Leirblót and Matblót: The Ancient Germanic Tradition of Clay and Dough Idols

Written by Dyami Millarson

Leirblót and matblót are ancient practices involving the creation of clay and dough idols, respectively, as part of Germanic sacrificial rituals; lest one should miss it, the very essence of Germanc religion is blót. These fascinating folk religious artifacts provide a unique insight into the beliefs and practices of the Germanic peoples. This article will delve into the history, significance, and meaning behind these two types of idols, with a particular focus on Eiðsifaþingslög, the speculaaspop, and Iulagalt.

Eiðsifaþingslög: An Anti-Heathen Legal Text

The Eiðsifaþingslǫg, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is a collection of laws that has a clearly anti-Heathen slant. Chapter 24 of Eiðsifaþingslög, which is a collection of medieval laws that exhibit an undoubtedly anti-Heathen slant, provides an intriguing reference to the use of clay and dough idols, stating:

“Now, if an idol is found in an unlocked house, a food idol or clay idol made in the shape of a person from clay or dough, then one shall remove it from there with a clearing oath, sentenced to three marks if the oath fails.”

“Nú ef blót er funnit í húsi láslausu, matblót eða leirblót gert í mannslíki af leiri eða af deigi, þá skal hann þaðan leysa brott með lýrittareiði, sekr þrim mörkum ef eiðr fellsk.”

This quote highlights the cultural importance of leirblót clay idols and matblót dough idols in Germanic society. Cleasby and Vigfusson point out on page 70 of An Icelandic-English Dictionary that blót, or more correctly blœti according to them, in the if-clause (or ef-clause if you will), means idol rather than sacrifice, which also implies that blót, used in the two compounds of the then-clause (or þá-clause if you will), should be primarily understood as idol rather than sacrifice. It should, nevertheless, be added that as the word blót itself implies, these idols are inextricably linked to sacrificial rites.

Leirblót: The Clay Idol

Leirblót refers to the practice of creating idols from clay as part of Germanic religious rituals; these clay idols, shaped to resemble human figures, must have been used in sacrificial ceremonies as a way to communicate with and honour the Æsir. Clay, a natural material readily available in the environment, is an ideal medium for crafting such sacred objects.

Matblót: The Dough Idol

Similar to leirblót, matblót refers to the practice of creating idols from dough for religious purposes. These dough idols, also typically fashioned in human form, were used in rituals that involved offerings to the Gods. Dough, a product of grain, is an essential life-sustaining substance, and its use in the creation of idols shows the close connection between humans, the earth, and divine forces. Wheat veneration is also present in Kalash religion, demonstrating yet another similarity between the Germanoc and Kalash traditions.

The Dutch Speculaaspop of the Sinterklaasfeest

The Dutch speculaaspop, a traditional spiced cookie in the shape of a person, shares a striking resemblance to the ancient Germanic practice of creating dough idols. These cookies are an integral part of the sinterklaasfeest, a folk festival which may be considered Dutch Christmas or Yule, which celebrated the arrival of St. Nicholas or Othin. The matblót and leirblót practices of creating dough and clay idols for religious purposes bears a strong resemblance to the modern Dutch speculaaspop. Both traditions involve the creation of human-shaped figures from dough or similar food materials. While the matblót are offerings to the Gods, the speculaaspop is a festive treat enjoyed during the sinterklaasfeest.

It has faded from folk memory that the Dutch speculaaspop was associated with romance in earlier times (see here, here and here). In this earlier traditional context, the speculaaspop would be called a vrijer suitor and would be used be given to a girl in order to propose to her. The amusing aspect about this franky beautifully symbolic tradition is that if the girl returned the head of the vrijer to the boy, he was accepted as her prospective partner, but if she returned the legs, he better walk away. The romantic connection also makes one think of the Vanic love siblings Freyr and Freyja; the elder form of the Dutch verb vrijen woo alliterates with Freyr and Freyja, whilst the modern form also alliterates with vrouw woman, which is related to Freyja.

Iulagalt or Julagalt

Scandinavian countries have a rich baking tradition that often includes the creation of various shapes and figures, especially during Christmas/Yule. For example, Swedish pepparkakor gingerbread cookies, Norwegian pepperkaker gingerbread cookies and Danish peberkager gingerbread cookies are often made in various shapes, including human figures. Honninghjertes honey hearts are Danish heart-shaped peberkager. A Danish website dedicated to honningkager says about them:

“In the past, it was customary to go to the priest to have an engagement announced between a young couple. The priest on such an occasion took a honey heart, broke it in half, and gave one half to each to confirm the cordial union of the two.”

“Tidligere var det skik at gå til præsten for at få offentliggjort en forlovelse mellem et ungt par. Præsten tog ved en sådan lejlighed et honninghjerte, brød det midt over og gav en halvdel til hver for at stadfæste den hjertelige forening af de to.”

This forgotten romantic custom among the Danes is reminiscent of the forgotten Dutch vrijer. In both cases, these customs emphasise the importance of tangible, handmade symbols as a means of expressing affection and devotion between individuals. By extension, one can likewise understand how such gifts may be used to express devotion and affection for the Gods, such as the Vanir who are associated with love.

