Tiw’s company

Were the English gods really identical to those of the Vikings?

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Both the pagan English and the pagan Vikings were Germanic peoples from north-western Europe. They shared many cultural traits, including a pantheon of pagan gods. The English were Christianised before much was written about their gods, while the Germans and Vikings were pagan long enough for details of their gods to be preserved.

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It has therefore become common to assume that the English deities were almost identical to those of the Germans and Vikings. The English Tiw is equated with the Viking Tyr. The English Wodan is said to be identical to the Viking Odin. For most of these gods, almost nothing is known beyond their names so it is impossible to know how closely they resembled their Viking counterparts.

The English seem to have regarded Nerthus as their chief deity. Nerthus or Erce was a fertility goddess given the nickname ‘Mother of Earth’ who was especially linked to the corn harvest. This lady had a son – called Ing or simply Lord – who was the ruler of sun and rain, and so presumably was a sky god. Interestingly the birth of Ing was celebrated at midwinter when we now celebrate the birth of Christ. The other gods that are familiar in their Viking forms seem in England to have been ranked lower than this holy mother and child.

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Answered by: Rupert Matthews, historian and author