When Christians made their theological push into Europe, suppressing native religions and supplanting them with a foreign God, some pagans resisted by secretly practicing their old religion, while others resisted by meeting force with force. One such case of forceful resistance was by Tore Hund or Thorir the Hound, a powerful Viking born around 990 AD, during the first incursions of Christianity into Norway.
Today, many people around the world still resort to violence over religion, more than 1,000 years after Tore Hund killed King Olaf II or Saint Olaf, who reportedly made a deal to impose Christianity on Norway in exchange for the help of other European powers. Tore killed Olaf at the battle of Stiklestad. There, an army of farmers and laborers overwhelmed the king’s army.
One person’s hero, another persons’ villain
To Christians, Olaf is a martyr and literally a saint to whom miracles have been attributed. However, to the modern Asatruar (worshipers of the old Norse gods), neo-pagans, and the pagans of his own time, Tore Hund is a hero. Tore is remembered not only for fiercely protecting his religion, but for being a leader of the common people, who bravely stood against the powerful nobility that throughout history has taken so much and given so little.
Paganism is considered a minor religion now in that it has only a few million followers as compared to hundreds of millions of worshipers in the major religions. That said, some writers have alluded to the parallels between Christian and pagan theology. Some say Christianity owes a lot to paganism, though these claims are mired in controversy.
The rampage of King Olaf
The story of Tore’s life says that Olaf and his men killed three of Tore Hund’s nephews and his brother-in-law. So while Tore opposed Christianization of Norway, he also had a personal vendetta with the king. According to the 13 th century Heimskringla: The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson, Olaf went around forcing free people to convert to Christianity with violence and threats. For example, Struluson wrote of Olaf’s rampaging in 1023 in the region of Hordaland:
When the Thing was concluded the bondes [free men, many of whom were farmers and laborers] still remained assembled; and when the king observed this he went on board his ships, rowed in the night right across the water, landed in the country there, and began to plunder and burn. The day after the king’s men rowed from one point of land to another, and over all the king ordered the habitations to be set on fire. Now when the bondes who were assembled saw what the king was doing, namely, plundering and burning, and saw the smoke and flame of their houses, they dispersed, and each hastened to his own home to see if he could find those he had left. As soon as there came a dispersion among the crowd, the one slipped away after the other, until the whole multitude was dissolved. Then the king rowed across the lake again, burning also on that side of the country. Now came the bondes to him begging for mercy, and offering to submit to him. He gave every man who came to him peace if he desired it, and restored to him his goods; and nobody refused to adopt Christianity. The king then had the people christened, and took hostages from the bondes. He ordered churches to be built and consecrated, and placed teachers in them.
Olaf earlier had been in exile in Russia during a secession conflict. He had been exiled after a battle that was fought in part because he outlawed viking and plundering and because he dishonored himself when he killed a man to whom he’d given refuge. When he came back from Russia, those who opposed him, including many farmers and laborers, gathered an army. The two armies met at Stiklestad, Olaf with 3,000 soldiers, the bondes with at least 10,000.
A re-creation of a Viking boat with oar slots (Photo by G CP Grey/ Wikimedia Commons )
The Battle of Stiklestad
The two parties had a parley before the battle. The king asked the bondes why they would fight him.
“Then Thorgeir of Kviststad said, ‘You shall now have such peace as many formerly have received at your hands, and which you shall now pay for,’” Sturluson wrote.
The king and the men surrounding him did battle with Thor Hund and his men. Sturluson wrote:
Thorstein Knarrarsmid struck at King Olaf with his axe, and the blow hit his left leg above the knee. Fin Arnason instantly killed Thorstein. The king after the wound staggered towards a stone, threw down his sword, and prayed God to help him. Then Thorer Hund struck at him with his spear, and the stroke went in under his mail-coat and into his belly. Then Kalf struck at him on the left side of the neck. But all are not agreed upon Kalf having been the man who gave him the wound in the neck. These three wounds were King Olaf’s death; and after the king’s death the greater part of the forces which had advanced with him fell with the king.
Tore Hund is not the only Viking or Norseman to reject Christianity. In the article on Paganism in Barbara G. Walker’s The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, it says:
In the 10 th century, King Haakon of Norway was fiercely opposed when he tried to institute Christianity. His people rebelled, burned the new Christian churches and forced Haakon to eat the horse-liver sacrifices and drink New Year toasts to Woden, Frey, Bragi and the totemic clan. Some rulers themselves rejected the new faith out of hand. Alcuin announced in the 8 th century that there would never be any hope of Christianizing the Danes. Their king was ‘harder than a stone and wilder than any beast,” and would have none of Rome’s God.
People of the Asatru religion honor Tore Hund , Haakon and other Norsemen who resisted the Christianization of Scandinavia.
St. Olaf, center, with two other saints depicted on the ceiling of a Danish church (Photo by Gunnar Bach Pedersen/ Wikimedia Commons )
Christianization of Scandinavia
Scandinavia was Christianized by the 12 th century, though the people still practiced some of the old ways and held some of the old beliefs. Many pagan gods, heroes, holy places, festivals and rites were subsumed into Christianity. Walker writes: “Though the old deities were re-defined as devils, nominal Christians continued to believe in them as firmly as they believed in Christ. … The Christian church had no holidays of its own; every feast in the Christian calendar was borrowed from the pagans, including Easter and Christmas.
“It could be said that Christianity and paganism co-exist even now, for the great part of Christian worship, sacraments and theology come from the pagan heritage.”