Footnote 9 on page 131 of the 1777 edition (= first edition) of John Aikin’s work titled A Treatise on the Situation, Manners and Inhabitants of Germany reads: “Many vestiges of this superstition remain to this day in Sweden. The peasants, in the month of February, the season formerly sacred to Frea, make little images of boars in paste, which they apply to various superstitious uses. See Eccard.” The footnote is related to this particular sentence in John Aikin’s rendition of the ethnographic work of Tacitus on the Germanic peoples: “They [= the Æstiī] worship the mother of the [G]ods; and as the symbol of their superstition, they carry about them the figures of wild boars.”

This reminds me of the shrines or altars with horse heads, the sanctity of goat stables, and other forms of animal veneration among the Kalash. We must bear in mind that the Gods may not only assume anthropomorphic (man-like) shapes, but also zoomorphic (animal-like) shapes, which I have already talked about in this article.

John Aikin mentions Eccard several times in his notes. On page 38 in particular, he connects the name of Eccard with the Latin work De rebus Franciæ Orientalis (exactly as John Aikin spells the title with ae as æ and no vowel lengths indicated). It becomes therefore apparent that by Eccard, he means Eckhart, whose name is written on the title page of the aforementioned two-volume Latin work as follows: Joanne Georgio ab Eckhart.

John Aikin’s reference to Eckhard is very unspecific, as it could be anywhere in Eckhart’s work. However, I know what he is referring to: page 410 of volume 1 of Eckhart’s work De rebus Franciae Orientalis, where Eckhart says:

“Hence, country people in Sweden even today, at the beginning of this feast, make bread in the shape of a boar, as Verelius attests in his notes on Hervarar saga, page 130. They call it Iulagalt, meaning the Boar of the Yule Feast, and they display it on their tables throughout this festive period, which lasts day and night with bread, ham, and other dishes, following the custom of their ancestors and for good luck, up to January 13th. “Many people,” Verelius says; “dry this artificial boar and save it for the true sowing time when seeds are to be entrusted to the soil; then, they crumble part of it into a vessel or basket from which seeds are to be scattered, mix it with barley, and feed it to the plowing horses, leaving the other part for the servants holding the summer work to eat: perhaps in this way, they hope to receive a more abundant harvest.” From this, I think the custom of making honeyed bread in various shapes for the Christmas feast originated, since the boar’s shape was prohibited because of its association with paganism.”

“Vnde Ruſticani in Suecia homines hodieque in principio feſti hujus litorum in panem figura verris, Verelio in notis ad Hervarar fagam pag. 130. teſte, conficiunt, quem Iulagalt h.e. Iulii feſti Verrem, vocant, eumque per omnes mini Orio hujus feſti dies, quo menſas diu noctuque pane, perna , aliisque ferculis in ſtruunt, majorum more et ominis cauſa uſque ad diem 13.Ianuarii in iisdem menſis exponere ſolent. Plures, inquit Verelius, verrem iſtum fictum ficcant, et ad veris tempus, cum ſemina ſulcis ſunt credenda, ſervant: tum partem ejus comminut am in vas vel corbem, ex quo ſemina funt diſpergen da, immittunt, hordeoque permixtam equis aratoribus, alteram ſervis ſtivam tenentibus comedendam relinquunt: ſpe forte uberioris meſſis percipiendae. Hinc et ortam puto conſuetudinem fub feſtum Natalitiorum panes mellitos fub variis figuris conficiendi, cum Verris figura ob Ethniciſmum fieri prohiberetur.”

Although called Iulagalt in the works of Eccard, Verelius, Heumann, and Quel, the boar-shaped dough idols are referred to as Julagalt in other sources. Hampson says on pages 92-94 of his work that “Christmas or Yule […] was, as appears from the account of Procopius, originally no other than the Gothic [= Germanic] pagan festival of Jul, celebrated professedly in honor of Thor, the son of Odin […], but really in honor of the sun at the winter solstice. Among the northern nations, this season was the great festival of sacrifice, and the Danes seem to have immolated human victims […]. The Goths [= Germanic peoples] used to sacrifice a boar; for this animal, like the horse among the Persians, was […] sacred to the sun. […] [S]everal traces of the sacrifice of a boar to the sun at the winter solstice, have been preserved. In the story of loki and the dwarf, related in the Edda, the golden boar is given to Freyr, to whom and his sister Freya, as [D]eities of animal and vegetable fecundity, the northern nations offered that animal […]. […] [A]t this day [= winter solstice], it is customary among the peasants in the northern parts of the continent to make bread during Christmas in the form of a boar pig, which they place upon the table with bacon and other dishes; exposing it, as a good omen, [during] the whole [duration] of the feast. They call this bread Jugagalt, and sometimes Sunnugoltr [sic], because it was dedicated to the sun.”

