“Help me, Lord. Who are these Gods who haunt my nights and wreck my peace? Odin, Thor, Freyr. You’ve taught us not to worship false gods, but I have seen them. I’ve seen Thor in the sky, I’ve seen the sparks from his anvil. I’ve felt the sea heave with his anger. Why is this false? Things that I’ve seen with my own eyes.”
Athelstan, Vikings, 2.09
The answer is that they’re not false. They’re real, and true. I’m not going to dispute Christianity here – I want to draw attention to the empirical experience of Gods in our world. Athelstan nails it, he really does – our gods are not figures in the sky, living far away from us; they are the sky, they are the earth, they are the wind and rain and the things in our hearts. In my view, the gods are immanent, not transcendent.
I was so, so pleased to hear those words come from Athelstan’s mouth, not only because it means the History channel is taking the religion of the pre-Christian Scandinavians seriously, but because it’s a more uncommon understanding of how our gods are present in the world. One of the attractions of Heathenry, to me at least, was that it’s so primal and visceral, so very basic that even someone who had no language could understand our gods and spirits. There’s very little theology involved at the base level; it’s just feeling the energy and beat of the earth and knowing that the gods dwell in it alongside us.
However much I change my own views on the nature of the divine, hard vs. soft polytheism, conscious entities vs. archetypes, actors or energies, I always have the very real, visceral experience of the gods existing in this world. I see them. I feel them. They are always real on at least some level.