10 Fascinating Viking Religious Beliefs

Viking religious beliefs were highly complex due to the intricate mythology involved. Instead of one central god in the Viking religion, there were many gods, and each had their own history and a unique way to pay tribute to them. Prior to Christianity sweeping the land, the Vikings had their own indigenous religion in place, but it didn’t have a formal name. Christians called this religion "paganism" and referred to its practitioners as heathens, but to the Vikings, it was merely a tradition based on myths revolving around various deities. Characters like Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki fill old Norse mythology texts. 

Norse mythology was treated much like the Christian Bible is, in that it was viewed as a collection of history, parables, and cautionary tales. Vikings believed that everything had its place and purpose; there was a deity for practically everything. Their religion was polytheistic, animistic, and pantheistic; in their belief system, even inanimate objects had souls. They held old-world magic in high regard, and there were elements of shamanism in their religion. This list explores the key elements of what Vikings believed. 

  • There Were Nine Underworlds

    The Vikings believed death was a transition into one of the nine realms that existed alongside them. The two main places the dead would spend eternity were Valhalla, a place for fallen warriors where banquets were held and Odin reigned, and Helheim, which was filled with those who had “dishonorable deaths.”

    It was considered dishonorable for Vikings to perish of illness or old age; only those who fell in combat were considered honorable warriors deserving of Valhalla.

  • Funeral Rites Were Very Important

    The Vikings practiced both burial and cremation. The strong belief in various realms brought with it the desire to take personal objects and companions with them. Vikings would spend a great deal of time gathering possessions and ensuring the funeral rites for their fallen brothers were the perfect transition into the afterlife.

    In the case of chiefs, they’d use an enslaved girl as a human sacrifice to follow him into his afterlife. These cremation rituals involved performing sex rites with the woman who was to be sacrificed prior to killing her and cremating her body with the chief. 

  • Ritual Sacrifice Was A Part Of Their Belief System

    Sacrifice was a way to appease the gods, and the offerings could include humans, animals, or inanimate objects. Human sacrifices were performed at funerals to accompany the fallen into the next world and at regularly occurring religious festivals, such as Yule.

    The Norse god Odin was associated with hanging, and it's believed that Vikings would use those methods in human sacrifices directed to him.

  • Since Nature Played A Big Part In Viking Religion, Vikings Worshipped Outside

    Much like the other pagan religions, Vikings worshipped their gods out in the elements. Wooded areas with unusual trees, natural landmarks, waterfalls, oversized rocks, or anything in nature with an otherworldly feel would be a worthy place of worship.

    There were many gods, but the gods of most importance were Odin, the god of knowledge, Freya, the goddess of fertility, and Thor, the god of thunder and a symbol of strength and metalwork. All of these deities were representations of the aspects of life most important to the Viking people.

  • They Believed In Giants

    They Believed In Giants
    Photo: Louis Huard / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The giants in Norse religion were called Jötunn. The Jötunn lived in one of the nine realms known as Jotunheim.

    A menace to both gods and humans, these massive forces of nature were too big in size and numbers to wipe out, so they were banished to Jotunheim by the Norse gods. 

  • There Were No Full-Time Priests

    There Were No Full-Time Priests
    Photo: J. L. Lund / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    From what is known of the Norse religion, there didn’t seem to be anyone designated as a religious leader within their communities. Instead, there were various leaders, often chieftains, who took on religious roles and performed sacrifices in addition to their “main role” within society.

    The king or chief was responsible for overseeing public faith, while private faith was up to each individual head of household.