When did people stop believing in the old gods like Greek and Norse? Did the Vikings just wake up one morning and think ”this is bullshit”?


When did people stop believing in the old gods like Greek and Norse? Did the Vikings just wake up one morning and think ”this is bullshit”?

In: Culture

Generally speaking, Christian influence is to blame. Rome originally persecuted Christians, but after emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, Rome quickly became a monotheistic society. As religious tolerance wasn’t huge back then, it didn’t take long for Rome to start persecuting “old gods” instead, including the Greek and Roman gods. As Rome spread across Europe, so too did Christianity, making its way into England, France, and even Norway (Normandy is interesting reading, by the way). Missionaries converted those who were willing, and societal pressure persecuted those who weren’t, until eventually almost everyone was Christian.

Usually in those days the average person on the street, didn’t have too much choice in what religion they wanted to be. For the most part you were whatever religion everyone else in your village was and everyone was the religion that the person in charge said they were.

If the tribal leader or king converted to Christianity for political reasons, the people followed, not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they had no choice.

For example Harald Bluetooth for which the Bluetooth wireless connection is named became a Christian and then he became King of all Danes and then the Danes became Christians because he said so.

In practice many conversion efforts only slapped a new label on pagan customs and traditions. Old gods were relabeled as saints old feasts became Christian feasts and many kept doing what they had been doing all along with only gradual change of the underlying stuff.

Individual people may have converted because they were convinced by theological arguments, but the majority switched because they were told to by people you couldn’t disagree.

Greco-Roman religion was officially abolished as state religion by the Roman emperor Constantine (306-337 AD), briefly revived by Julian the Apostate and finally abolished by his successors. Since then, it fought a long defeat against Christianity, but pockets of Greco-Roman paganism still lingered in rural Greece until VIII century (the Maniot pagans), and a Byzantine philosopher Gemistos Pletho advocated a return to the old faith even later (he lived during the last years of Byzantium).

The Norse religion started to peter out similarly, after the Christianization of Scandinavian kingdoms. However, all Scandinavia did not Christianize in an instant, unlike Rome. Denmark became Christian around 1000, Norway Christianized under Olaf the Saint (1015-1028), Sweden was gradually Christianized from 990s until 1100.

While a number of respondents have made the case for Christianity becoming the official religion and pushing out the “old” gods, this has never stopped underground believers from continuing their faith. Surely adherents to the Norse and Roman pantheons continued their beliefs.

The OP asked when people stopped believing that a bunch of humanoid deities sat atop Olympus. I am curious too if there came a point wherein people said “Okay, this is just too ludicrous to be believed.”

As I write, I realize there is an active religion today that purports to believe that an alien dictator brought billions of people to Earth on Dc-8’s and blew them up using hydrogen bombs so maybe there is nothing people won’t believe.

Suomenusko died thanks to the crusades to what we know as Finland, and conversion activity by Novgrodians. Also centuries of oppression by the swedish crown.

Many of our traditions did continue existing along side christianity. Mainly thanks to swedes failing to culturally convert us, and us keeping our own language.

It didn’t happen overnight, but was rather a slow burn that took place over the course of about 600 years. Starting from the rule of Constantine as Roman Emperor, to the establishment of the Carolingian Dynasty and Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne.

Early Christianity wasn’t spread by the sword in quite the same way early Islam was in the Middle East and North Africa. Many conversions were done from the top down for political and economic reasons.

Christianity had been rapidly spreading throughout the Roman Empire after Constantine’s conversion from Greco-Roman paganism in the 300’s. When Rome fell, those people remained Christian, and they began building powerful kingdoms from the ashes of the Empire. Most notably the Frankish Kingdoms, who would come to dominate the Western European political landscape throughout the Early Middle Ages.

As these kingdoms grew in power, lesser powers in the region would be encouraged to covert in exchange for favours. One notable example is Rollo, a Viking who became Count of Rouen and first Duke of Normandy. In exchange for ceasing viking attacks on on the Frankish kingdoms, Charles III offered Rollo Normandy, but on the condition that he convert as well. Which Rollo accepted. There’s evidence that he never really took the conversion seriously. However, things did filter down over time such that his descendant William II (aka William I the Conqueror, King of England) was maintaining close relations with the Church about a century later.

There was also active missionary work going on. You’re probably familiar with St. Patrick, who converted Ireland. Many of these missions were good at integrating pagan customs with Christian practices. For example, It’s well known that many modern Christmas traditions stem from the Norse holiday of Yule, including tree decorating, Yule logs, gift giving, and Santa Claus, as well as it taking place around the winter solstice.

