A Complex Pantheon

Without fear of hyperbole, it can be said that the Norse pantheon is one of the most complicated ones in antiquity, easily rivaling the complexities of the Egyptian and Sumerian pantheons. In part, this is because they mirrored the complexities of early Norse and Germanic societies, who were, and are, too often swiftly dismissed in modern media as simply being “barbarians”. Broadly speaking, there are are three ” families” of gods and goddesses in the pantheon of northern Europe, the Æsir, Vanir, and Rokkr. The former two are known to have existed in antiquity, while the latter appears to be an invention in the modern recreated practises of the faith. Where it gets complicated is that these groups, while appearing to fit into neat boxes, are actually intertwined by blood, marriage, and conflict. The Asa gods of the Æsir fought with, and then came to a peace accord with the Vana gods of the Vanir. Both of those groups fought and intermarried with the Jötnar who make up the majority of the Rokkr. Then you have Fenrir and the other monstrous children of Loki being designated as Rokkr in modern practice.

Furthering this complexity is the plurality of practices in antiquity, and equally wide practices and ideologies today. With modern Heathen practitioners, there are generally three streams of approach to making sense of it all. Reconstructionists look to try to pattern their practises on those in antiquity as much as possible. Modernist practitioners seek to incorporate some classical practices with modern ideas. Norse or Germanic neopagans may use elements or terminology from the past, or may invent or appropriate practices from other faiths. Needless to say, there is a lot of contention between these groups, and between their interpretations of the gods and the mini-pantheons they inhabit.

The vast majority of Heathens are Asatruar, followers of the Æsir. Vanatru are those who have the Vanir preferable. The minority group is the Rokkatru, who follow the Jötnar and monstrous offspring of Loki. These groups aren’t exclusive though, with members freely incorporating deities from outside their chosen group, a practice similar to the practices of the gods as seen in lore. That doesn’t mean that things can’t be made more complex though! Loki is a subject that deserves its own post in its own right. Here though, he’s part of a large, and often messy fight between Heathens. Some posit he never existed, since no archaeological evidence has emerged to support his worship. Other refuse to include him, or his followers (and Rokkatru in general) in their activities. Reasons range from almost reasonable (Loki is ultimately the leader of the assault on Asgard, and currently imprisoned by Odin for his actions), to bizarre (turning him into a Satan figure to create dualistic contention in a faith devoid of it), to simple prejudicial treatment of his followers, who are, by and large, from the neopagan side of the long house.

So how does all of this apply to modern Heathen practice? Well, for one, it means variety. Whether one declares to one group or another, or simply uses them all, there are gods and goddesses for virtually situation or endeavour. On the other hand, it also fuels a number of internal spats, rifts, and fights. One universal positive though is strength of belief in all corners, whether by research, conviction, or UPG. The Heathen pantheon, much like its modern followers, is a dynamic operation that cannot be easily codified.

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Graeme is a professional diver, veteran with the Canadian Armed forces, and developing as an archaeologist. He holds an Associates Degree for the Arts in Environmental Studies, where he focused on physical geography and archaeology.

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Posted in Asatru, The Hammer, Vanatru
2 comments on “A Complex Pantheon
  1. Sable Aradia says:

    Reblogged this on Sable Aradia, Priestess & Witch and commented:

    A friend of mine writes about the differences between different types of Norse Paganism, and the three complex Norse pantheons. Cleared a lot of things up for me.

  2. Leeby Geeby says:

    Fascinating insight. Do the deities also have different aspects in different contexts too? This is one of the things that makes the Buddhist pantheon so mind-numbingly complex is that the deities can express aspects, eg. nurturing, or wrathful etc. in different contexts and can also become emanations of one another. Colonisation by different donimant cultural interests through history dosen’t help either. Thank you kindly for your wisdom!

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