Often there is spoken about the fact that Asatru and Hinduism are family religions in the ‘Indo-European branch’. The prechristian religion of Northern Europe that is now often called “Asatru” (“true to the Aesir”) has a broken link with the past and limited information about the religion, worldview, practises, mythology, etc. is available. The fact that Hinduism is the oldest still living Indo-European religion and also the best documented has lead people to conclude that the study of Hinduism can shed light on -for example- the prechristian religion of Northern Europe. I share this opinion. More even, I wouldn’t limit myself to the Indo-European family, since I agree on many points with so-called “Traditionalists” who think that there is one source. I find it strange that (as far as I know) there is no “Traditionalist” writing about Asatru, no work that compares the prechristian Northern European myths and religion with others, not even a comparison between Asatru and Hinduism. Since I am by far no scholar in the field of comperative religions, I do not intend to take up this task fully, but humbly remain on the surface of the subject. I heavily thrive on the book Myths And Gods Of India (or Hindu polytheism) by Alain Daniélou, cross-refering with some other books and seeing what writers such as Mircea Eliade and Georges Dumézil said, since here we have to comperative religion scholars that did write about the prechristian mythology in a larger context in some of their works.
This article will sufficiently proof that things are not so simple as if there are just Gods and Goddesses with different names in different traditions. On many fields Northern European and Hindu Gods and Goddesses are indeed very well comparable, but you will see that it goes too far to simply equate Odin with Shiva or Thor with Indra. I will take the Northern European Gods as starting point and put quotes from mainly Daniélou alongside them. Unfortunately Daniélou does not really give many myths, so I will continue to try and finds similarities between the mythologies as well, instead of only information about different deities. Just see this article as starting point and very likely to be subject to improvements and change.
Daniélou sees Hinduism as polytheistic, some see Asatru as the same. I have another opinion, but that is not really important here. I do think that the following quote of Daniélou on Hinduism also goes for the ancient and modern Northern European faith (on the level of the Gods that is): “In the polytheistic religion each individual worshipper has a chosen deity and does not usually worship other gods in the same way as his own, the one he feels nearer to himself. Yet he acknowledges other gods.” This may explain why some people seem(ed) to worship Thor, others Odin, etc.
There are far more Gods in Hinduism than there are in Asatru and from Hindu sources we have way more descriptions and information than from Asatru sources. Therefor it is (of course) easy to use half evidence to found a point (for example, that Odin is Shiva) and by ignoring other leads conclude that we were right. Also it is just as easy to invalidate the points by proving that the description of for example Shiva also direct towards another God in the Nordic pantheon. I will try to be thorough, give the comparisons and not to make too strong conclusions.
On page 341 Daniélou gives a table with the associations of the three letters of the word AUM. In the table the trinity that Daniélou refers to more often appears: Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer). There are similar trinities in Asatru, such as Odin (wisdom), Thor (strength) and Freyr/Freya (beauty), but these two lists are not interchangeble. Not at all, as we will see! On the other side, Daniélou connects Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with respectively voice, mind and breath, and this easily reminds of Völuspa 18 in which Odin gives breath, Hœnir spirit and Lodur “fresh complexions” (Larrington) or Gylfaginningi 9 where it are Odin, Vili and Ve give respectivelly “breath of life”, “consciousness” and “a face” (Faulkes).
Also striking is the application of colours to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva on page 338 of Daniélou’s book, red, white and black. This is even more remarkable if you think about the fact that in ‘our’ order it is Odin (white), Thor (red) and Freyr/Freya (blue) and put this alongside the comparisons that I will give hereafter.
In Daniélou’s book Brahma is both “Immensity” and “the creator”. Sometimes I get the idea that Daniélou sees Brahma as the Ultimate Divinity, at other times not more than another God. In the Northern faith there is not really an Ultimate Divinity, at least not with a name such as Brahma. Odin is sometimes called “Allfather” and also he is one of the three brothers that form the world out of Ymir’s body and in that way a creator, but he is not really comparable to Brahma. Like I alluded to in the introduction, there is a much better ‘Hindu candidate’ for Odin: Shiva.
Shiva has three eyes (p. 214) which “represent the sun, the moon and fire. “The frontal eye, the eye of fire, is the eye of higher perception. It looks mainly inward.” (Karapatri, “Sri Shiva Tattva”, Siddhanta, II, 1941-42, 116).
Odin of course plunched his eye into the well of Mimir as an offering to gain knowledge. His one eye is said to be the sun. Some people say that Odin’s other eye looks inward, which refers to inner knowledge.
The latter also goes for Shiva, since “The moon is Soma, the sacrificial offering.” (ibid.) This remark is interesting because of two reasons. First of course the notion of offering, but the reference to the moon which equates with Soma in Hinduism gives a nice lead. Soma is the sacrificial drink comparable to the Nordic mead or honey-drink. Of course we know that mead is in close connection with Odin, who steals it from Gunnlod and her father Suttung and while fleeing he drops drops and the drinkers become poets (see Prose Edda).