Hampson could have mentioned Baldr in Thor’s stead with regards to the sun. Hampson’s comparison with Persian (Indo-Aryan) horse veneration brings the similarity between Germanic horse veneration and Kalash (Indo-Aryan) horse veneration to mind, which I discussed briefly in this article. There is an etymological connection between the second elements of the compounds Jula-galt and Sonar-göltr: Swedish galt is cognate with ᚴᛅᛚᛏᛦ (göltr or galtr) and ᚴᛅᛚᛏᛁ (galti) which means boar in Old Scandinavian. The first element of Iulagalt/Julagalt is cognate with Old East Norse ᛁᚢᛚ (iūl) Yule and Old West Norse ᛁᚬᛚ (jól) Yule. Therefore, Iulagalt/Julagalt, which may be spelled as ᛁᚢᛚᛅᚴᛅᛚᛏ in Younger Futhark, means Yule boar, which is fitting for a Yule-related boar idol. Hampson’s form sunnugoltr is based on Verelius’ reading; for Verelius interprets sunnugoltr in his vocabulary list at the end of Hervarar Saga på Gammal Götska med Olai Vereli Uttvlkning och notis as “Verres ſoli conſecratus” (boar consecrated to the sun), showing that he thought the compound consisted of ᛋᚢᚾᛅ (sunna) sun and ᚴᛅᛚᛏᛦ (göltr or galtr) boar, which would have supported Hampson’s view that Germanic boar sacrifice is related to the sun. However, even if Verelius’ etymology is incorrect, a logical argument can still be made in support of a connection with the sun:

  • Sonargöltr is related with Iulagalt.
  • Iulagalt, as suggested by its first element, is connected with Yule.
  • Yule is connected with winter solstice.
  • Winter solstice has to do with the sun (because it is the day when the sun reaches its lowest daily peak elevation in the sky, resulting in the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year).
  • Sonargöltr is connected with the sun through Yule’s connection with winter solstice.

Hampson’s extended use of Goths and Gothic to refer to the early Germanic peoples in general is akin to my extended use of Nordic religion to refer to Germanic religion. Just as Proto-Nordic language, culture, and religion must have been very close to Proto-Germanic language, culture, and religion, Gothic language, culture, and religion must have been very close to Proto-Germanic language, culture, and religion; in this view, Nordic and Gothic may, by extension, be used to refer to all that is linguistically, culturally, and religiously Germanic. In my writings, I will certainly adopt Hampson’s language which conflates Germanic with Gothic, since the tradition of referring to Germanic peoples in general as Goths has merit whilst it highlights the likeness between Germanic and Gothic, just as such use with Nordic highlights the likeness between Germanic and Nordic; history is witness to the fact that it is traditional for Germanic peoples to claim the the legacy of the Gothic identity, and so it is not strange to continue this custom. Furthermore, even when one uses words in such extended or broad senses, they can still be used in their original or narrow senses. It is natural or normal for new senses to be derived from old senses, and it is hence also natural or normal for original senses to be extended so as to be made more useful for general purposes. I have previously written about Gothic religion in the narrow sense, but I will in the future also write about Gothic religion in the broad sense, as I recognise that the semantic extensions of the terms Gothic and Nordic, which are instances of pars prō tōtō stylistically speaking, may be conducive to garnering interest for the topic of the common genealogy or origin of the Germanic languages, cultures, and folk religions; Proto-Norse and Gothic are almost Proto-Germanic since they ultimately go back to it, and therefore, although we can point to developments that increasingly distinguished Proto-Norse and Gothic from their linguistic ancestor over time when we go forward in time, the lines become actually more blurred when we go backward in time — this is the paradox that is inherent to the linguistic history of Germanic. It is customary in modern times to draw up strict and rigid distinctions, but we should also understand the fluidity of those distinctions; as Germanic religiosity teaches us, lines tend to be way more blurred in reality and so distinctions — upon closer consideration by taking into account different perspectives — may not be as consequential or important as we initially made them out to be, of which the non-distinction between animism and polytheism in the Germanic context is a good example.

Significance and Meaning

The presence of leirblót and matblót in Germanic religious practices reflects the importance of materiality and symbolism in Germanic spiritual beliefs. The act of creating idols in human form highlights the belief in the divine nature of humanity and the intimate relationship between people and the ÆsirVanir-Álfar group, while creating idols in animal form highlights the divine nature of animals and the intimate relationship between animals and the Æsir-Vanir-Álfar group. The use of natural materials, such as clay and dough, reinforces the connection between the human creators and the natural world, and the Æsir, Vanir, and Álfar who govern, or inhabit, nature and humanity.

Dwarsverbanden van het Dietse volksgeloof vastleggen

Geschreven door Dyami Millarson

In dit stuk bespreken we het belang van het doorgronden en behoudem van de dwarsverbanden van het Dietse volksgeloof en de rol die dit speelt in het behoud van dit afzonderlijke erfgoed aangaande zeden en gebruiken. Het Dietse volksgeloof, geworteld in de gebruiken en overtuigingen van de Germaanse volkeren, kent een rijke geschiedenis en een ingewikkeld web van onderlinge verhoudingen oftewel dwarsverbanden. Bevreesd zijnde dat nieuw verkregen inzichten over de oude Dietse volkskennis wederom verloren gaan, beschouw ik het vastleggen van de dwarsverbanden, die Ik ontdekt of gevonden heb, als van wezenlijk belang niet alleen om de diepgaande kennis van het Dietse volksgeloof te doorgronden maar ook ze in mijn schrijven op deze webstee belichten, daar dit bijdraagt aan het behoud van deze inzichten totdat er een werk geschapen kan worden met als doel deze inzichten te bewaren door ze te verzamelen en bundelen, evenals het van groot belang is om te begrijpen hoe de Dietse zeden en gebruiken in de loop der tijd ontwikkeld zijn en zich verspreid hebben. Het behoud van het bewustzijn van de dwarsverbanden van het Dietse volksgeloof is een belangrijk doel, omdat het ons helpt de ingewikkelde verhoudingen tussen de verschillende eigenschappen van de Dietse gebruiken en zeden te begrijpen. Door de dwarsverbanden vast te leggen, kunnen we beter inzicht krijgen in de manier waarop deze gewoonten en waarden in de loop der tijd veranderd zijn en hoe ze met elkaar verweven zijn.

