The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 1: Introduction

(Page 1)

From the westernmost shore of Asia, Christianity had turned at once to the opposite one of Europe. The wide soil of the continent which had given it birth could not supply it long with nourishment; neither did it strike deep root in the north of Africa. Europe soon became, and remained, its proper dwelling-place and home.

It is worthy of notice, that the direction in which the new faith worked its way, from South to North, is contrary to the current of migration which was then driving the nations from the East and North to the West and South. As spiritual light penetrated from the one quarter, life itself was to be reinvigorated from the other.

The worn out empire of the Romans saw both its interior convulsed, and its frontier overstept. Yet, by the same mighty doctrine which had just overthrown her ancient gods, subjugated Rome was able to subdue her conquerors anew. By this means the flood-tide of invasion was gradually checked, the newly converted lands began to gather strength and to turn their arms against the heathen left in their rear.

Slowly, step by step, Heathendom gave way to Christendom. Five hundred years after Christ, but few nations of Europe believed in him; after a thousand years the majority did, and those the most important, yet not all (see Suppl.).

From Greece and Italy the Christian faith passed into Gaul first of all, in the second and third centuries. About the year 300, or soon after, we find here and there a christian among the Germans on the Rhine, especially the Alamanni; and about the same time or a little earlier (2) among the Goths. The Goths were the first Teutonic people amongst whom christianity gained a firm footing; this occurred in the course of the fourth century, the West-goths leading the way and the East-goths following; and after them the Vandals, Gepidæ and Rugii were converted. All these races held by the Arian doctrine. The Burgundians in Gaul became Catholic at the beginning of the fifth century, then Arian under their Visigoth rulers, and Catholic again at the commencement of the sixth century. The Suevi in Spain were at first Catholic, then Arian (about 469), until in the sixth century they, with all the West-goths, went over likewise to the Catholic church. Not till the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth did christianity win the Franks, soon after that the Alamanni, and after them the Langobardi. The Bavarians were converted in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Frisians, Hessians and Thuringians in the eighth, the Saxons about the ninth.

Christianity had early found entrance into Britian, but was checked by the irruption of the heathen Anglo-Saxons. Towards the close of the sixth and in the course of the seventh century, they also went over to the new faith.

The Danes became christian in the tenth century, the Norwegians at the beginning of the eleventh, the Swedes not completely till the second half of the same century. About the same time christianity made its way to Iceland.

Of the Slavic nations the South Slavs were the first to adopt the christian faith: the Carentani, and under Heraclius (d. 640) the Croatians, then, 150 years after the former, the Moravians in the eighth and ninth centuries. Among the North Slavs, the Obotritæ in the ninth, Bohemians (3) and Poles in the tenth, Serbs in the eleventh, and Russians at the end of the tenth.

Then the Hungarians at the beginning of the eleventh, Livonians and Lettons in the twelfth, Esthonians and Finns in the twelfth and thirteenth, Lithuanians not even till the commencement of the fifteenth.

All these data are only to be taken as true in the main; they neither exclude some earlier conversions, nor a longer and later adherence to heathenism in limited areas. Remoteness and independence might protect the time-honoured religion of a tribe. Apostates too would often attempt at least a partial reaction. Christianity would sometimes lead captive the minds of the rich and great, by whose example the common people were carried away; sometimes it affected first the poor and lowly.

When Chlodowig (Clovis) received baptism, and the Salian Franks followed his lead, individuals out of all the Frankish tribes had already set the example. Intercourse with Burgundians and West-goths had inclined them to the Arian doctrine, while the Catholic found adherents in other parts of Gaul. Here the two came into collision. One sister of Chlodowig, Lanthild, had become an Arian christian before his conversion, the other, Albofled, had remained a heathen; the latter was now baptized with him, and the former was also won over to the Catholic cummunion. (4) But even in the sixth and seventh centuries heathenism was not yet uprooted in certain districts of the Frankish kingdom. Neustria had heathen inhabitants on the Loire and Seine, Burgundy in the Vosges, Austrasia in the Ardennes; and heathens seem still to have been living in the present Flanders, especially northwards towards Friesland. (5) Vestiges of heathenism lingered on among the Frisians into the ninth century, among the Saxons into the tenth, and in like manner among the Normans and Swedes into the eleventh and twelfth. (6) Here and there among the northern Slavs idolatry was not extinct in the twelfth century, and not universally so among the Finns and Lithuanians in the sixteenth and seventeenth (7); nay, the remotest Laplanders cling to it still.


