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World religions

Part 1 of 2 parts:
Asatru: Norse Heathenism



There are a number of options for the spelling of the name of this religion. We have been informed that "Asatro" is the correct Swedish spelling. It is:

"... a combination of the words 'Asa', refering to the Asa-gods och Asarna (The Asa) ... and the word 'Tro', simply meaning 'belief'. Thus, it means something in the lines of "Belief in the Asa-gods".

On the other hand, Ásatru and Asatru are more popular on the Internet than Asatro by a factor of 12. If we used the latter, people using a search engine to find our essay would not be able to locate it. So we will use "Ásatru" and "Asatru."

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History of the religion:

Ásatrú 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 Ásatrúar prefer the term "Heathen" or "Pagan" rather than "Neopagan;" they 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 Ásatrú 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 'satr' 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'inn si'ur ' 'slandi" ("Heathen traditions in Iceland.") by 'lafur Briem (Reykjav'k, 1945)." It means "belief in the ?i>sir," the Gods. "Ásatrú" is a combination of "Asa" which is the possessive case of the word 'sir (Æsir) and "Tru" which means belief or religion.

Throughout Scandinavia the religion is called Forn Si'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 'satr'.

The religion's origin is lost in antiquity. At its peak, it covered all of Northern Europe. These 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.
  • During 1387, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the last Pagan nation in Europe to convert.

Icelandic poet Goði 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.

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Corruption of Ásatrú:

It is not unknown for otherwise decent religions to become corrupted by incorporating racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic beliefs. For example:

bullet The Christian Identity movement within Protestantism is one part of the extreme right wing of the Christian religion which has adsorbed such beliefs.

bullet During the early part of the 20th Century, The National Socialist Party in Germany under Adolf Hitler attempted to pervert Ásatrú by grafting parts of the religion onto the Nazi racist beliefs. This blasphemy died at the end of World War II. However, 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 Ásatrú 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 Ásatrú 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 "Ásatrú" through role playing games, such as Mage: The Ascension. Unfortunately, the Ásatrú of these games bear little resemblance to the actual religion.

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Ásatrú beliefs:

bulletÁsatrú 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:
bulletThe Æsir: These are the Gods of the tribe or clan, representing Kingship, order, craft, etc.

bulletThe Vanir: These represent the fertility of the earth and forces of nature. They are associated with the clan but are not part of it.

bullet The Jótnar: These are giants who are in a constant state of war with the Æsir. They represent chaos and destruction. At the upcoming battle of Ragnarok, many of the Æsir are expected to die. The world will come to an end and then be reborn.
bulletSpecific Gods: Some of the more important are:
bulletThor is the Thunderer, who wields Mjölnir, the divine Hammer. His chariot racing across the sky generates thunder. Thursday (Thor's Day) was named after him.

bulletOdin is the one-eyed God; he gave up one of his eyes in order to drink from the Fountain of Knowledge (some sources say Fountain of Wisdom). He is a magician. He learned the secrets of the runes (Northern European alphabet) by hanging himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights.

bullet Frey (a.k.a. Freyr) is the God of fertility, the weather and farming. He was born on the Winter Solstice, approximately December 21. His father was Njord.
bulletSpecific Goddesses: Some important ones are:
bulletFreya (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 some 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.  According to the Encyclopedia Mythica:"

"Frigg is one of theforemost goddesses of Norse mythology. She is the patron of marriage and motherhood, and the goddess of love and fertility. She has a reputation of knowing every person's destiny, but never unveiling it....In some myths she was rumored to have had love affairs with Odin's brothers Ve and Vili."

The name of the sixth day of the week, Friday, came from Frigg.

bulletSkadi is the Goddess of independence, death, hunting and skiing. Scandinavia may have been named after her.

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

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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Copyright © 1997 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-FEB-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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