The Norse Gods
These resources pull heavily from Our Troth Vol 2. Gods and Goddesses. The information has been cut and edited for consumption on the internet and was generously donated by the publisher for the enjoyment and education of all Heathens. If you want to read the uncut version and support our mission to further education about the Gods and Goddesses of our faith, please buy the book!
How Many Norse Gods are There?
Even though in theory we can worship a great deal of Gods, in practice, most of us worship only a handful regularly. There are 8 that are very commonly worshiped, and then several that are less commonly worshiped. This isn't an exhaustive list either.
This list includes beings that are not considered "Gods" by all in the Heathen community. We're defining "God" descriptively here rather than prescriptively. That is to say, we're just telling you who many people worship versus telling you who they ought to be worshiping.
Most commonly worshiped Norse Gods
Less commonly worshiped Norse Gods
- Ullr and Skadi
Just because the God you worship didn't show up on this list doesn't mean it's not a God!
Like we said before, this isn't an exhaustive list of the only things you can possibly worship in Norse Paganism. If a name is mentioned somewhere in the literature, or found on a stone somewhere, chances are you can find someone out there who has a practice surrounding that where that's a deity.
Don't get discouraged! Just because something isn't popular doesn't mean it's not right.
What Are the Gods?
It is sometimes said that “wherever you find two Heathens, you’ll find three opinions.” Heathens today tend to be rather opinionated, and many seem to love arguing about any number of topics within our religion—including the existence of the Gods.
While almost all Heathens refer to the Gods in their practice, there are Heathens who believe that the Gods exist only as ideas within human consciousness, or as symbols of the forces of nature. Others very strongly experience the Gods as Persons, with their own independent wills and personalities. Others are undecided or confused as to whether, or in what sense, the Gods exist.
And in practice, we generally all get along.
This is very much in keeping with the historical practice as we know it.
There are several characters in the sagas who don’t worship any Gods; they are called gó›lauss, “Godless.” When asked about their religious beliefs, such people might say, like Bárðr in ﬁorvalds ﬂáttr tasalda:
ek trúi ekki á skurðgoð eda fjándr. . . Hefi ek því lengi trúat á mátt minn ok megin.
“I don’t believe in idols or in the devil. . . so I have long trusted in my might and main” (ÍF 9, pp. 124-125).
Or, like Finnbogi the Strong, they might simply say
"ek trúi á sjálfan mik"
“I trust in myself ” (Finnboga saga ramma 19, ÍF 14, p. 287. See Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North, pp. 263-268.)
We have no evidence of orthodoxy in pre-Christian Paganism.
As far as we know, ancient paganism never developed a formal list of propositions which had to be accepted in their entirety by anyone wanting to “profess their faith.” And we wouldn’t expect to find one either.
Rather, there appears to have been a wide range of beliefs and practices among people. At a larger scale, pagan traditions varied widely by region, and they changed through time as their societies changed. The attempts that a few Heathens have made to formulate something like a theological creed, along the lines of “I believe in Odin, the Allfather Almighty,” have never really caught on.
In fact, the Old Norse word used in the literature for what we would call “religion” is not trú, “faith, trust,” but sidr, “custom.” When the sagas speak of the pre-Christian religion, they usually call it forn sidr, “old custom.”
What was religion to them? As far as we know, it was just “what we do around here.”
Do you really believe in the Norse Gods? Really?
The better question is more like how many different ways do Heathens believe in the Gods. Because there are a lot of them.
- A common position among Heathens today is hard polytheism: the idea that the Gods are separate entities, with distinct personalities, existing independently of human consciousness, and able to act independently of humans or of each other.
- Some Heathens acknowledge the existence of many Gods and may honor them all when appropriate, but focus their devotion on only one, a position known as henotheism.
- Heathens can also be found who espouse soft polytheism where the Gods exist and appear to exist independently, but are ultimately aspects or avatars of a greater single Godhead.
- An offshoot of that is Heathens who feel that certain named deities are actually hypostases (aspects) of others; for example, Frigga’s handmaidens are sometimes thought to be hypostases of Frigga herself, reflecting different aspects of her total being.
