1150 C.E. - onwards!
Some 150-200 years after the conversion of their country, the Icelanders began to show a great antiquarian interest in the tales and ways of their forebears, writing down both historical events and legends. The first Icelandic historian was Ari Þórgilsson the Wise, who wrote down the tales of the settlement of Iceland, now known as Íslendingabók and Landnámabók.
The greatest of these antiquarians was undoubtedly Snorri Sturluson (born 1179 - slain 1241). Snorri was the Lawspeaker of Iceland twice (1215-1219 and 1222-1231), exerting his office from a booth at Þingvellir which he called "Valhöll"; a major political figure who negotiated Iceland's integration into Norway - and, most important of all, an historian and a skald who wanted to be sure that the dying art of skaldic poetry would not be wholly lost. For the latter purpose, he wrote his Edda, called the Prose Edda or Snorri's Edda - a compendium of Norse religious tales and an instructional text in skaldcraft. Snorri was highly educated in both Classical and christian mythology, and his version of the Norse myths shows a great deal of systematization which may not have been there in the original (see discussion under "Books and Sources"), but it is still a major source for us. He also wrote Heimskringla, a history of the kings of Norway, and is strongly suspected to be the author of Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar (not only does the style closely resemble his, but he was one of Egill's proud descendants). The tale of Snorri's own life is told in the near-contemporary Sturlunga saga.
In 1643, Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson acquired a manuscript which he thought had been compiled by Sæmundr the Wise (an Icelandic priest-magician who lived from 1056-1133, the source of many colourful Icelandic folk stories) and hence referred to as "Sæmundr's Edda". This belief is not founded in anything solid, but the name stuck, so that the Poetic Edda was often also called "Sæmundr's Edda". In 1662, Brynjólfur gave the codex to King Frederick III of Denmark; it is therefore called "Codex Regius", and is the main manuscript from which the Eddic poems as we have now are derived. The other manuscript containing many of these poems is Hauksbók (written down by Haukr Erlendsson shortly after 1300), which also holds a version of Landnámabók. Some of the poems which are usually collected in Eddic editions or translations today come from other sources: Hyndluljóð was written down in Flateyjarbók, and Baldrs draumar comes from the fragmentary fourteenth-century ms. AM 748 4to.
The sagas themselves are divided into four sorts, "family sagas" or "Icelanders' sagas" (sagas such as Egils saga, Grettis saga, Brennu-Njáls saga, and so forth), "kings' sagas" (historical sagas of the kings of Norway, such as those collected in Heimskringla and Flateyjarbók), "sagas of elder times" (fornaldarsögur - those legendary sagas such as Völsunga saga), and "sagas of chivalry" (mediæval romances such as the tale of Tristan and Isolde, translated into Icelandic). The kings' sagas were the first types to be written; the later parts of these (or at least the lost sources of some), were actually composed by contemporary chroniclers from roughly 1150 onwards, a practice which continued through the fourteenth century. The first sagas of Icelanders were probably composed around the beginning of the thirteenth century, and continued to be written through the middle of the fourteenth century. The sagas of chivalry probably began to be widely translated around 1250. We are much less certain about the fornaldarsögur. Most of the basic stories were surely known in some form to general Norse oral tradition throughout the Viking Age, and may well have influenced the Icelanders' sagas - the most obvious example of this being the famous similarity between Grettir's battle with a certain troll and she-troll and Beowulf's battle with Grendel and Grendel's mother.
In general, the Icelanders of the thirteenth and fourteenth century seem to have looked back at their Viking past with much pride. Sometimes they are thought to have gone out of their way to make their ancestors more frightening and bloodthirsty than they actually were; Roberta Frank, for instance, has argued strongly that the saga accounts of the "blood-eagle" were based on a combination of antiquarian enthusiasm about the wild Vikings with misunderstood skaldic poetry (English Historical Review, 1984). With just a few exceptions (such as Flateyjarbók, where the compiler seems to have believed that the name Óðinn could not be written without the words "hin ille", "the evil", in front of it), they also seem to have been relatively sympathetic towards memories of Heathenism. Sometimes this in itself causes problems, as when accounts of "Heathen customs" that may or may not have been accurate were added for literary purposes to give the sagas that certain archaic flavour, but it has also permitted the preservation of a body of lore unparalleled among the orally-based native religions that were destroyed by christianity.
