Heathen Apologetics, Part 4: The Argument from the Miraculous
Welcome back to Heathen Apologetics, where we repurpose common, Christian apologetics arguments and instead use them to support the veracity of Norse religious faith. The purpose of this series is to serve as a sort of giant reductio ad absurdum. Using the exact same logical constructs espoused by Christian thinkers, with only minor modifications to the premises made to substitute specifically Christian suppositions with specifically Norse ones, Heathen Apologetics intends to show that these arguments are entirely untenable. Today, we’re going to take a look at the Argument from the Miraculous.
The supernatural power of the runes proves that the gods are real.
In Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, we are told about some of the many miracles recorded throughout the Sagas and the Eddas as evidence of the power of the gods. Egil Skallagrímsson is a celebrated hero of Scandinavian history, a berserker polymath who was just as brilliant in devising poetry as he was in splitting skulls. A notable master of the runes, there are numerous accounts of Egil’s use of this magic, throughout his saga. One account, in particular, is particularly poignant to the matter. In chapter 57 of Egils saga, after disposing of the Queen’s brothers (who had been charged to assassinate Egil), the hero curses King Eirik Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhild by carving a runic invocation onto a niðstang (a “curse” or “nithing” pole), impaling a horse’s head on the top, and planting the pole in the direction of the King and Queen’s land. This curse resulted in King Eirik fleeing Norway for Northumbria. The best explanation for the effectiveness of this rune magic is that Egil truly did use the power brought to man by Odin.
We can summarize this argument as follows:
- There are three historical facts we can discern about Egil’s rune magic: (A) he set up a nithing pole with carved runes, (B) Eirik Bloodaxe and Gunnhild were forced to flee to Northumbria, and (C) heathens that followed after this event truly believed that the rune-carved nithing pole was magic.
- The hypothesis “the gods gave mankind access to magic runes” is the best explanation for these facts.
- This hypothesis entails that the gods exist.
- Therefore, the gods exist.
Now, let’s explore this argument a little bit. We know that Egil was an accomplished poet, due to the fact that several of his poems survive even to this day and are quite brilliant. Given that Egil was such a poet, the claim that he therefore knew how to write is completely reasonable, and runes were the alphabet of the Scandinavian peoples’ writing. His knowledge of the runes is further evidenced by the fact that poetry and the runes are very closely linked throughout the whole of Norse writings. Furthermore, the setting of a nithing pole to commemorate insult was a common custom, and one which continues to this day. There is no evidence to suppose that this account was simply manufactured out of whole cloth by the saga’s author. As such, we can take it as a fact that (A) Egil set up a nithing pole with carved runes.
After Egil set his nithing pole, we are told that King Eirik Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhild are forced to flee Norway for the west. This flight is recorded in Egils saga, but it is quite notable that the escape is corroborated by quite a number of other writings. We can read about Eirik’s move to England in the Historia Norwegiæ (c. 1170), Historia de antiquitate regum Norwagiensium (c. 1180), Ágrip af Nóregskonungasögum (c. 1190), Orkneyinga saga (c. 1200), Fagrskinna (c. 1225), Heimskringla (c. 1230), and Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta (c. 1300) in addition to the account in Egils saga. It is entirely indisputable that (B) Eirik Bloodaxe and Gunnhild were forced to flee to Northumbria.
It is demonstrable and incontrovertible that heathens held a true belief in the power of rune-carved nithing poles after Egil raised his. We learn from Vatnsdæla saga, for instance, that Jökul raised a nithing pole with magic runes to curse Finbogi for failing to appear for an agreed duel. As I mentioned before, the practice has continued in Iceland into the modern day, even despite the Christianization of Iceland circa 1000 CE. In 2006, an Icelandic farmer raised a nithing pole against one of his neighbors, cursing the man to outlawry and death, in retaliation for that neighbor’s having killed the farmer’s puppy. When Christianity was brought to Iceland, so too were brought Christendom’s laws against magic and witchcraft. These actions were punishable by exile and death for centuries after the country’s conversion; and yet, people were so convinced of their belief in the power of rune-carved nithing poles that they continued the practice, even under threat of torture and execution. They were willing to go to their deaths for their belief that Odin had given them rune magic. Thus, we can observe the fact that (C) heathens who followed after this event truly believed that the rune-carved nithing pole was magic.
Naturalistic explanations fall short of explaining the effectiveness of Egil’s nithing pole. There is an astronomically low probability that King Eirik Bloodaxe would have been forced from Norway just coincidentally after Egil specifically cursed Eirik to have to flee. The continued belief in the magic of rune-carved nithing poles even through agonizing persecution defies naturalistic explanation. Adding unsupportable conjectures to the formula– like the idea that Egil and Haakon the Good conspired to convince people of rune magic by organizing attacks to coincide with the setting of the nithing pole– multiply the entities of our argument unnecessarily, and therefore violate the principle of Ockham’s razor. Clearly, the best explanation for the facts which we have seen is that the gods gave humanity access to magic runes. In turn, this hypothesis necessarily entails that the gods actually exist. So, we can conclude that Egil’s nithing pole provides us with sufficient evidence to believe that the gods are real.