Heathen Hymns

Hymns are an important part of what makes up the idea of religious culture for many people. Those old, OLD church hymns are an indelible part of my childhood and early upbringing. And indeed; I miss hymns, I miss church music, and I know I’m not alone.

But we don’t have to give these things up. Christianity doesn’t hold a monopoly on ritual music. As a dear friend said to me when I brought up trying to start this project, the Christians are fond of saying “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?”. Well I would say the other way is true too: Why should the Christians have all the religious tunes?

I grew up in and around American protestantism, the Methodist church to be specific. Here in the south there were great revivals in the open air under the arbor and that’s when they most often brought out the old hymns. And even after 20 years of heathenry I still miss the music. If you grew up like me, chances are you have a few favorites too.

Our heathenry need not shun these though, they are a part of us after all, a part of us etched deeply by tradition. There’s no reason to give up something so deeply felt, especially when it is so easy to take it with you.

The last few days I’ve been reaching out to see how people I knew felt about the prospect of making heathen hymns set to old hymn music. The resounding response I received showed me that this is a communal need and that for many it has been too long missing.

What’s more, there’s a long history of taking tunes and transforming their lyrics for church hymns. The early hymns were often popular tunes with new words, transforming them for the purposes of the church. And while the original lyrics have in many cases been entirely forgotten, the tunes live on with their religious lyrics having become a part of the religious culture.

While you can no longer legally just take any popular tunes and write new lyrics for them as was once done, copyright saw to that; many of the oldest hymns are so old they’re in the public domain. If it is old enough, generally before 1925, we can use most of that music as much as we want and write new lyrics for heathen songs. This gives us access to the old traditional hymns, the ones that we grew up hearing from generations ago.


Here are some of my examples:

“A Mighty Fortress is Asgard”

“Hammer of Thor, Swung for Me”

“When it’s your time, come and find me”

“In the Garden of Eorthe”

“Beowulf the Hero”

“Sleep Bear Me Away”

“The Gods are Calling”

“Down to the River”

“Helheim is Waiting”

“Be Thou my Gods”

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