Odin is usually recognised by his spear and Shiva also has one, which is called “Pashupata” (p. 217)
There is a tale about Shiva who was walking naked through the woods and after having defended himself with magic against “the sagas” he kills a tiger and wears the animal skin (Odin as leader of the Berzerkr or bear-skin-wearers?).
Last but not least: “Shiva is the master of lust” (p. 219), just as Odin likes to boast about all the women that he seduced.
All pretty convincing, right? But I warned you that things are not that easy.
p. 230 Says that Vishnu is the lord of the three worlds, just like the Valknutr which represents the three (and nine) worlds is the symbol of Odin. This of course doesn’t say too much, but let us shortly turn towards Varuna.
Georges Dumézil has written a book Mitra-Varuna (reviewed) in which he further explains his tripartite theory. There are not only three functions, but the highest function (“sovereignty”) can be seen as a ‘double function’, with a ‘religious’ and a ‘political’ aspect. In this work Dumézil compares the Gods *Tîwaz and *Wôdanaz (or Tyr and Odin) with Mitra and Varuna of the Hindu pantheon. When we have a look on the descriptions of Varuna, there are more reasons that this ‘duo job’ of Odin to compare him with Varuna.
Back to Daniélou then. “Varuna is far-seeing” (p. 119) such as Odin sees all from his “high seat”. Varuna is an initiator (p. 119) such as Odin is seen as such as well after his nine days ordeal. But also Varuna is connected with the sacred drink of soma (p. 119), more even, he is also connected with poetry (p. 121), “Kivatara” a name of Varuna, means “great poet”. Varuna wears a mantle (p. 120), “His eye is shared with Mitra, [… and represents] the sun.” (p. 120) and finally, Varuna is closely linked with Agni, who can be compared with Loki (see later) and Odin and Loki are bloodbrothers as Loki says in the Lokasenna. There are also elements of Varuna which links him to Tyr by the way, just as “justice” and “law”, the “war” element may be more of an Odin feature.
I mentioned Odin and Loki’s and Varuna and Agni’s connection, a similar thing is said about Vayu, “the Lord-of-the-winds”. “Vayu is a friend of Agni” (p. 91). In Vayu we also see ‘Odian elements’. “Vayu is called the “wanderer””, “Vayu is the purifier, the first to have drunk the ambrosia, the soma.” (p. 91).
Confusing? Maybe a bit. To add to this confusion I want to close of the part about Odin with this very nice quote which reminds of Odin’s part in the Völsungensaga:
“Kumara’s strength is immense. Once, as a boy, he thust his spear into the ground, challenging anyone to pull it out of even shake it.” (p. 299). Of course it was Odin who thrusted his sword (this time a sword) in the Barnstock tree during the Völsung wedding.
Thor=Indra. You guessed it, this is too simple, but the idea is not very strange.
“Indra’s thunderbolt was made by the celestial smith Tvastr”. Thor has his Mjölnir made by a dwarf. Indra is the Hindu thundergod which represents (electrical) energy, he is connected with fertility and he slays the snake Vritra.
On the other hand, Indra is the king of the gods (p. 107) “has numerous love affairs” (p. 108) and he was “friend” (leader?) of the Maruts, a Berzerkr-like group “compared to a society of war-minded men with esoteric practices and formulae” (p. 104), which seems more to refer to Odin. Also the notion that “Soma was brought to earth by a large hawk or by a thunderbolt of Indra” (p. 66) more remind of Odin and his Gunnlod adventure.
I haven’t found definate Hindu versions of these two, but maybe the horseheaded “twin gods of agriculture” (p. 125) with their magnificent name could apply for the job. These twin gods are called “Ashvinns” which remarkably resembles both Northern God-names, the “Aesir” and the “Vanir”. The fact that they are called twin gods and Freyr and Freya about just as much is of course a good lead, but there isn’t really much more information about the two to make a proper comparison.
Now that I have spoken about Thor, I shortly want to add a few things about the Midgard snake. There are many serpents and snakes in Daniélou’s book, like Vritra that I already mentioned. A snake that caught my attention is “the serpent remainder” which has a thousand heads. “At the end of each cosmic cycle he vomits the blazing fire of desctruction, which devours all creation.” (p. 162) and he “represents the cycle of the years”. As you can see, the role of the Midgardsomr is spread over more serpents in Hindu mythology.
