Releasing into Norse practice: The beginning of a heathen’s journey

Hearing I ask from all the tribes,
greater and lesser, the offspring of Heimdall;
Father of the Slain, you wished me well to declare
living beings’ ancient stories, those I remember from
furthest back.
– Poetic Edda, 1

“Do you want to know more: and what?”

The words of the ancient seeress rang out in the beautiful but tiny dorm room, as the sun began to set. The ancient poem describing the beauty and fury of the Gods was not over: the Seeress had many more stanzas to go before she would collapse. And on that beautiful summer evening in Oslo, I knew that I had been called.

I had just read my friend Tenaya’s cards, and she repaid me through a dramatic reading of the first verse of the Poetic Edda. We had a bottle of cheap (for Norway) wine, we listened to Olafur Arnalds in the background. And the words brought tears to my eyes.


Do you want to know more: and what?

I had always avoided delving into the magick of my own ancestors. The Otherworlds of the Irish mythology had always drawn me, and I always felt deeply Native American spirituality – though I knew it was not my tradition to practice. What I knew of the Norse was my Grandmother. Ardell is one of the sweetest women I know, charmed by the simple things in life and a devout Lutheran. When I think of Norway, I first think of her and her homemade lefse, the dramatic but faded photos of fjords that decorated her home in between Christian sayings.

The myths themselves seemed so violent in comparison to other mythologies, so dark and twisted. Norse mythology is dominated by male figures, Odin to Thor to Loki to Baldir to Heimdall, and I couldn’t see the divine feminine. When I first tried to read the Norse mythology, it felt stiff, unwilling to smile – much like my stoic but very sweet grandmother. Ardell only ever smiles off-camera, when no one is recording.

Then things started…happening. As I was casting circle one a couple of years ago, I opened myself up to new spirit guides. I felt a very definite, new presence enter the circle – and this presence told me their name was Odin.

I rationalized with myself. Just because the spirit is called Odin, doesn’t mean it’s that Odin. And the figure felt wise, but there was a smirking presence to them. I’m a pretty scientific person. I’ve had a hard time, my entire life, rationalizing the idea of a Creator God. I often understand the Gods as spirits, beings that may or may not have created the world, but that we can never fully know.

But here’s the thing: Even if it wasn’t the Allfather himself, even if there is no such thing as the “spirit world,” I learned something important. Because my mind told me that I had met Odin, I knew that I needed to begin to explicitly explore the magick of my ancestors. And still, two years later, it has been difficult to release my old reservations about Norse practice and answer the calling.

Abbie sitting at the edge of a mountain in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park
Me sitting at the edge of a mountain in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park

Staring my own whiteness in the face

I have struggled to accept my Norse ancestry because I have an uncomfortable relationship with my own whiteness. 

I’m not proud of what my American ancestors have done. The racism perpetuated by white people in America has a lasting, horrific legacy, and I struggle with the idea of honoring my European roots. I have tried to study different forms of magick broadly. Too often, pagan practice gets whitewashed, and the amazing spiritual guidance of people of color gets ignored or worse, appropriated.

There’s an important line between learning from other cultures and appropriating those cultures. Many practices are closed, and to practice them publicly is incredibly disrespectful – especially because I am a guest in these spaces. My Native friends here appreciate my interest in and admiration for their traditional spirituality, but for me to practice this spirituality would be disrespectful. These are rich traditions that have survived, grown, and changed with the times and have been practiced continuously – and I need to respect that these traditions have been threatened by my ancestors, and recognize my place as a guest, and not a practitioner.

Which leads me straight back to square one: practicing within the tradition of my own ancestors.

And even this is a charged reality. I can’t write this post without recognizing that Norse practices have been appropriated by white supremacists. The masculinity of the mythology, the toughness of the heathens, and the very whiteness of Norse practice has been hijacked by white supremacists. I don’t like to wear the runes in public, for fear of others assuming I am one of Those White People. White supremacists make up a very small percentage of Norse practitioners, but it has meant that the community is self-conscious, tense, unsure how to exorcise this illness.

For years, I have avoided mentioning my interest in Asatru for fear of guilt by association.

But it’s time to reclaim, publicly, Norse practice. To stare my own whiteness in the face and open up a conversation about all of this shit with the Allfather himself.


