- The caste of Thralls (slaves and landless workers) – they are often physically ugly (sometimes even deformed) but strong, hardworking and useful members of their community, though men and women live together they are unmarried and their sons have names like Weather-beaten, Barn-cleaner, Sluggard, Shorty, Fatty and Stinker, while their daughters have names such as Skinny-hips, Fat-calf, Gossip and Beak-nose.
- The caste of Freemen (landholding farmers, artisans and soldiers) – they are skilled and industrious workers, eg, the men are skilled at wood carving, working the plough, and building wagons, barns and homes, while the women engage in wool-spinning and weaving; their hair is tidy and they wear nicely tailored clothes; they are married (they've “exchanged rings”) and their children are described as red-haired and keen-eyed; their sons have names like Manly, Brave, Swordsman, Soldier, Smith, Farmer and Trim-beard, while their daughters have names such as Sensible, Smart, Swan, Lady, Shy and Vivacious.
- The caste of Nobles (aristocracy, military leaders and shamans) – their skin is pale, their fingers are long, their hair is blonde, their eyes are piercing, they are wise, understand the language of birds, know the runes, and the spells associated with them; the men are skilled at using weapons, horse-riding, hunting, swimming and war – causing them to own large estates and treasure, with which they are generous; couples love each other deeply and their children have names such as Noble, Kinsman, Heir and King.
The three castes share the same divine, paternal ancestor – being Heimdall the White, as it says in the Voluspa:
“Heed my words, all classes of men, you greater and lesser children of Heimdall [J Crawford, The Poetic Edda, 2015, Hackett].”
These castes are not necessarily representative of all of mankind, however, for the creator of all men is Odin and his brothers (according to the Prose Edda). Separately to that Odin is the divine ancestor of Germanic Royal lines, the Swedish people, and he is the father of Heimdall – thus the most high and sacred line of Odin circulates today amongst the Germanic people.
Certainly the Heimdall castes pertain to the Germanic people (though perhaps not only the Germanic people), for the Thralls are descended from a couple called great-grandfather and great-grandmother, the Freemen are descended from a couple called grandfather and grandmother and the Nobles are descended from a couple called father and mother. Heimdall’s role in creating the castes is to lay in the middle of the beds of these respective ancestors, following which their children are born. Jackson Crawford has suggested that the social role and physical description of the Thralls references slaves from Ireland and Scotland, which is likely at least partly true, but given that there is an implication that Thralls have darker hair I suspect native Germanic people are most definitely included, as well as Slavs and any other group (who will inevitably have been European) whom Germanic people are known to have enslaved in the ancient and medieval period?
As for what percentage of people belonged to each caste, it is very difficult to know for sure but one hint might come from the Doomsday data collected in 11th century England, wherein around 6% were nobility, around 12% were landowning freemen, circa 70% were serfs and 10% were outright slaves. If we apply the Heimdall caste system to this structure it places around 80% of the population as equivalent to Thralls, with the remaining two castes occupying the other circa 20%. This percentage split is not wildly different from the distribution of castes in contemporary India where, counted together, the Brahmin and Kshatriya castes (being the two highest castes) make up less than 25% of the population.
Amongst the Indo-European people only south Asians have a manifest caste system today – why this is so is better left to an Indian scholar to answer, but I do wonder, and I may be wrong, if the caste system came into being to ensure that distinct ethnoreligious identities were preserved in an environment where they might otherwise have been expected, via the passage of time, to be diluted into the greater number of the Indian population?
ᚲᛟᚢᛚᛞ ᚨᚾ ᚨᚱᚷᚢᛗᛖᚾᛏ ᛏᚺᚢᛋ ᛒᛖ ᛗᚨᛞᛖ ᛁᚾ ᚠᚨᚡᛟᚢᚱ ᛟᚠ ᛏᚺᛖ ᚺᛖᛁᛗᛞᚨᛚᛚ ᚲᚨᛋᛏᛖ ᛋᚤᛋᛏᛖᛗ ᚨᛋ ᚨ ᚹᚨᚤ ᛟᚠ ᛈᚱᛖᛋᛖᚱᚡᛁᚾᚷ ᚷᛖᚱᛗᚨᚾᛁᚲ ᛁᛞᛖᚾᛏᛁᛏᚤ ᛁᚾ ᛏᚺᛖ ᛁᚾᚲᚱᛖᚨᛋᛁᚾᚷᛚᚤ ᛗᚢᛚᛏᛁᚲᚢᛚᛏᚢᚱᚨᛚ ᚹᛖᛋᛏ?
