The Goodbye To Scandinavian Paganism

In the countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, people worshiped a set of deities belonging to two different tribes of gods – the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir were the deities associated with the arts of war and were ruled by Odin, the god of wisdom, war and death. The Vanir were the deities associated with the fertility of animals, humans and the land itself. The latter, in time, became a subclass of gods within the Aesir and vs versa, all gods were important. By the 10th century, Christianity came into these countries and brought an end to the polytheistic worship of the Northern European peoples, thus creating three new realms unified under one faith, under one god.

The Christianization of Scandinavia wasn’t held in one day. It was a process which took time, and a long and painful time it was indeed. It is obvious that the Scandinavians had their own conflicts, and battles were common between them, but with the coming of Christianization war took a whole different meaning. Wars in great scale, murdering for no purpose, solely for the new faith, the new god and the hatred which was spread by lies that poisened the minds of monarchs. Denmark was the most easily transformed country. The Viking raids slowly introduced the new religion, due to the christians brought as war prizes. The Danes were often in contact with England and Normandy, allowing them to continued exposure to the new religion via political interactions. At first, there was little struggle in assimilating the two faiths, and they were able to coexist under the individual decrees of the Danish tribal leaders. This assimilation began around the 930s of our common era. The baptism of war leaders and kings built a new path for the christian faith to spread, for the kings and warchiefs demanded that their subjects had to be converted as well, since the new faith was now part of their culture. The danish tribes were united under the flag of this new god. The canonization of Canute IV in the 12th century, the Christian ruler of Denmark in the late 1000s, declared Christianity as Denmark’s official religion.

The earliest recordings of Christianity in Sweden were in the 700s. In the 830s, Saint Ansgar (a monk with the mission to bring Christianity to Northern Europe), came to the northern shores to spread word of the new faith at the bid of the Swedish king of that time. However, his church at Birka was highly rejected, so it was not until Olof Skötkonung, (the first Christian king of Sweden), agreed to a toleration of the two faiths in the late 900s that Christianity found a place in Swedish culture. He established the first episcopal center in Skara rather than near Uppsala in Uppland, as there is written documentation that the largest worship center to the Norse gods existed at Uppsala. This might have been a wise choice of the king, to avoid war between the followers of the two faiths. It was King Inge later, in the 1080s, who disregarded the risks of war and ended the sacrifices at Uppsala, ultimately serving as the moment of transition between Paganism and Christianity in Sweden. Although, the result of this instance was Inge’s temporary exile by his brother- By the year 1130 Christianity gained a permanent stronghold in Sweden and spread to become the foremost religion in the land.

Norway was the most difficult to transform from polytheism to Christianity, as its history was filled with rulers who constantly dictated the religion. Most of the conflict was seen during a fifty year period (from 950 to1000 CE), under King Haakon. Haakon’s method was simple: temples were left to the pagans with churches built right beside them, and though he refused on his own part to sacrifice to the Aesir and Vanir, he also refused to punish those who continued this practice. Haakon was able to begin the spread of Christianity throughout this region by showing kindness to the established polytheistic religion.

King Haakon was one of a kind, unfortunately, a rare sort of man in this period of great changes. After his death, Jarl Haakon replaced him, himself being a pagan man. All the Christianization that King Haakon had established was utterly destroyed. In acting this way, not only did Jarl Haakon create a stricter war against Christianity, but in the years to come he forged a reason for the Norwegian Christians to detest the Aesir and Vanir followers. With the end of the 10th century, the Christian king Olaf Tryggvason was very much ready to eliminate every pagan follower of the old religion. King Olaf had had a very strict christian education, and pagans were seen as the evil sort of “creatures” which worshiped the devil.

However, Tryggvason only ruled for five years, (from 955 to 1000 CE), but he made certain that they were prolific years. He travelled all over Norway to enforce the Christian faith, destroying pagan areas of worship, including temples and everyone we could find. Those who refused to submit to the new religion were tortured and severely punished, ending up dead anyway. By the end of the 12th century, Tryggvason’s successors saw Christianity dominating Norway.

With the rise of the new religion, there came a need for building structures linked to the faith. The first church buildings were modelled most specifically from the longships, towering structures that loomed toward the sky like the future Gothic cathedrals with dragon heads on the roof reflecting the strength and power. These churches, called stave churches because of the stars at the heart of their post and lintel structure, were the highlight and symbol of the new religion that had swept through Scandinavia and became a symbol of the unification between the three lands at the cost of many wars, bloodshed and suffering.

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