individual human beings on their "own" volition, and can thus simulate an autonomous existence.
Many UFOlogists have hypothesized that the vast majority of the bizarre manifestations endemic to the UFO phenomenon may derive itself from the collective consciousness of humanity, as well.
The true nature of the deities are unknown to us at our current level of knowledge, yet all Pagans believe that whatever their true nature may be, their power over the physical world is real, and they can be called upon by ritualistic methods to lend their power to magickal practitioners who call upon them. It should be noted that Asatruar, Odinists, and Wiccans alike regard the deities to be something more analogous to allies rather than superior beings that we consider ourselves subservient to, despite the reverence and great respect that each group has for the deities and their power, which is in marked contrast to the attitude that those of monotheistic faiths have towards their pseudo-universal, all-male Supreme Deity. Instead of believing that we were created to serve the deities, most Pagans believe that the relationship between humanity and the deities, while not completely understood at present, nevertheless functions in a mutually reciprocal manner. It is my belief that whatever the true nature of the Norse deities, be they distinct entities, aspects of the Goddess and God, or even archetypes culled from the collective consciousness of humanity, they are nonetheless a real part of astral reality, and as such they exist as powerful sources of energy and staunch allies to be called upon in times of need. Due to the differences in belief over the nature of the deities, among other things, many of the traditional Asatru groups do not look kindly upon the Norse Wiccans, and thus we do not currently stand united in many instances. However, Pagans by their very nature are considerably more tolerant than members of the monotheistic 'Religions of the Book,' so it remains likely that we will one day come to fully respect the wonder of each others' practices.
It should be noted here that each day of the week is associated with a different Norse deity. In fact, four of the days were actually named after the Norse deity associated with it (see the section on "planetary associations with days of the week" elsewhere on this site for more info on this).
Below I will include a description of each Norse deity and their place in the pantheon. While it is far beyond the scope of this essay to give a detailed account of the entirety of Norse mythology, I will include a description of the Norse myth of creation. Please note that the description is a symbolic explanation of the scientific origin of the universe, commonly referred to by scientists as the Big Bang, and this cataclysmic event, according to the modern science of astrophysics, caused a tiny point singularity in the space/time continuum to explode in massive amounts of energy, thereby (according to Wiccan theology) giving birth to the One, and in short order, the Goddess and God, as well as everything in existence, including both the deities and humanity. It should be noted that neither Norse Wiccans nor Asatruar take the myths literally; they are seen as largely symbolic allegories to convey a philosophical truth or point of view, and to illustrate the nature of the deities by way of dramatic narrative. They should not be taken literally any more than the biblical story of Adam and Eve. However, that is not to say that the myths may not express in symbolic form "actual" events that occurred to the deities in their native reality. Nevertheless, it should be understood that the existing literary sources of Norse mythology, the Poetic and Prose Eddas, were written down by Christian scribes after the fall of the original Pagan cultures in the destructive wake of the Crusades, and they are believed to have greatly altered the events as originally depicted in the myths, and re-interpreted them to more closely coincide with Christian ideology. For example, the goddesses are de-emphasized, so that relatively little remains of their independent exploits as recorded by the original Norsemen (with the notable exception of Freya). Further, the deities' actions are often re-interpreted in a negative manner. Any casual reader of the Norse myths as they are currently written will notice much unflattering and ignoble behavior on the part of the deities, showing them engaging in all manner of treachery, ranging from murder (often for ridiculously petty reasons), terrible acts of violence, rape, and even the equivalent of ethnic intolerance, the latter often emphasized by their continual battles and enmity with the giants. Thus, many people would be turned off by the warlike and often abominable behavior of the deities, making them appear, at first glance, to be terrible role models for supposedly peace-loving Pagans to follow. However, the gods do retain some of their positive traits, including nobility, bravery, and the willingness to continuously persevere even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. It is these attributes that endear them to Pagans, past and present. Also, as I said before, many of the negative aspects of the deities were added by the Christians, including the interpretation of Loki as utterly evil and Thor as a mindless berserker, and both of these images predominate in modern culture regarding these two popular deities (more on this below).
Nevertheless, not all of the negative traits were added in the retellings by the Christians. Unlike Christians, Pagans do not perceive their deities as being all good or all evil, as in the case of the Judeo-Christian "day and night" conceptions of God and Satan. Rather, like each human being, all of the deities have both positive and negative traits. The concepts of absolute good or absolute evil, so popular in the Christian mindset and dogma, are considered unrealistic and even alien to Pagans, both in the past and in the present (though as I have often stated elsewhere, many modern Pagans have their ideology and personal conceptions tainted by having been born and raised in a predominently Judeo-Christian society). In fact, upon reading the mythology of mostly every other culture, including the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, Japanese, Native American, Aztec, Babylonian, and Hindu myths, among many others, we find similar amoral behavior in the actions of the deities, so this phenomenon is far from unique to the Norse pantheon.
Further, the brutal behavior of the Judeo-Christian solitary God, particularly in the Old Testament, was equally indicative of a huge amount of amoral behavior [but rationalized by the belief that murderous and vengeful behavior is only wrong when it's carried out by mortals, but not if it's done by God, who is the ruler of the universe, and thus reserves the "right" to treat "his" subjects as "he" chooses, as if the human race was "his" rightful property, which is very similar to the way parents treat their children in present day Western society, you will note]. Also, as I'll describe below, the very important story of Ragnarok is believed to have been particularly altered by the Christian writers.
I owe a large debt to D.J. Conway and Barbarian for some of my info on the Norse deities.
According to Norse legend, as described in the Eddas, which were recorded roughly 1000 years ago (though it is believed by many scholars that they may indeed date from far older stories that go back much further in the past), the deities began their existence in the mystical void known as Ginnungagap, which was extant prior to the creation of the universe. It was bounded on the north by the world of ice, Niflheim, and on the south by the land of fire, Muspelheim. The meeting of these two opposite polarizations of energy spawned the forces that were the eventual genesis of all life in the universe, including the deities.
According to legend, two beings were created in this realm between the two realms, including the huge primordial cow Audhumla and the enormous primal frost giant known as Ymir, the latter of whom rose from the ice in Nifleheim. The nurturing, benevolent Audhumla, who possessed the seed of creating life in the multiverse's youth, gradually licked the giant being called Buri from the salt-encrusted ice that was melted by the heat of Muspelheim. The malevolent Ymir was an asexual being capable of mass reproduction without a female mate, and he sired the entire race of giants from his own perspiration. Buri subsequently "gave birth" to the male god called Bor, who mated with Bestla, one of the giant daughters of Ymir, and this resulted in the creation of the race of gods known as the Aesir.
The three prime gods of this time were the brothers Vili, Vey, and Odin. These three early members of the Aesir eventually slew Ymir due to the frost giant's incessant evil and cruelty towards the nascent life in the multiverse. The descendants of this primal giant became the Jotuns, or the race of giants, who were often at war with the Gods of Asgard. Legend has it that Odin and his brothers molded the Earth (or as the Norse called it, Midgard) out of the remains of Ymir's body.
Ultimately, Vili and Vey sacrificed their lives to save the new celestial realm of Asgard from the fire demon Surtur, who somehow came into existence from the flames of Muspelheim, and later gave birth to the entire race of beings known as the fire demons. At the moment of their sacrifice, Vili and Vey transferred their essence to Odin, thereby granting the god their combined might, and making him one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse, perfectly suited for ruling a race of deities.
After gaining rulership of the ethereal realm of Asgard, Odin took the goddess Frigga as his wife, and he led the warlike Aesir against the giants, the trolls, and many other foes. Eventually, the Aesir discovered the nearby mystic realm of Vanaheim, home to a race of powerful but peaceful fertility deities known as the Vanir. The Aesir and the Vanir eventually went to war as a result of a fight picked by the former, which lasted for many years and ultimately ended in a stalemate (some sources indicated the Vanir as the victors, but this is contradicted by several other sources that imply a deadlock between the two forces). Following this stalemate, the two groups of deities came together in peace, and the Aesir and the Vanir united their ways and attributes as the Gods of Asgard. The deities are now made up of gods and goddesses from both groups, the Aesir, or Asa-Gods, and the Vanir, or Vana-Gods (along with certain members of the race of giants, such as Loki, Skadi, and Saga, who intermarried with the gods). Two of the Vana-Gods, the fertility deities Freya and Frey, would eventually become the Lady and Lord of Norse Wicca.
The Norsemen told of a great cosmic disaster they called Ragnarok, which would be the final battle between the deities and their various enemies, and would result in the total transformation of all the Nine Worlds (which were the nine realms of reality considered relevant to the Norse; see below). The end result would be a rebirth of the gods and a new golden era for humankind.
It is believed by some historians that when the Christians re-recorded the Norse epics after the fall of classical Norse society to the Crusades, they altered the meaning of Ragnarok to make it more similar to the legend of the Christian Armageddon, or Judgment Day, which would be a time of reckoning for all human beings in the world. The Norse perceived Ragnarok more along the lines of the death and rebirth of all things, including the gods and humankind, but not as a complete ending. Pagans do not believe in a Day of Judgment as many Christians do, but instead to an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, celebrated by Wiccans in the Wheel of the Year.
As an example of these assertions of Christian alterations of the original stories, Pagan scholar Freya Aswynn has surmised in her book Northern Mysteries and Magick that the myth of Ragnarok was indeed altered by the Christian scribes to more closely resemble the Christian myth of Judgment Day. Hence, previously, the myth may originally have ended with the enemies of the gods being defeated and bound, as occurred with the Titans in Greek mythology, rather than resulting in mutual annhilation. According to the legends as handed down to us in the current sources, the souls of the honored dead, collectively called the Einerjar, are freed from Valhalla, their afterlife realm, by Odin, and they will clash with the souls of the common and dishonored dead from Hel and Niflheim, respectively, who are freed and led by Hela, the death goddess and ruler of those two realms; they travel on the great ship called Naflgar, said to be made of the fingernails of the dead. The giants also attack on the side of the opposition to the deities, led by Loki, the vindictive god of mischief. Jormangand, the Midgard Serpent, is freed and attacks Thor, who slays the cosmic dragon with his mighty hammer Mjolnir, only to be killed in turn by the monster's venom, which is lethal even to the gods. Loki and the god Heimdall, who are mortal enemies, kill each other in battle. The Fenris Wolf is said to attack Odin and devour him, only to be killed in turn by Odin's son Vidar.
[Pagan scholar Freya Aswynn has pointed out that the real enemy of the Fenris Wolf was the god Tyr, who tricked him into submitting into being fettered, and thus the lupine creature would have no reason to attack Odin. Hence, according to Aswynn's conjecture, in the original myth, Fenris may have swallowed Tyr instead.]
In the myths as currently written, Tyr is said to battle the huge dog Garm, guardian of the underworld (and similar to the Greco-Roman canine guardian of Hades known as Cereberus, though Garm was described with only one head, not three).
[Freya Aswynn also points out that this, too, is illogical, because Garm is in the service of the gods and has no reason to attack any of them; hence, another possible alteration in the original version.]
Finally, Frey battles the primal fire demon Surtur, who defeats the god and destroys the Nine Worlds with the enchanted sword that once belonged to Frey himself, in which he gave up to win his bride Gerda. The fate of the goddesses is not mentioned in the surviving myths.
However, after the destruction of everything, a new world arises from the ashes of the old, with Odin's sons Vidar and Vali taking charge, the deceased god Balder and his wife Nanna return to life, and Thor's sons Magni and Modi gain possession of his mighty hammer Mjolnir, which is once again used to defend the gods and humankind.
[Again, it has been speculated that in the original tale of Ragnarok, now lost, the enemies of the gods may simply have been defeated and bound, and that the total destruction of everything, peculiar to the Norse myths, may have been inspired by the Christian myth of Judgment Day.]
The realms of the Norse deities were separated into the Nine Worlds, nine different dimensions of reality which the deities utilized as their stomping grounds. The Nine Worlds of Norse mythology included:
Asgard, home of the gods, and original home of the Aesir, ruled by Odin and Frigga.
Vanaheim, original home of the Vanir, ruled in the past by Freya and Frey.
Jotunheim, home of the giants, or Jotuns; the Frost Giants (who inhabit the frozen tundra of this reality, and who depend upon very cold temperatures to exist) are ruled by Utgard-Loki; the Storm Giants (who inhabit the mountainous regions of this realm) are ruled by Thrym.
Niflheim, former home of the frost giants and once ruled by Ymir, and now realm of the dishonored dead, ruled by Hela (the honored dead go to Valhalla, a special part of Asgard overseen jointly by Odin and Freya). The realm is guarded by the dragon Nidhogg.
Hel (or Helheim; not to be confused with the Christian afterlife realm of punishment known as "Hell"), land of the common dead, also ruled by Hela (and in which she obviously named after herself).
Muspelheim, land of the fire demons, or Muspeli (sometimes described as giants or elementals), ruled by Surtur.
Alfheim, land of the Light Elves (the Norse name for the faerie folk, or fays), ruled in ancient times by Frey but now guarded by the elf Delling (according to author Freya Aswynn).
Svartalfheim, land of the Dark Elves (some of whom were known in Western folklore as goblins), ruled by the dark elf Modsognir (also according to Freya Aswynn).
Midgard (Earth), the material manifested world of humanity, whose official guardian is Thor, though he obviously doesn't rule this dimension of reality per se.
Each of the Nine Worlds are connected to each other by the roots of the cosmic ash tree called Yggdrasil. Asgard itself is dimensionally connected to Earth by a rainbow hued bridge called Bifrost, which is guarded by the god Heimdall.
