Nordic Animism is the knowledge and practices of engaging and respecting gods and spirits that inhabit the landscapes, the cycle of seasons and history, in the Northwestern Europe.
This traditional knowledge creates and maintains relationships with the Nordic space as a wider community of beings. Therefore uncovering and renewing Nordic Animism offers a new environmentalist way of engaging with the northern European history of religions. With Nordic animism we can focus on traditional animist knowledge as embedded in Euro-descendant culture and thereby promote its inheret potential for ecology and sustainability.
Animists engage and relate to the beings in the world, what scholars call “the wider community of persons”. Working with animism can have two objectives. One is scholarly and aims to produce a new kind of academic knowledge about Nordic history of religions. But it is a kind of action research. It is comparable to queer studies, indigenous studies, or critical race studies because it is directly related to cultural activism. It aims to reopen dialogue with our traditional knowledge for the purpose of sustainability sensitization.
From a scholarly perspective, animism is a broader perspective than, for instance, pre-Christian heathenry, because animism may be reinvented through changing attitudes like religious idioms. The animist perspective shifts the focus of investigation. Instead of researching one historic context (typically from around the Viking Age), contemporary animists study a mode of religiousity, i.e. a religiousity that focuses on locally appropriate ways of respectfully relating to the wider community of beings. This relationship of respect has implications for our general approach to, for example, managing the environment. This is sometimes called sometimes called Euro TEK (European Traditional Ecological Knowledge).
Nordic Animism bridges scholarship and activism. From the scholarly perspective one may apply anthropology to the Nordic history of religions, and read Yule goat traditions as animism, i.e. as ways to engage the wider community of people and beings. However, one might also apply this in cultural activism and try to re-engage the concept of the Yulegoat in the modern era (See this).
The animist perspective is inspired by the way that contemporary indigenous populations apply “indigenous knowledge” to contemporary topics like environmental activism, the broad struggle against colonialism, extraction capitalism and coping with climate change. In this respect, however, it is important to note that we do not claim indigeneity for ourselves. There are a number of important reasons to avoid this particular label:
• We reject racism: We unambiguously distance ourselves from white nationalism, whether the so-called alt-right or otherwise.
• We support indigenous struggles: We therefore want to avoid compromising actual indigenous empowerment initiatives by undermining the concept of indigeneity, by extending it to majority populations that are beneficiaries of white and settler privilege.
• We embrace history: Claiming “indigeneity” risks subsuming a kind of ownership that could eject a large segment of descendants of Europeans outside of Europe from the right to this knowledge
While the academic study of the Nordic region has a long history, much of the record remains under-explored, such as marginal material connected to historic forms of Nordic polytheism. This material remains essentially ‘hidden’ due to a process similar to what Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaf notes about the esoteric traditions as forms of forms of knowledge forms that have been rejected in the process where Europeans have created their self image as rationalist and modern (see Hanegraaf 2012)
Nordic animism, however, has been rejected by a different production of self-image than the one observed by Hanegraaf. It is the construction of Nordic modernity and nationalism that creates the rejection of animism in Northern Europe. There is a cultural and scholarly process of constructing “the Viking” for the purpose of building nationhood (Lundt Hansen 2018). Animist knowledge has basically been “Viking-washed” out of our construction of the self. If something wasn’t ‘Viking’, it wasn’t interesting and therefore could be rejected from our cultural self image.
The development of contemporary Nordic Animism, sheds new light on–and reengages in dialogue with—rejected animist knowledge. As animists, we explore revalorizing traditional animist knowledge of sustainability sensitization, comparable to what Hahnegraaf calls the “restoration of cultural memory”. This approach enables us as Euro-descendants to engage our traditional knowledge through open and organic dialogue. We must release our culturally-construction self-image from the confines of nationalist nostalgia for brutality, such as the notion of the colonizing “Viking” as an essential ‘whiteness of whiteness’, and free ourselves from the confines of specific scientific projects (such as understanding religiosity inside defined historical contexts).
The development of the Nordic Animism perspective is an ongoing endeavour.
You can assist with its development by providing support through the Nordic Animism Patreon.