Odin, Thor, and our Christianized paganism

Lars Walker, the novelist who is a long-time commenter on this blog, has written a perceptive review of the hit movie Thor.   He liked it–as did I, actually, for the most part–but what struck me in his review is his point about how even our pop paganism has been influenced by Christianity.  Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different:

To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.

The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. He delighted in war for two reasons—one in order to feed the wolves and ravens that were his familiars, secondly in order to fill his hall, Valhalla, with heroes who would stand with him at Ragnarok, the last great battle. To this end he raised heroes up and then brutally betrayed them. He was also, according to the eddas, a sexual predator and a known deviate.

The difference between these two Odins, I think, is suggestive of important—and generally unrecognized—elements in western culture. The script writers have confused Odin with the Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. It doesn’t even occur to them that a high god could be anything but kind and peace-loving, since we all have so thoroughly internalized Christian suppositions that even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do—can’t conceive of a religion founded on darkness, brute force, and the domination of the weak by the strong.

In an odd plot element (I’ll try not to spoil it) Thor submits to a Christ-like humiliation for the sake of others. This is something that would have never been said of him in the old religion, except as a joke. Even Thor has grown richer through acquaintance with Jesus.

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: “Thor”: Norse Mythology Mediated By Christian Ideas.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Another example is Frithiof’s Saga. My grandfather brought a copy with him when he immigrated from Sweden in the mid 20′s. I think it was made into an opera, which would be great if Jussi Björling played Frithiof.

  • SKPeterson

    Another example is Frithiof’s Saga. My grandfather brought a copy with him when he immigrated from Sweden in the mid 20′s. I think it was made into an opera, which would be great if Jussi Björling played Frithiof.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Thanks for the link, Dr. Veith.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Thanks for the link, Dr. Veith.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different”

    Oh so true.

    Also, pagan gods were never consistent. One professor noted that the Hebrews couldn’t believe in a god like Vashti (I think) because she was incompetent. I found that hilarious. Recently on Issues etc., a guest made the point that science was greatly aided by the Christian belief that God ordered the universe. Therefore discoveries could be considered universally applicable. That seemed a very interesting insight.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different”

    Oh so true.

    Also, pagan gods were never consistent. One professor noted that the Hebrews couldn’t believe in a god like Vashti (I think) because she was incompetent. I found that hilarious. Recently on Issues etc., a guest made the point that science was greatly aided by the Christian belief that God ordered the universe. Therefore discoveries could be considered universally applicable. That seemed a very interesting insight.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I’m still bummed that Donald Blake is nowhere in the story.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I’m still bummed that Donald Blake is nowhere in the story.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Thor uses the name as an alias, sort of by accident.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Thor uses the name as an alias, sort of by accident.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    “…ve are Americans-don’t vorry about the Old Country.” was my Danish born Grandfather’s answer to my ?-”Why do you raise the flag every morning…-what about your other country?’
    So-didn’t pay much attention to heritage til recently-
    Danish flag-oldest national flag-white Cross-Red background-
    King Christian-defied hitler-wore the Star of David- encouraging the Danish people to do the same—
    Lief Erickson – influence on Russian monarch’s turn to Christianity..
    etc-
    looking forward to THOR-saw some of the hidden messages in the trailers…

    BTW-great article / interview w/ Micheal Farris (Dr) in NA—

    Carol-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    “…ve are Americans-don’t vorry about the Old Country.” was my Danish born Grandfather’s answer to my ?-”Why do you raise the flag every morning…-what about your other country?’
    So-didn’t pay much attention to heritage til recently-
    Danish flag-oldest national flag-white Cross-Red background-
    King Christian-defied hitler-wore the Star of David- encouraging the Danish people to do the same—
    Lief Erickson – influence on Russian monarch’s turn to Christianity..
    etc-
    looking forward to THOR-saw some of the hidden messages in the trailers…

    BTW-great article / interview w/ Micheal Farris (Dr) in NA—

    Carol-CS

  • nowafonseca

    seriously, i hate trying to undo the absurd assumptions that Christianity BORROWED from the pagans. I do not think this movie will help that argument much…..although, this movie looks good.

    @sg I love Issues, etc.

  • nowafonseca

    seriously, i hate trying to undo the absurd assumptions that Christianity BORROWED from the pagans. I do not think this movie will help that argument much…..although, this movie looks good.

    @sg I love Issues, etc.

  • Larry H

    “…even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do”

    Why would we assume that the people that made this movie would reject Christianity?
    May there be Christians in the movie business that make secular movies?
    I guess I don’t understand the assumption.

  • Larry H

    “…even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do”

    Why would we assume that the people that made this movie would reject Christianity?
    May there be Christians in the movie business that make secular movies?
    I guess I don’t understand the assumption.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    A great movie! But, yeah, totally got the paganism wrong…

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    A great movie! But, yeah, totally got the paganism wrong…

  • Porcell

    How interesting, a modern pagan movie interested in capturing the attention of modern pagan fools is more than tainted by the Judeo-Christian deity. Personally, I don’t waste time with such trifles.

