Written by Dyami Millarson
The immersive nature of Germanic or Nordic deities is a fundamental aspect of the religion and culture. The Gods are not abstract or distant figures, but are deeply embedded in the natural world and intimately connected to the cycles of life and death. This connection is maintained through blood sacrifice and the making of sacred oaths and pacts, underscoring the vital importance of the Gods in the lives of human beings. After all, oaths are the very basis of primordial human legal systems. The importance of oaths in Germanic and Norse culture cannot be overstated. Oaths were the basis of their legal system, religious practices, and social order, forming a fundamental part of the very fabric of their society. The power and significance of oaths are traditionally rooted in the belief that they are not just agreements between individuals but sacred bonds between human beings and the Gods themselves; for people traditionally swear oaths to the Gods while invoking Their names. The Old Nordic verb gręmja is — as I will explain in this article — a powerful reminder of the importance of oaths in Germanic or Nordic culture. Swearing an oath is not just a matter of making a promise; it is traditionally an invocation of the power of the Gods and a sacred pact. Breaking an oath is, therefore, considered a grave sin, not just because it represents a betrayal of trust, but because it angers the Gods and invites their wrath. The concept of gręmja truly captures the gravity of this offense and speaks to the deep connection between oaths and the divine in Germanic or Nordic folk religion.
In Germanic or Nordic religion, the Deities are not just external entities to be worshipped or appeased, but are intimately connected to the very fabric of existence. This concept is exemplified in the myth of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, which serves as a cosmic axis connecting the nine realms of the cosmos. At the top of the tree sits Asgard, the realm of the Gods, and at the bottom lies Helheim, the realm of the dead. The Germanic or Nordic Gods are not distant, abstract figures, but are instead deeply embedded in the natural world and the cycles of life and death. They are associated with natural phenomena, such as Thor with thunder and lightning, and are often depicted as participating in the cyclical processes of birth, growth, decay, and death.
The idea that the Gods are part of the fabric of existence is also reflected in the practice of blood sacrifice. Blood, which is seen as the life force of living beings, is offered to the Gods in order to establish a connection with them and to ensure their continued favor. This connection is seen as vital to the well-being of both the individual and the community, as the Gods are believed to play a direct role in the natural processes that sustain life. Furthermore, Germanic/Nordic folk religion also emphasises the importance of oaths and pacts made between humans and the Gods. These agreements are seen as binding and sacred, and breaking them can result in dire consequences. This underscores the idea that the Gods are not simply external entities to be worshipped, but are actively involved in the lives and fates of human beings.
Oaths are a fundamental aspect of human society and have been used throughout history as a means of establishing trust and maintaining order. In Germanic or Nordic traditional culture, oaths hold a particularly important role, serving as the basis for their legal system and religious practices. The ancient Germanic tribes, including the Scandinavian tribes, have a tradition of placing great emphasis on the power of oaths, which are then seen as a sacred bond between individuals and the Gods. Breaking an oath is consequently considered a severe offense, not only against the person who has been wronged but also against the Gods themselves. Therefore, making and keeping oaths is traditionally a matter of great importance and honoir.
The concept of oaths was deeply ingrained in Germanic or Nordic society, and it forms the basis of their legal system. In Germanic society, disputes are traditionallity settled through the process of oath-taking, where individuals swear an oath in front of witnesses to prove their innocence or guilt. The testimony of an individual who has taken an oath is considered especially credible, as they have sworn by the Gods Themselves to tell the truth. Oaths are also an integral part of religious practices in Germanic or Nordic culture. Sacrificial offerings are often accompanied by oaths, in which individuals swear to honour the Gods and perform certain tasks in exchange for their blessings. The Gods Themselves are also believed to take oaths, which are seen as binding agreements between them and Their followers and the universe or fate.
The importance of oaths is reflected in the Old Nordic legal codes, such as the Icelandic Grágás, which lays out detailed procedures for oath-taking and oath-breaking. Oath-taking is traditionally seen as a sacred act, requiring the presence of witnesses and often the participation of a religious leader or priest. The significance of oaths in Germanic and Norse culture is further reflected in the language itself. In Old Norse, there are many words for perjury or oathbreaking (such as miseiðr, meinsæri, ljúgvitni, meineiðr, eiðrof, ljúgeiðr) and consequently also for perjurer or oath-breaker (eiðrofi, meinsærismaðr, ljúgváttr, meinsvari). There is even a word for angering the Gods by breaking an oath: gręmja, which is particularly significant in the context of the importance of oaths in Nordic folk religion.
Oaths are an essential part of Germanic or Nordic culture, and breaking an oath is traditionally considered one of the worst sins a person can commit. This is not just because it represents a betrayal of trust, but because oaths are often sworn in the names of the Gods. To break an oath is to anger the Gods themselves, to invite their wrath and punishment. The verb gręmja thus captures the gravity of this offense. To provoke the wrath of the Gods is a very serious matter, and the consequences could be severe. In Nordic or Germanic folk religion, not unlike in Greek folk religion, we see examples of individuals, even supernatural beings, who anger the Gods and suffer the consequences. Loki, as one such example of a supernatural being angering the Gods, is known for his many misdeeds and his eventual punishment at the hands of the Gods.
The concept of gręmja also speaks to the deep connection between oaths and the divine in Old Norse religion. When a person swore an oath, they were invoking the power of the gods to bear witness to their promise. This made the oath more than just a solemn promise between two individuals; it was a sacred pact between the oath-swearer and the divine. The importance of oaths and the gravity of breaking them was reflected in the legal systems of the Germanic and Norse peoples. In many cases, breaking an oath was punishable by death or banishment. This underscores the seriousness with which oaths were regarded and the consequences that could result from failing to keep one’s word.
The essential points of this article are thus:
- Germanic or Nordic Deities are deeply embedded in the cosmos and are constituents of the very fabric of existence.
- This deep immanence is illustrated in Nordic folk religion through the Gods’ active roles in creating and sustaining the world.
- The concept of immanent Deities is put forth by the theological principle of cosmic religion, which holds that the Gods are one with the cosmos.
- The immersive nature of Germanic or Nordic Deities is an essential aspect of the religion, and underscores the Gods’ vital importance in the lives of human beings.