See the section further below for descriptions of the various beings that inhabit these Nine Worlds, and their possible use in spellwork for the practicing witch.
Below are brief descriptions of the major deities of the Norse pantheon (in alphebetical order), along with the attributes they are best called upon in spellwork for:
Vana-God of the sea, who was the official alebrewer of the gods. He has been variously depicted as both good and evil. He is married to the evil goddess Ran, and they have nine daughters, which are undines named for the waves. Spellwork: Matters of brewing, sunken treasure, sailing, and controlling the weather over the water.
The ancient cow goddess who bore the earliest deities out of the seeds of life. Spellwork: Motherhood, matters of childbirth and child-rearing.
Asa-God of light. Balder was the Norse equivalent of the great archetypal Pagan Sun God who is the most kind and beloved of the deities, and who dies and is subsequently resurrected. When the Christians re-recorded the myths of the Norse Gods, they interpreted Balder as a Christ-like figure or martyr. Balder brought nothing but happiness to the deities, and was so beloved that his mother, Frigga, the Queen of the Gods, cast a powerful spell in which almost no object in existence could cause him any harm, particularly since she received a prophesy that the kindly god's death would precipitate the coming of Ragnarok. However, Balder's death was orchestrated by a jealous Loki, who tricked the blind god Hodur into killing Balder with an arrow made of mistletoe wood, the one substance that the god was vulnerable to. According to some sources, Balder's spirit, calling upon his great warrior skills, fought his way out of Hel and rejoined his body, thus returning to physical life; other sources have claimed that Balder and his wife Nanna will be resurrected in the new universe that results after the destruction of the current cosmos following Ragnarok. Spellwork: Light, matters of harmony and happiness, reincarnation, wise advice.
Asa-God of poetry and eloquence. This god is a symbol of literature, music, and all the liberal and fine arts, and is married to Idunn. Spellwork: Writing, music, poetic verse, creativity, education, liberal and fine arts.
Vana-Goddess (?) of spring. The modern holiday of Easter is named after her, and the Pagan holiday of Ostara is in her honor; "Ostara" is actually an alternate name for Eostre. Spellwork: Spring spells, fertility, new beginnings.
Alternate name of the earth goddess Nerthus. See: Nerthus.
Asa-God of justice. He is the son of Balder and Nanna, and he symbolized matters of law for the deities. Spellwork: Law, justice, matters of equity.
Great Vana-Goddess of magick, Witchcraft, love, beauty, and wisdom. She is the offical Goddess-form of the Norse Wiccans. Twin sister of Frey and daughter of the sea god Njord. Despite her being a peaceful fertility goddess, she was also an extremely formidable warrior (in her aspect as Freya of the Black Swordhand), and perhaps the most powerful enchantress among the deities. She is leader of the Valkyries, a sage, and a mistress of cats. Possesses the enchanted necklace Brisingamen that she earned by sleeping with the four Dwarves who crafted it. Mistress of a type of feminine magick called the seidrh (which she taught to Odin), as well as having knowledge of the runes which, unlike Odin, she did not have to earn through a rigorous trial, but was self-taught. Her chariot was pulled by two large male cats called Brygun and Trejgun. She represents the Mother aspect of the Wiccan Triple Goddess (though this role was given to Frigga in other sources, who is sometimes confused with Freya by modern scholars; I personally believe that Frigga is the more appropriate holder of the role of the Mother aspect of the Wiccan Triple Goddess). Freya also rules over half of the honored dead in Valhalla, and she actually get's first pick of these fallen warriors over that of Odin. Spellwork: Magick, spells, enchantments, cats, physical love/sex, wisdom, protection, combat skills, fertility, death, luck, wealth, the runes, psychic abilities, jewelry, poetry, creativity.
Vana-God of fertility, love, and sex, who is the official God-form of the Norse Wiccans. Freya's twin brother and the son of the Vanir sea god Njord. Also known as the Lover, as he is a fertility deity who is the Norse equivalent of the Pagan Horned God (and is therefore very similar to the Celtic god Cernnunos and the Greco-Roman god Pan in his mystical attributes). He was the leader of the Light Elves in his youth, and ruler of the enchanted realm of Alfhiem (known to the Celtics as the land of Fairie, or 'Otherworld'). He also has a magick sword that fights by itself, which he sacrificed to win the hand of the beautiful giantess called Gerda. His chariot is pulled by two mystical boars. One of them is Gullinbursti (Golden Bristles), a golden synthetic boar which he can ride on its back through the heavens at great speed, and was created by the dwarves. Spellwork: Love, sex, fertility, wealth, luck, joy, happiness, protection, weather, abundance.
Asa-Goddess and wife of Odin, as well as Queen of the Gods of Asgard. She was a mistress of magick who ruled over marriages, as well as being a powerful prophet who kept silent about her visions of the future. Sometimes she is considered the Mother aspect of the Wiccan Triple Goddess, though this role is more often given to Freya (who she is sometimes mistaken with by modern scholars) by Norse Wiccans, though I personally believe that Frigga is more suited to this role by far. Frigga is exceedingly wise, and was well known for her wily ability to get her way over Odin whenever a disagreement ensued between the two, and she had much influence over her husband's decisions. Spellwork: Independence, destiny, marriage, childbirth, magick, motherhood.
Vana-Goddess and powerful sorceress who was the first contact between the Aesir and the Vanir. Some sources consider her to be Freya in a different guise, but I question this considering her somewhat different mystical attributes. She was burned three times by the Aesir, and returned to life each time, after which Odin renamed her Heid. This incident precipitated the war between the Aesir and the Vanir. Spellwork: Magick, prophecy, healing.
Alternate aspect of Gullveig following her resurrection. See: Gullveig.
Asa-God who guards the rainbow bridge Bifrost, which connects Earth to Asgard, and one of the mightiest warriors among the deities. He has a great mystical horn called Gjall, which he will use at the coming of Ragnarok to summon his fellow gods to their final battle. His senses are so acute that he can hear grass growing or detect a fly hundreds of miles away, and he requires very little sleep, thus making him extremely well-suited to his role as a guardian. Spellwork: Guardianship, protection from evil, beginnings and endings.
Goddess of death. Her Germanic aspect was Holda, where she took on the added attributes of a goddess of wyrd (fate). Rules over the spirits of the dishonored dead in Niflheim and the spirits of the common dead in Hel (the spirits of the honored dead go to Valhalla, a special section of Asgard, half of which is ruled by Odin, and the other half by Freya, and are hence outside of Hela's jurisdiction). She has a great palace known as Sleet-Den, which is located in the frozen wastes of Niflheim. The daugther of Loki and the giantess Angrboda (and thus a full sibling to the Midgard Serpent and the Fenris Wolf), this goddess is said to have been born with half of her body physically dead and decayed, while the other half of her is alive and healthy, a condition she attempts to hide, and which has contributed to her bitterness. Her disposition is said to be made all the worse by the lonliness she suffers as ruler of the underworld, as she has little regular contact with the other deities. She is among the most powerful of the Norse goddesses, as her role as empress of the dead requires her to be, and she has complete control over the will of every spirit within her two domains, and uses the spirits of the dead to create a huge army for herself. Ill-spirited and avaricious, but also very wise. Her Germanic aspect of Holda was seen a bit differently, as her control over destiny and fate was played up, as were her psychic powers. Either of her incarnations represents the Crone aspect of the Wiccan Triple Goddess by Norse Wiccans. Spellwork: Death, dark magick, revenge; (additionally, in her aspect of Holda) karma, fate.
Asa-God who is the herald of the gods, and is similar to the Greek god Hermes in both function and special powers: he can run at super-speed. Curiously, their names are also etymologically similar. He is a very brave god whose most celebrated task was his trip to Hel to see how Balder might be revived. Spellwork: Matters of bravery and honor.
Blind Asa-God of winter, who was tricked into killing Balder by Loki. He was a highly skilled archer before losing his sight. Spellwork: Winter spells, passiveness.
Asa-God who is a very skilled warrior. He was described in the myths as speaking very little, and he was not renowned for his intelligence. Spellwork: Bravery, fighting skills, aggressiveness.
Germanic aspect of Hela. See: Hela.
Asa-Goddess of youth, youth-lovers, and immortality. The wife of Bragi, she is a keeper of a tree where enchanted golden apples grew that could only be harvested or given to others by her. These apples give the deities their extraordinarily long lifespans (unlike the Greco-Roman deities of Olympus, the Gods of Asgard were not truly immortal in that they do age, albeit very slowly, and would age far faster without regularly consuming the apples). According to myth, no human being has ever been allowed to partake of these apples. She represents the Maiden aspect of the Wiccan Triple Goddess by Norse Wiccans, and she is the sacred protectress of both youths and those who love them. Spellwork: Matters of youth and long life.
The Norse equivalent of the Native American Trickster (the Coyote), Loki was neither an Asa-God nor a Vana-God, but was born of the race of Jotuns, i.e., the giants, and was the master of trickery and lies whose cunning ways of deception both aided and caused immense trouble for the deities. When the Christians re-recorded the Norse myths, they interpreted this popular god as a Satanic figure of evil, which was not entirely accurate (there is at least one modern day cult, not related to Asatru or Norse Wicca, which worships Loki in his original Norse guise of a devious and deceptive, though not entirely evil, god). He was alternately described as Odin's "blood brother" or stepson (the latter being more accurate in my opinion, though he is much more often described as the former), as he was adopted by the King of the Gods after his giant parents, Laufey and Farbauti, were slain by the gods in battle. Loki is an extremely powerful enchanter and sorceror, as well as a masterful shape-shifter who was also considered a god of fire (an attribute that was allegedly added much later in modern re-tellings of the myths). Spellwork: Fire, mischief, cunning, deception, death, seduction/sexual conquests, lies, revenge, retrieval of stolen items, matters of treachery and thievery. It is advised that Loki be called upon with caution, as his responses to invocation in spellwork are very unpredictable.
Asa-God of wisdom who was one of the hostages exchanged between the Aesir and the Vanir in order to preserve the peace between the two after their war had ended. He was killed and beheaded by the Vanir when his fellow hostage, Hoenir, proved disappointing to the Vana-Gods due to his lack of intellectual prowess. Mimir's head was preserved through herbal magick by Odin to maintain the god's great wisdom. His head now speaks at the Well of Mimir, where all of the god's enormous store of knowledge, wisdom, and advice can be acquired by those who visit it. Spellwork: Wisdom, advice, peace, the acquisition of knowledge, liberal and fine arts.
Vana-Goddess (?) of plenty. Spellwork: Abundance and plenty, luck, fortunate turn of events.
Gentle and beautiful Asa-Goddess who is married to Balder. She was considered the Great Mother to her worshippers in the past. Spellwork: Love, gentleness.
Also known as Erce. Vana-Goddess of the earth and fertility. Spellwork: Fertility, Witchcraft.
Extremely wise Vana-God of the sea. Wife of Skadi and father of the Lady and Lord, Freya and Frey. He lives in a great undersea kingdom called Noatun (Boat-Town). He rules the waves, and is similar to Aegir, only Njord is completely benevolent. Spellwork: Wind and waves, fishing, prosperity, matters of success, wisdom.
These three goddesses, known as Urd (the past, destiny), Verdnadi (the present) and Skuld (the future) are more than mere goddesses; they are apparently personifications of the vastly powerful universal force variously described as Fate, Wyrd, Kismet, and Karma. They may very well be the same beings known as the Fates in Greco-Roman mythology. They have each been depicted as very old women who hide their appearences underneath a hooded cloak, and are able to see the past, the present, and all possible futures with ease. They live around the Well of Urd in Asgard, and see to it that the fates of mortals and gods alike are weaved according to plan. Thus, the Norns are said to wield tremendous power that is respected even by Odin. Spellwork: Karma, fate; past, present, future (see respective goddesses for each).
Mysterious presumed Vana-God who was married to Freya, and whom she subsequently lost when he vanished for inexplicable reasons. Freya mourned the loss of her husband very deeply by shedding tears of gold (the tears that fell into the water are said to have become amber, but the symbolic significance of this was never explained in the surviving myths). Some consider him an aspect of Odin, but he is often described as a completely separate entity, which I believe he was. His specific mystical attributes are unknown.
