Historical Norse & Saxon Heathenry Compared & Contrasted
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
The Germanic tribes had far more similarities than differences. Despite the fact that all Germanic Tribes venerated the "Aesir," they each had some minor differences. As a Saxon Heathen, I am often asked, "What are the differences between Saxon Heathenry and Norse Heathenry?" I will show the major differences below.
The Anglo-Saxon People and the Saxon People are not the same. Most Saxons stayed in Saxony, and had a very long Heathen history in Saxony. The Saxons in Saxony remained Heathen much longer than the Anglish in Angle-land (England), and resisted forced christianization staunchly. It took a 33 year war lead by Charlemagne and the Christian Franks to convert the Old Saxons, who continued to rebel in what is known as "The Saxon Wars." (For a nice summary of the history of the Saxon Wars, see this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Wars). The Saxons also rebelled against Christianity with the Stellinga Rebellion in the years 841-842. The Saxons fought long and hard to remain Heathen. To be clear Old English Heathenry, is an amazing Heathenry, but it is different than Old Saxon Heathenry. The Saxons, neighbors to the Danes, were more like the Danes than the Anglo-Saxons, and this article is comparing the Saxons to the Scandinavians, not the Anglo-Saxons (Anglish/English) to the Scandinavians.
The Main differences: Saxon Heathenry, and Norse Heathenry:
Saxon Heathenry is not just taking the Norse Othin and using the Saxon spelling "Uuoden" or taking the Norse "Thor" and using the Old Saxon spelling "Thunar." It is more complex than just using Old Saxon names for the Old Saxon Gods and Goddesses. 1. The Norse Heathens have Ragnarok as the "end." The Saxons had "Mudspelles." Mudspelles (also spelled "mutspelli") in Old Saxon, is attested many times in surviving Old Saxon poetry. In the Old Saxon Heliand, a poem written to convert the Heathen Saxons, the end of the world is called Mudspelles. Other Germanic tribes on the continent, also called the end "Mudspelles." There is a Frankish poem in Old High German called "Muspili" written in the 9th century. Here are my favorite two passages in Old Saxon poetry showing the Old Saxon Mudspelles. Both passages are extremely Heathen in thought, as the Old Saxon Shapers (point 2 below) have clearly determined what the future will be, i.e. it is set, which is Heathen in thought. Christian thought is God controls the future, as God's will is what is played out. Please also note "heaven" is not a "biblical" word, but a Heathen word that came into modern English from Old English.
2. The Saxons had Uurd and Shapers (giscapou). The Norse had Urthr and three Norns. The word "Norn" or "Nornir" has no Old Saxon parallel. Norns are Norse specific, Shapers are Old Saxon specific. Uurd in Old Saxon corresponds to the Old English Wyrd, and the Old Norse Urthr. Nornir is a word not found in Old Anglish (English) or Old Saxon. The word in Old Saxon is "giscapou" and the modern English meaning would be "Shapers." There are several dozen passages on Uurd, the Shapers, and "Metod" (The Measurer) in the Old Saxon Heliand Poem, a poem almost three times as long as the Old English Poem "Beowulf." Here is one of these passages from the Old Saxon Heliand Poem:
3. Hel is a place and a Being in Norse Folklore, but is just a place in Old Saxon Folklore. This passage below, shows Uurd and the Shapers again, but it also shows one of many Old Saxon Heliand passages of a place called "Hel." Hel is a word that is linguistically tied to our modern English word meaning "hall." Hel is simply a hall of the dead in Old Saxon thought, which is in contrast to the Saxon place of Paradise, which is not the Norse Valhalla (see point 4 below.) Please note in the instance of "Hel" becoming a Being, this seems to be a development in Norse Heathenry after Saxon Heathenry was crushed by Charlemagne in 804 AD. (Some argue this is an invention by Snorri as well...)
