Asatru (Norse Heathenism)


Its History:

Asatru is frequently regarded as one of the Neopagan family of religions. That family includes Wicca, Celtic Druidism, and re-creations of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other ancient Pagan religions. However, many Asatruers prefer the term "Heathen" to "Neopagan" and look upon their tradition as "not just a branch on the Neopagan tree" but as a separate tree.  Unlike Wicca, which has gradually evolved into many different traditions, the reconstruction of Asatru has been based on the surviving historical record. Its followers have maintained it as closely as possible to the original religion of the Norse people.
Asatru or Ásatrú is is an Icelandic word which is a translation of the Danish word "Asetro."  Asetro was "first seen in 1885 in an article in the periodical "Fjallkonan". The next recorded instance was in "Hei<eth>inn si<eth>ur á Íslandi" ("Heathen traditions in Iceland.") by Ólafur Briem (Reykjavík, 1945)." It means "belief in the Asir," the Gods. "Asatru" is a combination of "Asa" which is the possessive case of the word Æsir (Aesir) and "Tru" which means belief or religion.
Throughout Scandinavia the religion is called Forn Si<eth>r (which means the Ancient way or tradition), Forn sed (the Old custom), Nordisk sed (Nordic custom), or Hedensk sed (Pagan custom). Other names are:
Norse Heathenism, Germanic Heathenism, the Elder Troth, the Old Way, Asetro, Vor Si r (our way), Forn Si r (Ancient way), Forn sed (the old custom), Nordisk sed (Nordic custom), or Hedensk sed (Pagan custom), Odinism or Folkish Ásatrú.
The religion's origin is lost in antiquity. At its peak, it covered all of Northern Europe. Countries gradually converted to Christianity. In 1000 CE, Iceland became the second last Norse culture to convert. Their prime motivation was economic. Sweden was ruled by a Pagan king until 1085 CE.
Icelandic poet Gothi Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson promoted government recognition of Asatru as a legitimate religion; this status was granted in 1972. Since the early 1970's, the religion has been in a period of rapid growth in the former Norse countries, as well as in Europe and North America.


Corruption of Asatru:

It is not unknown for otherwise decent religions to become corrupted by incorporating racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic beliefs. For example:
The Christian Identity movement is one wing of the Christian religion which has adsorbed such beliefs.
During the early part of the 20th Century, The National Socialist Party in Germany under Adolf Hitler attempted to pervert Asatru by grafting parts of the religion onto the Nazi racist beliefs. This blasphemy died by the end of World War II, although some neo-Nazi groups -- largely in the U.S. -- are now attempting to continue the practice. This type of activity is in no way related to the restoration of Asatru as a legitimate Heathen religion. There is a very strong anti-racist, anti-Nazi stance among national Asatru groups in the Scandinavian countries. This is also found in almost all Asatru groups in English speaking countries. They typically have a clear rejection of racism written into their constitutions. Unfortunately, some anti-racism groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (in its Megiddo report) have mistakenly accused the entire religion of racism.
Many people are exposed to the name "Asatru" through role playing games, such as Mage: The Ascension. Unfortunately, the Asatru of these games bear little resemblance to the real religion.


Asatru Beliefs:


Asatru is a polytheistic religion. There are three races of Deities in the Norse pantheon. They are all regarded as living entities who are involved in human life:

The Aesir: These are the Gods of the tribe or clan, representing Kingship, order, craft, etc.
The Vanir: These represent the fertility of the earth and forces of nature. They are associated with the clan but are not part of it.
The Jotnar: These are giants who are in a constant state of war with the Aesir. They represent chaos and destruction. At the battle of Ragnarok, many of the Gods will die, the world will come to an end and be reborn.

Specific Gods: Some of the more important are:

Thor is the Thunderer, who wields Mjolnir, the divine Hammer. His chariot racing across the sky generates thunder. Thursday (Thor's Day) was named after him.
Odin is the one-eyed God; he gave up one of his eyes in order to drink from the Fount of Wisdom. He is a magician and wise one. He learned the secrets of the runes (Northern European alphabet) by hanging himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights.
Frey is the God of Yule (born on the Winter Solstice, typically December 21). He is a God of peace and plenty who brings fertility and prosperity. His father was Njord.Specific Goddesses: Some important ones are:
Freya (aka Freyja) is the Goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, and perhaps a dozen other attributes. She leads the Valkyries who take the souls of slain soldiers to Valhalla (Odin's great hall). 
Frigg is Odin's wife. Her name has been secularized to a slang term which refers to sexual intercourse.  She is the patroness of the household and of married women.
Skadi is the Goddess of independence, death, hunting and skiing. Scandinavia was named after her; the English words shadow, skullduggery and shade came from her name.
Ostara, is a Goddess of fertility who is celebrated at the time of the Spring equinox. She was known by the Saxons as Eostre, the Goddess of Spring, from whom we have derived the word Easter. Ostara's symbols are the hare and the egg.

Other Entities:
Other Deities are Aegir, Balder, Bragi, Forseti, Heimdall, Hel, Loki, Njord, Ran, Tyr, Ull and Vithar. Followers of Asatru also honor the Landvaettir (land spirits) of the forest, earth and streams.

Life Values:
Asatruars in North America have created a list of Nine Noble Virtues: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance and Perseverance. The family is greatly valued and honored. They reject any form of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, race, sexual orientation, or "other divisive criteria".

Origins: Humanity is literally descended from the Gods. Three brothers, Odin, Vili, and Ve created people from two trees and gave them the names Ask and Embla. One deity, Rig visited the earth and established the social classes.