Het vastleggen van de dwarsverbanden van het Dietse volksgeloof speelt ook een belangrijke rol in het behoud van dit afzonderlijke erfgoed bestaande uit oeroude zeden en gebruiken. Door de verhoudingen tussen de verschillende onderdelen van dit volksgeloof vast te leggen, dragen we bij aan het behoud van (de inzichten omtrent) deze zeden en gebruiken voor het nageslacht. Bovendien zorgt het vastleggen van deze dwarsverbanden ervoor dat men een beter begrip krijgt van de invloed die het Dietse volksgeloof gehad heeft op de ontwikkeling van de hedendaagse samenleving. Er zijn verschillende wijzen om de dwarsverbanden van het Dietse volksgeloof vast te leggen. Een van de meest vruchtbare benaderingen is het doorvorsen van oude geschriften, het beschouwen van archeologische vondsten en het verzamelen van volkskundige gegevens om een dieper inzicht te krijgen in de wijze waarop deze zeden en gebruiken met elkaar verbonden zijn. Daarnaast kunnen vraaggesprekken met leden van plaatselijkr Dietse volkjes en hun mondelinge geschiedenissen gebruikt worden om persoonlijke ervaringen en herinneringen vast te leggen die verband houden met het Dietse volksgeloof. Het heden is van belang om het verleden te begrijpen en omgekeerd; door het heden te onderzoeken, kunnen we het verleden beter begrijpen, en door het verleden te onderzoeken, kunnen we het heden beter begrijpen.

The Gods as ‘Natures’: Exploring the Divine Constituents of Nature in Gothic Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

In the Germanic or Gothic polytheistic tradition, the Gods are nātūrae natures as one may say in Latin, representing distinct entities or essences of the natural world. This means that the Gods are the constituents that make up the totality of nature. By examining the relationship between the divine and nature in Germanic polytheism, we can better understand the interconnectedness of these traditions and how they shape human understanding of the world around them. The analysis of the Gods as nātūrae emphasises their role as integral components of the natural world. In this view, nature is a collective noun synonymous with the collection of Gods. Germanic or Gothic polytheists traditionally perceive the world around them as a sum of distinct divine forces, each with its own unique characteristics, powers, and purpose. This understanding of the Gods as the constituents of nature reinforces the idea that the natural world is intrinsically linked to the divine.

The Germanic polytheistic tradition, both in its earlier and later forms, recognises the value of examining both the individual parts and the whole of nature. By acknowledging the unique attributes and roles of each God, Germanic polytheists are well-equipped to appreciate the complex and dynamic interplay between these divine forces. This holistic approach to understanding the natural world highlights the importance of each constituent, as well as the collective impact of the Gods. The belief that the Gods are nātūrae serves to strengthen the connection between the natural world and the divine in the Germanic polytheistic tradition. By viewing nature as a collective of Gods, Germanic polytheists inherently acknowledge the sacredness of the world around them. The Germanic traditional perspective fosters a deep appreciation for the environment and promotes a harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world, as also witnessed among the speakers of Schiermonnikoog Frisian.

My Coevolutionary View of Language, Culture, and Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

The relationship between language, culture, and folk religion is complex and interconnected. Each aspect influences and shapes the others, creating a dynamic process of coevolution. In this article, we will explore the ways in which language, culture, and folk religion have developed in tandem, as well as how this coevolution has impacted human societies throughout history. Coevolution, in the context of this article, refers to the interconnected and mutually influencing development of language, culture, and folk religion over time. The coevolutionary view, which developed in my mind as I familiarised myself with more and more Frisian languages, cultures, and folk religions, recognises that changes in one aspect, such as language, can lead to adaptations in culture and folk religion, and vice versa. My coevolutionary view of these elements highlights the complex and dynamic nature of human societies, as they constantly shape and reshape each other in response to various internal and external factors.

Language is the primary means by which humans communicate and transmit information. It is through language that we share our beliefs, values, and practices with one another, allowing culture and folk religion to flourish — in fact, it is my long-held view that human culture and folk religion are not even possible without language. As languages evolve over time, so too do the cultures and folk religions they embody. New words and phrases emerge, reflecting changes in societal norms and beliefs. Conversely, as cultural and religious practices evolve, they may in turn influence the development of language. Culture encompasses shared practices among a group of people and one may extend that to include values (such as taboos, virtues and vices); hence the typical Latin expression to render the notion of culture is mōrēs customs and the Dutch way to render the notion of culture is zeden en gebruiken values and customs. With a bit of creativity, one could technically also render culture in Dutch as het doen en laten van een volk the habits and taboos of a people. Culture is both shaped by and helps to shape language and folk religion. As cultural practices and beliefs change over time, they may influence the development of new linguistic forms or the evolution of folk religious practices. For example, a culture that values storytelling may develop a rich and complex oral tradition, which in turn influences the language used within that culture. Similarly, a society that places great importance on rituals and ceremonies may develop a complex system of folk religious practices that are intimately tied to their language and cultural beliefs.