Antiquarian interest on the Continent and mainland Scandinavia did not really get started until the seventeenth century, when the Dane Ole Worm began his great work of collecting the "national monuments" of the Northern countries. In 1622, he obtained an edict forcing all the bishops of Denmark to submit reports on runestones and other antique monuments in their areas. At about this time, the Swede Johannes Bureus (tutor and advisor of King Gustavus Adolphus) carried out a similar work in Sweden, drawing and beginning to interpret a great many of Sweden's runestones (many of which have since been lost and are known to us only through his drawings). These two men may be thought of as the founders of modern runic studies. After Bishop Brynjólfur's gift of the "Codex Regius" to King Frederick III, the Eddic poems began to be published and more widely circulated and known.
This antiquarian interest continued to simmer on a low level until the nineteenth century. At that time, the general awareness of Europe turned towards "romanticism" - the interest in spiritual development, guidance by soul and emotion, and the belief in an idealized past. This, combined with the new nationalism which was particularly sparking those folks with no direct Classical/Western heritage (mostly Germans and Scandinavians) to seek their national identity in their own origins, led to a great upsurge in the awareness of a Germanic past. This upsurge was manifested in such groups as the Swedish Gotiska Förbund, which combined an interest in ancient Norse literature and culture with the desire for national independence and reform. It also appeared in persons such as the Grimm Brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, who collected and published their "fairy tales" between 1816-18. Jacob Grimm went on to found modern Germanic philology; in 1844, he produced his massive study, Deutsche Mythologie (Teutonic Mythology), which linked Norse literature with folklore from all over the Germanic world.
Perhaps the greatest of the German "romantics" was Richard Wagner, whose four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, was first performed in 1876. This huge work (15-18 hours of solid music, depending on how slowly it is conducted) was loosely based on Völsunga saga, considerably altered by Wagner's own rather idiosyncratic ideas on politics, love, and life, but also informed and inspired by an immense amount of research into Norse literature and Germanic traditions. The Ring Cycle is probably the best-known single source for Germanic mythology today. Unfortunately, Wagner's attitude towards the god/esses was not particularly good (in places, bloody awful), and his version of the religion is slightly warped (It is probably a good idea for those true folk who deal with the general public to watch the Ring Cycle after having read both Saga of the Volsungs and Nibelungenlied; the current Warder of the Lore found it needful at one point to prepare a long handout detailing the differences between Wagner and the other two versions). However, he was also a deeply inspired man whose wide reading in Germanic tradition always makes his works worthy of consideration, whether or not he chose to change the stories. His main contribution to modern Germanic religion may be the linking of Loki with Loge and the interpretation of Loki as a fire-spirit - which academics today do not generally accept, but which has stuck deeply into the awareness of most Ásatrúar. He has also given us an image of valkyries which is very hard to shake...
In the last years of the nineteenth and the first two decades of the twentieth century, Germanic mysticism found a new degree of interest among the younger folk of Germany. A number of small bands and "Germanic prophets" sprang up at this time. Among these, perhaps the most prominent was Guido von List, inventor/discoverer of the eighteen-rune Armanen futhark. At this time, unfortunately, Germanic mysticism, political pan-Germanism, and racism, especially anti-Semitism, were beginning to be strongly linked - a linkage which had not previously existed. In particular, the anti-Semitism which was so deeply ingrained in continental German culture by the nineteenth century was a product of the intense persecution of the Jews encouraged by the christian church in the later Middle Ages; it was a concept which would have been wholly unfathomable to the Heathen tribes of Germany, and which seems never to have reached Scandinavia at all. However, the combination of the mediæval christian fear and loathing of the Jews with Darwin's discoveries about evolution and genetic inheritance, the native Germanic love for clan and kin, and the newfound sense of nationalism provided a deadly mixture of ideology and powerful, though distorted imagery - which led to the greatest harm Germanic religion and culture have suffered since the hof-breakings of the eleventh century. "The Nazis did not invent neo-Germanism - they subverted something that was already strong for their own political purposes. Unfortunately, many would-be revivalists of Germanic culture, religion, and magic are all too enamoured of the Nazi mythos and mystique. The National Socialists did not advance the cause of Germanism - they set it back at least 100 years" (Edred Thorsson, "A Short History of the Revival of the Troth", p. 8).
