If I were to ask you who a Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist was, you would have at least a general idea, even if the extent of your knowledge was only that they were a Christian who belonged to a Protestant group.
It might get fuzzier if I were to say Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or Scientologist. Yes, you’ve heard of them, but the specifics of their identity are, at best, probably a bit vague. Christian? Non-Christian? Cult? You might be understandably a bit fuzzy, but again, at least you’ve heard of them.
But what if I were to say “Odinist”?
And what if I were to tell you that yes, it is a religion—one that is quickly becoming one of the more influential in the United States and is behind some of the more important headlines of late?
If you’re like most, you’re scratching your head.
You’re not alone.
An Odinist is someone who follows the Norse god Odin. The religious organization known as the Odinic Rite defines Odinism as “the natural religion of the peoples of Northern Europe.” As detailed on Wikipedia, the Odinic Rite
… conceives itself as a neo-völkisch Heathen movement concerned with Germanic paganism, mythology, folklore, and runes. As a white supremacist organization, the Odinic Rite limits membership to white individuals, holding the belief in Heathenry as the ancestral religion of the Indo-European race.
Not only are many white supremacists Odinists, but many were also involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, sporting Volkisch-inspired neopagan apparel. Most notably by the individual who become something of the “face” or “image” of the insurrection, Jacob Anthony Chansley.
(Photo illustration by Daron Taylor/The Washington Post; photo by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg News)
As the Washington Post reported at the time:
The Valknot tattoo and garb seen on Jacob Anthony Chansley, known as the “Q Shaman,” are nods to Nordic culture and heritage. The Norse symbol has been associated with Odinism, a strain of white supremacist thought that claims to hark back to pre-Christian belief systems, but is also used by non-racist Pagans….
Odinism, along with other white supremacist groups, are growing. The Anti-Defamation League’s research found a stunning 38% rise in white supremacist propaganda in 2022 over the previous year—a total of 6,751 cases compared to 4,876 in 2021.
Expect them to keep rising, as this is anything but a new phenomenon. In 2015, the first temple to the Norse gods to be built in a thousand years began construction in Iceland. The worship of Thor, Odin and Frigg gave way to the Christian faith toward the end of the Viking age, but a modern version of Norse paganism has become increasingly popular in Iceland. Membership in “Asatruarfelagid,” an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods, tripled in the decade leading up to the temple’s construction.
So what is Odinism?
Now you know.
James Emery White
Yonat Shimron, “White Supremacist Propaganda Scaled New Heights in 2022, ADL Report Finds,” Religion News Service, March 9, 2023, read online.
“Odinic Rite,” Wikipedia, read online.
“Identifying Far-Right Symbols That Appeared at the U.S. Capitol Riot, January 15, 2021, read online.
Reuters Staff, “Iceland to Build Its First Temple to the Norse Gods in 1,000 Years,” Reuters, February 3, 2015, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Grafissimo
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I Believe,” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.
Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.