We Hung out with Metal Pagans at a Viking Cemetery

This article originally appeared on Noisey Germany.

The wind carries the rhythm of drums through the birch trees. Long-haired and bearded people stand around fires, many with their eyes shut, appearing to be in a trance. The scent of burning wood, mead, and leather wafts through the air. The pagans have gathered at the burial mound to pay homage to the gods through music and dance.

This isn’t a scene set a thousand years in the past. This happened few weeks ago at the pagan and metal festival Midgardsblot. The three-day event, which takes place on an ancient mound cemetery on the southern coast of Norway, combines heavy metal and folk music with Old Norse pagan culture. Among this year’s lineup were new big names in black metal such as Gaahls Wyrd and Oranssi Pazuzu, as well as old pagan metal legends like Moonsorrow and Týr, the Mongolian pagan horde Tengger Cavalry, and the Icelandic Sólstafir. And to top it all off, there was a recreated Viking village, plenty of historical knowledge, and the Blót—the sacrificial ritual for the old gods.

The festival is satisfying a specific trend: To experience the Vikings and the religion of Germanic Neopaganism with a small boom not least of all driven by entertainment hits like Vikings or Marvel’s Thor.

Germanic Neopaganism is, as the name suggests, relatively new—even if many followers have developed into true amateur historians to practice the very scarcely documented belief system in the style of their distant ancestors. Which can lead to problems. Ancestor worship, the dismissal of Christianity as an “invader religion” and the modern adoption of former tribal and family norms are often fertile ground for nationalistic and racist ideologies. Neopagans—namely those who not only ascribe to the use of runes, but often also truly see themselves as pagans—have to guard themselves if they don’t want to be seen as neo-Nazis (a topic I addressed with the leading Neopagan Einar Selvik von Wardruna).

Those who decide to mingle with the people at Midgardsblot may find plenty of believers of Odin, Frigg, Thor and co., but there’s nothing that really indicates a nationalistic way of thinking. At the festival, the mood is joyful and inclusive. People gather together here from all across the globe (even if most are of North or Central European descent). I spoke with a number of fans to find out what paganism means to them and what it was about this festival that could drag them into the northern wilderness.

Jannicke Wiese-Hansen, Norway

Noisey: What is it about Midgardsblot that’s so special to you?
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen: It’s just such an amazing festival—just look around and see how many people are walking around with smiles on their faces. Here we’ve got the best of two different worlds, a mix of metal and Viking music. And of the people here, no one really takes themselves too seriously.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen here?
Metal-Yoga, for sure.

Why did you decide to become a pagan?
I’m a member of the pagan organization Åsatrufelleskapet Bifrost. Back in school, one of my teachers read to us during lunch about the Vikings and their slaves. That’s where my interest was really sparked. I decided to become a pagan because it’s an ancestral religion that honors the art and culture of the Old Norway.

What’s your favorite band in the lineup this year?
I got goosebumps when Gaahls Wyrd played “Steg“. Other than that, Sólstafir totally ruled the second night.

John Colin McAleese, Scotland

Noisey: Why is Midgardsblot better than all other festivals?
John Colin McAleese: Vikings and metal in one—there’s nothing better than that! Besides, it’s a smaller festival, which makes the atmosphere a little more intimate and everyone’s kind of like family.

Is there something in particular that really blew you away?
I was so fascinated by the opening ritual, the Blót. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

How did you find your way to paganism?
My brother introduced me to it. When I lost someone in the family, it finally became clear to me that I couldn’t ignore the belief anymore.

Which band really got your blood going?
Týr—they’re from the Faeroe Islands, which are really close to my home in northern Scotland. I love the Old Norse stories they tell in their songs.

Kristie Latimore, USA

Kristie sits on Odin’s throne Hlí∂skjálf—made by Varg Brandvik

Noisey: Why do you like coming here so much?
Kristie Latimore: I’ve met people here that have become like family. Going to Midgardsblot feels like I’m coming home.

What’s been the craziest experience you’ve had so far?
The craziest was definitely when I went skinny dipping in the ocean last night. It was so fucking cold.

And why are you a pagan?
It’s tough to summarize why I’m a pagan, but it has a lot to do with the close connection to nature. I have the feeling the gods beckoned me here.

What’s your favorite band this year?
Heilung, because their music has a certain ritualistic quality.