Toward a radical, feminist Norse practice

I am a feminist. I work for racial justice. And I am Norse.

The records of the Norse goddesses were lost – the ones that wrote down the ancient songs were Christian monks. That’s why Norse practice is so masculine – there is so much we don’t know.

And I know that I can find the divine feminine. But she’s wilder, she’s been buried deep underground, frozen in the permafrost.

I could use a little wild in my life.

No one is really practicing the religion of the ancient Norse peoples. We don’t know what that was. But the study of what we can tell, the new meanings found for runes, the use of runes in magick, and the drama of Ragnarok (the Norse apocalypse) all feel very relevant in these dark times. There is a certain amount of wisdom that I can bring forward from my own intuition. Some of these rituals lie deep in my bones. They feel right, in a way that I can’t explain.

Because of this flexibility, I want to make of Norse practice what is most meaningful for me: An open, flexible faith that is both rooted in the wisdom of my ancestors and challenging of whiteness. I seek to find the divine feminine within Norse practices. There is a fierceness at the heart of it all, a fire that I need to bring into my life.

And that’s what this column will be all about.

I’ll be exploring my personal relationship to Norse practice, as well as what this means for my identity and my search for purpose. I’m working through several different classics in the Norse tradition, including Diane Paxson’s “Taking Up The Runes,” and will look at the runes individually, in combination with one another, and as a system of divination. Each month, I’ll post a ritual centered around the runes.

I will also be sharing mysteries and magick from the mythology, and connecting ancient heathenism to a modern-day spirituality.

I don’t know where this journey will lead me, but I am happy to have you with me.

Blessed be, y’all!


You can follow Abbie’s journey under the Heathen’s Journey tag!

12 comments

  1. Merlin says:

    I think you grandma looks very sweet and friendly in that picture, but that might be because I’m a timid Norwegian who doesn’t like to smile a lot in pictures either, haha!

    I look very much forward to your column as I’m still figuring a lot of things out in the same vein as you. And it’s hard and I don’t think I’ll end up with a very specific and traditional path, probably a mix of different things I’m drawn to as I study. For example I’m not wiccan (I decided early on in my reasearch that it wasn’t for me although there are some wiccan authors I love so I still read wiccan books from time to time) but I love love the tarot so it seems I’m ending up with a cup, a pentacle, a wand (grandpas old paintbrush in this case) and a knife on my altar.

    I have a copy of the Eddas I’m really looking forward to read soon – if I end up with some variant of a norse practice or incorporate things from there I really want the new fancy translation that came out recently with both the Norwegian and the old norse text side by side. I think it’s really cool to compare the two, even though I’m not very well versed in old norse there are some words that are still practically the same that I recognise and it feels good that some things haven’t changed all that much. I also think it could be fun to look into the folk tales Asbjørnsen & Moe compiled in the 1800’s, even with the national romantiscism at the time and the christian elements I think there could be some good stuff in there. Or at least fun to revisit since I haven’t read them since I was a child.

    I agree with a lot of what you say, especially the annoying white supremacists that a lot of people associate with the norse tradition. They are a loud minority and very “out there” from what I’ve seen so of course they grab the attention in a bad way, and maybe makes it harder for those who want to be out there to step up because no one wants to be associated with those guys.

    I look forward to your column, again, this piece is very promising!

    • abbie says:

      I’m so glad that this resonated with you, Merlin! It’s been a struggle to get to this point, definitely. And those folk tales are super interesting! I think in particular when you realize that the Viking kings actually converted to Christianity willingly, a lot of those folktales end up being Christianized versions of the wilder myths. I also sometimes wonder how much is hidden in those – because things were left out of the record that may have lived on in a smaller version in folklore.

  2. Serena says:

    This is definitely a column the pagan community needs right now! SO here for radical feminist re-invisionings of patriarchal structures <3 I'm so excited to read along with your journey!

  3. Maggie says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading this! It’ll be very cool to hear a feminist and antiracist take on Norse practices, and of course it’s always awesome to see things get reclaimed from bigots.

  4. Diana says:

    Jfc, this is exactly what’s needed.