- There are also Heathens who espouse pantheism and say the Gods are identical with the entirety of the universe or panentheism where the Gods contain the universe and permeate everything in it, but also extend beyond it.
- Some even express agnosticism (the existence of Gods cannot be decided on the available evidence) or atheism (Gods do not exist, or at least there is no compelling evidence to believe they do).
- Most Heathens would also subscribe to some degree of animism: the belief that places, objects, and even plants and animals are inhabited by their own spiritual beings, the “wights” or vættir.
This openness can pose difficulties for newcomers who come from a religious background with a definitive doctrine that everyone is expected to espouse. What’s the right way to believe? Sorry to say we don’t have an answer for you.
And you’re no less of a Heathen than anyone else because you don’t know, or because you favor one opinion over another. There are going to be times in your life when you pass through all these different attitudes towards the existence of the Gods.
Which Gods do we worship?
The Gods and Goddesses of Heathenry can be defined as “the deities worshiped by the names they were called by peoples who historically spoke languages in the Germanic family.”
The earliest cultures that can be identified as probably speaking Germanic languages date to about 500 BCE, but records of their cultures and religions are extremely sparse until the first century CE. Documentation increases through the Roman and Migration Ages.
By far the most complete information we have comes from Iceland after the Christian conversion, where, thanks to a unique set of social circumstances, medieval Icelanders were willing and free to incorporate some of their pre-Christian poetry and literature into some of their sagas and their handbooks on how to compose poetry.
Some of our practice derives from other Germanic languages, as well as in folklore and folk practices mostly recorded in the 19th and 20th centuries.
People often assume that in a polytheistic religion, each deity has a specific function that he or she is “God of.” This is a popular misconception.
Many popular books and articles on Norse mythology start with that assumption—Tyr is the God of War, Thor is the God of Thunder, Freyr is the God of Fertility, Freyja is the Goddess of Sex, and so on.
But this model of "departmentalizing deities" poses some serious problems. If a man today can take the roles of Husband, Father, Son, Boss, Employee, Coworker, Buddy, and perhaps others during the course of just one typical workday, can't the Gods and Goddesses take different roles?
What’s clear from an examination of the literary and archeological sources on pre-Christian religion is that there never was a single, unified “Germanic faith”, with a common essential worldview and pantheon, in which every deity had an assigned role (Gunnell, “Pantheon? What Pantheon?,” pp. 56-58; Schjødt, “Reflections on Aims and Methods,” pp. 265-267).
Even the literature has the deities acting in multiple different ways and accomplishing all kinds of tasks.
- In the literature, Freyja certainly does have a sexual side but she also claims half the battle-slain warriors, and she wields the powerful magic known as seiðr.
- Thor may be shown as a warrior against jotuns, but other stories show him using his hammer to restore creatures to life, showing him as a healer or a hallower.
- Odin gets the most complex treatment in the literature, and may appear as a kindly adviser, a father of great dynasties, a dark and devious betrayer, or a master of mighty and terrible magics who undergoes torment to win wisdom.
The Gods and Goddesses cannot be reduced to a corporate org chart.
While there are some spheres that various deities are especially known for, most of them can be honored or asked for help in many different ways. In modern Heathenry, it’s not obligatory to focus on all the Germanic Gods and Goddesses at once. There will probably be some that you are drawn to, and others whom you might honor only in passing. And this is normal.
We do not accept that Medieval Germanic Heroic Literature was “correct” in describing our Gods
This comes up most in interpretations of Freyja and Frigg, but it applies equally across all the descriptions of deities.
We reject the common Pagan instinct to accept the characterizations from Medieval literature as fact, but then to try to turn them into a positive thing. “Sure Freyja was a sex goddess, but sex is a good thing! Sure Frigg is a domestic goddess, but women in old norse society were actually the real bosses!”
This is more harmful than helpful. It promotes stereotypes of women and especially plays into patriarchal assumptions about what Goddesses can and cannot be.