Asa-God who is King of the entire pantheon of Norse deities. Known as the All-Father and the Great Father, Odin is an extraordinary enchanter who is one of the most powerful beings in all of creation. He sacrificed one of his eyes to the Well of Mimir in exchange for acquiring all the knowledge in the universe, and he went through a famous debilitating and extremely grueling ritual of both physical and metaphysical self-sacrifice, during which he was hung from one of the branches of the world tree Yggrasil for nine days and nights without partaking of food or water, in order to gain complete knowledge of all aspects of the magickal runic alphabet (both for divination and their magickal power), and all of this was ultimately for the purpose of finding a way of averting Ragnarok, the "twilight of the gods." He rules over half the honored dead in Valhalla (the Viking equivalent of Heaven; the goddess Freya rules over the other half), he has two ravens, Huginn and Muninn ('thought' and 'memory', respectively) who fly throughout the Nine Worlds gathering information for him, which they then whisper in his ear, and he is often invoked by anyone, Pagan or not, who are utilizing the runes for divinitory purposes. He is the knower of all things, and is also attended by the Valkyries and two wolves, Geri and Frecki. He considers himself above human concepts of good and evil, for his main purpose is to avert the coming of Ragnarok, the destruction of both humanity and the deities (but which will reportedly lead to a new beginning, perhaps symbolic of the Wheel of the Year and the cycle of death and rebirth familiar to Wiccan theology). He has traditionally been considered the patron god of the ruling class of any given era (and as a result, he was and is far less popular as a figure of worship and/or reverence among Pagans than his son Thor, who is the god of the working class and protector of the common man, who have always been far more numerous in society than any ruling class). His motives are little understood by humans, and he often appears to betray his worshippers and allies if the situation, or the greater good as he sees it, calls for this. He also has the task in choosing the victors in any battle. Hence, he is unpredictable and untrusted by the average mortal, but was widely worshipped by rulers, poets, seers, mystics, and the berserkers (that ancient clan of brutal warriors, as he is a giver of "warrior madness" in combat). It is believed that at least some of his treacherous qualities were added by the Christians when they re-recorded the Norse epics, as well as after he became associated with the economic and political ruling classes of humanity. He is the giver of three types of "madness" to humans who call upon him for that purpose: the warrior in combat, the poet in writing and creativity, and the seer in trance. He would frequently travel among the human race in his mortal guise of the Wanderer (another archetypal symbol) where he was described wearing tattered clothing, a cloak, and a wide-brimmed hat to cover his missing eye (in more recent years he has been depicted as wearing an eye patch). He is said to resemble a very large and robust man in his fifties, and has gray hair and a beard. He is also a master of medicine, and his magick has great ability to heal the sick and wounded. Spellwork: Runic magick, acquisition of knowledge, divination, poetry, the runes, healing, victory in war, acquisition of power, death, karma, wisdom, fate, psychic abilities. Note: Witches who call upon him for assistance should do so with caution, as he is rather unpredictable in how he responds to invocations in spellwork, and many have told of regretting calling upon him for magickal assistance, or following him as a worshipper, as his nature and reasoning are often quite inexplicable to the human race.
Alternate name for the goddess Eostre, and is also the name of a Pagan holiday in her honor that is still celebrated by Pagans today, and by the Christians as Easter. See: Eostre.
Vana-Goddess who is the cruel and malicious wife of Aegir. She is often called the Ravager, for she is known to drown sailors with her power over the waves. She is very unpredictable, and she should be called upon in spellwork with great caution, if at all. Spellwork: Drowning, storms over water, terror.
Goddess of history, who is said to be of the race of giants. Sometimes described as an alternate aspect of Frigga, which I personally doubt since her attributes are so different. She is responsible for collecting facts about her fellow deities and writing them down for posterity. Spellwork: Historical research, writing, poetry.
Asa-Goddess of the harvest, warrior, and wife of Thor. She was famous for her beautiful golden hair. Spellwork: Matters of the harvest, plenty, generosity.
Goddess of fidelity who is the devoted wife of Loki. She is a gentle and faithful goddess who attempts to temper Loki's mischievious ways. Spellwork: Love, loyalty.
Asa-Goddess of love. Little info about her is to be found in the surviving myths, but she appears to be exclusively a love goddess. Spellwork: Love, beauty.
Dangerous warrior-goddess and daughter of the giant Thiassi, the latter of whom was killed by the gods. During her attempt to aquire a weregild from the gods in reparation for the death of her father, she ended up marrying the sea god Njord, who she accidently selected for marriage due to his beautiful feet. The two separated, however, when Skadi prefered her home in the mountains over that of Njord's under the sea, and vice versa. Spellwork: The hunt, mountains, revenge, winter spells.
Asa-God of thunder and son of Odin and Gaea, the goddess of the earth, in her Nordic guise of Jord. Thor is the champion of the common man and the working class (in fact, his hammer is the modern political symbol of socialists for this reason), and the most powerful warrior in Asgard. He wields the hammer Mjolnir (Destroyer) that controls the tempest of the storm and always returns to his hand when thrown, and it's among the most powerful weapons ever wielded by any god of any pantheon. He is a great hero who protects the weak, he is the staunch defender of the human race of Midgard (Earth), and is a sworn enemy of the giants and the trolls. He also has iron gloves, used for handling his hammer at times, and a magick belt that doubles his already prodigious strength when he wears it (though he only does so in emergencies, since the usage of the belt allegedly leaves him physically drained for a time after using it). His chariot is pulled by two enchanted male goats, Tooth-Gnasher and Tooth-Grinder, who can be killed for food and then magickally revived. He has two brave and powerful sons, Magni and Modi, who he sired with the giantess Jarnsaxa. Spellwork: Protection, war, combat, courage, physical and inner strength, success, destruction of opposition, defense, thunder and lightening, weather, luck, crop fertility.
Asa-God of war and justice. The bravest of the gods, he willingly sacrificed his right hand in order to fetter the dangerous Fenris Wolf. He is the overseer of the Thing, the legislative body of the Gods of Asgard, and also one of the most formidable warriors among the deities. It is believed by many historians of the Norse religion that Tyr was once worshipped as a sky god and held in a much higher place in the pantheon, even over Odin, only to later be devalued in status. Spellwork: War, victory over great odds, law, justice, bravery and honor, oaths.
Vana-God of archery and sports, who was so magnificent that Odin himself was jealous, and threw the athletic god out of Asgard as a result. Spellwork: Sporting events, contests, single combat, archery, matters of nobility.
Warrior-goddesses (some stories say there are thirteen of them in all) who ride winged horses and are known as the "Choosers of the Slain," as they fly over battlefields where they pick which fallen warriors will go to Valhalla. They carry enchanted spears with flaming points for weapons, and their horses' manes are said to drop dew or hail. The most well known was Brynnhilda, who allied herself with the Norse hero Siegfried and taught him runic magick. They are led by Freya and are attendants to Odin. Spellwork: Courage, war, combat, death.
Not truly a deity, but the primal frost giant whose evil and brutality were ended by Odin and his brothers Vili and Vey in the early days of the multiverse. He is said to have spawned the entire race that became known as the Jotuns, or giants, without a female mate. It is not advised to call upon him in matters of spellwork.
The Norse described a large assortment of non-human races besides the gods who inhabited the Nine Worlds. Some of these beings may be called upon for assistance in spellwork just like the deities, though others should be avoided by witches looking for magickal assistance. The various races are described below.
The Giants, or Jotuns, are a humanoid race of beings similar to the gods who are constantly at war with the deities. It is believed by many modern scholars that the giants were probably worshipped by ancient humans as gods before their worship became supplanted by the Aesir and Vanir. Afterwards, the giants became symbols of chaos and destruction, and this is possibly the reason why most of the giants are against the gods and often at war with them (though a few of them have been on friendly terms with the deities, and a smaller few have even joined their ranks). Although they are of great size, they can attain normal human height while retaining their enormous strength, the latter of which is said to be so great that it can only be matched among the gods by Thor. They are as powerful as the gods in the arts of enchantment and shape-shifting. According to the myths, besides fighting with the giants, the gods' favorite pastime appears to be mating with them (underscoring the related heritage of the two races, which is clearly implied in the Norse creation myth), and in fact many of the gods are of giant stock, including Loki and Skadi (as stated above). The giants are often differentiated according to the type of environment they inhabit. For example, frost giants live in bitter cold regions and the storm giants live in the mountainous regions. Both groups of giants dwell in the otherdimensional realm of Jotunheim, where the frost giants are ruled by Utgard-Loki, who is a powerful enchanter, and the storm giants are ruled by the mighty and savage Thrym. Since the giants in general are of such a capricious and mercurial nature, I strongly advise against calling upon them for assistance in spellwork, despite their great power, particularly since they are not very friendly to humanity, and have had little to do with us even during the time of the Viking Era. This is especially true since Thrym is an avowed enemy of Thor, who is the sworn protector of humanity, and Utgard-Loki wouldn't be much friendlier. Individual giants who have joined the gods in Asgard may be called upon as the other gods can, and are described in the list of deities up above.
The Dwarves are diminuitive, swarthy subterranean beings who are excellent at the forge, and are credited with creating many of the magnificent items utilized by the gods, including Thor's hammer Mjolnir and Frey's ship Skipbladnir, and are known for collecting jewelry and other expensive items. They can be good or evil. They live underground in Asgard, as well as various sections of Alfheim and Svartalfeim. Brokk and Sindri are two very prominent dwarves mentioned in the myths, who helped forge many of the extraordinary weapons and parapharnelia of the deities, including Thor's aforementioned hammer Mjolnir and Odin's ring Draupnir. Although they shun contact with both humans and gods, they are very useful entities to work with, and the good dwarves can be called upon for spellwork in matters of material wealth, protection, weapons, consecration of items, and inventions.
The Light Elves are essentially the same beings known to the Celts as the fairie folk, or fays, and they come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and temperments. The elves inhabit the realm of Alfheim, which is the same as the Fairie Realm. They are masters of enchantments and of shape-shifting. Their contact with humanity was considerably more frequent in ancient times, but human contact with this elusive race was on the decline even during the Viking Era, and dropped dramatically during the ascendency of Christianity, which all but eliminated belief of these beings from the collective mindset, and during which both the practice of magick and humanity's close rapport with nature dwindled immensely. However, with the resurgence of nature-friendly Pagan religions on the world scene today, contacts with the elvin race has begun to slowly increase, but still remain quite fleeting. They can be called upon in spellwork for the arts, healing, wisdom, enchantments, creativity, and protection.
The Dark Elves are the Norse equivalent of what are commonly referred to in the folklore of various Western cultures as goblins and kobolds, and are darker of skin and mood than their close cousins, the Light Elves, but are otherwise very similar in magickal abilities. They live in the realm of Svartalfheim. As with their Light cousins, contact with this offshoot of the latter race by humanity was much more frequent in ancient times, before the dominance of monotheistic religions nearly wiped belief in them from the collective human psyche, along with the practice of magick and closeness with nature among human societies. The return of polytheistic and pantheistic religions to the world arena has insured at least a small increase between humanity and this "hidden" race of beings. Some of these entities may be contacted by witches for assistance in spellwork, but they generally prefer to avoid contact with humanity.
The Trolls are large, physically powerful, ill-tempered beings who are enemies of the gods, particularly Thor. They dislike all other races of beings, including gods, elves, and human beings, but fortunately they very rarely manifest on the material plane today. Though dangerous fighters, they are rather slow-witted and cowardly. They inhabit the outer reaches of Asgard, Alfheim, and Svartalfheim. It is not advisable to call on them for assistance in spellwork, and most of them aren't very adept at magick anyway.
The Fire Demons, sometimes referred to as the Muspeli, are warrior beings who are also enemies of the gods, and they live in the fiery realm of Muspelheim, where they are ruled by the vastly powerful demon Surtur, whose ultimate goal is the destruction of all of the Nine Worlds in a long prophesised event called Ragnarok, which Odin continually struggles to avert. The fire demons generally have nothing to do with humanity, and even during ancient times they almost never interacted directly with the human race, which is quite fortunate given their hostile nature, and even contact with the gods are rarely mentioned in Nordic legend. Their level of magickal power and special attributes (with the exception of Surtur) are unknown since they are mentioned so infrequently in all the surviving Northern myths, though it is implied that they are a great warrior race. It is quite obviously not advisable to invoke Surtur or the other fire demons for assistance in spellwork.
Surtur, sometimes called simply Surt, is the incredibly powerful leader of the fire demons in the infernal realm of Muspelheim. He was trapped in Muspelheim ages ago by Odin and his two brothers Vili and Vey, and at the apparent cost of the latter two deities' lives. He is enormous in size, though he can evidently assume the height of a normal human or god at will. He carries a flaming sword as a weapon, and according to legend, he aquires the magick sword of Frey, the only weapon that can withstand the giants, and uses it against the gods during the "twilight of the gods" following the onset of Ragnarok. Surtur is said to battle Frey himself at Ragnarok, who is forced to fight the powerful demon with a pair of antlers. Though vastly powerful, Surtur is evil and dangerous, and should not be called upon in spellworkings.
Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, is the monstrous, dragon-like progeny of Loki and the giantess Angrboda, who is so huge that he encircles the entire Earth, where he exists in etheric form. Should he constrict his coils, he can cause massive devastation to the planet on a global scale. His venom is so deadly that not even the gods can survive contact with it. At Ragnarok, the Midgard Serpent will be set loose on Asgard, where he will battle to the death with Thor, his mortal enemy.
Nidhogg is a powerful dragon who dwells in Niflheim and continually gnaws at one of the roots of the world tree Yggrassil, which will eventually cause the tree to collapse. He constantly trades insults with an eagle that lives at the top of the tree, and the messages are carried up and down the tree by a squirrel.
The Fenris Wolf, sometimes called Fenrir, is another lethal offspring of Loki and the giantess Angrboda, thus making him kin to the Midgard Serpent and the goddess Hela. He is a huge and fearsome lupine beast who was wreaking so much havoc on Asgard that the gods decided to permanently fetter the savage creature. However, Fenris broke every single chain he was entrapped with, so the gods had the dwarves forge a magickal fetter. In order to get Fenris to agree to be bound, Tyr, the courageous god of war, agreed to put his hand in the wolf's mouth; if the fetter held, Fenris would bite. The magickal fetter indeed held as the dwarves promised, and Tyr lost his hand as a result. It is said that at Ragnarok, Fenris will escape his fetter, and will devour Odin, only to be killed in turn by Odin's son Vidar. However, contemporary Pagan scholar Freya Aswynn has surmised that this may be an alteration made by the Christian scribes, as Tyr was the god who had earned the ire of the Fenris Wolf to the highest degree, not Odin. Hence, in the original version of the myth, Fenris may indeed have battled Tyr, and not Odin, to the death.