    I’m a mixed-race woman with Northern European/Finlandish/Laplandic ancestry who is considered black based on how I look. I’ve never found resonance with any of the spiritual practices considered “normal” for a black person in America (Yoruba, Santeria, voudou, etc), but I have been drawn to the Nordic traditions + imagery + myths for a very long time. Freyja has been one of the most responsive deities I’ve ever worked with, and my altar is dedicated to her.

    It’s been a lonely space to be, though. I’m just now in the process of “coming out of the broom closet” generally, and when it comes to my attraction to Nordic stuff, I’m processing how I can reconcile all the vile white supremacy bullshit. It’s so fascinating to think about attachment to bloodline purity when the Vikings themselves traveled so much, spreading their genes and beliefs with them, and bringing back influences from the places they went.

    Re: the divine feminine in Nordic traditions: I can’t wait to read about your experiences with Freyja, assuming you’ve worked with her specifically. She’s incredible, just, ugh, so thankful constantly for finding connection with her!

    • abbie says:

      YES! Holy hell, nice to meet you!

      I think a loooooot about “bloodline practice” for witches – I definitely don’t want to espouse some sort of essentialist perspective that you can ONLY practice the religion of your particular ancestors. That is a huge part of how so many white witches in particular develop these blind spots, and it is a part of whitewashing of practice.

      And yes, the Vikings did travel so widely, they did interact with a lot of different faith traditions and peoples.

      You are always welcome in my practice. I think the appropriation of Norse practice/themes by white supremacists is so frustrating, because it really scares a lot of people off from the tradition. And I’m sure there are a lot of people of color who are interested, but hesitant to reach out because you have little way of knowing or trusting that these heathens will truly accept you.

      I would love to talk to you more about your own practice! Shoot me an email: abbie (at) northernlightswitch.org

  5. Roger Sanders says:

    Hi Abbie, this is great! and so needed right now.
    There is something very powerful in being proactive in a positive sense around something that has become controversial. Some bad and confusing things have occurred in the past with traditions lost, misinterpreted and stolen. The healing has to start somewhere with brave souls such as yourself rediscovering the bones, breathing life into them and standing up to the lies and nonsense of those who would misuse the sacred for their own egos and by products of fear.
    The ignorance is getting out of hand…..here in New Zealand ware I currently live, discussions were recently held, nationally on the possibility of a new flag….one comment I heard locally was from a man who would never vote for a flag composed of the colours Red Black and White because those were the colours used by Nazis!! If people really understood the true symbolism of that colour combination it would be truly embraced! You are on the right track, reclaim, revive, restore and return. Yes, go for the folk and fairy tales! I am a traditional storyteller and have always marvelled at the sheer amount of stories that exist in the Nordic tradition as well as the wealth of symbolism and magic beings contained within them. Fairy tales keep safe much that has been lost or supressed ready for us to find.

    Looking forward to how you get on!….Rog

  6. Tristan says:

    Absolutely looking forward to reading this. I resonate deeply with many of the points you’ve stated here and I look forward to sitting on side while you recount your journey. How wonderful!

  7. Noel H says:

    Abbie, thank you so much for writing about this journey you’re embarking on! I recently started looking into my ancestry myself, after years of someone who wanted nothing to do with their blood family due to more present-day traumas with living relatives. But it turns out that connecting with my ancestry, finding my ancestors’ names, where they were from, and even some pictures has been startlingly meaningful and fulfilling. I really identify with how you were hesitant to identify with/explore your Norse roots due to the masculinity, darkness, hardness of it all, as someone whose heritage is largely German. I still feel that way, haha. But now I feel I’m being called towards my Scottish ancestry, which I also previously had no interest in due to the….hmm, it just always felt like paganism based on the British Isles was the “default” so I wanted to avoid it? Which of course isn’t true. There’s all kinds of things you could take out of analyzing a sentiment like that.

    I am so especially relieved to see someone starting a conversation about whiteness, too. As I’ve been doing my family tree research, I have been face-to-face with the fact that many of my ancestors were literal early American colonists in the 1600s and even found documents showing some were slave owners, which was not surprising. Shockingly, though, I also discovered a Native great-great grandmother. I’m not sure how to reconcile the two lines. All of these discoveries have left me wanting desperately to talk to others about how we conduct our practice as white North American pagans and witches working with ancestral traditions. How we do the work of decolonizing, how we deconstruct white supremacy, etc.

    Very much looking forward to your next article!

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