The Odinist Fellowship
WHAT IS ODINISM?
All the peoples of ancient times were pagan: the ancient Greeks and Romans, the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, as well as the ancient Teutons, Celts and Slavs. The polytheistic Hindu and Shinto faiths of India and Japan, respectively, are forms of heathenism which have survived into modern times. So too are the animist religions of sub-Saharan Africa. Paganism is therefore, in one sense, the only universal form of religion known to Man, and Odinism is but one branch of the heathen family of religions: that practised by the Teutonic peoples.
WHO ARE THE TEUTONS?
The Teutonic or Germanic peoples comprise a number of nations and tribes of northern Europe, possessing a common origin and sharing many cultural affinities, who speak one or other of the Germanic languages. Their modern representatives include the Germans, Dutch, Flemings, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Icelanders, as well as the Anglo-Saxons of England and lowland Scotland - and all their descendants in the New World. Among important Germanic tribes of ancient times we can number the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Lombards, Franks, Burgundians and Vandals. All of these nations were originally worshippers of the gods and goddesses of the Odinic pantheon.
OF RELIGION IS ODINISM?
Odinism is a polytheistic religion. We believe in and honour the life-giving and bountiful gods and goddesses of the Odinic pantheon, whom we refer to collectively as the High Gods of Asgarth, or as the Ęsir and Vanir. Our gods are true gods, divine, living, spiritual entities, endowed with power and intelligence, able and willing to intervene in the course of Nature and of human lives. It behoves us to seek their goodwill and succour through prayer and sacrifice. But the gods do not require us to abase and humble ourselves; they do not seek to make of us craven slaves. Odinists therefore do not bow or kneel or kow-tow to the gods, but address them proudly like free, upstanding men and women. Odinists regard our gods, not as our masters, but as firm friends and powerful allies.
... AND OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT?
Odinism is a spiritual religion. Whilst we do not denigrate or despise the material aspects of human nature and of the world in which we live, we recognise that Man's essence is spiritual. Man is endowed with a soul or spirit, which contains a spark of the divine, and which is his imperishable and eternal Self. Its destiny is to be reunited with the ancestors, abiding for ever in the halls of the gods. Odinist teachings seek to achieve a balance between the material and the spiritual, neither condemning the former, nor denying the latter, for both are god-given elements of human life.
... AND OF NATURE?
Odinism is a nature-loving religion. Odinists revere, love and honour Nature, viewing it as a true manifestation of the spiritual. Our gods are Nature gods, expressing true concern for and, indeed, identifying themselves with its aspects and elements: Odin with the wind and air, Frigg with the land and earth, Thor with thunder and lightning, Niord with the sea and waves, and so forth. Odinists believe that all living beings are, in some degree, possessed of a spiritual essence; and by 'living beings' we understand not only beasts and plants, but mountains, rocks, seas, rivers, islands, all of which can be apprehended, like the Earth herself, as living entities, endowed with spirit.
Odinism is a cosmic religion. Odinists do not subscribe to a simplistic dichotomy of 'Heaven and Earth'. Odinist mythology explains to us that, just as there are many gods, there are also many 'worlds', that is to say, many planes of existence, or dimensions of reality, interconnected, overlapping and inextricably enmeshed one with another. The myths describe this phenomenon as the 'Nine Worlds'. And within this cosmological reality, as the myths repeatedly illustrate, there always has been from the very beginning, and always will be for ever and ever, conflict, a conflict of opposing forces, embracing the entire cosmos, ourselves included, which the myths portray in terms of the struggle of the Ęsir against the giants, that is to say of the forces of Nature, order, life and creativity against the opposing forces of dissolution, disorder, disintegration and destruction. In this cosmic conflict each man and woman must choose his side and play his part, for or against the Ęsir. This is the inner meaning of our lives.
... AND OF ODINIST ETHICS?
Odinism is an ethical religion. If we are true Odinists who embrace the cause of the Ęsir, then it follows that we should act in a way which promotes and respects Nature, order, life and creativity, while eschewing harmful and destructive behaviour that threatens the well-being of the folk, faith and family. Odinists place great emphasis on the concept of personal freedom (and therefore repudiate all forms of totalitarianism), but accept the corollary of the necessity of a common law for the common good. Odinist ethics are not expressed in terms of prohibitions and commandments, but in terms of the positive virtues which all Odinists should aspire to practise. We call these the 'Nine Noble Virtues': Courage, Truth, Honour, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-reliance and Perseverance.
WHAT OF HEATHEN SACRIFICES?
It is a well-known fact that the most widespread form of communal worship practised in ancient times by pagans of every nationality was the sacrifice. Sometimes farmyard animals would be sacrificed; sometimes it would be other agricultural produce, like grain, corn or fruit; sometimes a libation would be made by pouring liquor or oil on to the earth; sometimes treasure or weaponry would be sacrificially buried or submerged. Regardless of the form it took, the sacrifice was understood as the offering of a gift to the gods, in order to win their goodwill and to be rewarded, in turn, by their bountiful favour. The essence of the sacrifice is that something of value, some item of personal wealth, is given up, given away, consumed, destroyed or immolated.