While the Nazi movement used many Germanic signs of power, such as the swastika and some of the runes, Germanic religion essentially played no part in it. Aside from a few half-hearted attempts to replace christian holidays with vaguely pagan solstice-feasts, the Nazi regime was from beginning to end a cult focused towards a single personality, Adolf Hitler - who himself believed in nothing but his own will and sense of destiny. Germanic studies in general were encouraged and tolerated only insofar as they supported Nazi ideology; discoveries or historical materials which contradicted that ideology had to be carefully re-interpreted. A small example of this may be seen by Nazi-era depictions of the clothing of Bronze Age women, which was known to have sometimes consisted only of a string skirt and a blouse (such as those in which the Egtved girl was buried) or even only a string skirt (such as those on the goddess/belly-dancer images from this period). In Nazi Germany, however, Bronze Age women were always shown as wearing long and modest dresses - sometimes with the string skirt sketched in as a kind of decorative overgarment (Gløb, The Mound People, p. 64). The purpose of this alteration was, of course, to demonstrate conclusively that the Germanic women had always been the most modest and chaste of ladies, as according to proper Nazi ideology (though some may not think this as terrible as negligently attributing the Bronze Age string skirt to "800-1000 A.D.", two thousand years after its actual date, as was done by Ed Fitch in Rites of Odin). During the Nazi era, Germanic religion and history were, in short, simply treated as any other propaganda tools, with complete disregard for the actual beliefs of the Heathen Teutons, the god/esses in who they believed, and the very underpinnings of the Northern culture. Anyone who doubts this has only to try picturing a free-minded Viking or Germanic tribesman accepting the suggestion that he be shorn like a thrall and made to wear a uniform and march in step, obedient to the least word of his leader - or a woman such as Signý the Völsung, Sigríðr the Proud, Unnr the Deep-Minded, or Freydís Eiríksdóttir listening meekly to the news that her sole purpose for being is to bear strong sons for "the race"!
Despite the fact that the Nazi movement was not, for all its trimmings, a product of the elder Germanic culture, the imagery of native Teutonicism it used became so closely associated with it that no more attempts were made to revive the elder ways for some time. Even now, more than a full generation later, the taint of Nazism is one with which all true folk who are open about their Heathenism have to deal sooner or later. It keeps us from using one of the holiest signs of our forebears, the swastika, in public where it might distress people or give them the wrong idea about us (that is, the idea that we might be neo-Nazis, fascists, or racists), and often leads to suspicious glances when we speak about the runes, Wodan, Thonar, or our Germanic heritage (this problem is not only rife among the general public, but even among other Pagan folk, who have in previous years gotten an impression that Ásatrú consists largely of the "Thor-and-swastika boys"). In the era immediately following World War II, Germanic religion and culture were largely taboo subjects: everything "German" was tarred with the same brush.
In the 1950s, however, Karl Spiesberger reached back to bring up the Armanen rune-magic of Guido von List again, while an Australian by the name of A. Rud Mills produced a series of books on the elder religion. They did not meet with great success, though small Armanen groups have continued in Germany since.
The next appearance of Teutonic culture in a mainstream setting was given to us, ironically, by a deeply christian scholar of Germanic philology - Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's work draws extensively on Germanic literature: for instance, his dwarf-names come straight out of the Poetic Edda (including "Gandalf" - "wand-alf" or "magical alf"), Bilbo's theft of the cup which awakens the dragon is a straight steal from Beowulf, and Aragorn's ancestral sword - broken at his father's death and reforged again when it is time for him to win his rightful place - bears a suspicious resemblance to the sword of the Völsungs. Tolkien's use of the English language was also strongly influenced by his knowledge of Germanic word-roots, as well as his extensive background in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse literature. It has often been said of Tolkien that he gave the English-speaking peoples a folk-heritage, but this is only half-true; it would be better said that he is the little thief who brought Sága's gold cup into the light and thus awakened the dragon of the Northern ways which had slept so long in the barrow-mound of our forebears. From Tolkien's work stemmed, in large part, the modern explosion of interest in "fantasy literature" - the literature which makes use of the archetypal elements of magic, heroic questing, and wights beyond humanity and the limited pantheon of the Abrahamic religions; and from that stemmed a reborn interest in the magic, history, and ultimately religion of the North, from which much of the most effective "fantasy literature" since Tolkien has drawn its might.
