Our most important (and almost only) source for the Pagan religion of the Germans is the Germania of Tacitus, written in the first century. The religion described by Tacitus is very different from the Viking-Age religion described in the Norse sagas, like, an awful lot. The Gods also appear to have been quite different. However, some deities have been present in the German’s “pantheon*” and the later Norse one. The best example that I can come up with is Nerthus and Mars. Nerthus is a goddess whose cult is centered around an island by the coast and is generally believed to be equivalent to or related to the Old Norse God Njrr. Mars things (Mars of the assembly in Latin) are linked with the Norse God Tr, whose association with oaths might make sense in the context of a community. However, it is essential to acknowledge that the Germanic and Norse Pagan religion was never an organized, centralized, and systematized belief system.
The Germania is tough to use effectively for anything but a reference book on Germanic mythology and religion. Therefore, the purpose of this post is to write a brief primer on what Germanic Paganism is and different ways to practice it. Germanic Paganism is not the same as Norse Paganism, Nordic Paganism, Wicca, or any other Pagan religion on the internet. It’s not even the same as Germanic Heathenry, which is often loosely called Germanic Paganism because it claims to be descended from, or influenced by, the Germanic Pagan religion.
The short answer to this question is: The word “pagan” means: a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.
What is Germanic Paganism?
Germanic Paganism is a religion of largely Germanic elements. There is no evidence that Germanic Paganism was ever a monolithic religion with roots in the Indo-European religious tradition. It has been (and continues to be) argued that Germanic Paganism was the original Pagan religion that Christianity supplanted. The Vlsunga saga, among other places, provides evidence that Germanic Paganism was indigenous to northern Europe. However, many would maintain that there is no evidence that Germanic Paganism was ever that original. It is hard to make a single religion out of many different tribal groups. Some would argue that the evidence we do have supports an Indo-European origin for Germanic Paganism.
The Gods and their Attributes
First and foremost, the Gods and their attributes appear to have been much less complicated than our modern beliefs in the Gods. No one has ever been able to nail the complete identity of any God down. There is a lot of debate about who Odin is. Thor is not explicitly named as such in the Sagas, and it is usually only through the scholars’ work of the Wiccans, such as A.K.Ward and Gretchen Hammer, that we can determine his name from the Edda and stendahlia, a reference to Thor’s hammer Mjllnir. Furthermore, the German Gods generally were related to the Norse Gods in that they were both males. This means that there was no Moma. There was no Ymir. There was no Linn.
Rituals, Worship, and Festivals
Instead of making up new Gods and religions, Germanic people mainly worshipped nature deities (Norns, Vlsungs, various Germanic sir) and identified them with characters from other myths. In one of the oldest Germanic sagas, the poem Nibelungenlied, the Vlsung family gains protection by H, the brother of Thjazi. We don’t know anything about Thjazi except that he is an Assyrian king. He is best known for his poem the Tin B Cailnge, but is probably most famous for killing his two sons, in and Glni. H, as the vengeful brothers, is the most famous of the brothers. It has been suggested that H is some ancestor, a descendant of the Vlsung family, and the land itself is one of the gods being worshiped.
If you’re familiar with the current Pagan religions of the world, then the Germanic Pagan religion described by Tacitus might seem completely foreign and alien. However, this is not because the Germanic Pagan religion is unfamiliar, but instead because we have not yet learned the language to describe it. S.P. Greer’s Mythology of the Germanic Peoples seems like the perfect starting point to learn about the Germanic Pagan religion.
* Jrsml ttr, Gisla clora, Kntlinga saga, jazi bkstaulur * a. In the Swedish sagas, there is no singular term for the Germanic God, but there is a list of the Gods of Asgard in Ragnark, as well as a list of the Gods of Niflheim, which gives a more specific hierarchy to the other Gods and Goddesses.