In the Northern myths there are several Gods connected with fire, mainly Heimdallr, Balder and Loki. Some say that Balder is the inner fire, Loki the destructive fire and Heimdallr (the ‘father’ of both) the fire that connects our world with the world above. Also in the Hindu myths there are several deities connected with fire, but it is Agni that rises his head above the surface. “Agni is all that burns, or devours, or digests: sun, heat, stomach, lust, and passion. (p. 63/4). Agni can be applied to any of the Northern fire gods. “Only through Fire can the gods be reached” (Heimdallr); “The inner fire which pervades the body of the earth (prithivi-pinda) is called the fire-of-immortality (amrita agni).” (p. 67) (Balder); “the fire of destruction” (p. 89) (Loki). The Hindu Agni is the ‘father’ of ten forms of fire, so if you agree with the theory that Heimdallr is the ‘first fire’ of the Northern myths, these two may be compared. But still: “According to the Mahabharata (12.10364), Shiva is called “the white one” (p. 214). How beautifully this reminds of the “white ase” Heimdallr.
In the beginning of this article I mentioned the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. We have seen that this is nothing like a Northern trinity, since both Vishnu and Shiva seem to refer to Odin and Thor and Freyr/Freya have nothing incommon with this list. Besides, I still haven’t come to the question of Brahma.
Brahma is both “the Immense Being” (p. 232) as “the active creator” (p. 233). “But since Brahma represents a polarized immensity, his name has a gender. he is the first personal stage of existence.” (p. 233) “The personified creator appears to arise from the polarizations of the abstract impersonal Brahman. The pure Brahman is beyond-quality. Only when “spotted through by the power of illusion” does it become the qualified-Brahman, immanent cause of the universe.” (p. 233) Daniélou suddenly uses “Brahman” and “Brahma”, but since Brahman lives upto my idea of the Etenal Divinity, this is only for the better.
“The illusion which is movement or action appears as the original, the Nonevolved, form of Nature. In other terms, the reflection-of-consciousness deposited within the passive nonevolved Nature (i.e., Vishnu or the womb) before the creation of the universe by the transcendent Lord, the active power (i.e., Shiva) or giver of seed, is the first indivudual being, the Self-born-Immense-Being (Svayambhu-Brahma), who dwells in the unmanifest city, the abstract plan of the universe, as the source of the Cosmos and of the perceptible worlds. From him all the forms of existence arise.” (p. 233)
If we compare this to the stories of creation in the Eddas, would it be farfetched to see “Vishnu or the womb” as Ginnungagap, “the active power (Shiva)” as the force that brings the fire and the ice together and “Svayambhu-Brahma”, Ymir?? Daniélou does give some information about creation in the Hindu context, but most elements are not much like what we know from the Eddas. “purusha”, “the Supreme-Man” may remind of Ymir too, things are made out of “a body” but not quite like in the Eddas. The daughter of Brahma is “Speech” or “Vach”, appears as a wish-cow and is identified with the Cosmos, p. 260). There are more cows in the creation-myths, but again, not quite like the role of Audhumla.
Other coincidences (or not)
Just as in the Northern European thinking, the Hindus recognise three worlds (but also seven), it is ‘this three’ that Dumézil found in all Indo-European religions. Our Örlögr or Eternal Law is Sanathana Dharma (and sometimes also the Vedas) in Hinduism. Yggdrasil or the Cosmic Tree has his brother in Ashvatta (p. 370), both words contain the word “horse”, “drasil” (“Yggr’s horse” is a translation for “Yggdrasil”) and Asva in the Hindu tree). Both traditions know the fylfot/swastica symbol. The demon Rashi devours the sun (p. 99) like a wolf eats the sun of the Norsemen. The Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad has the stange stopgap “did you understand”, just like “do you understand yet, or what more?” (Larrington) from the Völuspa.
Very superficial it all, I know. Just see this as a first rough scetch and something to be worked on some more, either by myself or by people who feel inspired to continue the study. I am also going to read some Hindu myths which may bring something new and interesting. I like to close this article with three quotes from the book of Daniélou and which apply to both traditions.
“The chief temple of the Hindu is the universe. It is in the forests, the mountains, on the bank of rivers, under the shade of certain trees, or in his own house that he performs all the daily ceremonial of worship, all prayer, all meditation.
Temples are, however, of secondary importance. They are not, as in some religions, the meetingplaces of the faithful but are the homes of deities, places where a particular aspect of Divinity is honoured, worshipped by priests who are its servants. people go to the temple as they go to visit a saintly man or a sacred place of a renowed scholar. They pay homage to the image and offer flowers and incense. But if there were none of these sacntuaries Hindu life and its rituals would in no way be affected.” (p. 376)
“The household fire was the image of the cosmic fire.” (p. 68)
“We cannot live without taking part in the cosmic ritual either as instruments or as victims. Yet that part is positive only when we do it consciously and with the proper knowledge of forms and utterances. Through the voluntary ritual of sacrifice man takes his place in the cosmic symphony as an equal. The main purpose of existence is the performance of this ritual.” (p. 67)