Heimdall & The Horned God: Beyond Black & White

Heimdall & The Horned God: Beyond Black & White May 4, 2011

The debate regarding Idris Elba playing Heimdall, “the whitest of Gods”, has me recollecting my first encounter with the Horned God of Wicca:

He was not black as in African. Black was not so much a description of looks as it was of who he was. He was utter blackness: the extreme darkness of moonless nights, of empty space, of deep caverns, and dreamless sleep. While he had dark hair and eyes and black clothes, black was what he was and not how he appeared.

I still feel what I wrote a year ago is as true as when I experienced it all those years ago. The “Black Man” of the trial records that Murray analyzed is to my knowledge never referred to as a Moor or any by any other indication that he had dark skin or was of African ancestry. Black, like many colors, took on meaning beyond the visual color spectrum in folklore. A blackguard is someone untrustworthy, not someone who is dark in appearance. In the folksong I Know Where I’m Going, a young woman laments her lover’s reputation is undeserved:

Some say he’s black
But I say he’s bonnie
The fairest of them all
My handsome winsome Johnny

The blackness of the Horned God is a quality apart from his skin tone. The fact that Heimdall is considered “The White God” makes me consider not his appearance, but what whiteness means. Heimdall is very different from the Horned God in several important aspects. While the Horned God lives in the wild, Heimdall lives among the Aesir. The Horned God is found at night, in rites secluded and private, while Heimdall stands before Bifrost every day for all to see.

With Heimdall nothing is hidden. Not only does he possess keen powers of observation, he illuminates all things and hides from no one. He takes up the same post each day, guarding Asgard. His duty is plain, his enemy could be said to be chaos itself and he will alert the Aesir to the danger of Ragnarok when it comes. Heimdall could be said to be a paladin, a warrior type often given a “white” or “bright” appearance. His whiteness comes from his steadfast openness and commitment to duty. He is, in D&D terms, lawful good.

None of this changes the weirdness of having someone of African descent playing a Norse God. (Usually films dealing with Europe’s history use the Crusades as a device to explain away such characters, but since we are technically dealing with aliens here I suppose such a device is unnecessary.) Yet, it does help us to see if Idris Elba’s Heimdall will live up to the mythic qualities of whiteness. From the few clips we have seen in him in the trailers he does seem to be a fierce and unyielding paladin-type warrior. Will he be the illuminator, the guardian of order and rightness in the movie Thor? I guess we’ll find out on Friday.

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  • Well put.

    Of course, if he’d merely been an olive-complected white man, nobody would’ve complained. And with Hollywood’s history of whitewashing, we really can’t object to race-flipping in the other direction. Looks rather mean-spirited of people who do.

  • Well put.

    Of course, if he’d merely been an olive-complected white man, nobody would’ve complained. And with Hollywood’s history of whitewashing, we really can’t object to race-flipping in the other direction. Looks rather mean-spirited of people who do.

  • Does any god really want to be conveyed as “white” in the modern sense of the word? He’d have to go around dressed in bargain-rack gear from Old Navy and drive a high-mileage SUV to a suburban home with a mortgage that is hopelessly underwater!

  • Does any god really want to be conveyed as “white” in the modern sense of the word? He’d have to go around dressed in bargain-rack gear from Old Navy and drive a high-mileage SUV to a suburban home with a mortgage that is hopelessly underwater!

  • Glenn

    You would have to write ten columns to describe all the differences between our sacred Eddas and this hollywood film. This movie was not made to be authentic, or to honor our Gods and Goddesses, but to make as much money as possible. The producers probably felt bringing in an African – American would widen the audience and their profits.

  • Glenn

    You would have to write ten columns to describe all the differences between our sacred Eddas and this hollywood film. This movie was not made to be authentic, or to honor our Gods and Goddesses, but to make as much money as possible. The producers probably felt bringing in an African – American would widen the audience and their profits.

  • I like this perspective, Star. I like the concept of white as fully visible, illuminated, present, Seen, and black as hidden, fecund, occulted, more of a Mystery.

  • I like this perspective, Star. I like the concept of white as fully visible, illuminated, present, Seen, and black as hidden, fecund, occulted, more of a Mystery.

  • Wyrd Designs

    Honestly, they aren’t portraying the Gods of Northern Europe, they’re portraying the Gods as written in a comic. There’s so many other things in the comic universe alone that are inaccurate, trying to judge it as being accurate, and decrying the fact it’s not historical accurate is poppycock. This should be judged by pop cultural terms alone.

  • Wyrd Designs

    Honestly, they aren’t portraying the Gods of Northern Europe, they’re portraying the Gods as written in a comic. There’s so many other things in the comic universe alone that are inaccurate, trying to judge it as being accurate, and decrying the fact it’s not historical accurate is poppycock. This should be judged by pop cultural terms alone.

