carlyle on norse paganism

[…] I think Scandinavian Paganism, to us here, is more interesting than any other. It is, for one thing, the latest; it continued in these regions of Europe till the eleventh century: eight hundred years ago the Norwegians were still worshippers of Odin. It is interesting also as the creed of our fathers; the men whose blood still runs in our veins, whom doubtless we still resemble in so many ways. Strange: they did believe that, while we believe so differently. Let us look a little at this poor Norse creed, for many reasons. We have tolerable means to do it; for there is another point of interest in these Scandinavian mythologies: that they have been preserved so well.


That Norse Religion, a rude but earnest, sternly impressive Consecration of Valor (so we may define it), sufficed for these old valiant Northmen. Consecration of Valor is not a bad thing! We will take it for good, so far as it goes. Neither is there no use in knowing something about this old Paganism of our Fathers. Unconsciously, and combined with higher things, it is in us yet, that old Faith withal! To know it consciously, brings us into closer and clearer relation with the Past,—with our own possessions in the Past. For the whole Past, as I keep repeating, is the possession of the Present; the Past had always something true, and is a precious possession. In a different time, in a different place, it is always some other side of our common Human Nature that has been developing itself.

— Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero–Worship, and the Heroic in History



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4 responses to “carlyle on norse paganism

  1. Vladimir

    Carlyle is wrong about the Norse paganism being “the latest” (presumably in Europe). Large parts of the Baltic (inhabited by the ancestors of today’s Lithuanians and Latvians) remained pagan until the late 14th/early 15th century, more than 300 years longer than the Germanic Scandinavia. The (non-Norse) Lapland in the north of Scandinavia was pagan even longer, all until the 17th or even 18th century.

    • Vladimir,

      I’m aware of the lingering of Baltic paganism, but thank you for bringing it up as a correction to Carlyle.

      I wonder how well the longevity of Baltic and Saamic paganism was known in his day?

      • Vladimir

        I suppose Lapland may have been a very obscure notion. However, I would guess that the Livonian Order (which later merged into the Teutonic Order) and their 13th century crusades in the Baltic against the native pagans should have been well-known to a 19th century European historian.

        Moreover, the late 14th/early 15th conversion of the pagan Lithuanians under Jagiello was a major event in European history. It was one of the key steps in establishing the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was to become one of the major European powers in the following centuries. There’s no way a 19th century historian would have been unaware of this. So Carlyle probably just got carried away when writing that sentence.

  2. Pingback: Switzerland, Singapore and Scandinavia « Foseti

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