Can we make a case for restoring the Heimdall caste system amongst Germanic polytheists today?
A thousand years (give or take a few hundred years) of Christianity as the dominant spiritual teaching amongst Germanic people has just about wiped out caste distinctions. Some of us might be able to ascertain our caste by studying the occupations of our ancestors. In my case I appear to be mostly Freeman (landowning ancestors who were either dairy farmers or had other skilled occupations), but no doubt I have Thrall and possibly some Noble ancestry. I suspect most Germanic people will find their ancestry is similarly a mix of all three castes. Physical characteristics might indicate that the features of one caste predominates – tall, blonde people may thus identify as Nobles, but even those people will notice many of their close relatives have brown and red hair, so again we have a very mixed situation. I think the better way to approach this is to recognise the inherent kinship between all the castes, for we are all children of Heimdall, and to aspire to bring out the best features of these castes within ourselves, these would include:
- Being fertile and raising children (all of the castes)
- Physical strength (Thrall)
- An excellent work ethic (Thrall and Freeman)
- Skilfulness (Freeman)
- Manliness, eg, bravery and willingness to engage in warfare (Freeman and Noble)
- Womanliness, eg, ladylike, takes care of her appearance (Freeman and Noble)
- Loving one’s partner deeply (Noble)
- Generosity (Noble)
- Learning the runes and the way of birds – shamanism (Noble)
As for the people who are not part of this caste system – well, perhaps they are ᛟᚢᛏᛋᛁᛞᛖᚱᛋ? Which is not to denote inferiority, but rather to denote their status as outside our ethnoreligious identity – just as Jewish (or Parsi) people prefer to marry other people both born into and practising the Jewish (or Parsi) religion. Of course friendships with ᛟᚢᛏᛋᛁᛞᛖᚱᛋ are good sense in a multicultural community, but we might encourage our children to marry others who also carry the Heimdall bloodline. The point of all of this – which is really just a thought experiment tbh – is not to encourage racism, but to seek a viable means to continue the Heimdall bloodline long into the future. Over the course of thousands of years it doesn’t matter if occasionally a Germanic polytheist marries an ᛟᚢᛏᛋᛁᛞᛖᚱ (consider the intermarriage with Huns in the Völsunga Saga), the point is to preserve the bloodline in the longer term, if for no other reason than to ensure optimal candidates for Valhalla.
Before I end, I wish to honour Heimdall with Hilda Ellis Davidson’s rather good and succinct description of our divine ancestor:
“Heimdall, the White God … was said to sit beside the rainbow bridge to guard the entrance to the fortress of the Gods from the giants and monsters. He kept unwearying watch, since he needed less sleep than a bird, and his hearing was so keen that he could detect the sound of grass growing in the earth, or wool on a sheep’s back. Heimdall carried the horn which would warn the Gods when Ragnarök was at hand, sounding its blast through all the worlds … One form of his name meant ‘ram’ … the strange saying that a sword was the head of Heimdall could refer to the ram’s sharp horns, its weapon of attack … Heimdall … was said to be the son of nine mothers … who are said to be daughters of the sea … He seems to have a special link with Loki, who is to be his opponent in the last great battle, and there is also a confused tradition that Heimdall and Loki once fought in the form of seals for the necklace of Frejya … He … gave advice when Thrym sought her in marriage … [H R Ellis Davidson, Scandinavian Mythology, 1969, Paul Hamlyn at 105-107].”
Sources not otherwise cited:
- J Crawford, The Saga of the Volsungs, 2017, Hackett
- Jackson Crawford on YouTube
- H R Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, 1964, Penguin Books
- Doomsday data is taken from my earlier post in February 2022: What Does It Mean to Be Free?
- C Larrington, The Poetic Edda, 1996, Oxford
- J Lindow, Norse Mythology, 2001, Oxford
- Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, 2005, Penguin Classics