What did the Vikings believe in?

The Vikings were very superstitious people with their own belief system, North mythology that existed before Christianity came into existence. Their belief system guided how they interacted with their neighbors, their clansmen, the wide range of gods, and mystical creatures. That said, what exactly did they believe in? Read on to find out!

Viking religion

Vikings Faith

The Vikings’ belief in the Norse gods and goddesses was of significance to almost all activities – from their relationship with their neighbors and their everyday life to sending warriors to battle and making sacrifices. They worshiped the Norse gods in the open air, choosing natural landmarks, such as unusual trees, waterfalls, hills, mountains, and big rocks. Their most important gods to the Vikings were Thor – the god of thunder, lightning, and metalwork; Odin – the war god and god of knowledge: and Freya – the goddess of fertility and beauty.

The Vikings believed that the Norse gods and other supernatural beings were always watching them. They often sacrificed to the Norse gods and goddesses to obtain their goodwill and maximum protection. They honored the gods by drinking a toast to them in unison and dining over a great feast. Just to give a few practical examples, they would toast to Freyj and Njord – the fertility gods- to wish for a good harvest and prosperity. Young women, on the other hand, would toast to goddess Freyja to find eternal love, beauty or to become pregnant. If the Vikings faced a challenge or were going to war, they would invoke Odin for wisdom and praise Thor for strength during battle. They would also invoke the presence of the gods during weddings, funerals, and in times of disease.

Additionally, they swore oaths by the Norse gods and goddesses, and some Vikings wore oath rings dedicated to Ullr- the god of archery. Some of their war helmets featured a gold-and-garnet representing Odin’s eye for wisdom and strength during battle. The Vikings also believed that those who failed to make sacrifices to their gods and goddesses died in strange ways. The most common cause of death for such people was getting impaled on one’s sword.

What did the Vikings believe

What did the Vikings believe?

The Vikings held a strong belief that everything around them had its place and purpose in this world. For this reason, there was a deity for every part of their lives. Just to make this easier to understand, let’s name them. Odin was the leader of the Norse gods, and he married Frigg (associated with fertility), Loki was the god of fire, Thor was the god of thunder, Tyr was considered a god of war, Kvasir and Braugi were associated with poetry, Hel was the goddess of the underworld, Frey and Freya were gods of fertility, Njord and Aegir were gods of the sea, and Ull was the god of Archery.

Their religion was animistic, polytheistic, and pantheistic. There were several elements of shamanism in their religion and they held magic (Seidr) in high regard.  Here are some of the things that the Vikings believed:

  • They believed that there were 9 realms. Within the 9 worlds, the dead would spend eternity in two places: Helheim, which was for the dishonorable dead, and Valhalla, which was for the deserving dead- honorable warriors who fell in battle.
  • Funeral rites were a crucial part of their lives. The Vikings spent a great deal of time gathering material possessions and companions such as axes, swords, gold, and jewelry, which were to be buried with them or their clansmen. In the case of a Viking chief, they would sacrifice an enslaved girl to accompany the chief in his afterlife.
  • When a child was born, they would pray and sing to goddess Freya and Frigg to protect the mother and child. They would then wait for about 9 days before naming the child. The name of a child was often a combination of the names of deities and family ancestors.
  • They believed in ghosts and zombies, who supposedly haunted the living if a Viking or warrior didn’t receive any birth rites. They assumed that the warriors would rise and drive needles on their feet. The ghosts and zombies would then cause nightmares and tension among warriors.
  • The Vikings rejected the idea of full-time priests. The King or chief were the only ones who had the power to oversee public faith and to perform sacrifices to the gods. As we mentioned earlier, the Viking religion was polytheistic. They believed in giants, elves, dwarves, fairies, spirits, and so many other supernatural creatures.

How did the Vikings convert to Christianity

How did the Vikings convert to Christianity?

Throughout the Viking Age (793-1066AD) the Vikings believed that Norse gods and goddesses watched over them as they went into battle, as they indulged in everyday activities, and as they traversed the seas in their longships. By the late 11th century, however, the concept of gods and goddesses became a thing of the past and Christianity spread across the region. The conversion of Vikings and other Norse people into Christianity took a top-down approach, where the Viking king would be converted first then he would make it his mission to convert everyone in his kingdom. The conversion process took 3 steps: First, the convert would renounce their old ways, second, the convert publicly identifies as a Christian, and lastly, the convert followed the rituals and fully adopted the faith.

Europeans had started sending missionaries towards the north, and they eventually made it to the already established Viking kingdoms. Despite a few hostilities that the missionaries met along the way, some Vikings seamlessly converted to Christianity to honor their economic ties with Christian Europe. The first Viking king of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth was the first one to convert to Christianity after one of Otto II (the emperor) performed an apparent miracle. Afterward, he decided to convert the rest of his kingdom and all his pagan cousins that resided towards the north.

After Denmark fully converted to Christianity, they advanced to Norway where they met King Olaf Trygvasson, but Norway was home to too many ‘backsliders’. Later, the missionaries went ahead to spread Christianity to Iceland, Greenland, and Sweden. The process was somewhat brutal in different kingdoms, but eventually, all the Vikings as well as their subjects were able to fully convert to Christianity.

Viking Jewelry