The stories about the Gods reflect far more about the society and the people of the late iron age and early medieval period than it does about the Gods. The stories about the Gods are ultimately about the society in which they were worshiped: what that society or what this or that poet valued and cared about and so on.
We worship the Gods in a very different social context, and we ought not to limit our own stories of them to the experiences that people had thousands of years ago.
Why do we worship the Gods?
People worship the Gods for a lot of different reasons. Some are seeking connection, others seek wisdom or power. But generally the reason is that the Gods have something that we desperately want that we can’t get through any other means.
The Gods make a way for us when we can’t see one.
People frequently pray to Thor for overcoming the obstacles in their path, or pray to Loki to transform their obstacles into a path. Whatever the reason, we feel stuck in something and we don’t see a way out. We pray to the Gods to help us see that way or to make that way for us.
The Gods are our light in the darkness.
Sometimes the path gets so dark we can’t even hope to see the next step in front of us, or we wonder why we even bother with anything at all. People also pray to the Gods for connection and their friendship in the hardest times, if not only to help us believe again that the good times can return.
In giving a gift, we reflect the benevolent nature of the Gods.
To some Heathens, the Gods are little more than characters in a divine soap opera with petty squabbles, secret agendas and interpersonal drama.
To other Heathens, the Gods embody the very nature of goodness, and it is through the gifting cycle that we engage with that goodness and identify ourselves with the divine. We show the Gods, through sacrifice, that we are of their nature and they return our gift with their gifts.
This is one of the most critical aspects of Pagan worship. In our rituals, we are reaffirming the goodness of graciousness, generosity, friendship and kindness. We give without expectation, but in faith that the goodness that is in us is in the Gods as well.
How do we worship the Gods?
This is where an important distinction comes in between ‘worshiping'' the Gods and “working with” the Gods. We are using the word “worship” here, but you’ll see both used to describe how the relationship with the Gods is mediated. Is it mediated through acts of worship? Or is it mediated through an exchange of power like the relationship between a teacher and a student?
We are going to set aside “working with” the Gods for now, because that’s a topic better suited to discussions of magic and personal devotion. We’ll just talk about Blot.
We worship the Gods through the ritual of Blot, or sacrifice.
The way that we worship the Gods is through the performance of the ritual of Blot. This isn’t, of course, the only way Heathens express their devotion to the Gods, but it’s the most common one and the one that most of us can participate in with others. Some of us have our own meditation or trance practices, but all of us recognize what Blot is and most of us have some idea how to do it.
What do I offer to the Norse Gods?
There is no pre-Christian resource that we know of that tells you exactly what offerings should go to which God, and any such information is purely anecdotal based on what modern worshipers feel is appropriate. For our purposes, the thing sacrificed is not as important as how it is sacrificed. The Gods are not divine pets, hungrily waiting for some of their favorite foods to be delivered by their eager worshipers. The Gods do not think of you as their waiter and no God will smite you for giving them Cabernet when they clearly ordered Merlot.
Thus, we are not going to include any section on specific offerings. We don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea that our Gods are petty, precious or particular. If you personally happen upon an offering that you feel is just right, then that’s your tradition and your business.
What About The Gods of others?
It’s helpful to think of religion like language and to approach it with the same open mind and curiosity.
When you’re talking about someone else’s language, they have different sounds to describe the same things we do. You might say “dog” and they might say “hund” or “goh.” This applies both to the most mundane things as it applies to the most holy things.
Our perspectives on divinity are conditioned by our upbringing and the world around us. It’s conditioned by our relationships and the experiences we have. We could all be looking at the same light source, but we take it from different angles and wearing different sets of lenses.
Maybe at some level, all Gods are somehow One; maybe not. Maybe all Gods are manifestations of a single divine energy; maybe not.
These are questions best pursued over a pot of tea or six pack, in our opinion.
Even the Christian God?
Many of us come from a Christian family and most of our families have been Christian for a very long time (1000 years or more). Some Heathens come from Jewish backgrounds and some even from Muslim backgrounds. But we’re all talking about the same thing: Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah… “The Big Guy.”
