Vikings and Heathenism


Vikings were fierce warriors who originally lived in the Scandinavian regions from 7th century to the 11th century. This period is also known as the ‘Viking Age’ as Vikings launched extensive raids on Europe’s coastal communities during this era.

In time, they became a permanent feature of many parts of northern Europe including Britain, France and Russia. Vikings lived in modern-day countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They were also known as ‘The Norsemen’. Vikings believed in many gods, a system of belief which was termed heathenism by their contemporary Christian writers. Here’s a look at the heathenism practiced by the Vikings.

Heathenism Definition ‘An adherent of a religion that does not worship the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. b. Such persons considered as a group. 2. Heathen An adherent of a Neo-pagan religion that seeks to revive the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Germanic peoples’.

Heathen Mythology

Vikings were heathens who believed in many gods, spirits and other supernatural entities. They tried to sustain strong and healthy relationship with the gods, goddesses, spirits of the land, ancestors and others in their communities through their holy rites and their actions.

Before the advent of Christianity, heathenry was common among the Vikings. However, the Vikings eventually converted to Christianity in time, although they sustained many of their heather rituals.

Viking Gods

From the gods who controlled fertility, climate, and rain to others who had dominion over each and every part of life such as poetry, beauty and desires, the Norse Gods were fundamental to regular day existence.

The Vikings worshiped many gods and goddesses to attain power, health and fame. The main gods such as Frigg, Odin, Thor, Loki, Heimdall and Tyr belonged to the Æsir family of gods.

According to Viking mythology, Odin was the greatest among the Viking gods and was the god of war, wisdom and magic. Frigg, Odin’s wife, was the goddesses of fertility and beauty.

Heathen Rituals

Vikings had elaborate heathen rituals for various purposes and occasions. Different tools were used in the rituals such as hammer, drinking horn, blessing bowl and sprinkling twig. Common rituals included wedding and burial rituals, land-taking rituals, and naming ceremonies etc.

Blot was the common ritual in which animals were sacrificed to the gods. Heathen rituals took place outdoors and the offerings were provided to the gods.

A symbol ritual was a drinking ceremony in which gods were toasted. Drinking horns were involved in this ceremony and mead was offered to the gods as well as the participants. Oaths and promises were made for future actions on these occasions.

Vikings and Human Sacrifices

Human life was most valuable sacrifice that the Viking could make to their gods to make them happy. According to Viking mythology, Odin, the king of gods, mostly demanded a human sacrifice.

There are a few stunning records of human sacrifice from the Viking period. It is said that the Vikings met every nine years at Lejre, a place in Zealand. This meeting took place in January and 99 people and as many horses, ducks, hens, hawks and dogs were sacrificed to the Vikings gods to serve them in the kingdom of death.

Vikings and Magic

Vikings strongly believed in magic. Odin was credited as the most astute magician who had taught the art to others. Seior was a form of magic which was practiced by the Vikings during the late Viking age. With the help of this magic, they tried to know their future and attempted to influence it.

To know their destiny, they also took help from magic. The god Odin and his wife Frigg were associated with magic. The males and females of Viking society who practiced magic were also the religious leaders and they helped each other to invoke their gods and spirits.

Viking Ship Burials

Most of the Vikings were sent to the afterlife in two ways: through cremation or in Viking ship burials. Cremation was common in the early Viking age where they burned the dead and buried the ashes. Ship burial was practiced later among the Viking who thought boats were the best and safest way into the afterlife.

The boats played an important role in burials. Some graves were built in the shape of boats but high-ranking Vikings were actually buried along with their boats or ships which also carried all their belongings which they used in life.

When a person was dead he was wrapped in a cloth and a goodbye ceremony was held featuring songs, food and alcohol. ‘Grave goods’ were offered to the dead as a gift by the people and were buried along the dead. These goods included jewelry, weapons and slaves according to the status of the dead.

The Great Heathen Army

The Great Heathen Army was an army of Norse warriors that landed in England in the 9th century. Its name was coined by the Christian Anglo-Saxons. The Norse warriors of this sizable army originated from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

They came under a unified command to invade England and to avenge the death of Ragnar Lothbrok in 816 A.D. After invading Britain, the Vikings realized that they could attain as much as wealth and land as they desired by force. So they decided to stay.

The vast Viking force was led by the sons of Ragnar Lothbroke. After a long period of eight years in England, the Great Heathen Army broke into pieces. Half the army moved northwards and attacked Scotland.

The other half moved to the south. The Vikings in the north started establishing farms and cultivating the lands. In the south, the army raided ‘King Alfred the Great’ and his kingdom but was ultimately defeated. In time, these Vikings permanently settled in an area designated as Danelaw.


  • Heathenism is the belief in various gods, goddesses, spirits and other supernatural beings.
  • Vikings practiced heathenism and believed in many gods and goddesses. The powerful god of the Vikings was Odin.
  • Vikings believed in magic and practiced it to see their future and influence their enemies.
  • Vikings offered human sacrifices to their gods. They may have offered 99 human beings every 9 years to their gods.
  • Vikings performed elaborate burial rituals. Ship burials were common during the Viking Age. The dead was placed in his boat along with slaves, goods and other items, and then buried.




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