Garm is a monstrous dog who guards the gateway into Hel, and keeps the souls of the dead from escaping the underworld. According to the myths handed down to us, Garm will break lose at Ragnarok and battle the god Tyr to the death. However, it has been proclaimed by contemporary Pagan scholar Freya Aswynn that this may be an alteration in the original myth made by the Christians, as Garm was in the service of the gods and had no reason to attack any of them. So, originally, it may have been the Fenris Wolf, and not Garm, who battles Tyr.
The links at the bottom of this section will take you to other good sites on the Web that relate to Norse mythology and the Norse religous revival of the late 20th century, followed by a critical summary of the quality of those sites, based upon my personal opinions, of course. I will continually add more links with corresponding evaluations as I either come across them myself, or are referred to them by some of the visitors to this site.
Note: Please be aware of the fact that, due to the difficulties in translating the Norse language into English, there are many disparate spellings of the Norse deities in usage today, some of which are quite odd, and I simply use the versions that are most familiar to me. The spellings of the deity names will vary from book to book, and web site to web site.
Barbarian's Page On Norse Religions has some great info on many aspects of the deities, as well as displaying some excellent pics of Norse paintings which depict the deities. Perhaps most importantly, he also makes evaluations of the various Norse religions active today. He is a bit critical of Norse Wicca, and he describes my tradition as a "synthetic religion" that borrows not only the Norse deities and their magickal attributes, but also other influences (such as Egyptian and Native American), and weds these practices to Gardnerian Wicca (he leaves out our usage of Ceremonial Magickal techniques, but this is understandable since that has nothing to do with any religious practice anyway). He states quite clearly that he is not personally opposed to people choosing whatever influences which they may desire, if these choices truly offer them a source of spiritual strength and growth, but he does insist that Norse Wiccans not semi-deliberately confuse our religion with that of Asatru, or to present ourselves to the public as being practitioners of an actual re-creation of the ancient Northern religion of the Vikings, which Norse Wicca is not, and Asatru definately is (traditional Asatruar often berate Norse Wiccans for incorrectly laying claim to the Northern tradition; our traditon, as Barbarian correctly points out, is actually a Wiccan tradition that borrows elements of the Norse mythos and magickal system, and conjoins them to Wiccan principles and Witchcraft).
Barbarian is basically correct in his assessments here, and I agree with most of his assessments. However, I must point out here that the number of cultural and mystical influences outside of the Northern tradition that Norse Wiccans borrow tends to greatly vary according to the individual practitioner and/or coven, and I myself (I'm a solitary practitioner who has had little contact with other Norse Wiccans, so I cannot either refute or substantiate Barbarian's or the Asatruars' assertions) borrow aspects of both Witchcraft and Norse magick in my practices, an example of the former being my ritual structure that I adhere to, which includes my invocation of the five elements of antiquity, though I also invoke the Norse deities and call upon Freya to personify the Goddess and Frey to personify the God. As another example of my practicing of Norse Magick, I utilize the rune stones in both divination and in magick, as well as calling on the attributes of the Norse deities, the Light Elves, and the Good Dwarves in my spellwork. My personal cultural influences are a combination of standard Wiccan ethics and Norse cultural attitudes, along with a healthy dose of Eastern philosophy and principles thrown in (such as my interest and study of many Eastern martial arts, Buddhist doctrine, and other such esoteric disciplines).
Contrary to what many people seem to believe, Wiccan and Norse ethics mesh together very well, with few conflicts of interest, despite the fact that Wiccans and Asatruar tend to differ in our political philosophy in many ways (and my preference in this area tends to lean towards the Wiccan socio-political position, though I am a genuine Marxian socialist rather than a Green, the latter of which many Wiccans tend to be, while most Asatruar are not).
One fellow Wiccan, upon learning of my specific tradition, told me, "I don't see how someone who claims to be a Wiccan and follows our peaceful code of ethics could possibly revere and call upon a group of warlike deities." My response to her was that she only understood part of the equation, that even though the Norse pantheon included the Aesir, who were indeed greatly warlike in their disposition, despite the fact that they also harbored many noble and artistic traits, the pantheon also included the Vanir, who were peaceful fertility deities that only fought when necessary. Each of the two groups possessed various of each other's qualities, as well. Further, they were worshipped by a culture that existed in the feudal era, when the harsh economic conditions of scarcity which were an inescapable fact of life at the time caused violence and warfare to be all-too common, and ignores the fact that the Christians at the time were also exceedingly violent and bloody with the Crusades that eventually wiped out the great Pagan cultures, the Norse tradition being one of the last to fall to the relentless arm of the Roman Catholic Church, and this despite the fact that the Christians claim to worship a universal supreme diety that embodies absolute goodness and love. Further, as I stated before, many other pantheons of deities had an equal combination of warlike and peaceful traits, and as proof of this fact I advise everyone reading this to do an indepth study of the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, Japanese, Chinese, Native American, and Hindu myths, and to observe the behavior of their deities, and you will find that they are no better or no worse than the Norse pantheon in this combination of positive and negative traits. It should once more be noted that the Pagans believed in a mixing of light and dark qualities in their deities, which parallels that of the human species, and thus made them far easier to relate to than the "absolute good" of the monotheistic Judeo-Christian God, as well as his human avatar, Jesus Christ (according to the Christian belief system, that is).
Further, it should be noted that Asatru, which is a modern re-creation of the actual Norse religion practiced by the Vikings (which Norse Wicca, admittedly, is not, though it also does much to keep interest in the Norse pantheon and culture alive despite that fact) does not advocate the violence and warlike tendencies seen in some of its deities, and view these myths symbolically, rather than as a literal love of violence and war. Despite some of the behavior of their deities in the myths, much (but not all) of which was added by the Christian scribes who re-recorded the legends after the fall of the original Norse culture to the Crusades, Asatruar believe in peaceful relations with other cultures and religions the same as Wiccans do. However, I will point out that neither religion advocates a "turn the other cheek" pacifism among its adherents in the matter of self defense.
Ultimately, however, I believe, as does Barbarian, that it is up to the individual to choose which cultural and spiritual influences are best for him/her when choosing a religion to follow.
Overall, Barbarian's site is a very decent reference source of info on the various Northern religions springing into existence today and of the Norse deities themselves, and it proved extremely useful to me in the course of preparing this section.
Gareth Long's site comparing Greek and Norse Mythology is basically a great source of info for those researching the various deities from both pantheons (but not for those looking for info on the cultures connected to them; see below). His site is very interesting in the comparisons and contrasts that it presents, and should prove useful to practitioners of the Norse religions to gain new insights into the deities, including their position in regards to similar deities in other polytheistic faiths, so I decided to include a link to it for that purpose. Further, the research on the myths is well done and formulated [even if he does take many of the pictures of the deities from the various versions of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe published years ago by Marvel Comics; did Mr. Long believe there was no comic book fans among the Norsers, especially considering the liberal usage of the deities as fictional characters in the comic book medium?].
Side note:Marvel Comics has published many comic book adventures of both the Greek and Norse deities, including its over 30 year old Thor comic, which feature excellent stories of the deities, even if they do take liberties with the myths at times, and inexplicably leave out several of the important Norse deities, including Freya and Njord, and have even added a few new deities never seen in the myths, such as Karnilla the Norn Queen and Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg, collectively dubbed the Warriors Three. This version of Thor was initially conceptualized by legendary comic artisans Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby, who decided to utilize this "pop" version of the Norse myths as opposed to a depiction that more closely mirrored the myths as originally recorded by the Norsemen. I'm a major comic book fan, and I can personally attest to the quality of the stories (depending upon who is writing them at any given time, as well as the artist), as Marvel depicts Thor and the other deities as very true to the original Norse conception of brave, intelligent, and noble, if quite imperfect, beings (though they admittedly greatly play up the positive aspects), even though they have altered Thor's appearance somewhat from the myths, such as making him blonde instead of a redhead, often depriving him of his beard, and altering his Asgardian battle raiment to make it look less like classical Norse attire and more like a super-hero costume, such as giving him a cloak of red cloth similar to Superman's cape, instead of a more historically accurate cloak made of bearskin, as he usually wears in the myths. Further, Thor's status as the friend of the common man and working class would certainly make him reluctant to be friendly to the political governments of today, a fact ignored in the comics when Thor is serving with his teammates in the Avengers, and often participates on missions sanctioned by the U.S. government. Then again, the Marvel Entertainment Group is a corporate entity, so what do you expect? Lee also displayed a strong American bias by making Thor’s mortal vessel, the surgeon known as Dr. Donald Blake, M.D., indigenous to America, rather than from some nation on the Northern European continent.
It should also be noted that a new version of Thor is now appearing in The Ultimates, part of Marvel's distinct Ultimate line of comics, and this particular comic version of the deity, crafted by the excellent British writer Mark Millar (formerly of The Authority and Ultimate X-men fame, and also author of the wonderful Superman: Red Son "Elseworlds" tale) is cast as a New Age guru and die hard socialist who embodies the actual Norse deity born into human form in the modern age to oppose the corporate, plutocratic economic world order of today. This is a much more logical depiction of the Thunderer, and considerably more faithful to the mythological character of the thunder god. Further, Thor of the Ultimate Universe's human form was born in a European nation (specifically, Norway), rather than in America. This shows that Millar paid much more attention to the myths than Lee and other writers did when he crafted this version of the son of Odin. End side note
Ultimately, Mr. Long utilizes the comparisons of the deities of both civilizations in an attempt to provide a correlation between the Greek and Norse cultures, and on that score, he falls terribly short. Although Mr. Long is obviously an avid enthusiast of Norse mythology, he is clearly not a practitioner of any Norse religion, nor does he seem to be aware of the Christian tampering with the content of the myths, and his writing suffers from a Christian bias of theological history. For example, Mr. Long purports that the Greek culture was richer and far more artistically diverse than that of the Norse culture, and that the attributes of their deities reflected this cultural "fact." He provides "evidence" of this by suggesting that the Norse deities were overly concerned with war and little else, whereas the Greek deities reflected the Greeks' love of all aspects of society, including appreciation for art, poetry, love, and philosophy.
First of all, let me point out here that I am not denying that the Greek culture was anything less than what Mr. Long is suggesting. What I am going to say, however, is that the Norse culture was just as diverse in its interests as was the Greek. While the bulk of the Greek culture and mythology was restored more or less intact during the Renaissance (though prodigiously morphed in numerous subsequent retellings), much of the Norse myths and culture was lost, and what was "preserved" was greatly altered and reinterpreted by the Christian scribes who 'rescued' them from literary oblivion (as I have mentioned several times elsewhere in this section). As a result, many of the richer aspects of the Norse culture was excised from the myths, and the more ignoble and warlike tendencies of the deities (which admittedly did exist to some extent before the Christian tampering) was greatly played up, no doubt to imply that the Norse culture itself was morally bankrupt, and that the Roman Catholic Church was "correct" in forcibly converting the Norse populace to the "new" religion. Accordingly, with the exception of Freya, all the rest of the individual stories involving the female deities were eliminated, and the goddesses were more or less reduced to incidental characters and bit parts in the surviving myths. This is often used by individual scholars to imply that the Pagan Norse religion and culture was every bit as patriarchal as that of the Christian culture (a belief shared by Mr. Long, it seems). Of course, the Christian scribes who re-recorded the myths certainly didn't want stories that emphasized the noble and heroic qualities of female beings to "contaminate" the psyches of the dominant male members in Christian culture who were educated enough to read them. The Greek myths were re-recorded in a more enlightened era than that of the Norse myths, so more of their original narrative was left intact.
Mr. Long's assertions that the Norse had far less interest in non-war related subjects than the Greeks cannot be permitted to stand unchallenged. He hardly mentions the peaceful nature of the Vanir, as well as the great wisdom that many of the deities were noted for, including Mimir, Balder, Frigga, and even Odin himself during his better moods. Also, art, poetry, philosophy, and other creative endeavors were much loved by the Norse culture (they had a rich lore of poetry, art, and literature, much of which is now lost forever thanks to the upheaval caused by the Crusades), and several deities existed to embody these qualities for the Norse, including Bragi, the god of poetry and eloquence, who had no warlike or belligerent qualities whatsoever, as well as Mimir, the god of wisdom, who also had no warrior aspect to his persona of any kind, and the latter deity embodied peace and tranquility. In fact, even deities who do have distinct warrior qualities often have other, equally important attributes in no way related to warfare, such as Freya, who was and is very often magickally invoked for love and sex, as well as numerous creative purposes, including writing, the arts, wisdom, and intellectual endeavors of any sort, and Thor, who embodied crop fertility and weather, as well as battle. Mr. Long conveniently overlooks the fact that in addition to Odin granting the "warrior madness" in combat (and utilized by the notorious warrior cult known as the berserkers), he was also renowned for being able to induce a different type of "madness," that of the poet in writing verse, which clearly shows that the King of the Gods valued artistic and creative expression as well as warfare, and a third type of "madness," that of the seer in trance, displaying his value of the mysterious inner workings of the human psyche.
Also, Frigga was often depicted in her relatively few surviving appearances in the myths as a very wise and non-violent goddess of great magickal power who wielded much influence over Odin, and she usually seems to get her way over him whenever a disagreement comes up. This is something that Hera never had in conjunction with Zeus, who she at times has even attempted to overthrow (albeit never with success). Odin is probably quite lucky that the wise and clever Frigga never attempted to overthrow him, which she probably saw as unnecessary, since she had no trouble getting her way under her husband's rule, and was treated as an equal partner, and whose council was often sought by the All-Father. Never is there mention of Odin chastising Frigga or pulling rank over her, as Zeus often did with Hera. In fact, Frigga is depicted as a very caring and nurturing deity, as befits a goddess of marriage and childbirth, unlike Hera, who is frequently portrayed in the stories as a jealous, spiteful, vindictive, and often outright vicious goddess who has no qualms about killing infants or harming pregnant women, despite her similar role as a goddess of marriage and childbirth for her pantheon! However, this is also completely overlooked by Mr. Long in the essays to be found on his site.