Not to say there wasn’t conquest, like Charlemagne’s campaigns into the Germanic territories, where forced conversions of Saxons took place. Which ultimately led to the formation of the Holy Roman Empire.

I know a few pissed of Frisians didn’t take kindly to being proselytised and killed the guy who later became St. Boneface in the town of Dokkum in 754. So no, there appeared to have been a bit of resistance 🙂

Technically, the religion is still alive. I know there are some families who still worship the old gods, and there’s a movement of neo-paganism which have been causing a resurgence in worship of old gods among people.

In Iceland it was a democratic decision taken in 1000AD.

It was driven by the Christianisation of Norway under king Olaf Tryggvason who had all the enthusiasm of a new convert and insisted on bringing all Norway’s neighbours into the Christian sphere of influence. Tryggvason managed to trigger conflicts in Denmark and Norway between Christians and followers of the old gods and he soon set his eyes on Iceland.

Iceland had received a number of Christian missionaries who had had some success in converting the local population, but one whom, Thangbrandur, enraged the population and ended up killing some of the Icelanders. When he returned to Norway, he told Tryggvason that the Icelanders were refusing to accept the new religion, the king threatened war and there were genuine fears that Iceland would soon be engulfed in civil war.

Things came to a head because of the actions of a Christian convert, Hjalti Skeggjason who had been sentenced for mocking the goddess Freyja. He was allowed to serve his sentence in Norway along with his father-in-law. During their exile, they got the backing of Tryggvason and on their return raised an army that threatened to trigger the war in Iceland.

So, the matter was referred to the Icelandic parliament for arbitration. Iceland was a form of democracy where individual chiefs gathered at the Althing located at the site of Thingvellir a little to the East of modern Reykjavik. The speaker of the Althing was a man called Thorgeir Thorkelsson, he heard arguments from both sides and the gathered everyone at the Law Speaker’s Rock to hear his plan. Thorgeir said that all Icelanders should be baptised into the Christian faith – HOWEVER, and here was the genius part – the old gods could be worshipped in private. So Iceland became a Christian country in 1000AD and civil war was avoided.

If you’re ever in Iceland, you can visit the national park at Thingvellir and see the Law Speaker’s rock from which the proclamation was made. If you go to the North, you can also visit the beautiful waterfall at Godafoss which was given its name after the huge wooden statues of the old gods were thrown into the river.

Apologies for mangled spellings, I don’t have an Icelandic keyboard in front of me.

As someone who has come back to the old religions, you’d be absolutely shocked how many people STILL believe in those old gods. You’ve already gotten answers sure, but there’s no one answer here. Christianity, monotheism as a whole, is more profitable and more political.

You can’t tell a Northern Heathen how to worship Odin, he’ll question *your* methods. How to worship God/Yahweh/Allah is already detailed in some books. That’s easier to corral people with than any spoken doctrine.

However Iceland has had the Ásatrúarfélagið (Ásatrú Fellowship) since 1972, and as far as this little American knows, the Ásatrú Heathen faith is an indoctrinated religion there which is growing quite rapidly. They’re one of very few places that has official temples dedicated to the old Norse gods.

Naturalists, pagan polytheists, wiccans, they’re all straying from organized religion in lieu of a more ambiguous practice. I personally don’t like being told how to view the world, I prefer to let the world tell me. I know a lot of modern individuals who agree. I’d argue the worship of old gods never truly went away, it just got oppressed into silence by the Church.

I Norway at least they killed everyone who would not converte.

My history teacher explained it like this once “both sides pray to their religion before a battle, if you win your god was clearly stronger so at the next battle your enemies pray to your god too”

Both were converted to Christianity.

Greece converted when it was a part of the Roman Empire at the same time that the whole of Rome was converting. This took centuries.

The Vikings Converted due to Christian Missionaries sent by the Catholic Church specifically to convert them (and others in Northern Europe). This also took several hundred years.

I think I can answer this.

I have done some research into the normans, and it turns out that they originated as vikings who invaded northern France.

So they carved out the territory they needed and became an enclave. They freely adopted the the french language, customs and way of living, but still maintained their ferocious army.

The French king ended up giving them their own lands, in exchange for giving the Italians a pasting in the south.

So after a while they became as french as the french, and set about improving the french system of administration.

So the answer is that they readily adopted overseas cultures and “gods”.