  • I get that Thor is a pop-culture representation, but my argument is that doesn’t matter, not to the average movie-goer. Saying this doesn’t matter to us is like saying The Craft, The Wicker Man and Avatar are totally irrelevant to us.

    When there are people invoking Gandalf we can’t say that this pop-culture representation of Thor will not inspire religious fervor. Especially since he is being portrayed as mighty and majestic as one could wish.

  • I get that Thor is a pop-culture representation, but my argument is that doesn’t matter, not to the average movie-goer. Saying this doesn’t matter to us is like saying The Craft, The Wicker Man and Avatar are totally irrelevant to us.

    When there are people invoking Gandalf we can’t say that this pop-culture representation of Thor will not inspire religious fervor. Especially since he is being portrayed as mighty and majestic as one could wish.

  • Bill

    the Norse gods are mythological, no doubt about that. The thing is the mythological characters represent the people (white Scandanavians) that came up with them; in looks, names, (deeds maybe a stretch), etc. I think black people would be unhappy that their mythological gods of old were made into white people for the silver screen, I would agree with them too!

    Btw. I think the “gods” would definitely liked to be conveyed as whites, like the white guys who took out Osama, modern warriors, modern heros

  • Bill

    the Norse gods are mythological, no doubt about that. The thing is the mythological characters represent the people (white Scandanavians) that came up with them; in looks, names, (deeds maybe a stretch), etc. I think black people would be unhappy that their mythological gods of old were made into white people for the silver screen, I would agree with them too!

    Btw. I think the “gods” would definitely liked to be conveyed as whites, like the white guys who took out Osama, modern warriors, modern heros

  • Your last comment reeks of racism. Being of Northern European descent myself, I don’t think my Gods would be terribly proud of killing an unarmed man.

  • Your last comment reeks of racism. Being of Northern European descent myself, I don’t think my Gods would be terribly proud of killing an unarmed man.

  • “Btw. I think the “gods” would definitely liked to be conveyed as whites, like the white guys who took out Osama, modern warriors, modern heros ”

    What do you think the chances are that just 1 of those 40 troopers off those copters were not white? A better question is, “Who cares?” I call one who does heroic deeds, a hero, regardless of skin color.

  • “Btw. I think the “gods” would definitely liked to be conveyed as whites, like the white guys who took out Osama, modern warriors, modern heros ”

    What do you think the chances are that just 1 of those 40 troopers off those copters were not white? A better question is, “Who cares?” I call one who does heroic deeds, a hero, regardless of skin color.

  • At this point in culture are people still hung up on skin tone? And unless we get footage or such on the osama thing, all we got is back seat second guessing. If i wanted gossip i would go to middle school

  • At this point in culture are people still hung up on skin tone? And unless we get footage or such on the osama thing, all we got is back seat second guessing. If i wanted gossip i would go to middle school

  • NorseAlchemist

    Considering they’re my Gods, I can too complain. Unless you feel that should there be a movie of African Mythology, we can “race-flip” one of their rightous Gods.

    That said, I don’t mind a black viking. We had them, I’m pretty sure. It’s not about race, it’s about respect for everyone’s traditions.

  • NorseAlchemist

    Considering they’re my Gods, I can too complain. Unless you feel that should there be a movie of African Mythology, we can “race-flip” one of their rightous Gods.

    That said, I don’t mind a black viking. We had them, I’m pretty sure. It’s not about race, it’s about respect for everyone’s traditions.

  • NorseAlchemist

    Well said, a good way of looking at it. Heimdall is indeed like a paladin.

    And, having just got home from the movie, I can well say that Idris did a great job, and was indeed an “white” god, as you describe.

  • NorseAlchemist

    Well said, a good way of looking at it. Heimdall is indeed like a paladin.

    And, having just got home from the movie, I can well say that Idris did a great job, and was indeed an “white” god, as you describe.

  • Angry Heathen

    Afirmative and the anti white agenda at it’s worst. They picked the whitest of the gods to be played by a negro to insult european people and Asatru people. I’m not going to watch this movie and anyone how has respect for their heritage should not watch this insult.

  • Angry Heathen

    Afirmative and the anti white agenda at it’s worst. They picked the whitest of the gods to be played by a negro to insult european people and Asatru people. I’m not going to watch this movie and anyone how has respect for their heritage should not watch this insult.

  • That’s both paranoid and racist. You do your tradition great dishonor.

  • That’s both paranoid and racist. You do your tradition great dishonor.

  • No, I don’t think they’d be proud of it. However, I also don’t think they’d be proud of putting down a rabid dog, either, and I think that is the more appropriate analogy.

  • Jason Hatter

    No, I don’t think they’d be proud of it. However, I also don’t think they’d be proud of putting down a rabid dog, either, and I think that is the more appropriate analogy.