Mr. Long then goes on to criticize Frigga for not reacting to Odin's infidelities like Hera did over Zeus's, and he concludes that the Norse must have been more tolerant about adultery than the Greeks. Actually, the Norse men and women alike probably engaged in extramarital affairs no more or no less often than both the men and women of Greek society did; it wasn't until the Christian era that such a strong moral emphasis was placed on monogamy, and this particular ethic was constructed largely to keep women from straying from their husbands, as befitting her legal role as his "property" (the political nature of the Ten Commandments, including the sixth Commandment, is quite evident upon close study, along with a good working knowledge of the era in which they were instituted). Thus, the classical Pagan cultures in general did not hold monoamorous sexual relationships in as high an esteem as the Christians do, though the men in Christian cultures were never legally and socially censured as badly as the women were for infidelity [remember reading The Scarlet Letter in high school or college? Was there a comparable story ever written about a Christian male back then being punished and socially ostracized for the same crime? I think not, which displays how the Christian emphasis on monogamy in marriage was primarily designed to keep women from straying, but wasn't overly concerned about men doing the same, despite some lip service to that effect]. Personally, I believe that polyamorous sexual relationships are good for some partners and individuals, whereas monoamorous relationships are better for others, and as long as both partners are honest with each other from the start about their preferences in these matters, then either is acceptable. The Wiccan Rede clearly states that "right" or "wrong" is relative to not only the specific circumstances or culture in question, but also to the individual. For the most part, we do not believe in universal moral absolutes as do the Christians, as we do not see them as realistic tenets for absolutely everyone to follow, or to be appropriate for a world in which diversity is the natural way of things.
Further, it should be noted that Hera rarely attacked Zeus directly for his infidelities, but instead targeted the recipients of his amorous exploits (who usually did not know that Zeus was their lover, due to the latter's penchant for disguise), as well as the offspring of his promiscuous liaisons, and she carried out cruel and even murderous schemes against Zeus's mortal sexual partners, as well as the progeny of these encounters, and did everything in her considerable power to make life difficult for the children of Zeus not sired by her. The best example of Hera's violent extremes in this manner may possibly be the manner in which she treated Heracles (better known today by his Latin/Roman name Hercules), who was the offspring of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmena. Hera attempted to kill the newborn demi-god as he slept next to his infant mortal half-brother Iphicles by sending two venomous serpents after him, not overly concerned the other child would also probably be killed (Heracles managed to strangle the two serpents to death with his bare hands, thus thwarting Hera's attempt on his life). Was this moral and acceptable behavior on Hera's part, as well as a justifiable retaliation for her being two-timed by her husband? I'll let you be the judge of that.
It should also be noted that Odin usually had logical reasons for his extramarital liaisons outside of merely satisfying an overactive libido (unlike Zeus), which coincided with his duties as King of the Gods regarding his efforts to protect Asgard from its enemies and to stave off the coming of Ragnarok. For example, Odin sired Thor with the Earth goddess Jord in order to produce an offspring who would combine the power of both Midgard (Earth) and Asgard, thereby serving as the perfect guardian of Midgard and the human race, and to assure that his resultant offspring would be powerful enough to protect Asgard against the giants and the trolls. Frigga never took out any frustrations she may have had over this on the extramarital offspring of Odin, and she fully accepted Thor as her stepson, and the two were described as being very close and sharing a mutually loving relationship of mother and son. Also, it must be noted that Frigga could easily divine the future, and she could clearly see the reasons for Odin acting as he did (Hera evidently did not possess precognitive abilities). Mr. Long also overlooks the fact that Frigga likewise engaged in extramarital affairs, though the exact reasons for these were lost and unrecorded, since the Christian scribes may have wanted to avoid depicting arguably justifiable reasons for female infidelity, lest the servile women of their time and culture get any ideas on the unlikely chance that those who were actually allowed to develop any reading skills should happen to peruse the Norse myths.
To reiterate this important point, as stated above, Frigga was depicted as a very wise, intelligent, and caring goddess, unlike Hera, who was usually depicted as cruel, capricious, vengeful, and in displaying degrees of immaturity that hardly befit her role as the Queen of the Gods, despite the fact that she, like Frigga, was the goddess of marriage and childbirth, and served much of the same functions to her respective worshippers and pantheon as Frigga did to her's. Again, however, Mr. Long makes no mention of any of this.
Mr. Long further makes no mention of Bragi or Mimir, only mentions in passing the wise and kind-hearted nature of Balder, and fails to make note of the artistic attributes of Freya. Further, he fails to point out the gentle love goddesses that prevail throughout the Norse pantheon in addition to Freya and Frigga, including Balder's beloved wife Nanna (whom he was always faithful to, and who symbolized kindness and gentleness to the Norse), the lesser known love goddess Sjofna (who apparently embodied love and no other attributes, though she is little mentioned in the surviving myths), as well as Loki's faithful wife, the love goddess Sigyn, who is considered the goddess of fidelity! Obviously, the choice of fidelity was a highly individual thing among the Norse, just as it was in any other culture, be they Pagan, Christian, or based upon another religious doctrine entirely, and regardless of whether it was considered legal or ethical in any given society (which further underscores how incredibly silly it is to make any form of consensual sexual activity illegal, but try telling that to some of the more zealous Christians out there).
Hence, the Norse seemed to value love and the gentler emotions as much as the Greeks did, as they had numerous deities representing love, while the Greeks had only two, Aphrodite and her son Eros (better known today under his Roman image as the winged cherubic god Cupid), and these latter two deities often emphasized pure lust over love, and they frequently engaged in trickery and mischief in forcing various mortals into falling in love with each other, whereas there is no record of the gentle Norse love goddesses engaging in such manipulative behavior (and once again, I'm not suggesting that these goddesses were totally devoid of negative traits, or that the Norse deities were morally superior to the Greek deities overall; I'm simply stating that they were clearly no worse, contrary to Mr. Long's assessment).
Although the Greek culture contributed much to our modern Western societies, including the principles of political democracy, the Norse also contributed much, some of which found its way into American law, such as a speedy trial by jury and basic judicial structure [despite how corrupt these practices have become in our class-divided society over time, but the same has happened to our political democracy, which further underscores the age-old axiom that a system that runs on money does not mesh well with the abstract notions of justice, equity, freedom, and democracy].
Also, the Norse bequeathed great legal rights and social power upon their women, had numerous women as respected poets, lawmakers, warriors, seers, and priestesses, and women even monopolized the much valued Norse magickal system known as seidrh (pronounced "shee") [Odin only learned this magickal art after being tutored extensively by Freya, who was also considered Odin's equal in runic knowledge, though unlike him, she didn't have to make an enormous sacrifice to gain the runic knowledge artificially as he did; also, it should be noted that Freya took half of the fallen heroes whose souls went to Valhalla under her wing, and remarkably, she received first choice of these slain warriors over Odin]. Also, the idea of women's rights of property, marriage, and social opportunities were well established to the Norse, but were completely obliterated by the usurping Christians when they wiped the culture out by the end of the 13th century (which also greatly conflicts with Mr. Long's ignorant assessment that a society with a polytheistic religion is automatically less socially advanced than a society with a monotheistic religion, but more on that absurd statement below). It was not until the 19th century that women in America begin fighting to re-establish all of these rights that were lost to them by the ascendancy of Christianity, and it wasn't until the 20th century that any significant gains were made in the women's liberation movement, and women at the dawn of the 21st century still haven't gained the same status as men despite the many gains made in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's (that perhaps not coincidentally happened to coincide with the onset of the New Age movement). Yet, Mr. Long makes further statements that the Greek and Norse societies were less socially and intellectually advanced than we are today, and that monotheism is more culturally advanced than polytheism (but, again, I'll get to this a bit later).
These aforementioned examples hardly imply the Norse to be a shallow and artistically sterile culture who believes in war and violence above all else. In fact, when comparing the war gods Tyr and Ares, Mr. Long makes note of the fact that the Norse Tyr was described as being very brave and noble in the myths, whereas the Greek Ares was described as cowardly, brutally violent, and loving warfare for its own sake, rather than in self defense or for the cause of justice only, and then goes on to say that Ares would be better suited to the Norse pantheon! As if to suggest that the Greeks engaged in any less wars and violence than the Norsemen did! Although Mr. Long points out that Ares wasn't popular in the Greek society, he fails to mention that Mars, the Roman version of the war god Ares, took on a far greater significance in the mythos during the Roman Empire, and was sometimes even regarded as being higher in stature than Jupiter himself, who was Zeus's Roman counterpart. This is how much the Romans, the successors to the Greek traditon, revered warfare and conquest.
On the subject of war, Mr. Long puts down the Norse deities even further in his comparison of Athena and Thor by stating that Athena was a "wise, strategic" warrior whereas Thor was simply "a brute." He makes further claims that Thor was simply a mindless engine of violence, and nurtures the common misperception of Thor as all brawn and no brain. It's quite unfortunate that the much loved god of thunder is usually depicted this way in many of his fictional exploits written after the fall of the original Norse culture (a rare and welcome exception being the portrayal of Thor in the eponymous comic book published by Marvel Comics, particularly in regards to the new comic version of the thunder god now being chronicled in Marvel’s Ultimate line, but I'll get to this in a moment). A considerable degree of Thor's character was known to be altered by the Christian scribes, and this includes much of the more noble and intellectual aspects of his persona (the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy obviously didn't want the general public to view the Norsemen as anything more than mindless savages, despite the hideous and unjustified brutality of the Crusaders on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, not to mention the Inquisition and other atrocities). However, there are several surviving stories about Thor that clearly depict the thunder god as a brilliant battle strategist and tactician, and as capable of outwitting his opponents by means of his wit and intellect in addition to overpowering them with his sheer physical might. Furthermore, he was also described in the myths as a great leader in combat, and individuals do not become great leaders in battle by being stupid. To quote from an article featured on the Thor section of the Thorshof page:
Thor's intelligence was played down in the later [i.e., re-written] myths and stories where he becomes a comic character. But for his worshippers Thor's wisdom was very real. Their [sic] are a number of stories that show that Thor has alternative solutions to problems than by simply 'whacking' things. In the Lay of Alvis[,] Thor challenges his daughter's suitor to a contest of riddles. In King Gautrek's Saga[,] Thor challenges [Odin] and his favorite Starkard through heated debate. While in Egil and Asmund's Saga[,] Thor deals with eighteen quarreling sisters by encouraging their violent jealousy through a well-planned scheme. Many poets seem to have been dedicated to Thor and more copies of the fishing story seem to have survived then any other [where the thunder god cleverly maneuvers a giant into hooking the Midgard Serpent for him]. No poet, a learned pillar of a society based on oral tradition, would honor a simpleton (emphasis mine).Further, the latter writer states, "Thor was also associated with runes and was often called upon for all manner of consecration." The runes were symbols of knowledge and the intellect, as well as power and many other forces of nature, and the Norse would hardly associate Thor with such things if he was considered little more than a musclebound clod. Mr. Long obviously has to be more careful with his research (for those who want to see the full article containing those quotes, either for verification or further reading, go to the link to the Thorshof page following this essay, then go to the main page of that site, click on the link to the Thor page, and click on the article "The Cult of Thor, Then and Now"; also go to the article "Thor in Modern Fiction" for further comments of his misrepresentation in modern Judeo-Christian dominated culture). Although I must admit that I would vote for Athena over Thor in a contest of strategic ability and knowledge in combat (after all, Athena was also the goddess of wisdom, and thus obviously Thor's intellectual superior), Thor was still one of the greatest battle tacticians of any deity in any pantheon. And while the Norse did describe him as sometimes being impulsive and over hasty in judgment, he is rarely seen losing his temper or engaging an enemy in battle unless they threatened his safety, that of Asgard, humanity, or specific individuals under his protection, and he was also described as a completely reliable, loyal, and honorable battle companion.
Also, while reading the myths of both cultures, it becomes very clear that Athena engages in immature and petty behavior at least as often as Thor does. An excellent example of this is the Greek myth of the mortal hero Paris (in the Trojan War epic), in which Athena and Hera seek vengeance upon him simply because he voted Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, as being more beautiful than either of them in a sort of impromptu beauty contest that was held simply for the benefit of these goddesses' respective bragging rights, and neither Hera nor Athena had the sportsmanship or maturity to accept the loss gracefully. In fact, both of them swore to wreak havoc on Paris's home city of Troy simply because he didn't vote that they were the most physically attractive goddesses in Olympus. If that doesn't constitute shallow and petty characteristics on the part of Athena, then I couldn't begin to guess what else does, and I would like to see Mr. Long find any examples of comparable incidents described in Norse mythology that are worse than this.
Also, we must not forget the myth of Arachne, another petulant example of Athena being petty and immature. The mortal princess simply weaved a magnificent tapestry, and Athena was so offended that some mortal outdid her own skill at craftsmanship that she turned the poor woman into a spider. For someone considered the goddess of wisdom, Athena certainly had the emotional maturity level often attributed to a young child at times (at least in regards to children who are raised in the present era). Didn't Mr. Long ever read the Greek myths of the Trojan War and Arachne in their entirety? You just have to wonder, considering the way he goes on about Athena's ethical superiority to Thor. I'm not doubting here that Athena was a brilliant warrior without peer in her pantheon (and she did indeed prove herself superior to the war god Ares in both personal combat and strategic ability), but Thor was far from being simply an overly violent idiot.