Folk religions are the spiritual beliefs and practices that are deeply rooted in a people’s history and traditions. They are characterised by a strong connection to nature, ancestors, and the spirit world. Folk religions, like languages and cultures, evolve over time, reflecting the changing beliefs and values of the people who practice them. This evolution can have a significant impact on both the associated language and culture. For example, as new religious practices and beliefs emerge within a society, they may be accompanied by new linguistic forms, such as specialised vocabulary, idioms, or metaphors related to those practices. Additionally, the evolution of folk religious beliefs may influence cultural practices and values, leading to changes in societal norms, customs, and even moral codes. It should be added that since the influence between language, culture and folk religion is mutual, the emergence of new linguistic forms and cultural practices may likewise yield novel folk religious practices and beliefs.

Embracing the Timelessness of Germanic Polytheism: Speaking in the Present Tense to Connect with the Æsir and Álfar

Written by Dyami Millarson

Often, discussions of Germanic ancestors and their polytheistic beliefs and practices are framed in the past tense, inadvertently distancing us from their experiences and relegating them to the realm of the distant past. To foster a deeper connection with the ancestors and gain a more profound understanding of Germanic polytheism, vikingreligion.com strives to speak in the present tense whenever possible. This approach allows vikingreligion.com to empathise with the human essence of the Germanic ancestors, recognising the timeless nature of their beliefs and practices. Here at vikingreligion.com, empathy and respect for the Germanic ancestors and their ways are key motivators for how each topic is approached. By using the present tense when discussing Germanic ancestors and their polytheistic beliefs, we acknowledge that their experiences are not merely confined to the past but remain relevant and relatable in our lives today. This linguistic shift serves to bridge the temporal divide, helping us better understand and appreciate the nuances of Germanic polytheism.

Speaking in the present tense has the powerful effect of humanising our Germanic ancestors, allowing us to view them not as distant historical figures but as people with whom we share a common humanity. This approach fosters empathy and a sense of kinship, enabling us to better comprehend the essence of Germanic polytheism from a human perspective. Adopting the present tense when discussing Germanic ancestors and their beliefs is a way of acknowledging the spiritual continuity of the practices and beliefs. By recognising the timelessness of their traditions or at least by breaking the constraints of time, we can forge a deeper connection with the Ancestral Spirits and Deified Ancestors, or Æsir and Álfar, that remain alive within us and continue to guide and shape our understanding of Germanic polytheism. Using the present tense to discuss Germanic ancestors and their polytheistic practices serves as an essential tool in overcoming the barriers of othering the Germanic human ancestors through time and distance. By altering our language, we create a more immediate and intimate understanding of the lives and beliefs of the forefathers, allowing us to forge stronger connections with them and engage more deeply with the essence of Germanic polytheism.

Interpretatio Germanica: Embracing the Blurred Boundaries of Polytheistic Traditions

Written by Dyami Millarson

Interpretatio Germanica, which I previously discussed here and here, is a concept that highlights the interconnectedness and inherent fluidity of polytheistic religions, particularly among the Germanic peoples and their neighbors. By viewing the Gods of other cultures through the lens of their own polytheism, the Germanic peoples demonstrate a deep-seated understanding of the shared nature of their religious beliefs and practices. This article will explore how this mind-set aligns with the blurring of boundaries between different polytheistic traditions, but first we will talk about the implications of this perspective for our understanding of ancient religious practices, because embracing interpretatio Germanica has profound implications for our knowledge of ancient religious practices. By acknowledging the fluidity of boundaries between different polytheistic traditions, we can gain new insights into the shared aspects of these religions, as well as their influence on one another. This perspective also serves as a reminder of the importance of viewing polytheistic religious practices and beliefs within their broader historical and cultural context, rather than as isolated or distinct phenomena; Germanic polytheism, both in earlier and later times, is traditionally part of a whole polytheistic ecology. Germanic folk religion exists not in a vacuum. At the same time, Germanic folk religion as a whole is undoubtedly unique, otherwise it could not be deemed to be Germanic; since Germanic folk religion is unique, it is specifically Germanic, and the reverse is equally true.

The Germanic peoples have a long history of interaction with neighboring cultures, leading to the constant flow of religious ideas and practices between the Germanic peoples and these various groups. As Terry Gunnar points out on page 58 of his 2015 article Pantheon? What Pantheon? Concepts of a Family of Gods in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions which is published in Scripta Islandica: Isländska sällskapets årsbok, “influences concerning religious ideas and practices were continually flowing back and forth between these cultures, new ideas coming north, west, and east with mercenaries, traders and other travellers […]. Some scholars have sensibly noted that the blurring of boundaries should not only be applied to cultures but also to periods of time, and most particularly to the suggestion that there were hard and fast differences between Bronze Age and Iron Age beliefs and practices.” At the heart of interpretatio Germanica lies the notion that the Germanic peoples traditionally recognise the polytheistic religions of the people around them or that they come into contact with as fundamentally the same as their own — please be aware that I include nominally monotheistic religions under the category of polytheistic religions for various reasons (see here and here). By interpreting the Gods of other cultures as their own, they acknowledge the shared nature of their religious beliefs and practices, and additionally, it is perfectly human to make sense of foreign things with familiar things, which also extends to making sense of foreign Gods with familiar Gods. This perspective supports the idea that the boundaries between the polytheistic religions of historically neighbouring peoples or foreign peoples that the Germanic peoples traditionally come into contact with are blurred, with a mutual recognition of their interconnectedness and commonality as well as a human inclination to make sense of what is foreign through what is familiar.

