Gods & Spirits

Heathenry is usually characterized as being polytheistic, exhibiting a theological structure which includes a pantheon of gods and goddesses, with adherents offering their allegiance and worship to some or all of them. Some practitioners are polytheistic realists, insisting in the literal existence of the deities as individual entities. Others express a psychological interpretation of the divinities, viewing them for instance as symbols, Jungian archetypes or racial archetypes, with some who adopt this position deeming themselves to be atheists.

Heathenry's deities are adopted from the pre-Christian belief systems found in the various societies of Germanic Europe; they include divinities like Týr, Odin, Thor, Frigg and Freyja from Scandinavian sources, Wōden, Thunor and Ēostre from Anglo-Saxon sources, and figures such as Nehalennia from continental sources. Some practitioners adopt the belief, taken from Norse mythology, that there are two sets of deities, the Æsir and the Vanir. Certain practitioners blend the different regions and times together, for instance using a mix of Old English and Old Norse names for the deities, while others keep them separate and only venerate deities from a particular region. Some groups focus their veneration on a particular deity; for instance, the Brotherhood of Wolves, a Czech Heathen group, center their worship on the deity Fenrir. Similarly, many practitioners in the U.S. adopt a particular patron deity for themselves, and describe themselves as that entity's devotee using terms such as Thorsman or Odinsman.

Heathen deities are not seen as perfect, omnipotent, or omnipresent, and are instead viewed as having their own strengths and weaknesses. Many practitioners believe that these deities will one day die, as did, for instance, the god Balder in Norse mythology. Heathens view their connection with their deities not as being that of a master and servant but rather as an interdependent relationship akin to that of a family. For them, these deities serve as both examples and role models whose behavior is to be imitated. Many practitioners believe that they can communicate with these deities, as well as negotiate, bargain, and argue with them, and hope that through venerating them, practitioners will gain wisdom, understanding, power, or visionary insights.

Many practitioners combine their polytheistic world-view with a pantheistic conception of the natural world as being sacred and imbued with a divine energy force permeating all life. Heathenry is animistic, with practitioners believing in nonhuman spirit persons commonly known as "wights" (vættir) that inhabit the world, each of whom is believed to have its own personality. Some of these are known as "land spirits" (landvættir) and inhabit different aspects of the landscape, living alongside humans, whom they can both help and hinder. Others are deemed to be household deities and live within the home, where they can be propitiated with offerings of food. Some Heathens interact with these entities and provide offerings to them more often than they do with the gods and goddesses. Wights are often identified with various creatures from Northwestern European folklore such as elves, dwarves, gnomes, and trolls. Some of these entities—such as the Jötunn of Norse mythology—are deemed to be baleful spirits; within the community it is often deemed taboo to provide offerings to them, although some practitioners still do so. Many Heathens also believe in and respect ancestral spirits.