Again, any casual reading of the Greek myths will reveal similar behavior from the Greek gods to that of the Norse deities, though Mr. Long continually fails to acknowledge this. The only fictional (and by "fictional," I mean stories recorded outside of the myths) depiction of Thor that does him due justice is the version of the thunder god seen in the Thor comic book published by Marvel Comics every month since 1962 (with a hiatus in publishing here and there, including a year beginning in 1997) as well as being a recurring member of the Marvel super-hero team in The Avengers. This despite the fact that, as stated in the side note elsewhere in this section, the various writers of the book have taken liberty with the accuracy of the mythology from time to time, have incorporated certain Christian influences on the mythos (such as making both Loki and Hela absolutely evil with no positive traits of any kind, just like they likewise depict the Celtic Morgan Le Fey in the same manner, both of which were largely distortions crafted by the Christians), left out certain of the deities (including vitally important ones like Freya, though the original writer Stan Lee possibly believed that Freya and Frigga were identical, which many Pagan scholars disagree with), added a few new deities, and Thor was changed from a handsome bearded redhead to a handsome (usually) beardless blonde. However, Thor was very positively depicted as a brave, honorable, clever, and brilliant warrior who courageously fought in defense of both his fellow Asgardians and humanity, and his sometimes bad temper has also been displayed, though the nastier aspects of his persona were clearly played down, though this wasn’t the case with the alternate reality version of Thor seen in the 'Heroes Reborn' series of The Avengers published for a year in 1996-7, which gave us a nastier and more warlike version of the thunder god (though the standard Marvel version eventually showed up and took his place).
The new version of Thor created for Marvel's Ultimate line of comics (beginning in January of 2002), created by Mark Millar, which depicts him as a mortal New Age guru who is the human embodiment of the thunder god, and able to wield his full power on the material plane, is too new at this stage to make an equitable analysis at this time as to its worth, but since this version was created by one of the finest writers in the illustrated story medium since Stan Lee, it well deserves a chance, and wedding Thor's mortal persona to the New Age movement specifically (as opposed to a medical doctor, as in the 'mainstream' Marvel version) is an interesting move which is more than worth a look (though the Ultimate version of Thor is an ex-nurse). Though Ultimate Thor is not the yes-man for the U.S. government that the Marvel version is, and openly and vehemently opposes the current capitalist economic world order (as the real Thunderer would), he does associate with the team and fight alongside them if an actual threat to human lives is evident.
Even though Mr. Long was analyzing the myths and not the comics, I'm nevertheless surprised that he didn't mention this, especially since he used drawings taken from Marvel Comics of both the Greek and Norse deities, which makes it very likely that he is a comic book fan himself (you can see the classic Marvel version of Thor by going to Mr. Long's site and clicking on the section featuring the thunder god).
Mr. Long also proceeds to give a Christian bias of polytheistic religious faiths by stating that the reason they envisioned their deities with human-like imperfections is because they were "not yet of the societal maturity level to have a single god on a cosmic plane." Obviously, Mr. Long is either a devout follower of a monotheistic faith, or he is simply tainted by Judeo-Christian ideology [but he shouldn't feel bad, because the majority of people living in the Western world have a similar taint to their personal ideology concerning polytheism, as well as all other things, and this often includes certain 'modernist' Pagans, who I will describe in a different section]. He makes the assertion that monotheism is a socially superior form of religion, and implies that the adherents of polytheistic faiths are less culturally and intellectually advanced than followers of monotheistic faiths. Is Mr. Long even aware of the fact that Pagan religions are once again appearing on the scene in the Western world, or of the existence of Asatru, Odinism, and Norse Wicca in particular? The tactless manner in which he drubs the polytheistic faiths suggests that he is indeed unaware of this, especially since many members of the contemporary Norse faiths may want to visit his site for info. He seems to have great knowledge of the myths, and fairly decent research skills, but not very much knowledge of the religious practices of the two cultures outside of the myths, or of the fact that the Norse myths were greatly altered by later Christian scribes, as he has a strictly Judeo-Christian interpretation of what he sees in the two cultures featured on his site, and their corresponding faiths, and typically treats the Judeo-Christian dogmatic ideology as some form of universal morality. He further expostulates this bias when he says (in the section comparing Odin and Zeus) "these mythologies [i.e., polytheistic religions], because they were serving generally less advanced societies (industrially, socially and intellectually), created gods that would come down and physically interact with mortals, [giving] the gods a sense of tangibility to the society." Then he says, "At this point [in history], could a society have been able to accept a flawless, omnipotent being, especially one on a cosmic level, rather than on a physical level? If a god could come to a man and physically aid him, that would be an incentive to believe and worship." On analyzing the power and weapons that the gods wielded, Mr. Long suggests that the reason that they were described as possessing such lethal implements of destruction was that "the fear that they invoke will have people thinking that they can be punished, and if they are punished it will not be a simple slap on the wrist, but rather a spear or lightening bolt hurled at them. So I believe that this fear was used when the myths were originally being fashioned so that one would be intimidated into belief and worship." Obviously, Mr. Long has failed to study his history correctly, as well as utilize some simple common sense along with a bit of empirical observation in making these statements, and I will now go into my reasons for those aforementioned conclusions of mine.
First of all, monotheism is a far less recent phenomenon in history than many people believe, and Mr. Long seems to share the common and mistaken belief that monotheism was born with the teachings of Jesus Christ near the tail end of the Roman Empire. As stated more succinctly in my section on "The History of Paganism and Wicca" elsewhere on this site, monotheism has risen and fallen throughout human history, even going back to prehistoric times, just as polytheism has done so, and this is generally more the result of socio-political attitudes and opportunities prevalent at any given time rather than the industrial, cultural, and social level of any society. In fact, monotheism may indeed be older than polytheism, as it is believed by many modern anthropologists that the earliest expression of worship was for a Goddess as the source of all life, but she was later joined by the God of the Hunt, which created a duotheistic form of worship that is now practiced by most Wiccans. The primal Goddess and God later begat the legions of polytheistic deities that followed, but I will not debate here whether such beings are independent, self-aware entities who evolved on their own, or simply aspects of this prime Goddess and God thereof (however, beginning with the advent of recorded history, monotheism featured a distinctly male supreme cosmic deity). Also, there is a legendary, unsubstantiated rumor of a monotheistic cult that worshipped a single omnipotent male deity called Mithra that may have existed before the appearance of the Sumerian civilization, which is the earliest known human civilization of which he have conclusive evidence for by modern archeologists and historians.
[The Sumerian civilization, which is the first human society fully substantiated by the official historical record, first appeared about 8,000 years ago, in a manner that was so freakishly abrupt that it implies some evidence of a prior civilization that existed so long ago that it left very little tangible evidence of itself behind, and was the subject of many fictional stories by the late fantasy writer Robert E. Howard].
The Sumerian civilization had a polytheistic religion, as did Egypt, whose classic and majestic civilization soon followed. However, during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt, which existed long before the advent of the Roman Empire and the eventual rise of Christianity, the Egyptian civilization went through a period of political turmoil in which the polytheistic religion at the time was scrapped in favor of the first historically recognized monotheistic religion, centered around the worship of a single, all-powerful male deity called Aton, a spiritual revolution incited by the Egyptian pharaoh Achnaton (also known to historians as Amenhotep IV). This lasted for a significant period of time until further political and socio-economic turmoil resulted in a return to a polytheistic faith by the citizens of Egypt, which in turn lasted for many more centuries. The society advanced and prospered technologically under both religions, and there is much evidence that society spiritually and philosophically advanced more under polytheism, since both the male and female aspects of divinity are equally worshipped and recognized, whereas under monotheism the female aspect of divinity was eliminated from the public mindset, or, as in the case of the Virgin Mary, placed in a greatly subservient position to the male aspect of divinity
[Norse author Freya Aswynn has stated that the ousting of the female aspect of divinity with the appearance of historic era monotheism may have been the greatest spiritual error in the history of humankind, and has been the cause of much social and spiritual turmoil, and I can't see how any rational person can disagree with her on that point, considering the way women have been treated and viewed under monotheism in historic times].
During the political, economic, and social tumult that ensued towards the end of the Roman Empire and the rapidly progressing collapse of chattel slavery as the prevailing world economic order, Jesus Christ was born and he found this as the correct strategic time to institute a new monotheistic religion of an all-male deity that was obviously inspired by the previous worship of Aton in ancient Egypt. This time, however, the all male deity was simply called "God." Unfortunately, after the untimely politically motivated death of Christ, the new monotheistic religion of Christianity prospered without the moral guidance of the great prophet, and was soon used as a political weapon by the decaying Roman political hierarchy in a futile attempt to maintain order, and to preserve the integrity of the rapidly failing empire. Other Pagan cultures elsewhere in the world, however, remained intact at this time.
After the fall of Rome and its attendant world economy based upon ancient chattel slavery, and the institution of feudalism as the new economic world order, the Roman Catholic Church had much of its current official dogma crafted by St. Paul, who is often considered the true father of modern Christianity, and the Church slowly eliminated all of the native Pagan cultures via open warfare, and forcibly converted the populations to the new monotheistic religion. However, other monotheistic religions also appeared even further back in history than Christianity, including Judaism and Islam, which have committed similar crimes born of intolerance against other faiths, but none to equal that of Christianity. This new monotheistic faith survived the fall of feudalism and the beginning of capitalism. Now, however, with the rapid decay of America and the current economic world order, resulting in much social chaos and upheavel, polytheistic religions, such as Asatru and Neo-Druidism (as well as other, currently smaller revivals), are beginning to spring up again, and Mr. Long failed to note that the polytheistic sects of Hinduism have continued to exist for a very long time in the East, a part of the world full of rich cultures that have been relatively untouched by the influence of the West and its Christianity until late in the 19th century.
So, contrary to Mr. Long's assertions, polytheism is far from a phenomenon peculiar to pre-industrial societies, as monotheism also appeared during this economic era in history.
Second of all, Mr. Long's assessment that monotheism implies a more advanced society and culture, and that polytheism could only exist in an industrially, intellectually, and socially inferior society can be easily disputed. Simple common sense here prevails. Yes, the ancient Greek and Norse cultures were less industrially advanced, that was a material fact, and chattel slavery and feudalism were indeed less advanced economic systems than capitalism, but as stated above, polytheism does continue to exist within industrialized countries under the current economic system (that is now likewise obsolete and decaying, just as chattel slavery and feudalism before it, creating social and political chaos that may very well have helped create a new era of revolutionary thinking common to all decaying social systems, thereby resulting in the rebirth of polytheism), and monotheism likewise existed in less materially advanced cultures. Also, both the ancient Greek and Norse cultures were far from intellectually and socially inferior to the monotheistic cultures, both in ancient historical periods and during recent times, including today (the beginning of the 21st century). As I said before, many civilized principles, including women's rights, were far more evident under the polytheistic culture of the Norsemen and the Celts than under the strictly patriarchal monotheistic cultures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (i.e., the "Religions of the Book"). Much of the principles of democracy and judicial law that the U.S. adopted comes from the Greek and Norse cultures, and the philosophical ideologies concerning issues such as sexuality, scientific knowledge, and social institutions were far more open-minded and liberated than any monotheistic culture to date. Nevertheless, had Jesus Christ lived longer, and formed the Roman Catholic Church himself, Christianity may have turned out far different than it did under the ruthless hands of the Roman emperors and the likes of St. Paul, who is more or less the true founder of established Christian dogma as practiced today, and not Jesus Christ, most of whose authentic teachings are not actually followed by Christians after his death (with the alleged exception of the Rex Deus families). Also, the vast majority of scientific wonders, like early strides in engineering, architecture, exploration, mathematics, and medical knowledge hail from polytheistic cultures of the past, and all fell into decline during the dominance of monotheistic societies. In fact, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christianity and its monotheistic theology prospered during the era known by historians as the Dark Ages, as a strict ignorance was encouraged over the general populace in favor of the Church wielding supreme social and political power over the masses. As a result, education, health care, philosophy, literature, and all of the social gains of past eras were greatly degraded, much of the great literature and philosophy of the past was lost (some of it forever), and almost no social, cultural, or philosophical advances in human thought and ideology appeared during this long period of human history, hence its reference as the "Dark Ages.”
Furthermore, numerous forms of social repression, including gender bias and attitudes against sexual expression, were introduced, many of which still exist to a lesser extent today, and humankind in the West and North actually took an enormous social step backwards during the reign of monotheism, and numerous forms of intolerance were instituted or exacerbated during this time. Further, the horrendous loss of civil rights that youths under the age of 18 once enjoyed were eliminated with the progression of the Industrial Revolution towards the end of the 19th century, and the current ideology that justifies their current status as "pre-citizens" and the de facto property of their parents in the autocratic nuclear family unit, was first conceptualized during the late Victorian era, and later by the Christian Feminist Movement, thus utilizing the "updated" Judeo-Christian ideology to justify and apologize for yet another group's loss of rights, an injustice that goes largely unrecognized, particularly in the U.S., even today, and the fledging youth liberation movement, extant for over three decades now, remains a politically unpopular movement that even the majority of Pagans do not currently support, as modern Pagans are thoroughly tainted by Judeo-Christian ideology (despite giving much lip service to the rights of youths).