The key facts of this article are as follows:

  • Germanic peoples interacted with neighboring cultures, leading to the exchange of religious ideas and practices.
  • Interpretatio Germanica involves recognising polytheistic religions of traditionally polytheistic neighbours and other foreigners as fundamentally the same as their own.
  • Blurred boundaries between polytheistic traditions provide insights into shared aspects and mutual influence.
  • Interpretatio Germanica is a valid perspective for understanding interconnectedness and fluidity of polytheistic religious traditions, highlighting shared aspects and broader historical context.

Embracing the Fluidity of Distinctions in the Germanic Context: Conflating Gothic, Nordic, and Germanic

Written by Dyami Millarson

The Germanic world, rich in its linguistic, cultural, and religious history, has often been subject to artificial distinctions and rigid categorisations. An aspect of my work has, however, been to reevaluate these boundaries, highlighting the inherent fluidity and interconnectedness of the Germanic traditions. One example of particular interest in this context can be found in Hampson’s extended use of “Goths” and “Gothic” to refer to the early Germanic peoples in general — a usage that mirrors my application of “Nordic religion” to encompass Germanic religion as a whole. This peculiarity of Hampson’s language, which clearly includes non-Gothic peoples in the narrow sense in the Gothic category, came to light in my recent article on dough and clay idols during my discussion of a quote from his work, where Hampson covered the topic of Julagalt, and so this became the inspiration for the current article, which delves into the topic of the extended use of Gothic and Nordic.

Both the Proto-Nordic and Gothic languages, cultures, and religions share intimate ties to their Proto-Germanic roots; in fact, the Proto-Nordic and Gothic languages, cultures, and religions are almost the same as their Proto-Germanic predecessors. Consequently, using the terms “Nordic” and “Gothic” to refer to all aspects of Germanic identity showcases the linguistic, cultural and religious connections between these groups. This practice also aligns with historical traditions, where Germanic peoples have often claimed the legacy of the Gothic identity. The extended use of “Gothic” and “Nordic” does not negate their original, narrower meanings. Instead, it allows for a more nuanced understanding of the common genealogy and origins of the Germanic languages, cultures, and folk religions. By adopting this broader perspective, we can generate increased interest in the topic and encourage further exploration into the interconnectedness of these traditions.

While it is possible to trace the developments that distinguished Proto-Norse and Gothic from their linguistic ancestor, the lines become increasingly blurred when looking further back in time — an insight which extends to cultural and religious matters as well. This paradox highlights the fluidity inherent in the linguistic history of the Germanic world. Modern times have seen a tendency to draw strict distinctions between various aspects of Germanic identity. However, by acknowledging the fluidity of these boundaries, we can gain a deeper understanding of the true nature of Germanic religiosity. For instance, the non-distinction between animism and polytheism in the Germanic context demonstrates that, upon closer examination, certain distinctions may not be as consequential as initially believed. Whether rigid distinctions hold up to scrutiny is relevant to the discussion of Hampson’s broad use of Gothic and Goths, and I find it wonderful to learn something — as well as adopt something — from a man born in another era; of course, the tradition of using Gothic in a broad sense is not confined to Hampson, but observing this usage again in Hampson’s work brought it to my attention and made me weigh the merits of referring to Germanic religion as Gothic religion, resulting in the view that whilst I already refer to Germanic religion as Nordic religion at times, I might as well refer to it as Gothic religion occasionally; I see merit in doing so, as it helps break down rigid barriers to understanding the interconnectedness of Germanic traditions.

Exploring the Similarities Between Viking (Germanic) Religion and Kalash (Indo-Aryan) Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

The striking similarities between Viking (Germanic) and Kalash (Indo-Aryan) religions are a fascinating subject of study. Both religions share many common beliefs and practices, despite their distinct cultural and geographical contexts. The Kalash people, residing primarily in the Chitral District of Pakistan, practise an ancient Indo-Aryan religion that bears strong resemblances to the Vedic Aryans.

The Germanic religion, on the other hand, is traditionqlly practised by the Germanic population, including the Vikings although one could extend the term Viking to include all Germanic warriors and all Germanic peoples due to their traditionally warlike, heroic culture which also values peace, since war yields a deeper appreciation of peace among those who have experienced it.

In this article, we will explore the remarkable similarities between the two ancient traditional religions of the Kalash and the Germanians.

Thorism and Thunder Worship

Both the Viking and Kalash religions place great importance on the worship of thunder gods. In the Viking tradition, Thor is the well-known god of thunder, while the Kalash revere a thunder god called Indr or Varendr. Thunder gods hold significant influence over the psyches of their respective believers and often appear in various forms and disguises in the religious narratives.

