Asgard as a Multi-Racial Society

Yggdrasil (image courtesy of wikimedia commons)

Yggdrasil (image courtesy of wikimedia commons)

On the internet and in the news media, unfortunately, one will come across the completely whacked-out idea that heathenry has something to do with racism. (I’m part Native American, so, I would not have been welcomed in heathenry if that were true.) Whether one is talking about universalist heathen sects (which are inclusive by charter), or folkish sects attempting to recreate specific tribalisms with descendants of specific tribes, the concepts of race and race purity just do not fit in heathen religion and mythology. The idea of race is a modern concept.

The ancient heathens were tribal peoples. The Saxons and the Celts did not think of themselves as the same people. They were different tribes with different languages and different gods. They were “other” to each other, and yet, they also intermarried. Heathens of the ancient world traded, raided, married, and had sex with pretty much any group of people they encountered. They had no concept of racial purity. If a Norse Viking brought a Celtic woman home to Norway and they had a son raised in his village, he was Norse. Adoption and fostering of children and the mutual adoption of adults through blood-brotherhood ceremonies were common and accepted practices, and once one was adopted, one was just as much family as birth family was. That was the practice among humans, and it was the practice among the gods in the mythology stories those humans told.

The gods in Norse mythology are pretty much the same gods as in other Germanic cultures, with a few regional variations. But the mythology we have to work with was largely written down in Icelandic because Iceland happened to be the last heathen / pagan culture to convert to Christianity, in the year 1000. There are other texts to work with that were written by ancient Romans and Arabs in explaining the heathen cultures, but the stories we tell of the gods are pretty much the ones written down a few hundred years after the conversion, in Old Norse and Old Icelandic. This presents challenges in reconstructing exactly what the ancient heathens actually believed.

One thing that is absolutely clear, though, is that Asgard was not filled with a single race of beings, but with at least three and possible four species, all living together (though not quite in harmony— the stories in the myths have drama, and drama doesn’t happen in perfect peace and love). Those races were the Aesir, the Vanir, and the Jotnar (giants.) The Jotnar could be further divided into ice giants and fire giants. No matter which any of them originated as, they were all generally called Aesir, and in the official Asatru religious organization in Iceland, they still are.

Here is the Ásatrúarfélagið page of Aesir (the gods): http://asatru.is/aesir

And here is the Ásatrúarfélagið page of Asynjur (the goddesses): http://asatru.is/asynjur

Further, the Aesir evolved from the giants. Every god in the older generation, including Odin and Tyr, had parents who were giants. And the Aesir kept producing more children with giants. Thor is Odin’s son by a giantess called either Fjorgyn or Jord. Vali is Odin’s son by the giantess Rindr. Magni and Modi are Thor’s sons by the giantess Jarnsaxa. This is not a society that only marries within its own race, even in the line of the king.

Several of the gods living in Asgard are listed as Aesir and Asynjur but were clearly born Jotnar, including Skadhi, Loki, and Eir, and possibly Bragi and Ullr. Several more gods are listed as Aesir and Asynjur but were clearly born Vanir, including Njord, Freyr, and Freya.

Further, there are beings in the mythology who were treated as gods, including the Norns, and the giant Surtr to whom a sacrifice was given in a verified historical account, who were not counted as Aesir— because they did not live in Asgard. Asgard is a model of a citizenship-based society. Live within the walled city, uphold its society, obey its rules and its king, eat of the collectively distributed immortality food provided by Idunna, and one is a citizen of Asgard and the object of worship by Asatruars regardless of racial origin.

Some of the Jotun-born gods in Asgard have ties to other Aesir beyond citizenship. Notably, Skadhi first married Njord (who is Vanir) and then divorced him and married Ullr (who was born Jotun) and Loki became blood-brother to Odin (Aesir but with Jotnar parents) and married Sigyn (an Asynja.) But others, like Eir, just plain joined the society. The Vanir are technically hostages, which in the ancient world meant nobility permanently hosted by former enemies in war whose presence ensures peace, but they are counted among the Aesir as well, because citizenship is more socially important than birth race.

Asatru is a religion that worships gods of different races living in a multi-racial society. Heathenry is the last place on Earth where racists ought to feel at all comfortable.

 

[Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. Her writing and publishing career began in 1985. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, etc. In the print era she was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine and owned The Science Fiction Store, and she publishes the shared world Time Yarns.]

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9 thoughts on “Asgard as a Multi-Racial Society”

  1. This is quite nice. Might you have a copy with the citations available in MLA or APA? I would enjoy sharing this with my Intro to Lit students.

  2. The few Jotuns (O/N: Devourers) who were allowed to remain in Asgard were invited in or married one of the Aesir (often against the wishes of many of the gods and to their detriment; where was Frey’s sword when he needed it?). The Aesir and the Vanir were close cousins, so to extrapolate from that society, formed by truce after a bitter struggle between the two, into denominating it “multi-racial” is cultural Marxism at its most insidious. Wars were fought and blood was spilled to keep Jotuns outside the wall where they belonged, and this shallow and insipid argument to the contrary is contemptible.

  3. I agree with the opening paragraphs but quite strongly disagree with the title and the closing statements. The author quite happily contradicts themselves too by starting out saying our ancestors were tribalist with the idea of “race being a modern concept” but then goes on to try and paint a picture of our ancestors viewing Asgard as a multi-racial society.

    There is also a bit of confusion about the difference between race and species, the author appears to think they are one and the same thing.

    We need to look at the myths and try and interpret them, why are the Aesir and Vanir living together, why did they take hostages? This was a common practice in ancient times, alliances were made by taking hostages and marrying between clans. It would have been something that made sense to our ancestors. The Aesir and Vanir are not “races” they are “tribes”, this is the first thing that needs to be made clear.

    The Aesir are usually seen a being gods of social order while the Vanir are seen being more aligned with nature and fertility. Both are important aspects and likely reflective of a possible more ancient nature based pantheon being conquered by a more powerful pantheon. Asgard is the home of the Aesir, the Vanir gods that reside there are hostages with Vanaheimr being the home of the Vanir proper. This is important to note.

    As far as the Jotun are concerned, I see them as the chaotic primordial natural forces of the world. It makes sense to me that they be interwoven with the gods, giving the gods additional powers and enabling the reader of the mythology to understand that the gods, just like man, are mortal and a part of nature, eventually being overcome at Ragnarok to be born again.

    So it has nothing to do with races in my mind, and it’s a bit stupid to say Asgard is a multi-racial society, especially if you are trying to justify a modern day argument. Race is a modern human social construct that our ancestors just wouldn’t have had concept of, for them it was all about the tribe and their Kin.

    It’s still a good article and to be honest the sentiment is well intentioned, just a little misguided.

  4. Why does everybody have to pervert things to their own agenda?

  5. The Celts and the Norse are hardly different races. You seem a tad confused…

  6. Brilliant!!!

  7. Comparing the world of the Gods to the world of man is asinine at best.

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