All of the above hardly supports Mr. Long's claim that monotheism implies a more socially and intellectually advanced culture. It wasn't until the U.S. Constitution was written that a few of the social, political, and legal advances made under the polytheistic cultures of the past were reinstituted, and we are still far from a socially mature or advanced culture today, with large amounts of social, legal, sexual repression, extreme close-mindedness, and intolerance still being the norm of modern society. Have we truly progressed further socially, culturally, and intellectually under the monotheistic faiths, Mr. Long? Look at the multitude of historical evidence to the contrary and then make that statement again. Also, I welcome Mr. Long and any of my visitors to make an intensive study of the monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, put aside your pro-Christian biases you are likely to have, and then do the same with those of Wicca, Asatru, and Neo-Druidism, and tell me which school of theistic thought is more open-minded, offers greater amounts of spiritual freedom, which are more tolerant of other belief systems, and which one treats women as absolute equals, and then make a judgment call over which school of thought is "more culturally, socially and intellectually advanced." [Though Wicca has yet to embrace youth liberation in a genuine sense at the present time.] Please note that this is not intended to attack monotheistic faiths as being "inferior" or invalid, nor am I attempting to imply that legal sanctions of any sort should be taken against those who practice them (no Pagan would ever remotely suggest such a thing, or attempt to stifle non-Pagan forms of spirituality, as it's happened to us much too often). Rather, I'm merely providing historical evidence which strongly suggests that monotheism is in no way inherently superior to polytheism, and the former has caused far more social turmoil throughout history. I would therefore argue that monotheism far from a "more advanced" form of religious thought than polytheism. These are empirically verifiable facts that no one can argue against, and not mere opinions of a single radical Pagan.
As to Mr. Long's suggestion that polytheistic religions utilize fear and intimidation to get people to worship and believe makes me wonder if he's lived in a cave, or ever studied either Christian history or contemporary Christian teachings and beliefs, particularly that of right wing Christian fundamentalism. If the deities being depicted as wielding weapons are supposed to be a form of intimidation to coerce people into blind worship and belief in these entities by the prevailing authorities, what in the world do you call the Christian rhetoric that you will burn in some fiery netherworld, and suffer unimaginable tortures for the rest of eternity, if you do not embrace Christian dogma and accept Jesus Christ as your personal "savior," as Christian religions often teach? If the belief and usage of "Hell" (not to be confused with the Norse afterlife realm called Hel) is not a means of terrifying the public into accepting and worshipping the monotheistic God of Judeo-Christianity, and to follow strict Christian dogma, than I don't know what is. Apparently, the monotheistic God isn't content with simply smiting you while alive; he will make things extremely unpleasant for you even after you die! And for as trivial a reason as not believing in a certain set of eschatological paradigms! And this is supposed to be a being of "absolute goodness?” The Christian definition of this "benevolence" on the part of their monotheistic deity is quite bizarre, to say the least. Furthermore, exactly what do you cconsider the Christian conception of Satan, if not a major scare tactic, as well as a horrific political boogeyman to incite people to to fear deviating from Biblical scripture and beliefs? Also, what about the oft-heard statement, most often from the mouths of the Christian Right, which asserts that if you do not follow the specific dogma of this supreme deity, or belong to a specific Christian religion, then you are automatically under the influence of this "absolutely evil" archetypal antitheses of the Judeo-Christian God? Or that we are all "sinful" beings who need to be "saved" by accepting Christian scripture and the "love" of Jesus Christ in order to be worthy of entry into Heaven? Sounds like the monotheistic faiths are quite adept at creating scare tactics to enforce worship and belief, and may even be better at it than the Pagans ever were.
It should be noted that modern Pagans, including Wiccans, Asatruar, and Neo-Druids, do not believe that we will be under eternal punishment for not believing in the deities or following Pagan doctrine. We are free to leave our religions whenever we please, with no feeling that we will receive retaliation from angry and spiteful deities, or eternal damnation after we die, as a result. None of us has ever been told something so ridiculous such as "if you do not accept Thor as your personal savior, you will freeze for all eternity in the frozen wastelands of Nifleheim." We do not see the deities (nor the duotheistic God and Goddess of Wiccan theology) as spiteful, jealous, or egotistical beings who dominate our lives and absolutely demand our worship, as the Christians believe their monotheistic male deity does. Rather, we see them as friends and allies, as well as guides in our mystical and spiritual studies (even though we do indeed respect their tremendous power, and would expect severe consequences if we attempted to abuse it).
It should also be noted that it was the Christian hierarchy that formulated the principle of predestination (which is completely alien to Pagan theological belief), which states that free will is essentially nonexistent, and that many people are damned to go to Hell from the moment of birth, no matter what they do in life, and that they are little more than puppets on a cosmic string. Pagans do have the Fates/Norns (the same beings in different guises?) that we believe weave the fates of individuals, and that other deities and forces can influence our fate as well, but we also believe that all "assigned" destinies can be overcome through free will, and that only the basic framework of experiences can be set up ahead of time, but the outcome is almost always dependant upon the free choices of the individuals in question. It's true that the Christians have largely abandoned the belief in predestination, though not entirely (such as when they say that a certain romantic relationship that failed was "not meant to be," implying that the future outcome was pre-decided and inevitable regardless of what actions and decisions both individuals may have made to influence the progression of the relationship). I've been told by many modern Christians that I'm going to “Hell” simply for not accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior, and when I've told people that I'm Wiccan, I've had one of them look to the sky and say, "Forgive him, Jesus, for he knows not what he says," as well as an evengelical Christian recently informing me that only the path of Jesus Christ could ever give me spiritual fulfillment. Further, a very intelligent Roman Catholic once told me that "good works" alone will not get you into Heaven, the Christian idyllic afterlife realm, and that in order to get there, and not be consigned to a burning netherworld for the rest of eternity, you must believe in Christian Biblical scripture as written, and accept Christ as your “personal savior" (*sigh*). In other words, according to these beliefs, how good and ethical of a person you may be while physically incarnated has no bearing whatsoever on your afterlife experience; the only important factor in being accepted into Heaven is to believe in certain dogma, and accepting a certain being as the answer to all of the multitude of problems you may face in life. Is it any wonder that Christians have justified so much violence and intolerance through the centuries in the name of a great prophet who, after his death, was drafted as their "savior," rather than by various codes of honor, as the Pagans believed? [I hate to imagine how a great spiritual teacher like Jesus Christ himself would feel if he was aware how his name has been used by his "followers" in the two millennia since his demise, and how his teachings have been perverted throughout the ages].
Pagans generally do not believe that your religious and spiritual beliefs are the primary determinant of the quality of your afterlife experience, but of paramount importance is the degree of honor, integrity, and love for your fellow man that you display, and Wiccans (like Buddhists and Hindus) believe that the cosmic law of karma will ensure just retribution within this life or a future one in place of eternal torment in a hellish netherworld (see the section on the Wiccan Rede elsewhere on this site). This, in my opinion, encourages good ethical conduct far more so than the edicts that simply demand a belief in specific dogma or salvation from one being. I should point out that I have never been told intimidating anecdotes by any Pagan, such as my soul being consigned to some torturous netherworld forever after death if I do not follow Pagan dogma or accept a certain Pagan deity as my personal savior, nor have I read this anywhere in any of my studies of Pagan theology, be it Wiccan, Asatru, or Druidism, and the latter two religions have similar codes of mystical retribution as Wicca. Instead, I've been told that if one of these Pagan religions should turn out to be the incorrect path to spirituality for me, I am free to leave and seek another at any time I so choose, with no "hard feelings" on the part of the God and Goddess and/or the lesser deities.
Yet Mr. Long states that Pagan religions could only be followed by intellectually, socially, and culturally inferior societies, and not by our modern "enlightened" one, and that monotheism encourages more open-mindedness, insight, and philosophical enlightenment than the polytheistic religions. You figure it out, because I sure can't.
As for Mr. Long suggesting that polytheistic faiths have the need to believe their deities taking on physical form and interacting with humanity in order for us to relate to them better, as well as conferring humanlike frailties and personalities upon them, exactly how he considers the Christian story of Jesus Christ being the "son of God," which I believe is taken as a physical incarnation of their monotheistic deity, to differ from the practice of Pagans personifying the beings they pay homage to, is totally beyond me [Christians cannot seem to decide if Christ is the supreme being himself incarnated in human form via 'divine' birth, or if he is the actual progeny of the supreme deity, but the end result would probably be the same: a neo-godlike being in human form].
Furthermore, the Christians also believe that their supreme universal deity exists in human form himself, and that we were created in "His" image. Wiccans believe that the Creator is both genderless and formless at hir (i.e., his/her) core, and that the Goddess and God are actually humanized manifestations of this creator-force that appear this way simply because that is how our minds interpret them, not because that is how they "actually look," or because we were brought to this form so that we would look like them [how haughty and arrogant would that make such a supreme deity? We were brought to this form not because it's the best phenotype for our biological adaptation to life on this planet, but simply as an exercise in what amounts to cosmic vanity!]. And yet Mr. Long states that this tendency to personify deities in human form is strictly a Pagan characteristic in order to relate to them better.
As to the statement that the Judeo-Christian God is "all-good" and bereft of any human-like qualities, the widespread belief that this supreme deity demands worship by the inferior beings He created, that he attempts to dominate the human will, and is eager to cast you into an eternity of torture simply for not adhering to a specific dogma written by a certain group of humans sounds quite a bit like a combination of pettiness, shallowness, immaturity, close-mindedness, cruelty, tyranny, and most of all, supreme egotism, which are all very human traits. And this from a being who is supposed to be goodness incarnate! And to be above all human frailties and weaknesses, for that matter! Yet the Pagans are berated for worshipping deities with petty and violent human qualities, but if this is the case, then these deities sure could have learned a lesson or two from the Judeo-Christian interpretation of God, particularly in the Old Testament! Also, the fact that Jesus Christ was believed to be perfect and bereft of any "sin" does indeed make him harder to relate to by humanity (as Mr. Long suggests in a fashion), and that is not a good thing in my opinion, but the Christians seem to prefer following a "perfect" being rather than noble but imperfect entities that are easier to relate to (to each their own, I suppose). Their object of worship must be both noble and perfect, it seems. In fact, why would a supreme deity with all the knowledge in the universe possibly care what scriptures human beings choose to follow, let alone be the least bit concerned whether or not human beings were worshipping hir or not anymore than we would get satisfaction from a petri dish of amoeba worshipping us? Furthermore, why would an "all-good" being deliberately condemn decent (but perhaps non-believing) people to eternal torture, or even allow the existence of Hell or Satan, especially since the latter is said to be hir inferior in power, or even the very existence of hardship and pain of any kind in the material world? Possibly because the Supreme Deity embodies a combination of light and dark traits, as nature itself does? Like I said, common sense and a casual but objective look at the beliefs of Christianity will prevail here.
The final point I wish to take Mr. Long to task with is his suggestion that the Norse may have based their mythos on the Greek deities, and that the latter were far older than the former. Actually, I cannot answer this question with any certainty, but I think there is a good chance that this is not the case, and I will explain why I do not agree with Mr. Long about this possibility. He points out in the final part of his Introduction section of his site that the Viking Era largely existed from 780-1070 AD, which was a short time after the Roman Empire fell. However, it is a known fact that the beings that eventually became the deities worshipped by the Germanic tribes (including both the Vikings and the Teutonic Knights, and their respective societies) are far older than these cultures, and were actually worshipped by Anglo-Saxon clans and other ancient tribes as long as 3000 years ago, and maybe longer (the records aren't clear, but they do indeed imply a very extended history). Mr. Long actually mentions the Anglo-Saxon connection, albeit almost in passing, and he likewise acknowledges that they originally worshipped Tyr as the head deity of this pantheon under the name of Tiu, and that Thor was derived from a much older god-form known as Thunar, but he fails to acknowledge how much older these tribes are than the Vikings (see the excellent and lengthy entry in my guestbook by Zoldaa, who makes this very point, and who I'm greatly appreciative of for her contribution, and you can also find a good analysis of this cultural evolution of the Norse deities from far older Anglo-Saxon sources in many books on Norse history, including Freya Aswynn's wondrously detailed tome Northern Mysteries & Magick).
Mr. Long further states that it's a "very realistic idea" that the Vikings may have had some contact with the Greeks, or perhaps the Romans, and that the Viking culture simply amalgamated some of their stories into their own theology, but there are no surviving records from either culture to suggest that this occurred. It’s perfectly logical that such evidence could have been lost from the Norse records following the religious purging of their culture during the Crusades, but it is far less likely that the Greek and/or Roman records would fail to record this, particularly since these latter societies kept such good records about their encounters with other cultures, including their mingling of influences with Egypt. It's true, as Mr. Long says, that both cultures made it as far as Britain, but I personally doubt that either did so during the same time period, and it's far more likely that the Celts and the Norse influenced each other than the Greeks or Romans influencing the Norse. It's also true that the Prose (Elder) Eddas were written between 800 and 1000 years ago, but they were stories based on far older influences.
In retrospect, it's actually not such a mystery that the Greeks and Norse have a good deal of similarities between their deities.
The Celts and Egyptians also have similar traits in their respective pantheons (in fact, the Celtic deities have a lot more in common with the Norse pantheon than the Greek deities do). This suggests the possibility of the collective human subconscious creating similar beings according to images in the collective unconsciousness of these societies at the time (which would satisfy the Jungian theorists).