4. The Norse had VALhalla and VALkyries. The Saxons had the uuanga or "Meadow", which was the Saxon paradise, without any references to Valkyries. Old Saxon Poetry has "Uuanga" or "The Meadow" as the place of paradise, where the dead go. There are several dozen occurrences of the "Meadow" in Old Saxon Poetry. Please note, this "meadow" seems to be a Saxon reference to the Norse Meadow in Asgard called Idavollr or Ithavoll. In Norse Heathenry, Asgard was the throne of the king of the gods, Odin. This throne was called Hlidskjalf, and it was set in a beautiful meadow called Ithavoll. Ithavoll, is where the Ese (Aesir) meet to decide important issues. (See Voluspa, multiple occurrences, especially verse 60). The Christian "Heaven" doesn't have a "meadow" in the Bible. Asgard did have such a meadow. I can give more verses of "uuanga" in Old Saxon, and several occurrences of "wanga" in Old English. It appears in the Heliand, the glorious dead went to the Meadow, and the dishonorable dead went to Hellea. (PS- Many argue, that Norse Valhalla and even Valkyries was a later Norse evolution of Germanic Heathenry, when raiding began to be very prevalent, and the Christian world labeled the invaders "Vikings.") (PS 2- Please note that in Old Saxon, the hall or place called "Hel" is spelled in multiple but similar ways. In this passage below, it is spelled "Hellea."
5. The Norse had the Bifrost. The Saxons had the "uueg" or "weg" (The Way or The Road). It was a road/weg between the seven realms. Please see two Old Saxon Heliand Poem passages below for "The Way/Road" between the seven Saxon Worlds/Realms:
6. Baldr (Norse) was known as Baldag or Beldeg to the Angles/Saxons and was not a God, but a human son of Uuoden (Woden or Odin) to the Saxons and the Angles. There will be those who disagree with me here. Some will argue this is not the case. However, the genealogies of Wessex, Kent, Bernicia, and Deira imply Baldeg was human. Also see Saxo Grammaticus Gesta Danorum, which claim Baldag was human. Also see Baldag is mentioned in the Prologue to the Prose Edda: “Beldeg, whom we call Baldr: he had the land which is now called ‘Westphalia.’” See the Chronicon Lethrense and by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum. Chronicon Lethrense states the Baldag was a human killed by a Saxon King named "Hother" with a long-sass/sax called "mistletoe". If you would like to see these passages all quoted, please visit my blog on Saxon Baldag vs. the Norse Baldr: https://robert7sass.wixsite.com/germanicheathenry/blog/the-real-baldr-norse-or-baldag-saxon?fbclid=IwAR07nWaDc_rjoh3-H_MttGZ7J_UixGt1pQiLPFTNuz-PV3yNMePYFyqkXsY
The counter view, is that any saga/poem that makes a human out of Baldag/Baldr may be christian influence, relegating Heathen Gods to be humans that were deified. Ynglinga Saga does this with all the Gods, and I certainly believe Odin/Othinn was a God.
8. Good and Bad Elves. The Norse had "light elves" and "dark elves" also called "dwarfs." The Saxons, did not have two types of elves, just one kind. This is why there is no "Dark Elf Home" in Saxon Cosmology. (Remember, the Saxons have only seven worlds or realms, the Norse have nine. Dark Elf Home and Vanahem are non-existent to the Saxons.) The Saxons and Anglish have words in Old Saxon and Old English for Elves (Alfe), Giants (Etans), and Fog (Neval). (Please note, the Old Saxon word for Giant is "uuris", we do not have "etan" attested in Old Saxon). Therefore, it is not crazy to state that the Saxons had these worlds. The words "Vanir" and "Vanaheim" are not found anywhere outside of Scandinavia, and this is well documented. Therefore, Vanaheim is an easy elimination. The difficult elimination are the Norse "light elves" and "dark elves", and light elf home and "dark elf home" being just one "home" in Saxon Cosmology. But we have clues too from Old English. It appears in Old English literature in particular, there is only one kind of elf, and all elves are not friendly towards mankind. There are zero Old Saxon or Old English mentions of "dark elves" or "light elves."