  • Good point.

  • Good point.

  • Your words are the insult. To this site, to that fine actor, and to your Gods. Shame!

  • Your words are the insult. To this site, to that fine actor, and to your Gods. Shame!

  • or, to create this “buzz”. Ingenious!

  • or, to create this “buzz”. Ingenious!

  • Given how heathens have to fight to dispell the idea that their religion is inherently racist, it’s sad to see someone make a comment like that which just encourages people to see heathens as racist. Definitely a great dishonor to all the heathen people out there practicing a religion that isn’t based on hatred.

  • Given how heathens have to fight to dispell the idea that their religion is inherently racist, it’s sad to see someone make a comment like that which just encourages people to see heathens as racist. Definitely a great dishonor to all the heathen people out there practicing a religion that isn’t based on hatred.

  • lynn

    Surely these same white supremacists who are all up in arms about Elba playing Heimdall have been equally upset over the representation of Semitic Jesus Christ as pale, white and European all these centuries. When the Bible actually tells us he had bronze skin and wooly hair.

  • lynn

    Surely these same white supremacists who are all up in arms about Elba playing Heimdall have been equally upset over the representation of Semitic Jesus Christ as pale, white and European all these centuries. When the Bible actually tells us he had bronze skin and wooly hair.

  • lynn

    Yemaya, one of the ancient Yoruba goddesses from West Africa, is also worshipped in some parts of Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Latin America and has been reconfigured by those people as having a Mediterranean skin color and long flowing straight hair. In other words, they imagine her to look like themselves. If you google some pics of this deity you will see what I mean. But that is not how Africans originally imagined her.

    Yemaya goes by another name, Yemoja, and if you google pics of her under that name you will see a more African representation.And Christianized Europe reconfigured Semitic Jesus Christ as somehow looking Northern European, with long straight light brown hair and (sometimes) blue eyes for centuries. The fact is, people the world over imagine their gods to look like them. We are living in the modern world now, and cultures are mixing through travel and instant communications to an extent never seen before. And there’s no reason why our gods should not reflect that diversity. Folks who can’t accept this phenomenon will be constantly getting their panties in a knot, and that’s just too bad for them.

  • lynn

    Yemaya, one of the ancient Yoruba goddesses from West Africa, is also worshipped in some parts of Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Latin America and has been reconfigured by those people as having a Mediterranean skin color and long flowing straight hair. In other words, they imagine her to look like themselves. If you google some pics of this deity you will see what I mean. But that is not how Africans originally imagined her.

    Yemaya goes by another name, Yemoja, and if you google pics of her under that name you will see a more African representation.And Christianized Europe reconfigured Semitic Jesus Christ as somehow looking Northern European, with long straight light brown hair and (sometimes) blue eyes for centuries. The fact is, people the world over imagine their gods to look like them. We are living in the modern world now, and cultures are mixing through travel and instant communications to an extent never seen before. And there’s no reason why our gods should not reflect that diversity. Folks who can’t accept this phenomenon will be constantly getting their panties in a knot, and that’s just too bad for them.

  • Ooh, it’s field day time!

    “Afirmative and the anti white agenda at it’s worst.”

    I didn’t see a pro-white or any race agenda in the religion. Actually, I do believe that there is not any agenda from the lore, period.

    “They picked the whitest of the gods to be played by a negro to insult european people and Asatru people.”

    The lore says that he is the White God, true. But isn’t that a reference to his golden teeth? Or the purity of his values, since he is the one who chases down Loki? And not your agenda?

    “I’m not going to watch this movie and anyone how has respect for their heritage should not watch this insult.”

    Funny, it’s getting a 84% from Rottentomatos. Clearly, you are part of the minority here. (Shocker, huh?) My heritage values inspiration more then idiocy. It’s unfortunate that you might miss a good movie because they colored outside your lines.

  • Ooh, it’s field day time!

    “Afirmative and the anti white agenda at it’s worst.”

    I didn’t see a pro-white or any race agenda in the religion. Actually, I do believe that there is not any agenda from the lore, period.

    “They picked the whitest of the gods to be played by a negro to insult european people and Asatru people.”

    The lore says that he is the White God, true. But isn’t that a reference to his golden teeth? Or the purity of his values, since he is the one who chases down Loki? And not your agenda?

    “I’m not going to watch this movie and anyone how has respect for their heritage should not watch this insult.”

    Funny, it’s getting a 84% from Rottentomatos. Clearly, you are part of the minority here. (Shocker, huh?) My heritage values inspiration more then idiocy. It’s unfortunate that you might miss a good movie because they colored outside your lines.

  • Produce Stand

    Your Gods are comic book characters?

  • Produce Stand

    Your Gods are comic book characters?