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Viking Religion

The Viking Age was a period of considerable religious change in Denmark. Part of the popular image of the Vikings is that they were all pagans, with a hatred of the Christian Church, but this view is very misleading. It is true that almost the entire population of Denmark was pagan at the beginning of the Viking Age, but the Vikings had many gods, and it was no problem for them to accept the Christian god alongside their own.

We know very little about the Pagan practices of the Vikings. What we do know relates more to the stories told about the Gods. The most powerful god was the one-eyed Odin, the Allfather, god of warfare, justice, death, wisdom and poetry. Probably the most popular god, however, was Thor, who was stupid but incredibly strong. With his hammer Miollnir, crafted by the dwarfs, he was the main defender of the gods against the giants. He was also the god of thunder, and he was particularly worshipped by seafarers. The brother and sister Frey and Freyja, the god and goddess of fertility, were also important, and there were many other minor gods and goddesses.

The main enemies of the gods were the giants, and there were often conflicts between the two races. Among the gods, only Thor was a match for the giants in strength, so the gods usually had to rely on cunning to outwit the giants.

It was believed that the world would end with the final battle of Ragnarok, between the gods and the giants. A fire would sweep across the whole world, destroying both the gods and mankind. However, just enough members of both races would survive to start a new world.

By about 700 AD, Willibrord, the ‘apostle of the Netherlands’ was already carrying out missionary work among the Danes, but it was only with the missionary activities of Ansgar, from 826, that Christianity gained a foothold in Denmark.

As Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen in present-day northern Germany, Ansgar was able to ensure that churches were built in the trading centres of Hedeby (Schleswig) and Ribe.

The first document from the Papal See in Rome to a Danish king dates from 864. Christianity became the religion of the king when Harald Bluetooth allowed himself to be baptised by the priest Poppo c. 950.