Vikings are typically known as godless heathens, barbarians, and raiders. However, there was more to them than this reputation. Vikings started small raids along European coastlines around 793.
Vikings originally hailed from modern-day areas of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. They mostly lived rural lives. Starting in 793, Vikings began raiding Europe and what started with small bands was eventually undertaken with full-scale armies of thousands of warriors.
Vikings believed in a large number of gods which were elaborately depicted in Norse mythology. Following is a view of the Viking religion and gods.
Norse paganism was the religion followed by the Vikings. Unlike other religions, Norse paganism relied heavily on oral traditions. There were little to no written texts during the Viking Age. As part of this religion, the Vikings believed in a number of gods and goddesses. They also practiced various rituals commemorating traditional and special occasions.
The most deities in the Norse pantheon were Odin, Thor, Loki, Heimdall, Tyr, Balder, and Frigg. Each god had unique powers and was associated with specific things. Thor, for instance, was associated with war and thunder.
Viking pagan mythology was a body of many stories and myths of the Norse religion. It included different myths regarding various gods and goddesses of the Norse pantheon.
The mythology also featured events pertaining to the origins of the world, the coming into being of humans and gods, various conflicts involving gods, humans, and heroes, as well as different other tales.
It also provided the Norse cosmology which centered on the cosmic tree Yggdrasil and comprised different worlds.
Sacrifice was a common practice in the Norse religion. Vikings used to sacrifice various animals like cows, dogs, roosters, and hens. Sacrificing humans, usually, slaves, were also common and often took place at specific religious sites or temples.
Sacrifices were made to different gods on special occasions such as when undertaking a sea voyage or concluding a business. Sacrifices were also offered to the gods on the occasions of marriages and burials. In some cases, a number of slaves were sacrificed upon the burial of a notable chief.
Viking burials keenly resembled Egyptian burials. Like the Egyptians, the Vikings would equip the dead bodies of the deceased with jewelry and a variety of other items. The deceased would then be buried in elaborate ceremonies.
Many ritual burials of the Vikings have been discovered in recent centuries and cast a light on the ritual burials. In many cases, human sacrifices were performed with the belief that the dead slaves would accompany the deceased to the next world.
Marriage was the center of family structure in Viking society. Planning for weddings sometimes required three years as the bride and groom’s family settled inheritances, property transfer, and dowries. Then a public wedding ceremony and a feast took place. These events would typically go on for three days and could last a whole week.
Weddings were usually kept on Friday to honor the goddess of marriage. The groom presented his ancestor’s sword to the bride which she held in order to give her son. And bride gave her father’s sword to the groom in order to transfer her guardianship to the husband.
Magic was a powerful and common theme among the Vikings. Being predisposed to various forms of superstition, Vikings believed that Odin, the most powerful god in the Viking pantheon, was the one who found the wisdom of magic.
Norse mythology depicted many women practicing magic, so it was mainly the women’s prerogative to practice magic in Viking society. According to the Norse myths, Odin once used magic to summon a volva from the dead and ask questions about it.
Vikings built temples where they would worship their gods and goddesses. Norse legends speak of temples dedicated to Thor, Odin, and other gods. Sacrificial rituals were often performed at these temples.
Today, many large mounds in Scandinavia are considered the sites where once Viking temples stood. Many of the original temples were later converted into churches or demolished to be replaced by churches. For this reason, no extant remains of a Viking temple exist today.
The Norse gods belonged to two tribes, Aesir and Vanir. Odin, Frigg, Thor, Loki. Balder, Hold, Heimdall and Tyr were highly ranked gods who belonged among the Aesir. Odin was the chief divinity and the god of war, death, property, and wisdom.
Frigg, the wife of Odin, was the patron of motherhood and marriage as well as the goddess of love and fertility. Thor was the most famous son of Odin and the most powerful god of storms and thunder.
Loki was the most dangerous and unpredictable god and gave birth to many evil creatures. All these gods and goddesses had a key role in the Norse religion.
When Vikings started raiding European coasts, they came into contact with Christians. Many Vikings eventually settled in Europe, quickly adopting Christianity. Examples of this include the Vikings who settled in Normandy as well as those who settled in Ireland and the British Isles.
In time, the influence of Christianity spread to the Viking homeland of Scandinavia as well. By the 12th century, Christianity was firmly established in Viking strongholds including Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.