Many Heathens come to the religion having suffered trauma from their family’s version of Christianity. This can sometimes lead to feelings of anger and sadness. And they came to Heathenry looking for a refuge from that history. We’re happy to provide that hospitality and refuge for people to heal.
But in principle, and while personal experience may make individuals feel otherwise: we treat the Christian God or the God of Islam the same as we do the Gods of anyone else. We treat Them without hatred and without prejudice.
Regardless of the claims that any God makes about themselves, or anyone makes about their God; respectfully, we see it differently. While the propositions of some religions might exclude our Gods; respectfully, we do not feel the same way. We’re always going to disagree in that regard.
Can a Heathen worship non-Germanic Gods?
You’ll find some Heathens who scorn “eclectic” or “dual-trad” people who worship both Germanic Gods and Gods of another culture. But this isn’t in keeping with our faith.
Actual pre-Christian religions were far more flexible: King Rædwald of East Anglia (thought to be the king buried in Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo) put a Christian altar in his temple, alongside the harrows of his tribal Gods. This seems to have bothered the Christians far more than it did the pagans in his realm. (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, II.xv; transl. Sherley-Price, pp. 132-133)
This doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone. There were no “hard borders” between Germanic, Celtic, Roman, Sámi, Slavic, and Baltic linguistic and cultural areas: religious ideas could and did travel back and forth (Gunnell, “Pantheon? What Pantheon?,” p. 58).
Who can worship the Gods?
Anyone can. Period. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it.
So-called “Folkish Heathenry” has been discarded by Heathens today as a deeply destructive ideology based in white nationalism.
Folkish white nationalists believe that a person’s “natural” religion is determined by their presumed race–defined here as either white or some shade “of color”. They believe that the natural religion of white people is some form of idealized Germanic Paganism, and that Christianity was a Jewish trick played on white people to get them to submit to Jewish domination.
It used to be the case that Folkish white nationalists and Heathens worshiped side by side. We read the same books. We learned with them. We performed the same rituals and even created some together. We shared horns of mead with them. We shared meals with them. Our kids used to play together at the same campground retreats.
The hope was that somehow our shared interest in faith would overcome their commitment to the project of white nationalism and they’d someday stop. They’d grow out of it. We’d be so kind and accepting that it would somehow rub off on them.
But that didn’t happen and in retrospect it never was going to happen.
At some point, they were always going to choose white nationalism over our faith–it just took too many of us too long to figure that out.
The regret we have isn’t that they chose what they chose despite our efforts, our regret is all the people that were turned off or turned away from sharing our faith because at one time or another we decided trying to keep a white nationalist happy was more important than the safety and inclusion of anyone threatened by them.
The only valid forms of Heathenry are inclusive. Full stop.
There is no “universalist” and “folkish” camp of Heathenry anymore.
The question has been decided: folkism is derived from and adheres to an explicitly white nationalist and antisemitic political project and it will pursue the goals of that project to the same genocidal end that brought about the Final Solution.
We support all people, of whatever descent, who are drawn to the Gods and the spirits in the world around us and engage with them through our faith. Telling someone that they need to “find their own Gods” or find “the traditions of their own ancestors” is not Heathen. It is a form of discrimination and it is a spiritual poison.
We as an organization are firm in our stance that one’s presumed or perceived ancestry, ethnicity or race has no bearing on an individual’s right to practice our faith.
This article and others like it are only possible through the work and support of our membership
The Troth is an all-volunteer organization that is supported by donations and membership fees. If you found this article helpful, and want to support our work to educate people on our faith, you can donate here to help fund work like this and more. And if you share our vision of inclusive Heathenry and want to participate in our mission, then you may want to consider joining our organization as a member today. You will get access to even more resources, workshops, our Discord Server and membership publications as well as a vote in our elections.
This article was created with substantial excerpts from Our Troth Vol. 2 which was edited by Ben Waggoner and has been used here with the editor's permission. This article also contains substantial contributions from the insights and practices of many members of The Troth, whether quoted directly or unquoted. If you want to read the full book, please find our publications page here.