Rikke Andersen & Geirodd Albertsen, Norway

Noisey: What makes Midgardsblot so special?
Rikke: I’ve been coming here since it started in 2015 and have already worked here before as an archer. I’ve been in the Viking scene for the past ten years and I think the combination with rock ‘n roll just works so well. Besides, everyone here is just so happy and I always run into people I know.

Did you guys have some fascinating experiences this year?
Geirodd: Yesterday someone proposed on the Viking stage and ten minutes before we were asked if we wanted to help out. It was so surreal and cool.

Rikke: Generally I really like looking at the people. There are some really interesting outfits and hairdos. People are just themselves, and I think it’s just so nice that they can do that here.

What’s both your positions on paganism?
Geirodd: I’m not a believer myself, but that’s totally fine. People come here completely independent of their views, their religion, etc.

Rikke: I’m actually a Buddhist, but there’s a lot about the pagan belief that I can take pleasure in. I’ve been deriving energy from nature since I was ten years old. Of course I don’t believe there’s a Thor with his hammer, but I believe that we’re a part of nature and that we get our energy from it. Absolutely.

Which band was the best this year?
Rikke: Gaahls Wyrd really surprised me. It’s cool that they more or less have a cult following. There have to be costumes. And besides, they were really good and really gave it their all.

Gunvor Rasmussen, Norway

Noisey: Why is Midgardsblot better than other festivals?
Gunvor Rasmussen: It’s more than a music festival. Aside from the good music, there’s historico-cultural paths you can walk along, reenactments, and amazing people who’re open and personable. There’s room here for all sorts of different people and so many activities. I’ll just say two words: Metal yoga! All in all, this whole thing is just one big nerdgasm.

Did you see anything particularly remarkable this year?
The metal people from the unicorn camp! There’s one guy there who’s totally decked out as a Viking and has a blow-up unicorn. Aside from that, I’m stoked about the festival decorations, how the trees are lit up and whatnot.

What do you think about paganism?
When people gather in a circle and start to chant—that’s when I bounce. I’m not a fan of organized religion of any sort.

What’s your favorite band this year?
Sahg, because the atmosphere at their live shows is just unbeatable.

Hector Santos, Colombia

Noisey: Why did Midgardsblot drag you out here into the wilderness?
Hector Santos: I like the Vikings as much as I like metal, and here you’ve got both excellently combined. You don’t have that in South America. And there are different types of people who come here from across the globe.

There’s a lot offered here apart from the music.
Yeah, I thought it was really interesting to see the Viking games in the recreated village.

And are you a pagan or just a metalhead?
I’m familiar with paganism, but I don’t see myself as a pagan.

Which shows this year topped the rest?
Aura Noir and Unleashed. They’re just so great live.

Rona Hafrun Jarlsdottir, Iceland

Noisey: What do you celebrate at this festival?
Rona Hafrun Jarlsdottir: Here you can reconnect with your roots, it’s peaceful and the people are amazing. It just brings me joy.

What in particular impressed you this year?
I was really impressed at how Skálmöld took the audience by storm, even though they’re not that well-known and sing in Icelandic.

I like your Vegvísir tattoo on your chest. Are you a pagan?
I’m from Iceland and my religion is Asatru. It’s the most healthy belief system you can even get involved with. Those who can read the Hávamál should absolutely do it. Through it people can really grow and learn something about life and ethics. The messages it contains have as much meaning today as back then.

Do you have a favorite from this year’s lineup?
No question: Sólstafir. So nice!

Thomas Lindenlaub, Germany

Noisey: Are you a pagan, too?
Thomas Lindenlaub: I feel and live paganism. My grandfather was a blacksmith and I have pagan tattoos all over my body. I come from Germany and paganism is my way of life.

Why is Midgardsblot so good that you’d come here all the way from Germany?
Because the people here in Norway are so nice, the atmosphere at the festival is super friendly, and everything runs so smoothly. I drove the 1,200 kilometers up here on my motorcycle—for me and my buddy Mario, this is our vacation. He’s the one who told me about the festival.

Definitely a worthwhile travel destination. Have you had any particularly special experiences here?
Back in my youth, my favorite band was Gorgoroth and here I actually got to meet Gaahl. It was fascinating to be standing in front of the hero of my youth. Oh, and I met Ivar from Enslaved here. The festival is so incredibly intimate that you get to meet all of the artists.

Who were your favorites?
Aside from Gaahls Wyrd, I’d have to say Byrdi. Such a mesmerizing band.

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