Survival & Romaticism
Through folklore and legend, knowledge of pre-Christian traditions survived in the reality of the common man. Many of these tales and beliefs were later compiled into collections of fairy tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm. Several stories also made their way into the courtly romances of Medieval Europe, notably the Nibelungen saga (very prominent in German myth, often associated with the Burgundian royal house), which has been the subject of numerous works of art, fiction, poetry and music. Much of the literature that influences modern heathenry comes from Iceland. During its original conversion to Christianity the Icelandic Althing agreed to accept the change peacefully, providing that people would be able to continue their own religious practices in private. Though this was ended in due course, this, combined with Iceland’s isolation from mainland Europe, possibly contributed to the lore surviving in clearer form. Historian-poets, such as the famous Snorri Sturluson, compiled vast collections of poems and stories, comprising myth, legends and real-world history. These added to other sources from throughout Scandinavia comprise what are now known as the Eddas (Poetic and Prose) and the Nordic Sagas. These were mostly recorded after conversion to Christianity, so are often questioned for their snycretic influence from Christian belief. Nevertheless this literature has served as a great inspiration to many people and as a tool in the study of Germanic paganism.
Further information can be gained from surviving examples of pre-Christian law and cultural themes; one of the most obvious being the days of the week (Old English influence – Monday=Mona(Mani)’s Day, Tuesday=Tiw(Tyr)’s day, Wednesday=Woden(Odin)’s day etc.). It is also notably present in folk-art throughout Northern and Western Europe, including in Churches and standing crosses. There is also thankfully a strong Archaeological record, to which new discoveries are constantly being added. On the whole however, Christianity did a fairly thorough job of erasing Archaeo-Heathenry’s history and lore. The Holy Roman Emperor’s Charlemagne and Louis the Pious made a point of destroying sacred sites (Charlemagne though is known to have collected many Germanic songs, but these are said to have been destroyed by his successor Louis).
During the early modern period, in the 19th century, a revival of Germanic culture took place in Europe, fuelled by the birth of Romantic Nationalism in Scandinavia and Germany, along with the related ‘Viking Revival’ in Victorian England. At this time the literature of archaeo-heathenry came under incredible scrutiny and study. Organised Germanic pagan groups began to appear in the early 20th Century. However, in 1933 the Nazi party took control in Germany, with many of its members associated with German mysticist groups. Many ancient European symbols and phrases were misappropriated by the Nazi party in its attempt to build the concept of a Germanic Aryan race, including the Swastika (known to heathens as the fylfot and often associated with Thor). This was in contradiction to the Nazis support of ‘positive Christianity’ and later years saw the persecution of German mysticists. This misappropriation of heathen beliefs and symbols by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists is something that we still struggle against today unfortunately, but thankfully they are a minority and the bulk of heathens scorn on these practices. Many felt the same way at the time, Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon scholar J.R.R. Tolkien commenting on his grudge against Hitler for "ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.". Odinism was the first major incarnation of modern heathenry, originating in Australia in 1930’s and 40’s. It was created by immigrants from the UK, influenced by the earlier ‘Viking Revival’, but later collapsed under scrutiny during WW2 and the movement went underground. Odinism later flourished again, but has often been criticised for associating with racist or folkish ideology (though this is not true for all organisations). After 1970, the liberation of social values gave the revival movement the freedom it needed to blossom. Germanic pagan organisations of various stripes appeared in the UK, USA and Iceland, working independently of each other. Iceland, through its strong cultural connection with archaeo-heathenry, saw the founding of Ásatrúarfélagið, the modern world’s first non-political, purely religious heathen movement, by Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson. This was also the origin of the term Ásatrú, which has since become a banner and title for heathens across Europe and the world, a new beginning, without the political bluster or foggy-eyed mysticism. Many heathen organisations now exist, with several countries granting official recognition to the movement (however the UK Government’s practice does not include the recognition of minority religions except through the census).