The bud of rebirth blossomed in 1973, when Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson founded the Ásatrú movement of Iceland and Stephen McNallen founded the Ásatrú Free Assembly of America. The former is still going, and Ásatrú is accepted as one of the official religions of Iceland; the history of the latter was rockier. However, the Ásatrú Free Assembly did manage to establish Ásatrú solidly as a re-created Heathen religion. In 1980, Edred Thorsson founded the Rune-Gild as a magical/initiatory Order for those dedicated to the study of runic galdr-magic.
During the same period of time, Garman Lord was also reviving the related Northern tradition of Theodism, which, unlike the AFA (whose focus was almost totally on the Viking Age), concentrated on the lore and beliefs of the Heathen Anglo-Saxons. The Theodish movement continues today and is closely linked with the Troth. The Odinic Rite was also moving to gain acceptance in England; it split up a couple of years ago, and at present there are two groups going by the name "Odinic Rite". The main focus of Ásatrú in Great Britain, however, is the active and swiftly-growing Rune-Gild UK, headed by Drightning Freya Aswynn (Troth Elder, High Rede member, author of Leaves of Yggdrasil).
The Ásatrú Free Assembly broke up in 1987. Near the end of the same year, Edred Thorsson (as Warden of the Lore) and James Chisholm (Steersman) founded the Troth, an explicitly non-racist organization dedicated to the promotion of the religion and culture of the Germanic peoples. In 1988, the Ásatrú Alliance, a small group of loosely-organized member kindreds with a decidedly more conservative and less scholastically-based slant on the religion than that promoted by the Troth, was also founded and began to publish its minimal-production quarterly newsletter, Vor Tru and to hold a general moot called the Althing in Arizona every summer. At their last Althing, the A.A. produced the official ideological declaration that "Ásatrú is the ethnic religion of the indigenous Northern European peoples".
Edred Thorsson's A Book of Troth, outlining some of the general ideas, rituals, and organizational elements of the Troth, was published by Llewellyn in 1989. Since its founding, the Troth has also continued to produce a quarterly magazine, Idunna, heroically edited by Shope Dianne Ross from 1988 until mid-1991, when it was taken over and dramatically expanded by Shope Þórfinn Einarsson. At Ostara of 1992, James Chisholm turned the Steersmanship over to current Steerswoman Prudence Priest and Edred Thorsson stepped down from his office, leaving it to KveldúlfR Gundarsson, current Warder of the Lore. A full High Rede was also appointed at this time.
Another notable Northern-tradition organization which has made itself known in the last years (though even smaller than the Ásatrú Alliance), is Hrafnar, a San Francisco group headed by Diana Paxson. Hrafnar is particularly well-known for reconstructing the practice of seiðr or spae-working, a form of Northern magic loosely related to shamanism.
From mid-1991 through the end of 1993, the general Ásatrú community was also served by the independent glossy-covered magazine Mountain Thunder, a beautiful production edited and put out at an unreasonably low price by Will von Dauster (careful readers will mark that many of the chapters in this book are taken from, or refer to, works originally printed in Mountain Thunder). Unfortunately, it proved impossible to maintain such a high-quality magazine at such a low cost, and rather than compromise his standards, von Dauster chose to stop publishing the magazine. Back issues and article reprints are, however, available (address under "Organizations and Resources"). Will von Dauster has also begun to publish a smaller Ásatrú newsletter, which discusses matters and happenings of importance to the Heathen community; this can be ordered via the same address.
At the time of this writing, Blessing-Month (November) 1993 C.E., Germanic Heathenism, while still tiny in comparison to Wicca, seems to be thriving and growing swiftly. The Troth is the largest Heathen organization by a factor of five or six, and the most active; there are also a number of independent kindreds and individuals who are working strongly to make the general public aware that the Teutonic ways exist, do not involve racism or fascism, and are worth learning about and following. It seems likely that Heathenism will continue to grow and become stronger for a long time to come - so long as there are folk willing to study, work, and speak up for the gods and goddesses of the North!