I would argue that the Greek and Roman pantheons were never believed in, in the same way that Christianity is believed in. Christianity is a faith based on specific historical claims about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it has produced a series of creeds and confessions that lay out precisely what Christianity believes to be true. Greek, Roman, Norse, and other myths belong to a different category entirely. They have no creeds, no confessions, and no catechisms. Their adherents would have been puzzled by the suggestion of such a thing. Their “faith” such as it was, existed in a different frame from their philosophy, which co-existed fairly happily but remained separate. (You might see something similar today in the practice of Shinto, for instance.) Christianity was the first faith to put the two together and give us theology.

I’m not sure if this is an original thought to him, but G.K. Chesterton elaborates on this at length in one of his great works, *The Everlasting Man.* (You can easily find it as a free PDF, and can just jump to the part where he starts discussing “comparative religion.”)

Incidentally, this is part of the reason that the line used by folks like Dawkins in debating Christians is mistaken: “You’re also an atheist when it comes to Zeus and Thor and Baal, I’m just an atheist for one more god than you.” It’s a category error. There was never anything like Jewish monotheism, until Christianity which consummated it (Jews would disagree). And there hasn’t been anything comparable since that hasn’t somehow descended from Christianity.

Long story short? Christianity spread like a very violent plague.

Here’s why, in bullet points:

* Christianity appeared.
* Local rulers noticed that the main point of Christianity is “life sucks, but grin & turn the other cheek and then you get eternal rewards (TM) after death.”
* Local rulers thought, “hey, this means God is telling them not to rebel against me when I raise taxes, sweet!”
* Rulers then found God and converted to Christianity.
* Any vikings who weren’t so sure about the new, merciful God got burned at the stake or murdered.
* The Vikings who remained alive decided that it was safer to follow Jesus than not to.

A few thing to note that a lot of people generally miss out on:

1. The Roman Religion was already on the outs when Christianity was picking up steam. The Romans were already flirting with ideas like monotheism with concepts like Sol Invictus and the official religons days were numbered. In actuality a lot of what falls under that traditional umbrella is separate competing religions like Simonism which was at best mildly syncretized but has it’s own philosophy and cosmology. Something was going to give eventually.
2. The Norse religion only appears in it’s earliest Germanic form hundreds of years into the common era and *after* Rome was already christian. Some of the older viking runestones talk about historical kings and leaders but some of those were already christian despite having been dead for centuries by the time of that carving.
3. To be particular Theoderic The Great was a Gothic king and Patrician who was very much an Arian Christian. However like a lot of historic figures he got twisted around into a mythic form. Christians in Germany interpreted him as Dietrich Von Bern, a kind of Arthurian hero who both fights historical battles but also slays dragons and fights dwarves. He runs into other historical figures that similarly got twisted around to be nearly unrecognizable. However, at more or less the same time this is going on the Norse were carving his name as Tyrker the bold and telling a mostly exclusive but similarly outlandish set of stories about him. Some of the other historic figures become Valkyries or immortals.
4. As you can probably tell at this point folklore and mythology kind of blend into each other and become context sensitive. People didn’t just stop believing in Dwarves and Giants and didn’t stop telling stories. They also didn’t really stop with sorcery. You can see some surviving incantations where Odin and Balder just got replaced with God and Jesus. Norse style sorcery continued for centuries past this point. One of the things people forget is that there’s a lot of folk catholicism that uses spirits and monsters and weird figures that at best just kind of become saints of that the church just kind of allows to happen because it keeps the wheels spinning smoothly.
5. A lot of these folk ideals can still germinate past that point and spread to other, almost entirely different folk ideals elsewhere. Brigid the celtic god became St. Brigid to Catholics. But then at some point she also became Maman Brigitte, a voodoo death goddess.

So there isn’t really a linear A-B. It’s more accurate to think of it like genetics where there can be a lot of branches and cross pollination between them and some genes become dominant but others don’t really go away.

If you’ve ever listened to Viking metal you would know there’s lots of people who still believe it

European perspective.

1. The spread of Catholicism / Christianity, starting with Roman Emperor Constantine. Christians were pretty aggressive at spreading the faith, at least once they got to the point where they had material political and military power,
2. Arguably, the ‘old gods’ where a god would be dedicated to a specific purpose, desire or topic (god of fertility, hunting, farming, lost causes,…) was replaced with the Roman Catholic canonization of saints.

When was the last person celebrating the fertility feast of Eostre ?
Last April.

When did the people last celebrate the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Last October 31st, and we will again this October 31st.

there’s your answer.