Your handy guide to true religions on TV – Celtic, Western and Northern Germanic religions + Wicca

This entry is one of a series of articles covering religions depicted on TV as being true. For full details and a list of the other religions covered, go to the introduction.

Celtic, Western and Northern Germanic religions + Wicca
The belief in the deities worshipped in Scandinavia, Germany and Britain until Christianity took over has seen some uptake on TV. The most famous of these gods were the Norse gods Odin, Thor, et al, but Anglo-Saxon gods include Wayland the Smithy and folk gods such as Herne the Hunter have all managed to show up. While often these have been part of fantasy shows, so not taken entirely seriously by the authors, some shows have raised them in works contemplating national identity, regarding pagan beliefs as important parts of ‘Welshness’ or ‘Englishness’, for example. 

However, writers have usually played fast and loose, and with most of the pagan religions in these areas being reconstructionist, the question of authenticity to the original religions is difficult, relying instead of pagan-like activity created by the authors. Frequently, where the shows have invoked paganism and shown it to be true, it’s been shown to be based on some kind of science (cf Children of the Stones, Sky, Quatermass and Doctor Who). 

However, there are some exceptions.

1. The Almighty Johnsons (2011-)
Norse gods and goddesses have been reincarnated in the bodies of regular New Zealand men and women, who want to recover their full powers. However, unless Odin is reunited with Frigg, there’s going to be an apocalypse. Although not exactly Odinist, it does back the idea of the Norse gods 100% and has even featured the world tree Yggdrasil. The show has also included various Maori divinities. A US remake is being planned.
Further reading
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2. Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986)
Possibly the most famous (and beautifully written) pagan show of them all, this saw the myth of Robin Hood married with a search for English/Saxon/Celtic identity through a mixture of different figures from pagan religions including the English Herne the Hunter and Saxon Weyland the Smithy, as well as the Irish god Crom Cruach. Although the pagan aspects are somewhat synthetic, Robin and his men were all devoted pagans, even getting married in a pagan ceremony, while the villagers are shown to be equally devoted, right down to an episode where they can’t fight the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men during a special feast honouring Herne. The show also featured the Azazel-worshipping Baron de Belleme, so technically also argues for Christianity as well.
Further reading
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3. The Moon Stallion (1973)
A young woman living in Wales becomes embroiled in one man’s attempt to capture the mythic Moon Stallion and then to meet the god Wayland. Also features another pagan figure, the Green King.
Further reading
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4. The Box of Delights (1984)
A young boy gets caught up in a plot to capture a magical device called the Box of Delights. Along the way, he meets mystical creatures, including Herne The Hunter. However, it might all be a dream, so perhaps he doesn’t.
Further reading
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5. Artemis 81 (1981)
The world is coming to an end and it might be the fault of some ancient pagan gods. Technically, one of the shows that reveals pagan gods to be aliens.
Further reading
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6. Mulberry (1992)
Not really any pagan religion in particular, but comes close to Wicca by featuring not just Death but Springtime as real people, and it’s just about the only pagan sitcom I can think of.
Further reading
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7. Penda’s Fen (1974)
Featuring the last Pagan king of England, Penda, this looks at the tension between paganism and Christianity in English culture. Since both Penda and angels turn up, it’s technically a multi-faith drama.
Further reading

8. The Secret World of Polly Flint (1987)
While not featuring paganism per se, there’s a lot of English pagan imagery in it, including maypoles.
Further reading

9. K9 and Company (1981)
A bunch of country pagans pray to the pagan goddess Hecate to help with their crops, sometimes with the help of a human sacrifice. Only Doctor Who’s former companions Sarah-Jane Smith and K9 can stop them. Although human sacrifice definitely isn’t in modern pagan traditions and is probably pre-Druidic as well, the pagan worshippers are never actually discredited and one in particular hints that the only thing that keeps the crops growing well is his coven’s worship.
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10. Robin Redbreast (1970)
A young woman moves to the country, only to become part of the local community’s sacrificial ceremony. Taking on board a lot of Fraser’s The Golden Bough with the annual sacrifice of a man to encourage the harvest, the play ends, however, with her tormentors transforming into various pagan figures, including Herne the Hunter.
Further reading

11. Elidor (1995)
Four children enter a magical world, complete a quest and return, only to find it’s come through with them. No gods per se, but it is based on both English and Welsh folklore and Celtic myth, with the four castles of Elidor corresponding to the Tuatha Dé Danann of Irish myth.
Further reading

12 Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1999-2003)
One girl in each generation is given the mystical power necessary to fight vampires and demons. Buffy was this generation’s. Although featuring in passing many religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Native American beliefs, the one featured most prominently was Wicca. However, this was largely in name only and used more as a synonym for witchcraft than actual Wicca.
Further reading
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13 Vikings (2013-)
History Channel’s first foray into scripted drama, this tells the story of semi-legendary, semi-historic Viking king Ragnarr Loðbrók, a claimed descendant of Odin. As you might expect from a History Channel production, the show is fairly accurate in its depiction of Odinist worship, detailing the mythology, religion and practice by believers. But intriguingly, it was also happy to show the gods themselves, including Odin, the Valkyries and Huginn and Muninn.

Further reading
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