Of course, intelligent heathens always recognised that the sacrifice is symbolic: the gods are spiritual beings, and are therefore not physically fed by the food and drink offered to them; they cannot be materially enriched by our gifts of silver and gold. As with all gifts, 'it is the thought that counts'; it is the devotion shown by the worshipper, to which the gods attribute merit, and to which they respond with generosity, in accordance with the heathen maxim of 'a gift for a gift', one gift deserving another in return.
The heathen sacrifice can be described theologically as a 'sacrament' (a term originally borrowed from pagan usage by Christian polemicists), that is to say, it is a symbol which effects what it symbolises, and symbolises what it effects. The sacrifice plays an important role in the cosmic conflict between the forces of order and chaos, because the symbolism of ritually offering riches or life-giving sustenance to the gods actually brings what is symbolically portrayed into effect on the spiritual plane, thereby strengthening the gods' hand in their eternal struggle against the powers of chaos. Just as the sacrifices of the battle-slain heroes, the Einheriar, add to the forces of Odin in Valhalla, so too the blood spilt, physically or figuratively, in the celebration of ritual sacrifices reinforces the power of the gods to maintain the order of Nature - and thus directly benefits human society also.
In the sense that 'magic' may be defined as a means of affecting the course of events in the natural world, or the course of human lives, through the invocation of spiritual forces, pagans, persuaded that the sacrifice is an extremely effective means of bringing about positive change in the world, and of achieving desirable ends through the workings of divine power, have always held it to be a truly magical operation, as much as an act of religious devotion and duty. Magic is not, as foolish folk argue, a means of changing the world through the exercise of the human will; it is through the exercise of divine power in co-operation with human action, that magic works.
WHAT SORT OF RITES DO ODINISTS PRACTISE TODAY?
WHAT OTHER RELIGIOUS RITES ARE THERE?
Odinists subscribe to the principle of the 'priesthood of all
insofar as any adult Odinist, male or female, who has made the
of Faith, may lead a congregation or perform priestly duties
further act of ordination, provided that he enjoys the
confidence of his
fellow Odinists. Likewise, in cases of necessity, any Odinist
the sacrifice of the Remembrance Cup. Of course, in practice,
Odinist is willing or able to assume a position of leadership
Fellowship. Women, in ancient times, frequently held sacerdotal
positions in paganism; and all priestly functions within Odinism
to women, as much as to men. In a religion like Odinism, in
goddesses hold a place of equal honour with the gods, there can
justification for discouraging women from assuming a prominent
the Fellowship and playing their part as Odinist priestesses.
There is, in the Odinist religion, no equivalent to the Bible or the Koran, no holy writ of allegedly divine inspiration, laying down the law for all to obey. Nevertheless, Odinists pay special heed to texts, known collectively as the Eddas, which, though certainly of human authorship, provide us with our most important primary sources of information on the old religion, and its theology, mythology and cosmology. The Eddas do, indeed, contain contradictions and, no doubt, errors, and they must be examined critically and objectively, taking full account of the historical circumstances of their composition, for, like all human literature, they are the product of their era and environment. The importance of the Eddas to the contemporary revival of Odinism, however, is self-evident, for how else could an ancient form of religion be restored, except by reference to sources of historical information, such as they provide us with? Therefore, no literate Odinist should fail to devote time to their study.
WHAT OTHER PRIMARY SOURCES ARE THERE?
Of course, there are other sources too. The Icelandic Sagas and Snorri Sturluson's 'Heimskringla', a history of Norway, provide us with many details about ancient Odinism. Important to are Saxo Grammaticus's Latin work, 'Gesta Danorum', and the medieval German 'Song of the Nibelungs'. Various Old English works, like 'Beowulf' and 'The Nine Herbs Charm', as well as the Old High German 'Merseburg Charms', cast light on the old religion, as do various other literary sources, such as the English, Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems, Tacitus's 'Germania', Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation', and the German 'Wayland-Dietrich Saga'.
Besides the literature, the modern Odinist revival takes account of a vast array of archaeological records and finds. Methods of comparative Indo-European religious studies and, likewise, aspects of modern psychology add to our understanding of the faith of our ancestors. And we are, indeed, indebted to the research and analyses of academic scholarship in collating and interpreting all of these data. But, when all is said and done, it is above all on the Eddas that we must rely for our historical knowledge of Odinist beliefs.
WHAT ARE THE EDDAS?
The Eddas actually comprise two entirely separate works, namely the Elder Edda (also known as the Poetic Edda, and sometimes as Saemund's Edda) and the Younger Edda (often called the Prose Edda or Snorri's Edda). Both were set down in writing, in their current form, in 13th century Iceland.
The novice is best advised to start with the Younger Edda.
was composed by Snorri Sturluson, not as a work of religion, -
after all, written over two hundred years after the conversion
to Christianity - but as a manual of poetics, the author's aim
keep alive the traditional style of poetry for which Iceland had
renowned. This skaldic poetry relied on the use of complex
allusions to the old heathen myths. So, to explain these, Snorri
out in a systematic and quasi-chronological fashion as much of
of Odinic mythology as his research could uncover, thereby -
- providing us moderns with the most coherent overview of it we
hope for. Of course, Snorri, although sympathetic to Odinic lore
national heritage, was not an Odinist believer; therefore, some
he misunderstands, and some things he tries to explain away or
in accordance with the tenets of the Church and the ideas of his
Odinists must therefore adopt a balanced and discriminating
this vital treasury of knowledge on the elder faith.