Beowulf verses 1111-1113: “From there all monsters arose, ettins and elves and orcneas, likewise the giants who strove against God.” There are several references to the Elves in Old English that show that Elves gave “elf-shot” (diseases) to humans. In Old English, there is a charm for water Elf disease, and Leechbook III (paragraph 41) and Leechbook III (paragraph 62) are Old English charms for the healing of Elven magic inflicted on humans. In short, Old English poems and references imply strongly that the Saxons in England did not view the Elves as friends of the Ese (Aesir) and mankind. Therefore, having only one elf home in Saxon Cosmology makes sense.
9. The Danes venerated the Aesir and the Vanir, the Saxons did not know the term "Vanir." (Grundy, Stephan (1998). "Freyja and Frigg" in Billington, Sandra, and Green, Miranda (1998). The Concept of the Goddess. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-19789-9.) The term "Vanir" is without question only attested in Scandinavia. I am not saying Vanir deities were unknown in Old Saxony. Freyja and Freyr, have close affinities with Frigg and Ing, and both Freyr and Freyja are only attested to in Scandinavian sources. (Please note, Frikko, whom many believe to be Freyr, is attested by Adam of Bremen in 1073. This reference is in regards to three statues in the Uppsala temple, and while this is a "continental source" it is describing Uppsala by Adam of Bremen based on second hand accounts he heard.) Some argue that Freyja and Frigg are the same, or that Freyja grew out of Frigg. Ing is mentioned not just by Tacitus in Germania (97 AD), but it also attested in the 8th or early 9th century Old English Rune Poem, as being a "God of the East Danes" (i.e. Swedes). The Ynglinga Saga shows the Royal Dynasty of Sweden claiming descent from Yngvi-Freyr (which means "Lord Ing"). Now a common reply to this is "Robert, if Ing was known to the Saxons, and later in Scandinavia Ing and Freyr were probably the same, how can you say that the Saxons did not know the Vanir?" The key word there is "later." While Ing may indeed be Yngvi-Freyr to the Scandinavians (later), Scandinavian Heathenry lasted longer than Saxon Heathenry did, with the Saxons being forcefully converted at the end of the Saxon Wars in 804 AD. Scandinavian Heathenry continued to grow and develop, and concepts emerged that were not known to earlier Germanic tribes who were christianized earlier. The "Vanir" is a later development, and so is an additional two realms (more on that below.) PS- Many argue that Freyr is just a Norse word meaning "lord" and therefore "Yngvi-Freyr" is just the Norse Ing (Yngvi) called "Lord Ing." This is just a summary, I do not have the space in this blog to cover all arguments, pros and cons of Freyja growing out of Frigg, and the relationship of Ing and Freyr. Dr. Jackson Crawford has a video proving that Freyja grew out of Frigg, and Freyja is only attested in Scandinavia (though her necklace is also attested in DaneLaw England, specifically in Beowulf.) 10. The Saxons had Sassnoth (or Seaxneat), a God not known to the Norse. The Saxons had Sahsnoth, son of Uuoden (Odin) as the father of their tribe. Sahsnoth is attested in two sources, in a Baptismal Vow in Old Low Franconian found in Old Saxony dated to circa 795 AD, and the genealogy of Essex. The genealogy of Essex is interesting. The earliest most reliable manuscript copies have Sahsnoth (Seaxneat) at its apex. Later manuscripts add Woden as the father of Sahsnoth. 11. No Loki. That is right, Scandinavian sources have Loki, but all non-Scandinavian Germanic Heathen sources have no mention of Loki. Honestly, praise the Gods and Goddesses that Loki is not attested outside of Scandinavia. He is enough of a dividing force in modern Asatru, we in Saxon Heathenry are glad to not deal with him. As noted above, "Hel" as a "being" is not attested either outside of Scandinavia. Same can be said of "Fenrir." The Elves and Giants were enemies of the Ese (or Aesir) for the Saxons. For more info from a Saxon perspective on Loki, see my Loki blog:
There are other differences between Historical Saxon Heathenry and Historical Norse Heathenry. But these are the most important in my opinion. Please join us on Facebook, in the group called "Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry." We also discuss Norse Heathenry there.