Æsir-Vanir Duality and Æsir-Jötnar Duality

In both religions, the Gods are divided into two groups. In Viking religion, there are the Æsir and the Vanir (compare Æsir-Tívar duality) and there are the Æsir and Jötnar, while the Kalash have different types of Devalog Gods that are originally of Giant or non-Giant descent, and there is a Gods-Fairies duality in Kalash religion (see ‘Worship of Matres et Matronae’ and ‘Æsir and Álfar, Devalog and Varoti’), which resembles the Æsir-Vanir duality. These divisions play an essential role in rituals and festivals.

Worship of Matres et Matronae

The archeological record shows that there was an extensive tradition of worshipping female Goddesses of various kinds, i.e. Dísir (including *Mardísir Water Goddesses and Landdísir Earth Goddesses), Ásynjur and Valkyrjur, among the southernmost Germanic tribes living on the Northern borders of the Roman Empire. The Kalash also have female nature spirits called Ja(t)ch, Suchi, or Peri, which parallel the Viking Dísir, Ásynjur and Valkyrjur.

Lake Worship and Connection to Souls

The Germanic and Kalash religions both associate bodies of water with souls. The Germanic word for sea, for instance, is derived from the word for soul. This connection between water and souls is evident in the religious practices of the Kalash people as well as in the Germanic archeological record and in both the earlier and later Germanic lore.

The alliterating Goddesses: Frigg and Freyja, Ja(t)ch and Jestak

The Viking and Kalash religions both feature central Goddesses who embody similar roles and characteristics and their names alliterate. In the Viking tradition, Frigg and Freyja are two such Goddesses, while the Kalash have Ja(t)ch and Jestak. These Goddesses tend to be associated with domestic life, family, and marriage.

Epithets or Guises

Divine poetry in religions uses epithets to describe their Gods and Goddesses. For example, Indr, the Kalash Thunder God, appears in various forms or (dis)guises, such as Sajigor, Shura Verin, and Balumain.

Æsir and Álfar, Devalog and Varoti

The Viking and Kalash religions both feature a hierarchy of gods and nature spirits. In the Viking tradition, there are the Æsir and the Álfar, while the Kalash have Devalog and Varoti.

Vanic Sibling Pairs, brother Dezau and suster Dezalik

Brother-sister relationships among Deities are also present in both religions. The Vikings have brother Freyr and sister Freyja, which is a parallel to the brother Njörđr and sister Njörđr/Njörun, while the Kalash have Dezau and Dezalik. These sibling deities often embody similar attributes and roles in their respective pantheons.

Tree and Stone Worship

Both the Viking and Kalash peoples hold trees and stones in high reverence, believing them to be inhabited by spirits. The oak tree, in particular, is sacred to both cultures, and stone worship is evident in the practices surrounding cairns, mountain faults, and Huldufólk.

Mountain Worship

Mountains play essential roles in both religions. The Vikings and the Kalash both venerate mountains, as they are considered sacred spaces. In Kalash culture, the higher part of a village is seen as more sacred. Similarly, the Norse people held sacred mountains like Helgafęll in high regard.

Horse Veneration

Horses are venerated in both religious traditions due to their association with the Gods. In Viking religion, the Æsir are closely linked with horses, such as Othin’s famous steed Sleipnir. The Kalash also connect their Gods with horses and often depict their invisible deities with drawings of horses. Horse sacrifices were practiced in both cultures, emphasising the divine importance of horses.


Both the Norse and Kalash religious practices involve blood-sprinkling rituals. This act serves as a way to connect with the Gods and seek their blessings. The Norse traditionally sprinkle blood on people as part of blót rites. In one Kalash rite, blood from a sacrificed goat is sprinkled on the forehead of a patient seeking healing.

Fire Veneration

Fire is an essential element in both the Viking and Kalash religions. It is closely associated with sacrifices and rituals in both cultures. The veneration of fire and hearth is believed to have existed in Germanic religion, particularly in the context of domestic religion. Similarly, the Kalash people place great importance on fire in their religious practices.


Both the Viking and Kalash people believe in offering blood tributes, or blóts, to the Gods. Blood-consuming or vampiric Gods require sacrifices as a sign of devotion and worship.

Divine Poetry and Eddaic Poems

Both religions have a rich tradition of divine poetry, often called chants in the Kalash culture

Sacred Space Marked by Taboos

Both the Viking and Kalash religious traditions involve purity-based taboos and a strong concern for maintaining sacred spaces. These taboos serve to protect the sanctity of religious spaces where ancient rituals may be performed.

Sky/daylight worship and sun/light worship

The worship of the sky and daylight can be seen in both religious traditions. In Viking religion, Týr, Tívi and Tívar are connected with an Indogermanic root for sky and daylight. Similarly, Devalog, the Kalash equivalent of Tívar, is cognate with the Kalash word di sky, heaven.

Trémęnn (Wooden Idol) Veneration

Both the Vikings traditionally venerate trémęnn (wooden idols) as explained in this article. The Kalash depict their Gods in the form of horse heads. These idols serve as a focal point for worship and represent the presence of the divine.

Hospitality-Related Customs

Both the Germanic and Kalash peoples place great importance on the practice of hospitality. This custom is deeply ingrained in their respective cultures and reflects their shared values of generosity and community.

Supernatural Human Intermediaries

The Germanic and Kalash peoples both traditionally believe in supernatural shamans. The Hermanic peoples believe, for example, in supernatural seeresses, whilst the Kalash believe that the betans, i.e. shamans, are supernatural.