The myths are myths, and were never intended to be read as a history of actual chronological events. We do not believe in the myths, as such, but in the High Gods of Asgarth, about whom the myths instruct us; and we believe in the spiritual truths the myths expound. Some of the myths relate to natural phenomena, such as the cycle of the changing seasons. This is the case with the myth that tells of the death of Balder, the sun god: Balder, the Shining One, is slain by his blind brother, Hother, to the unutterable grief of all the gods and goddesses; yet, in due course, Balder returns to rule the Earth anew. We can apply many levels of interpretation to such a myth. It may signify the succession of day, night, day; or of summer, winter, summer. It may also refer to the succession of ages, whereby the ancient traditions are eclipsed for a while, only to resume their former glory in the latter days. And it may also speak of the fate of the human soul and the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.
Many of the myths describe conflicts between the gods and the giants. They are meant to present profound, spiritual truths in an entertaining and amusing format. These stories show the Ęsir to be neither absolutely powerful, - for their enemies often place them in extreme jeopardy - nor absolutely virtuous, - for they are sometimes forced to resort to deceit and trickery in their dealings with the giants; - but that should not obscure the fact that the cause, for which the gods are fighting and scheming, is to preserve the cosmos and to sustain the natural order against the forces of chaos and dissolution. The gods’ is a holy cause, and it is our cause too!
ARE THE GODS REALLY AS THE EDDAS PORTRAY THEM?
In the Eddas the gods and goddesses are depicted anthropomorphically: Thor as a brawny man sporting a red beard, Freya as a beautiful woman wearing a resplendent necklace, Odin as an old, hooded greybeard, and so forth; and all of them are portrayed as if engaged in physical activities like eating and drinking, playing and fighting. Yet the Ęsir are gods, not men; and they do not truly possess bodies, parts or physical attributes, because they are divine spirits. Intelligent heathens always recognised this truth. Why then did our forefathers, in recounting the myths, depict the gods as if they were merely human, albeit on a grander scale? Why did the artists and sculptors of ancient times represent them with given physical attributes in the images and statues they made to adorn the temples?
The reason is that mankind is so entrenched in the physical, material world about us, that our human minds find it difficult to grasp spiritual truths, and we need to express these truths in homely and familiar terms, which have a direct and immediate impact on our senses. Man's artistic creativity is a natural talent, and we find it helpful to use images of our own making to focus our thoughts and feelings about the gods. In the same way, we naturally tend to give physical expression to our prayers and invocations, which accounts for our use of ritual. Every detail of the gods' physical descriptions recorded in the myths, and each of the deeds related about them, are indicators of an underlying spiritual truth. The imagery of the myths is our way of translating those spiritual truths into human language.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE RUNES?
occult, a word which means 'obscure' or 'hidden', nor esoteric,
'reserved for a small elite'. Like all forms of historical
was always the common property of farmers and peasants, soldiers
housewives and fishwives. Odinism is for all our folk.
magical operation of the sacrifice is accessible to every
after all, magic and sacrifice are but extensions of prayer, or
in action, as it were; and prayer is available to all. However,
is one aspect of Odinic lore that can indeed be described as
the runes. In fact, the word 'rune' means 'secret' or
How ironic then, that the one aspect of the faith, meant to be
in secret, has become the subject of so many cheap publications.
authors understand what the word 'rune' means, even, if they
their runic speculations so? We do not intend to follow
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THOR'S HAMMER?
From the literature we can see that Odinists in ancient times
this symbol into their liturgies, using representations of it to
new-bom children, to bless wedded couples and to sanctify the
pyres of the dead. We also read of the sign of the Hammer being
consecrate libations offered to the gods; and it was frequently
an amulet or pendant, many such finds having been discovered by
It is, above all, a sign of divine protection and hallowing, by
we demonstrate that we have become allies of the Ęsir in their
against the forces of chaos.
A SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHYFor further reading, all of the following are recommended. Asterisked entries are still in print; if your local bookshop cannot obtain them, they can be ordered through Dillon's of Gower Street, London (tel: 0207 636 1577).
- 'Edda' by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Anthony Faulkes (Everyman)*
- 'The Poetic Edda' translated by Carolyne Larrington (World's Classics)*
- 'Poems of the Elder Edda' translated by Patricia Terry (University of Pennsylvania Press)
- 'The Poetic Edda' translated by Lee Hollander (University of Texas Press)
- 'The Elder Edda - A Selection' translated by Paul Taylor, W H Auden & Peter Salus (Faber & Faber)
Popularisation of the Myths
- 'The Norse Myths' by Kevin Crossley-Holland (Penguin Books)*
- 'Tales of the Norse Gods' by Barbara Picard (Oxford University Press)
Scholarly Works on the Runes