Those who believe that the deities are literally real and independent entities can simply surmise that the deities developed in parallel realities that were similar in ‘physical’ laws to each other, and thus resulted in the birth of similar types of beings, or perhaps all tribes or pantheons of deities are from the same familial stock, just as all groups of human beings share the same genetic ancestor, and these different tribes of deities simply migrated to different but similar alternate planes of reality, the same way different tribes of humans migrated to different lands and continents on the material plane of Earth. In fact, the Aesir and Vanir were described as two different tribes of deities from different planes of reality (Asgard and Vanaheim, respectively) who eventually merged into a single pantheon, and the giants are likewise described as an older tribe of deities who were no longer worshipped as such by the time of the Viking Era, but their powers and attributes were similar to the Aesir and Vanir, implying a common origin for the giants as well (which the Norse creation story backs up in symbolic form, as well as the fact that the Aesir and the Vanir often interbred with the Jotuns, or giants).
Those of us who believe that the deities are aspects of the primal Goddess and God can say that different tribes of humans with similar cultures that lived under similar social conditions will naturally subdivide the Goddess and God into polytheistic forms that they can relate to, and which are culturally relevant to them, and it's only logical that such forms would resemble each other and have many commonalities across these disparate mythologies, because the human tribes themselves did, and again, this is only to be expected from different tribes who developed under very similar economic and social conditions.
And for those (like Mr. Long, evidently) who believe that all pantheons of deities are simply fictitious creations of "less culturally advanced" societies used to describe the natural world when little scientific knowledge was available (hmmm, I wonder why Mr. Long seems to think that a belief in a single supreme deity is any more logical or any less scientific), then a similar explanation to the last can be made: different cultures developing under similar socio-economic conditions will often develop similar theologies with correspondingly similar cultural values, prompting them to "create" deities with common attributes. There would, of course, be several differences as well, and Mr. Long elucidates this fact out when he describes the disparities as well as the similarities of the two pantheons.
So in lieu of all of this, I do not see any significant evidence that the Norse borrowed elements of their theology from the Greeks or Romans.
My favorite point made by Mr. Long is the following, to be found in one of the last paragraphs of his Introduction section, when he concludes that "mythology [i.e., theology] [is] a reflection of the society that fashions it." I couldn't agree more, Mr. Long, and on that note let's analyze the type of society we currently live under, one that is dominated by a "culturally advanced" monotheistic faith.
1) We have a nation that has been characterized by racism throughout its history (which gained its current level under Christianity; cultures in the past may have engaged in economic wars with each other, but almost never discriminated against each other within the culture itself along racial lines, but merely along class lines after the advent of class-divided societies).
2) Rampant sexism and ageist prejudices against youths (enforced very strongly by Christianity and either unknown or prevalent to a much lesser extent in polytheistic societies).
3) Intolerance towards unpopular opinions and beliefs that violate the status quo (which wasn't created by Christianity, but gained much more momentum under it). Keeping the masses ignorant has always been a powerful staple of monotheistic societies, much more so than in polytheistic societies.
4) A social environment hostile to sexual expression that goes against heterosexual and "age appropriate" relationships (entirely instituted by Christianity, the former centuries ago and the latter within the last 120 years).
5) We tolerate destruction of our environment for profit. Christianity teaches its followers that the human race is above nature, rather than an integral part of it, as the former belief is explicitly stated in the Bible, whereas Paganism teaches us that we are an equal part of nature, and that it’s unethical for humanity to attempt to “conquer” nature, rather than living in harmony with it.
6) In our society children and adolescents, who are very capable of making useful contributions to society, and who in fact did so very frequently in the past, are today disempowered and legally considered the inferior of adults, when people of very young ages have wisely ruled empires in the past and changed the course of a nation, i.e., King Tut, Joan of Arc, Pocahontas, who were perhaps not coincidentally either part of Pagan cultures or rebels against the ruling Christian mindset, and the disempowerment of youths also bore fruit under Christianity, though changing economic standards also had a hand in this; it's certainly no coincidence that youths are drawn in ever increasing numbers to Wicca and other alternative religions which have far more respect for them as human beings than the mainstream religions do, even if such respect currently takes the form of mere lip service.
7) We suffer from repressive laws based on Christian morality, i.e., the Prohibition laws that are proven to make social problems worse rather than better for society by creating various brutal and prosperous criminal undergrounds, as well as branding several ethically good people as criminals.
8) We live in a society that professes to revere the sanctity of life, yet simultaneously glorifies warfare and considers "good leadership" to be command figures who are willing to send his military forces to kill numerous innocent civilians for the material gain of a small handful of plutocrats.
Despite all of this, however, Mr. Long suggests that we currently possess an "intellectually and socially more advanced society" than the polytheistic civilizations of the past. The rudimentary democracy that we have, as well as much of the laws our judicial system possesses, were inspired by those created by Pagan societies in the distant past. Monotheistic societies have made no significant contribution to society of any kind, and in fact have fought against cultural and intellectual progress of any sort at every opportunity.
Now don't get me wrong, polytheism is far from perfect, and has many problems in its subculture today (including being influenced by the Christian society which the modern versions of Pagan religions were formed within, though that is slowly changing via a growing new classical element within it), and such societies were not without numerous drawbacks and prejudices, but at least some of the greatest literature, scientific advances, cultural strides, and useful political and judicial machines still in use today were formulated under them. The various appearances of monotheism throughout history in no way improved upon society from a cultural, philosophical, intellectual, or technological standpoint. In fact, as recently as the 1960's, progressive individuals had to fight for the right to teach evolution in schools, and it wasn't until 1920 that women gained the right to vote, a right they all had in most Pagan cultures of the past (particularly in the cultures of both the Norse and the Celts, where women had great amounts of property and legal rights).
Let it be known here that I'm not implying in any way that monotheism is the sole cause of any of the problems that we face today, or even the major one, and I am a firm believer that the causes are primarily of an economic and political nature, and not tied into religion of any sort (see my page on Socialism for an in-depth explanation of this, a link to which can be found on the home page). I'm simply stating that monotheism has done nothing to alleviate the problems, but has instead done much to exacerbate them, and have set us back socially and culturally, rather than bringing us forward, as Mr. Long suggests. Once again, for fear of being misquoted, monotheism is not the root cause of the problems of the world, but it has also done nothing to help these problems, and everything to add to them (those few Christian charities to help the poor notwithstanding, though the religion does not oppose the economic system that causes such poverty). A dominant polytheistic faith would not solve all of these problems without a huge change in the socio-economic order of the world, and I do not believe that a world without monotheism would be a "perfect" world, but I do believe that a world without monotheistic dominance and power would be a far better environment to live under. However, I would never suggest eliminating any religious faith altogether, as many different paths to spiritual fulfillment should exist to satisfy the diverse spiritual needs of the many unique individuals and groups that will live in any given society (whether predominantly polytheistic or monotheistic), and the idea of a universal religion that is "right" for everyone (which the various monotheistic faiths have long tried to establish themselves as) is absolutely horrendous.
And yes, Pagan cultures did indeed war on each other and shed lot's of blood, but none of them ever performed a cultural cleansing on par with Christianity during the Crusades.
I do not mean to be too harsh on Mr. Long, as he is obviously a brilliant writer with a good grasp of mythology, but he does indeed show signs of someone who was raised in a Christianized society and bombarded with its ideology, cultural biases, and distortions of history, just as the vast majority of Western society seems to be. Hence, my lengthy responses to his negative points. And if any Christians reading this are angered and believe that I am guilty of "attacking" their religious beliefs, then they should understand the way Pagans feel when incorrect notions are made against our beliefs and we ourselves are attacked constantly for reasons that have no basis in fact, and for having our beliefs so misrepresented by the culture at large; nothing that I mentioned here in any way defers from the truth. Once again, I am not looking for an end to monotheistic faiths altogether, but I am hoping to see them prevented from gaining any more power over society and to establish a world where no one faith, let alone school of theological thought, is ascendant over any other, and where no laws exist to enforce one religion's morality over that of another on the populace. And once again, I do not believe that a world dominated by polytheistic faiths would accomplish this without major changes in our socio-political order, or that polytheistic domination would be a good thing in the least, but then again it is proven beyond a doubt that the domination of monotheistic faiths is certainly not the answer.
However, I do not apologize to those who are offended because they believe that their faith system to be the "one true religion," and I will again point out that no polytheistic faith today will ever make such a claim.
Despite my lengthy criticisms of these points, they make up only a small portion of Mr. Long's analysis, and much of his observations of the two mythologies are very concise and represent good observations, and I suggest that anyone doing a study of comparative mythology check this site out, as well as individuals from one of the Norse religions who would be interested to see how their deities compares to the gods and goddesses of another great pantheon of deities (albeit from Mr. Long's perspective). It would be well worth your time to do so. [See *Note below]
The Thorshof page is an excellent research source for members of any Norse religion, though it is geared mostly towards Asatru (though Norse Wiccans would also gain a lot from visiting it). Thorshof, which tranlates into "Temple of Thor," is a research group who is attempting to renew interest in the Norse pantheon for those seeking information, to provide support for Norse religions seeking to gain a spiritual connection with the deities (they only mention Asatru, however, probably because they are an authentic re-creation of the actual religion of the Norsemen, whereas we Norse Wiccans are often considered "usurpers" to that title), and attempt to clear up many of the misperceptions of the deities due to the Christian re-working of the myths (which they do very well, I might add). They do this by providing pages dedicated to "cults" of Thor, the Vanir, the various Goddesses, and the Disir (Norse ancestral spirits), and have a wealth of articles and stories in each. They mostly center on Thor, the most widely worshipped of the Norse deities, but also include sections of info on Freya, Frey, Njord, Odin, Frigga, Holda, the Disir, and others. As you may expect, the Thor page is especially good, and I encourage everyone who visits this excellent site to read in particular the articles on "The Cult of Thor, Then and Now," "Thor in Modern Fiction," and "Thor's Hammer."
The Thorshof writers basically agree with my assessment of the Thor comic book from Marvel Comics, though they are a bit more critical of it, as they feel that many Asatruar would be put off by certain parts of it, among them the alterations in certain aspects of the myths, and the fact that Thor chooses to hang out in the United States. This was a possible mistake that Stan Lee made when he first had Odin embody the Marvel Universe Thor in his former mortal host of Dr. Donald Blake, M.D. to teach his headstrong son a lesson in humility by physically embodying him as the brilliant but physically lame surgeon, as Blake was an American. Why not a Scandinavian or German physician? Ah well, as cutting edge as Stan was, he couldn't think of everything, and besides, most super-heroes in the Marvel Universe seem to gravitate to the United States anyway. At any rate, the writer (who goes unaccredited) rates the ‘Blasphemy’ level of the comic version of Thor (i.e., how much it's likely to offend any Asatruar who may read it) a "6" out of a possible "10." I wouldn't be so harsh on it myself, but that is just my opinion. However, they do acknowledge that the Marvel Comics version of Thor is probably the closest depiction to the thunder god's true character to be found in modern fiction, and accede that it probably has caused many comic book readers to seek out more info on the Norse religion in traditional mythology (which is a quite logical statement, as that's exactly what happened with me).
More interesting is the Ultimate version of Thor seen in The Ultimates, the Ultimate Universe's version of the Avengers, which is published in Marvel's new 'Ultimate' line of comics with revised continuity. This version of Thor is an ex-nurse who is indigenous to Norway (where you would expect Thor to appear), and discovers he is the highly revered Norse deity incarnated in physical form (more accurate than the Marvel Universe's depiction of Thor and his fellow deities as flesh and blood beings in their own right). This version of Thor accurately opposes the corporate ruling class of the modern world, which is much more befitting his role as god of the working class and protector of Midgard (in contrast to the Marvel Universe version, who routinely takes orders from high ranking bureaucrats alongside his fellow Avengers, and has said nary a word in protest of the elites who suck the world dry around him). Further, this depiction of Thor, despite his speaking in modern vernacular (which you would expect from a deity born in human form, and having lived 30+ years as a human being), albeit being seen as a modern New Age guru or "hippie," is much more accurate to the mythological version of the Thunderer, including his lack of that silly ability to become airborne by whirling his hammer about by its leather thong, and then releasing it but keeping hold of the thong, thereby allowing it to carry him through the air (or even outer space!) in a semblance of flight (an ability never ascribed to him in the myths; when he wanted to sail through the heavens, he relied upon his two enchanted goats to pull him across the sky in a chariot, much as Santa Claus's enchanted reindeer are said to carry him aloft through the sky in a sleigh).
I would hope that the folks at Thorhsof would give the Ultimate version of Thor a smaller 'Blasphemy' point than they did his Marvel Universe counterpart.
Much more useful info, including several of the myths, can be found on this page, and all are attempted to be interpreted from a Pagan viewpoint, and not the Christian. I highly recommend their page to all fellow Norse Wiccans, as well as Wiccans in general. We have as much to gain from this insightful page as our Asatruar cousins do. [See *Note below]
*Note: Both Gareth Long's page and Thorshof's page have since vanished from the Web, but I managed to locate the two of them in the "cyber-afterlife" archive courtesy of the terrific Wayback Machine site (Google if it you would like to use it). It's harder to navigate the preserved version of Dr. Long's site than the original, but hot links to its various pages can still be found by searching around the Introduction page. I modified the link section below to accommodate the Wayback Machine preservation site addys for these now vanished cyber-gems of info.
Barbarian's Norse Religion Page
Norse Mythology: Useful Links
Thorshof's Page of Info on the Norse Deities (highly recommended)
Gareth Long's Page comparing Norse Mythology to Greek Mythology