Odinism is believed to be the oldest European religion in existence. Its exact origins are almost impossible to date, but it was certainly practiced by the Angles, the Saxons and the ancient Jutes. It is thought to have begun in Scandinavia and travelled from there with the Vikings, but many believe that it predates the Nordic warrior race by about 8,000 years. Odinism is a polytheistic faith, having many gods, but is also a practical faith, having many solutions for daily issues – which may be the reason it has survived so long.
Children of the gods
Odinism is an Earth-bound religion. Its followers do not believe that life is a preparation for the hereafter. Instead, they believe that it is an end in itself and should be celebrated as such. The gods are Earth-bound, being perceived in all the aspects of our physical existence. The planet itself is seen as the sacred Mother Frigga, whilst Odin himself, the sacred Father, is the god of the sky. According to Odinist creation mythology, it was the union between these two gods that created life on Earth. According to Odinists, we are the direct offspring of that union; we are the children of the gods.
Odinist mythology is replete with strange and mystical races, covering the nine worlds that are said to exist. Earth is known as Midgard, whilst the realm of the gods is known as Asgard. The worlds replace the Heaven and Earth beliefs of most other religions; Odinists believe that the worlds can also be seen as different planes of existence. These worlds overlap and are inextricably linked with one another and, just as in other religions, there is an undercurrent of conflict to all the mythological stories, with the forces of Nature, order, life and creativity set against the forces of chaos, destruction, dissolution and death. The High Gods, the gods of Asgard, represent the forces of Nature and Odinists believe that each person must choose their side and play their part, either for or against the High Gods. Ultimately, this is perceived to be the reason for our existence.
A natural religion
Odinism is also seen as a ‘natural’ religion, in that it is concerned with the forces of nature. For Odinists, nature is a physical manifestation of all that is spiritual and should be treated with the according reverence and respect. This belief extends beyond the confines of man, for it is believed that all things – the sea, the air, the rocks, plants and animals – are all possessed of a spiritual essence that, if we learn to treat it with the right regard, will yield its secrets to us. Many of the High Gods are associated with particular aspects of Nature:
● Odin: the wind and the air
● Frigga: the land and the earth
● Thor: thunder and lightning
● Njord: the sea and the waves
All aspects of Nature are perceived as living entities with their own roles to play in the never-ending battle against the forces of chaos.
The Nine Noble Virtues
Consequently, Odinists have a very ethical approach to living. If a follower is to adopt the title of Odinist, then they must live in a fashion that promotes and respects Nature and eschews the patterns of the forces of destruction. To this end, there are nine strictures that are used to help followers live a respectful and honest existence. These are known as the Nine Noble Virtues:
1) Strength is better than weakness, when it is tempered with kindness
2) Courage is better than cowardice, it is when tempered with wisdom
3) Sensuality is better than guilt, when it is tempered by common sense
4) Honour is better than dishonour, when it is tempered by resolve
5) Freedom is better than slavery, when it is tempered by accountability
6) Tribalism is better than isolation, when it is tempered with respect
7) Sacrifice is better than avarice, when it is tempered by survival
8) Activity is better than sloth, when it is tempered with finesse
9) Lineage is better than universalism, when it is tempered with patience
This ‘code of living’ is observed in everything true Odinists say and do. Theirs is a very tolerant faith, mindful of the individual and they have no axe to grind with other faiths, merely acknowledging that everyone has the right to believe whatever it is that makes sense to them.
Runes and rituals
However, in addition to being an outgoing, demonstrative religion, Odinism also has its contemplative side. An important part of self-discovery and expanding one’s self awareness is the use of rune stones. These are a series of stones, each inscribed with a letter from the ancient Nordic alphabet - the Elder Futhark. Much like the Tarot, these runes are used, not as tools with which to see into the future, but as a means through which we can come to a greater understanding of the forces at play in our lives and the roles we play in shaping our own destinies.
Rune stones have been used for thousands of years in rituals and ceremonies and even as a means to find practical solutions to daily problems. They are still widely used today, in much the same form as they were when they were used by the ancient Teutons. Runes were also used as away to unlock your core personality and characteristics. By taking the letters of your name and transcribing them into Futhark, it is thought that the meanings associated with each rune had some significance on the qualities you carry through life.
Unlike most established religions, Odinism has no Holy Book or set of scriptures to follow. While there are endless myths and stories about the gods of Asgard and their battles against the giants, they do not come from a sacred text. However, poetry and songs were – and still are – often viewed as sacred ways to offer up worship and to honour the gods. Odinistic rituals are brimming with the spoken word, stories that reaffirm their belief in our need to commune with Nature and to ally ourselves with the forces that nurture and protect us.