Wheat Veneration

Whilst the Kalash people venerate wheat, the Germanic peoples had dough idols, as evidenced by the concept of matblót as discussed here. Later Germanic folklore also preserves a tradition of Grain Spirits, who may be called Korngeister or Korndämonen in German.


From the Germanic ancestral perspective, which I have explained here, Kalash polytheism is underlyingly the same as Germanic religion; following this tradition, the Kalash and Germanic peoples are using different names for the same Deities, and the Kalash and Germanic peoples have developed similar notions of appropriateness for how to honour the Gods. Likewise, it is the ancestral view of the Romans, Greeks, Celts and Slavs that the Germanic peoples traditionally worship the same Gods as they do.

The Vanir Are Unlikely to Be Non-Indo-European Substrate

Written by Dyami Millarson

Considering that Germanic cultures and languages are thoroughly Indo-European, the Vanir are exceedingly unlikely to be non-Indo-European religious substrate. Almost nothing survived in Old Germanic languages and cultures from pre-Indo-European times; as we can see from the fact that the Ancient Germanic language and culture was thoroughly Indo-European as proven by the descendant languages and cultures, the Indo-European heritage prevailed and this must also have been the case with religion; the situation we observe in Old Germanic languages and cultures must be reflective of the religious situation as well: predominantly Indo-European. The battle between the Vanir and Æsir should, therefore, rather be explained in an Indo-European context.

I have seen people theorising that the Vanir are the Gods of Western European Hunter-Gatherers or an Indigenous European population. As of 19 March 2023, the Wikipedia page on early Germanic culture characterises early Germanic culture as “[l]argely derived from a synthesis of Proto-Indo-European and indigenous Northern European elements” without providing a source or explanation which we can argue for or against but later in the article the topic of a symthesis is brought up again when the following is said of the Vanir: “Germanic religion appears to have emerged as a synthesis of the religion of the Indo-European speakers who arrived with the Corded Ware culture and the indigenous populations among whom they settled. It is often suggested that the conflict between the Æsir and Vanir, the two groups in the Norse branch of the Germanic pantheon, represents a remembrance of this synthesis.” That is extremely unlikely to be true, when we consider there are, for the rest, practically no traces of them in the Ancient Germanic language, culture, and religion. Furthermore, we can connect Vanir to an Indo-European root and therefore we can explain it as Indo-European; there is no need to make this overly complicated, and assume some remnant from Pre-Indo-European times. The simplest explanation is just that the Vanir are of Indo-European origin.

Regarding Proto-Germanic vocabulary, I am aware of the Germanic substrate hypothesis, which aims to explain some words which have no cignates in other Indogermanic languages, and I have encountered discussion of it in etymological works, particularly those of the Dutch tradition. It is, however, a hypothesis, not a theory. Furthermore, I find the amount of words that can possibly be fitted into this category to be practically negligible when we consider Proto-Germanic consists of a whole sea of ostensibly Indogermanic words. One may look for non-Germanic words in that sea, but one should not make a mountain out of a molehill, or as we say in Dutch: one should not make an elehant out of a mosquito (men moet niet een olifant van een mug maken). For quick reference, one may take a look on Wiktionary at the small number of Proto-Germanic words that could be construed as pre-Indogermanic, and one may take a look at the currently approximately seven times larger number of Proto-Germanic words that is of uncertain origin, bearing in mind that having no satisfying explanation for Proto-Germanic lexical items does mean by default that they are of non-Indogermanic origin.

Germanic Polytheism as Reference Point: How Familiarity With Germanic Polytheism Guides Analysis

Written by Dyami Millarson

Using what one is familiar with as a reference point is a very human and ancient way to make sense of new information or concepts. The ancient Germanic peoples must have used their religion as a reference point to understand other religions as well. The interpretatio Germanica is, therefore, both ancient and traditional. When encountering novel things, humans inherently seek to recognise and connect those things with things with which they are the most familiar. Relying on Germanic folk religion as a foundation, our ancestors were able to better comprehend and appreciate the polytheistic beliefs of other cultures, and identify them with their own.

In the previous article, I wrote about the similarities between Germanic polytheism and Kalash polytheism, a belief system practiced by the Kalash people of Northern Pakistan. I concluded that from the Germanic ancestral perspective, which I have been studying, there is an underlying identity of various polytheistic traditions. For example, the Kalash polytheism shares a common essence with Germanic religion. Despite the different names used for Deities by the Kalash and Germanic peoples, the Gods they worship may traditionally be considered to be the same. Furthermore, both cultures have developed similar notions of appropriateness for honouring the Gods. This ancestral view extends to other cultures as well, such as the Romans, Greeks, Celts, and Slavs, who traditionally believe that the Germanic peoples worship the same Gods as they do.

As someone who has grown up in Germanic cultures and speaks Germanic languages, I have a natural affinity for Germanic polytheism; familiarity with Germanic cultures and languages yields familiarity with Germanic polytheism. This background has provided me with a unique lens through which I explore and analyse other folk religions around the world. I am grateful for growing up with knowledge of Germanic religion and I fully acknowledge that it is a wonderful starting point in life, because it encouraged me to learn more and deepen my understanding.