Characteristics of Heathen Religion

YggdrasilWe all know that Heathenry differs from the dominant Christian view in some very key and critical ways but often we can’t express what those differences are. I know that I am hard pressed to to enumerate the differences beyond the most basic of characteristics. Part of returning to our way of life is know what that way should look like. This requires us to have a firm understanding of the ways and modes of thinking that are native to the indigenous faiths of Northern Europe. We can also look at these differences in characteristics and see what influences on our practices and beliefs today Universalist religions like Christianity have had. We can examine our thinking and evaluate our actions and better determine the course forward as we rebuild.

I’d like to express my most sincere thanks to Mikki Fraser, who is studying Old Norse religion at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. The following comparison chart comes from Prof. Terry Gunnel’s class “Old Norse Religion” and does a great job of demonstrating the differences between us and what I believe we should be working towards. Some points of clarification have been added by both Mikki and myself to help provide a better idea of the key points.

Heathenry / Folk ReligionChristianity / Universalist Religion
Limited to one's own folk group (tribe/culture group)Targeted to all people in the world
No active "mission"There is a mission to save souls or accomplish something similar
Life-based (e.g. the proper way to live in the here and now)What happens after you die is most important
Peace (frith) with the world is the main objective (includes the "spirit world")Freedom from the trappings of the physical world is the main objective
Centralized around cult practices (what you do; right action)Centralized around belief (what you believe; right belief)
Non-dogmatic (proper practice and understanding changes from region to region)Dogmatic (there is one correct way to believe in order to achieve your ultimate goal)
You learn via your community's traditions/personal experienceYou learn via teaching and instruction from others higher up in the tradition
Male and female cult leadershipMale cult leadership
Less concentration on sacral buildingsHigh concentration on sacral buildings
One's personal honor in the community determine one's morality Freedom from sin and redemption is determined by one's morality
Centers on the good of the collectiveCenters on the belief of the individual

If you’d like to follow along on Mikki’s crazy Heathen adventures in Iceland, you can always check out his blog, Sacred Iceland.


Characteristics of Heathen Religion — 1 Comment

  1. There are a few things I view differently on the comparisons. Living half my early childhood until 11 in a strict fundamental christian environment. Then with allot of freedom around more moderate christians and then later from 8th grade on around friends and others that said/say they were christian but can not tell you more than 3 versus (if any) of the bible and do not follow their beliefs. One thing they agree on is that the bible is absolute, or at least what they’ve been taught.
    Not only does “One’s personal honor in the community determine one’s morality’ that’s true, but in addition my belief and experience with other Heathens you also live by what you know and believe is Right. So there is a personal aspect to morality too. On the other side there is more pressure with fundamental christians (Pentecostal, some South.Bapt. for example to conform and believe exactly the same (and force their beliefs on everyone else. Whereas most Heathens and Pagans don’t care and can even respect others beliefs as long as it’s not pushed on them. Tolerant v Intolerant. Just speaking from experience. My point is everyone may view this a little different, depending on their experiences and knowledge.

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