From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Germanic paganism refers to the religious beliefs of the Germanic peoples preceding Christianization. The best documented version of the Germanic pagan religions is 10th and 11th century Norse paganism, though other information can be found from Anglo-Saxon paganism and West German paganism. Scattered references are also found in the earliest writings of other Germanic peoples and Roman descriptions. The information can be supplemented with archaeological finds and remnants of pre-Christian beliefs in later folklore.
The Germanic religion was a polytheistic one with some underlying similarities to other Indo-European traditions. The principal gods of Viking Age Norse paganism were Odin (Old Norse: Óðinn, Old High German language: Wodan, OE: Wōden) and Thor (North Germanic: Þórr, Old High German language: Donar, Old English language: Þunor). At an earlier stage, the principal god may have been Tiwaz (Old Norse language: Týr, Old High German language: Ziu, Old English language: Tiw).
Most sources documenting Germanic paganism have presumably been lost. From Iceland there is a substantial literature, namely the Nordic Sagas and the Eddas, relating to the pagan period, but most of this was written long after Iceland's conversion to Christianity. Some information is found in the Nibelungenlied. The literary source closest to the pagan period may be Beowulf, which some scholars believe was composed as early as the eighth century , and therefore within the lifetime of pagans from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Suffolk, which remained officially pagan until 680. However, Beowulf is unlikely to have been composed in Suffolk, its creator was clearly Christian, and it reveals little or nothing about pagan beliefs or rituals. Limited information also exists in Tacitus' ethnographic work Germania.
Further material has been deduced from customs found in surviving rural folk traditions that have either been mildly superficially Christianized or lightly modified, including surviving laws and legislature (Althing, Anglo-Saxon law, the Grágás), calendar dates, customary folktales and traditional symbolism found in folk art.
A great deal of information has been unearthed by recent archaeology, including the Angl-Saxon pagan Sutton Hoo royal funerary site in East Anglia and the royal pagan temple at Gefren/Yeavering in Northumberland. The traditional ballads of the Northumbrian/Scottish borders, and their European counterparts, have also preserved many aspects of Germanic pagan belief. As York Powell wrote, "The very scheme on which the ballads and lays are alike built, the hapless innocent death of a hero or heroine, is as heathen as the plot of any Athenian tragedy can be."
The majority of the literary evidence for Germanic paganism was likely intentionally destroyed when Christianity slowly gained dominant political power in Anglo-Saxon England, then Germania and later Scandinavia throughout the Middle Ages. Although perhaps singularly most responsible for the destruction of pagan sites, including purported massacres such as the Massacre of Verden and the subsequent dismantling of ancient tribal ruling systems, the Frankish emperor Charlemagne of The Holy Roman Empire is said to have acquired a substantial collection of Germanic pre-Christian writings, which was deliberately destroyed after his death.Template:Fact