1. In a book that deals so much with Heathenism, the meaning of the term ought not to be passed over. The Greeks and Romans had no special name for nations of another faith (for eterodoxoi, barbaroi were not used in that sense); but with the Jews and Christians of the N.T. are contrasted eqnoj, eqnea, eqnikoi, Lat. gentes, gentiles; Ulphilas uses the pl. thiudôs, [[tribes]] and by preference in the gen. after a pronoun, thái thiudô, sumái thiudô (gramm. 4, 441, 457), while thiudiskôs [[tribal]] translates eqnikwj Gal. 2, 14. As it was mainly the Greek religion that stood opposed to the Judæo-Christian, the word Egghn also assumed the meaning eqnikoj, and we meet with egghnikwj = eqnikwj, which the Goths would still have rendered thiudiskôs, as he does render Egghnej thiudôs, John 7, 35. 12, 20. I Cor. 1, 24. 12, 13; only in I Cor. 1, 22 he prefers Krêkôs. This Egghn = gentilis bears also the meaning of giant, which has developed itself out of more than one national name (Hun, Avar, Tchudi); so the Hellenic walls came to be heathenish, gigantic (see ch. XVIII). In Old High German, Notker still uses the pl. diete [[tribes]] for gentiles (Graff 5, 128). In the meanwhile pagus had expanded its narrow meaning of kwmh into the wider one of ager, campus, in which sense it still lives on in It. paese, Fr. pays; while paganus began to push out gentilis, which was lapsing into the sense of nobilis. All the Romance languages have their pagano, payen, &c., nay, it has penetrated into Bohem. pohan, Pol. poganin, Lith. pagonas [but Russ. pogan = unclean]. The Gothic háithi [[heath]] campus early developed an adj. háithns [['heathen, lit. "of the heath"']] agrestis, campestris = paganus (Ulph. in Mark 7, 26 renders egghnij by háithnô), the Old H.G. heida an adj. heidan, Mid. H.G. and Dutch heide heiden, A.S. hæð hæðin, Engl. heath heathen, Old Norse heiði heiðinn; Swed. and Dan. use hedning. The O.H.G. word retains its adj. nature, and forms its gen. pl. heidanêro. Our present heide, gen. heiden (for heiden, gen. heidens) is erroneous, but current ever since Luther. Full confirmation is afforded by Mid. Lat. agrestis = paganus, e.g. in the passage quoted in ch. IV from Vita S. Agili; and the 'wilde heiden' [[wild heathens]] in our Heldenbuch is an evident pleonasm (see Supplement).

2. Waitz's Ulfila, p. 35.  (back)

3. Fourteen Bohemian princes baptized 845; see Palacky 1, 110. The Middle North-slavs---Riaderi, Tolenzi, Kycini, Circipani---still heathen in the latter half of the 11th century; see Helmold 1, 21. 23 (an. 1066). The Rugians not till 1168; Helm. 2, 12. 13.  (back)

4. baptizata est Albofledis............Lanthildis chrismata est, Greg. Tur. 2, 31. So among the Goths, chrismation is administered to Sigibert's wife Brunechild (4, 27), and to Ingund's husband Herminichild (5, 38, who assumes the new name of Joannes. The Arians appear to have re-baptized converts from Catholocism; Ingund herself was compelled by her grandmother-mother in law Goisuintha 'ut rebaptizaretur'. Rebaptizare katholicos, Eugippii vita Severini, cap. 8.  (back)

5. Authorities given in Ch. IV.---Conf. lex Frisionum, ed. Gaupp, p. xxiv, 19, 47. Heathenism lasted the longest between Laubach and the Weser.  (back)

6. Fornmanna sögur 4, 116. 7, 151.  (back)

7. Wedekind's notes 2, 275, 276. Rhesa dainos, p. 333. The Lithuanians proper converted 1387, the Samogits 1413.  (back)

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