Od: This is the gift of ecstasy provided to humans by the Gods. It is what separates humanity from other animals, and is our eternal link with the Gods.
Creation Story: A poem Voluspa (Prophecy of the Seeress) contains an Asatru story of the creation of the universe. Between Muspelheim (The Land of Fire) and Niflheim the Land of Ice was an empty space called Ginnungigap. The fire and ice moved towards each other; when they collided, the universe came into being. Odin, Vili and Ve later created the world from the body of a giant that they had slain.

After death:
Those who die in battle will be carried to Valhalla by the Valkyries. There they will eat Särimner (a pig that is daily slaughtered and resurrected) with the Gods. Some, but not all, Asatruars believe that those who have lived a very evil and treacherous life go to Hifhel, (a.k.a Hiflhel). This is a place of torment. The remainder go to Hel, a place of calmness and peace, from which the name of the Christian Hell was derived. However, Hel is much closer to the Christian view of Heaven than to its concept of Hell.

Asatru Rituals and Practices:

Their local religious communities are called Kindreds, Hearths, or Garths. Male priests are called Gothi; priestesses are Gythia
The Blot: (pronounced "bloats") This is their most common religious ritual; it is a sacrifice to the Gods. In olden days, as with almost all ancient religions, an animal was consecrated to the deities and then slaughtered. This was not seen as a bribe or as a method of capturing the power of the dying animal. It is simply the way in which the ancient Norse shared their bounty with a gift to the Gods. Currently, the animal sacrifice has been replaced by the offer of beer, juice or mead. Afterwards, those present are either sprinkled with the liquid, or drink it in sequence.
The Sumbel: This is a ritual drinking celebration, in which a horn filled with a drink is passed around the group. Each person delivers a greeting; a toast to the Gods, ancient heroes, or one's ancestors; or a story, song or poem. He or she then drinks from the horn.
Profession or Adoption: This is the act of making a commitment to Asatru to the exclusion of other faiths, by solemnly giving an oath of allegiance and kinship to the Gods of Asgard, the Aesir and Vanir. It is a simple ceremony usually done in the presence of a Gothi or Gythia and the rest of the Kindred, Hearth or Garth. It is taken on an oath ring or some other sacred object.

Seasonal Days of Celebration:
In common with most Neo-Pagan faiths, their main holy days are:
Summer Finding, at the spring equinox, typically March 21. This is dedicated to Ostara.
Winter Finding, at the fall equinox, typically September 21
Midsummer, at the summer solstice, typically June 21
Yule, which starts on the winter solstice (typically December 21) on the Mother Night of Yule. It lasts for 12 days or more. This is the most important day of the year. Many Norse symbols have been adsorbed by the Christian celebration of Christmas: evergreen trees, Yule logs, holly, etc.Many also celebrate days between the solstices and equinoxes. Various traditions within Asatru observe them on different dates:
The Charming of the Plow on February 1st weekend, a celebration of Freya and the Disir
Merry-Moon on May 1st weekend, celebration of spring dedicated to Njord and Nerthus.
Harvest or Freyfaxi on August 1st weekend, the first harvest and celebration of Frey and his horse
Fogmoon on November 1st weekend, a celebration of war-dead and Ragnarok Dedicated to Odin and Freya.Asatruars in North America observe Einherjar, held annually on November 11. Thisi coincides with Armistice or Veterans Day. It honors those who have been killed in battle and have joined Odon's warriors in Valhalla. Some groups hold a feast on the 9th of each month to honor Norse heroes. Other groups hold rituals at full moons. Additional days are celebrated at other times during the year by different traditions.


References and further information:


1. "Assembly of the Elder Troth," at: http://www.aetaustralia.org/arvaaushist.htm

2. For a list of Asatru home pages, consult Yahoo at:
http://www.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Religion/

3. The Irminsul Ættir Asatru Page has an enormous amount of information online at: http://www.irminsul.org/ Included is a brief description of Asatru, news, a world-wide contact map, sources of material, etc. A very inclusive site.

4. The Midhnott Sol (Midnight Sun) Kindred have an extensive web site at: http://www.waywyrd.com/midhnott_sol/ It includes material on Grimms' Teutonic mythology and fairy tales, Leidstjarna: Journal of the Northern Star, public domain texts and much additional information.

5. The Ring of Troth, which is perhaps the largest Asatru group in North America, maintains a home page at: http://www.thetroth.org  They list Asatru events, have an on-line membership application form, and describe a new Asatru boy scout troop in Utah!

6. Jordsvin's Norse Heathen web site contains extensive information and many links on "Norse Religion, Rune work, Seidhr (Norse 'shamanism,' very roughly speaking...), and much more!" See: http://members.aol.com/jordsvin/kindred/kindred.htm 

7. Raven Online is the home page of the Raven Kindred Association. They publish a periodical Asatru Today. Subscription is $17.50 per year. They also publish the book Ravenbok. Much of the above information was taken from this site. See http://www.webcom.com/~lstead/

8. The Asatru Alliance of Independent Kindrids is a free association of local groups, called "kindrids". They publish a magazine Vor Tru and have a FAQ section, many articles and links to other Asatru groups. See: www.jcave.com/%7Eeagle

9. Dr. Jenny Blain from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax NS Canada has made available Two (about to be three) anthropological papers on Asatru. They can be downloaded at: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/2171/files.html

10. There are Asatru groups in Ottawa, Canada; Uppsala, Sweden; and in at least the following states of the US: AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, MI, MO, NE, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, VA, WA and WI. See the Raven Online web site for addresses. Other Asatru groups are found throughout Scandinavia.

11. An excellent book on Asatru is: Kveldulfr Gundarsson, "Teutonic Religion," Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN.

12. "Asatru," The Magickal Melting Pot, at: http://www.magickalmeltingpot.com/

13. Asatru Folk Assembly at http://www.runestone.org/

 
 
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