We Hung out with Metal Pagans at a Viking Cemetery
The Norwegian festival Midgardsblot unites heavy metal with pagan culture and history. We spoke to some of the festival-goers.
All photos by Stig Pallesen
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.
Founded in 2015, Midgardsblot may seem like it has one foot in the past, but actually it couldn't be more in tune with modern trends. Norse and pagan themes have been booming for a few years now, partly thanks to entertainment hits like Vikings, The Last Kingdom and Marvel's Thor.
Germanic neopaganism is a rather young faith, as religions go. But as the 'neo' part indicates, its adherents are mostly attempting to revive a much more ancient belief system—one so diverse and sparsely documented that many evolve into regular amateur historians to emulate the practices of distant ancestors. 'Ancestors' is a keyword that touches on the big schism between modern Germanic heathens: "Folkish" neopagans see it as an ethnic religion, meant to be practiced only by descendants of its original practitioners, while "universalist" heathens draw no such line in the sand. Many universalists vocally oppose the folkish believers, who count among their ranks openly racist groups. Anti-racist heathens worry about being lumped in with neo-Nazis, who frequently signal their affiliation using runes and other Norse symbols. Of course, many of these types actually identify as heathens themselves, burdening the faith with a bad rap in anti-fascist circles.
But at Midgardsblot, the only ones fighting are the re-enactors. The atmosphere is one of inclusion and fun for everyone; not all fans are heathens, and many of them travel to the remote historic site from all over the world. We spoke to some of the festival-goers to find out what paganism means to them and why they're mad for Midgardsblot.
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen, Norway
Noisey: Hi, Jannicke. What makes Midgardsblot so special?
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen: It's such a fantastic festival. Just look at all the smiling faces here. It combines the best of both worlds—Viking music and metal. And the people here don't take themselves too seriously.
What's the craziest thing you've seen here?
Metal yoga, hands down.
Why did you decide to become a pagan?
I'm a member of the heathen organization Åsatrufelleskapet Bifrost. Back in school, a teacher used to read to us about the Vikings and their slaves during lunch, and that's what sparked my interest. It's an ancestral religion that honors the art and culture of old Norway.
Which band was your favorite this year?
I had goosebumps when Gaahls Wyrd played "Steg." And Sólstafir ruled everything on the second day.
John Colin McAleese, Scotland
Noisey: Why is Midgardsblot better than other festivals?
John Colin McAleese: Vikings and metal—it doesn't get any better than that. It's a small festival, so everything is more intimate. People here feel like family.
Anything you found particularly impressive?
The blót, the opening ceremony, was the most fascinating thing. I'd never experienced anything like it.
Do you identify as a pagan?
Yes, I'm a pagan. My brother introduced me to it, and when I lost a family member, I realized I couldn't ignore the faith anymore.
Which band did you like best?
Týr are my favorites. They are from the Faroe Islands, which is close to where I'm from—northern Scotland. I love the Norse stories they tell in their songs.
Kristie Latimore, USA
Noisey: Why do you love coming here?
Kristie Latimore: I've met people here that have become family to me, so coming here feels like coming home.
What's the craziest thing you've experienced here?
The craziest thing was when I went skinny dipping in the ocean last night. It was fucking cold.
How did you find paganism?
It's hard to sum up what turned me into a pagan, but it's basically to do with the close connection to nature. I felt called here by the gods.
Any favorites in this year's lineup?
Heilung, because of the ritualistic nature of their music.
Rikke Andersen & Geirodd Albertsen, Norway
Noisey: What sets Midgardsblot apart from other festivals?
Rikke Andersen: I enjoy the historic setting and how peaceful everyone is. I've attended all three years and have also worked for the festival as an archer. I've been active in the Viking scene for ten years, and I feel Viking music and rock go together perfectly.
Have you had any fascinating experiences this year?
Geirodd Albertsen: There was a proposal on the Viking stage last night, and we were invited to participate just before it happened. That was a strange and cool experience.
Rikke: I enjoy people watching because there are always lots of interesting outfits and hairstyles. I think it's great that people dare to be themselves here.
How do you both feel about paganism?
Geirodd: I'm an atheist, but I'm fine with paganism too. Everyone here gets along regardless of their worldview, faith, and so on.
Rikke: I'm a Buddhist myself, but I feel a strong connection to the heathen faith. Since I was ten years old, I've been drawing energy from nature. Of course I don't think that Thor and his hammer really exist, but I do believe we're all part of nature and get energy from it.
Which band was best this year?
Geirodd: I was excited to see Tengger Cavalry, and Gaahls Wyrd delivered a tight performance.
Rikke: Gaahls Wyrd surprised me. I think it's great that they actually put on a show—you have to dress up a bit for the stage. And the performance was tight. They really gave it their all.
Gunvor Rasmussen, Norway
Noisey: Why is Midgardsblot better than other festivals?
Gunvor Rasmussen: It's the combination of humor, cultural history walks, good music, reenactment, awesome and inclusive people—it's more than just a music festival. Midgardsblot has room for many different groups of people. And there are lots of activities, such as metal yoga! A total nerdgasm.
Have you seen anything remarkable this year?
The metal people from the unicorn camp! There is a guy in full Viking gear with an inflatable unicorn. And I admire the work the decorations team has done, with lit-up trees and all that.
What do you think about paganism?
When people gather in a circle and start chanting—that's when I run. I'm not a fan of organized religion of any kind.
And which band kicked the most ass?
Sahg—the atmosphere at their live shows is the best.
Hector Santos, Colombia
Noisey: Why did you make the trip out into the sticks for this festival?
Hector Santos: I like both Vikings and metal, and here you get both things in an excellent combination. You don't get that in South America. And there are many people from different countries.
Have you seen or taken part in any interesting activities?
Yes, I thought it was really interesting to see the historic games in the Viking village.
Are you a heathen too, or are you just here for the metal?
I know a lot about paganism, but I don't identify as a pagan myself.
Which band did you like best?
Aura Noir and Unleashed, because I know them and they always deliver live.
Rona Hafrun Jarlsdottir, Iceland
Noisey: What do you love about Midgardsblot?
Rona Hafrun Jarlsdottir: It allows you to connect with your roots, and it's so peaceful here. The people are lovely. It's just pure joy.
Anything that's struck you as special this year?
I was fascinated that Skálmöld took the audience by storm despite being a pretty unknown band and singing in Icelandic.
I like the Vegvísir tattoo on your chest. Are you a heathen?
I'm from Iceland and my faith is Asatru. It's the healthiest thing you can get involved in. Everyone should read the Hávamál if they can. It can help people grow and learn about life and ethics, and it's just as valid today as it was back then.
Which band from this year's lineup was your favorite?
Definitely Sólstafir. Beautiful.
Thomas Lindenlaub, Germany
Noisey: How do you feel about paganism?
Thomas Lindenlaub: I feel and live it. My grandfather was a blacksmith and I have heathen tattoos all over my body. I come from Germany and this is my way of life.
Why is Midgardsblot so special that you traveled up here from Germany?
Because Norwegian people are so kind, the festival runs smoothly and feels very friendly. I rode the 750 miles up here on my motorcycle, together with my friend Mario—he told me about the festival, and this is our vacation.
What's the most remarkable thing you've experienced here?
My favorite band growing up was Gorgoroth, and here I actually met Gaahl. It was fascinating to meet the hero of my youth, and I also got to know Ivar from Enslaved. The festival is so intimate that you get to meet all the artists.
Which bands did you like best?
Besides Gaahls Wyrd, Byrdi were my favorites. A fascinating band.
You can see more photos of Midgardsblot below:
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