Norse Mythology Shows There Was a Different Side to Vikings than Plundering and Pillaging

By Shaina Lucas

During the medieval ages, Vikings scoured the land from the 8th century to the 11th century. Vikings originally were not called this term, rather the term was used as a verb which meant to go Viking. The verb Viking meant to raid and pillage in other lands. The Vikings traveled from the far reaches of Scandinavia to as far as the New World and Russia. By around 1100 the Vikings had settled in the New World, Greenland, Iceland, England, France, Russia, Normandy, and their ancient home countries of Sweden and Norway. The Vikings were beginning to become Christianized after the Danelaw and settlement in other countries such as Denmark and Normandy. Before Christianization, the Vikings believe in the myths of the Norse. Why was this way of life ending? Was there evidence of a pre-Christian priesthood? What were their religious practices and rituals for these gods? I will be exploring into the religious practices of the Vikings and their methodologies of worship.

The Vikings were an oral culture before the spread of Christianity reached their realm. Stories were passed down by Skalds, who performed the work of Beowulf and other stories of the gods. The mythic stories of the Norse gods were not written down until after Christianization with Snorri Sturluson’s (1178-1241) work of the Prose Edda. A shorter version and less poetic than the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda was a small handbook for traveling skalds who spoke of the stories of the gods. Paganism is most often called the natural religion, based on unenlightened observation of the environment as speculated by medieval peoples during that time.

During the Middle Ages, one who practices paganism was also seen as one who had worldly knowledge but lacked spiritual knowledge. While the myths of the gods were narratives of their lives, the religion itself was the ritual practice of worshipping and sacrifices. The mythology of the North dates to before the Vikings became known as the fierce early medieval pirates. The beginnings of the myths date back to the Scandinavian Bronze Age that lasted over a thousand years from about 1600 to 450 B.C.E. Works of Nordic literature have survived, but little knowledge has been found about religious practices and culture of these Northmen. The stories of the gods are well-known, but historians must look through an archeological standpoint in order to find religious buildings and material aspects of worshipping the Norse gods. The reasoning behind this Icelandic dilemma is that the religious perspectives have been turned toward the field of history of religion, while the material culture has changed to archeology.