  • Porcell

    How interesting, a modern pagan movie interested in capturing the attention of modern pagan fools is more than tainted by the Judeo-Christian deity. Personally, I don’t waste time with such trifles.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Dear Larry H.
    “Why would we assume that the people that made this movie would reject Christianity?”

    Haven’t we all seen a constant contempt for everything Christian pour through our TV and movie screens for at least two generation? There are Christians working in Hollywood, no doubt, but they have to keep their heads down like as though they were living in the Soviet Union. How often, say, have you seen the Christian clergy positively portrayed?

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Dear Larry H.
    “Why would we assume that the people that made this movie would reject Christianity?”

    Haven’t we all seen a constant contempt for everything Christian pour through our TV and movie screens for at least two generation? There are Christians working in Hollywood, no doubt, but they have to keep their heads down like as though they were living in the Soviet Union. How often, say, have you seen the Christian clergy positively portrayed?

  • Tom Hering

    The Christian clergy, positively portrayed, doesn’t make for very interesting plots and characters. :-) And it’s the moviemaker’s job to give us interesting plots and characters.

    What I’ve heard repeatedly from Christians working in Hollywood is that they DON’T have to “keep their heads down.” On the contrary, if they do their jobs and make good movies, no one in Hollywood could care less that they’re Christians.

  • Tom Hering

    The Christian clergy, positively portrayed, doesn’t make for very interesting plots and characters. :-) And it’s the moviemaker’s job to give us interesting plots and characters.

    What I’ve heard repeatedly from Christians working in Hollywood is that they DON’T have to “keep their heads down.” On the contrary, if they do their jobs and make good movies, no one in Hollywood could care less that they’re Christians.

  • Nerd2011

    Everyone needs to remember this movie is not based off the Norse Mythology…it is based off of Marvel’s design of the characters. Thor is the “God of Thunder”…meant to be an other worldly being who aids the Avengers. Its not supposed to be some blood thirsty Viking raid because then Thor wouldn’t be a good guy. Besides Thor does start out very violent but learns from the humans (mostly Natalie Portman). I just think it should be remembered that this is not a movie about Norse Mythology but about a comic book that was based off the Mythology.

  • Nerd2011

    Everyone needs to remember this movie is not based off the Norse Mythology…it is based off of Marvel’s design of the characters. Thor is the “God of Thunder”…meant to be an other worldly being who aids the Avengers. Its not supposed to be some blood thirsty Viking raid because then Thor wouldn’t be a good guy. Besides Thor does start out very violent but learns from the humans (mostly Natalie Portman). I just think it should be remembered that this is not a movie about Norse Mythology but about a comic book that was based off the Mythology.

  • John Childress

    Agree with Nerd2011… you guys are way off…. maybe the original comic writers were guilty of what you claim, but the movie is just based on that comic, nothing else.

  • John Childress

    Agree with Nerd2011… you guys are way off…. maybe the original comic writers were guilty of what you claim, but the movie is just based on that comic, nothing else.

  • Pingback: Tolkien’s Mythology for England and King Arthur | Praeter Naturam

  • Pingback: Tolkien’s Mythology for England and King Arthur | Praeter Naturam

  • Jeffrey Dennis Pearce

    Utterly fascinating blog post. Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Dennis Pearce

    Utterly fascinating blog post. Thank you.

  • Aaron

    Hi,
    I’m doing a bit of beginner research on the Edda. I’m trying to discern whether or not some of the things Odin did (like hanging from the tree of the world for nine days) were created out of Christianity, or if that specific story was around previous to the Christian influence of Iceland. Some direction, and maybe a reliable source would be really helpful.

  • Aaron

    Hi,
    I’m doing a bit of beginner research on the Edda. I’m trying to discern whether or not some of the things Odin did (like hanging from the tree of the world for nine days) were created out of Christianity, or if that specific story was around previous to the Christian influence of Iceland. Some direction, and maybe a reliable source would be really helpful.

  • Leo

    Yes the movie was very good, understanding that it is based on a comic version of Norse myth. there are a lot of discrepancies with what marvel has done and what the myths say. for one if you watch the movie, that is not how Odin lost his eye, 2. Sif is part of Thor’s small band of warriors and she is sporting dark hair, the myth depicts her and she is famous for her long golden hair. 3. Loki was the Blood brother of Odin, not Thor and in the movie it says that Laufey was Loki’s father this is backwards as Laufey is Loki’s mother and Farbuti is his father. weigh the myth for the myth and the comic as just that, a comic.

  • Leo

    Yes the movie was very good, understanding that it is based on a comic version of Norse myth. there are a lot of discrepancies with what marvel has done and what the myths say. for one if you watch the movie, that is not how Odin lost his eye, 2. Sif is part of Thor’s small band of warriors and she is sporting dark hair, the myth depicts her and she is famous for her long golden hair. 3. Loki was the Blood brother of Odin, not Thor and in the movie it says that Laufey was Loki’s father this is backwards as Laufey is Loki’s mother and Farbuti is his father. weigh the myth for the myth and the comic as just that, a comic.

  • Pingback: Projecting Christianity onto other religions


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X