• Ryan Smith

Why Norse Paganism?

You may be wondering, as many often do, why I or anyone else would be building a spiritual practice based on the Gods and beliefs of an ancient society whose lives were dramatically different from our own. This is a fair question ad I hope this essay will give some kind of answer. At the time of this writing thousands, possibly even million, of people all over the world have turned to all kinds of pre-Christian Gods, cultures and beliefs for guidance, comfort and creating meaning in an often cruel, unpredictable world. In spite of all of the reasons modern people may find Pagan spirituality irrational or even dangerous it clearly appeals to a lot of people. Others turn to the symbols, mythologies and aesthetics of these societies for inspiration.


What I offer is only my opinion on the matter and speaks only for myself. I think the best way to explain it is through discussing the key elements of Norse Paganism. From where I sit these are the many Powers, what they mean for us and the ties of Fate that bind everything together. This only just scratches the surface of what Norse Paganism is but I think it is enough to at least get started. I hope by explaining my reasons you can better understand this practice and hopefully your own reasons for pursuing something like this one. If you choose to follow this path you will quickly find out this rabbit hole is a lot deeper than you could possibly imagine.


The best place to begin is the most obvious: the question of why believe in a world of many different, sometimes warring Powers, ranging from spirits of place and the dead to the mightiest of Gods? For some this is nothing more than pointless superstition or even worse empty idolatry. For me the multifaceted, complex and sometimes conflicting nature of the cosmos is a far more satisfying understanding of the wold than either that of one Almighty God or with none at all. A world of many Powers is one where there is, much like life, no single force in the driver's seat. It's on where we are not judged for failing to reach some sort of perfect ideal but are simply yet another bunch of flawed beings doing our best to make our way in the world.


The existence of many Powers also offers many different sources of wisdom and guidance. Some times you may feel drawn to what Thor shows, by his conduct and what he is associated with, is the right way forward in a time of tension. Other times the example of a local river or your deceased great-grandmother could be what helps you resolve a major dilemma. Just as much as the example of different Powers can help you the fact that they are flawed also means their mistakes teach just as much as their successes. This makes their example all the more relevant for those of us struggling to live our lives, face the world and do the best we can with what we've got.


There is also more to these Powers than just that they are many. In the existence of spirits of place and the dead there is more to be had than what some might dismiss as simple superstition. Accepting their existence means accepting a world where everything has to be given a basic level of respect from the tiniest creatures and plants to the needs of whole communities. Such an assumption has profound implications for how we live considering that rampant abuse of the planet we share with many other living things has brought all life to the brink of extinction. Trees, oceans and animals stop just being things we can use and become beings that must be respected.


Finally there is the complex web of Fate that binds it all together. Fate, to many, simply means what will be will be. This is very different from how Fate works in Norse Paganism. For us Fate is made by all things. Your actions, the actions of others and those of the people and beings who have gone before you shape the world. They expand and limit the possibilities of everything they touch. They also make the world you live in that determines your options in life all the way down to the time you are born into, where, what this means for your life and how it shapes the lives of people around you.


To sum it up your actions, and the actions of everyone around you, matter. Your choices, deeds and decisions help shape the world. The actions of others do as well with none of these happening in a vacuum. What Fate shows is an interconnected world. Actions influence other actions and the sum of all of these deeds is the vast web that binds everything together. It is also a web that we can change. That the world is truly in all of our hands is a powerful message especially in a time when so many feel utterly helpless. We can, individually and collectively, make this world a better place.


In many ways the ways of the pre-Christian Norse peoples hold up a mirror to modern society that forces us to really question if how we are living is truly how life should be. To be clear I have no problem with the many advantages, comforts and developments that come with living in the 21st century. I'm quite happy with not having to jump into a ship, sail across one of the roughest bodies of water on Earth and bury an axe in some stranger's face while hoping I don't catch an arrow with mine to make a living. What makes for great songs and stories doesn't necessarily make for a good life.


It's when you dig deeper that the true knowledge their ways offer becomes apparent. In the harsh time and place where they came from the Norse peoples found a clear, effective way of understanding the world. They saw a way that, in spite of the challenges and inevitabilities everyone faces, gives hope and guidance in dark times. For me Norse Paganism challenges the seemingly unmovable, unalterable facts of the world with their own weaknesses and all of the real strengths of humanity. Norse Paganism makes me consider the impact of my actions, urges me to live mindfully in a world of empty consumption and gives me many sources of guidance which only ask for my best instead of demanding impossible perfection. Far from being a belief system outside of its time it is one that is perfect for the moments we are living in now.


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