The worldview of the pre-Christian Norse and other Germanic peoples is highly unlike any other worldview to which most modern people have been exposed. However, it shares much in common with the worldviews of numerous other small, indigenous societies across the world, both past and present.
The heathen Germanic peoples expressed their worldview in images and narratives rather than in the conceptual language that we moderns are accustomed to using when discussing worldviews. Thus, in order for modern people to understand Germanic mythology in terms of what it meant to the people who actually lived by it, a process of “translation” from image and narrative to concept is necessary. This is what the articles that comprise this section of the site seek to do.
Through this process, we can discern some major themes in what we might call the underlying worldview of the pre-Christian Germanic religion:
- It’s animistic, which means that consciousness/spirit is perceived to be an innate quality of the entire world, rather than the exclusive possession of one organ (the brain) of one species (humanity).
- It’s polytheistic, which means that it holds that there are several gods and goddesses rather than just one male god – which, as the article on polytheism shows, has philosophical and ethical consequences that reach far beyond any mere multiplication of the number of deities.
- It acknowledges and celebrates the unavoidable role of myth in perception, rather than trying to cover it up like the modern worldview does.
- It’s shamanistic, which means that ultimate reality can best be discerned and interacted with through specific ecstatic trance states rather than the cold, mechanical mode of thought preferred by modern society.
- It’s totemistic, which means that – as the modern theory of evolution also suggests – the line between humans and the more-than-human world is blurry at best; there’s no categorical distinction between “humanity” and “nature.”
- It holds a fluid view of the self that emphasizes continuity between the self and the wider world, rather than the rigid, isolated, monadic view of the self (the “individual” or the “soul”) in modern thought.
- It explains “why things happen” by way of a perhaps surprising view of destiny (called Wyrd or Urd) that is equally incompatible with the notions of absolutely free will, absolutely unalterable fate, and mechanistic cause and effect.
- It acknowledges that, upon death, we become food for various other forms of life, and finds considerable spiritual meaning in this transaction, rather than denying it in favor of some hyperbolic “Heaven” or “Hell.”
- It acknowledges the efficacy of magic, “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.” The most organized form of Norse magic was seidr.
- It organizes physical space and inner thoughts according to a distinction between the innangard and the utangard – respectively, “that which is inside the fence” (orderly, civilized, and law-abiding), and “that which is beyond the fence” (chaotic, wild, and anarchic).
While the stories that comprise Norse mythology are certainly entertaining, the purpose of these articles is to show that Norse mythology is far, far more than just a collection of “pretty stories.” At bottom, it presents a highly compelling worldview that poses considerable challenges to our modern, mechanistic worldview and the monotheistic religions upon which the modern worldview is based.
Looking for more great information on Norse mythology and religion? While this site provides the ultimate online introduction to the topic, my book The Viking Spirit provides the ultimate introduction to Norse mythology and religion period. I’ve also written a popular list of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books, which you’ll probably find helpful in your pursuit.