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World religions

(Norse Heathenism)

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Spelling:

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 -- "... 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 "Asatru."

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History:

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. 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 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:

bulletThe Christian Identity movement is one wing of the Christian religion which has adsorbed such beliefs.

bulletDuring 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 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 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 real 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.

bulletThe Jótnar: These are giants who are in a constant state of war with the Æsir. They represent chaos and destruction. At the battle of Ragnarok, many of the Æsir will 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.

bulletFrey (a.k.a. Freyr) is the God of fertility, the weather and farming. He was born on the Winter Solstice, typically 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).
 
bullet

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 unveils 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".
 
bulletOrigins: 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.
 
bulletÓd: 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.
 
bulletCreation Story: A poem Voluspa (Prophecy of the Seeress) contains an Ásatrú 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.
 
bulletAfter death: Unlike many other religions that have Heaven or Hell as a final destination after death, Norse myths indicate that there are many possible locations. Half of the heroic, battle-slain warriors go to Freyja's field, Fólkvangr. She is said to get first pick. Helheim is the neutral realm where most people go upon death. Helheim is ruled by the goddess, Hel (or Hela). Oathbreakers and other dishonorable people are eaten by Niddhog, a dragon. Those who die at sea are said to enter another hall.  However, most Ásatrúar do not believe in the myths literally. Some believe in reincarnation along family lines. Still, others believe that the dead inhabit their graves.
 
bulletThe end of the world: Ragnar'k (a.k.a. Ragnar'kkr, Ragnar'k, Ragnarok; literally the fate of the Gods) is the anticipated apocalypse. It involves a great battle between the Gods and the J'tnar -- a race of giants with superhuman strength. Unlike Revelation in the Christian Scriptures, prophecies of Ragnar'k are very specific: the events leading up to the battle, the timing of the battle, who will kill whom, etc. are all known. Wolves will eat the sun and moon. The stars will stop shining. Mountains will fall; trees will be uprooted; "Fumes will reek and flames will burst, scorching the sky with fire. The earth will sink into the sea." Most of the Gods will die. Only one woman and one man, Lifthrasir and Lif, will survive. Their offspring will eventually repopulate the world and live in peace. 11

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Asatru Rituals and Practices:

bulletTheir local religious communities are called Kindreds, Hearths, or Garths. Male priests are called Goði; priestesses are Gyðja.
 
bulletThe Blót: (pronounced "bloat" or "boat;" sources differ) 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.
 
bulletThe Symbel: 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.
 
bulletProfession or Adoption: This is the act of making a commitment to Ásatrú to the exclusion of other faiths, by solemnly giving an oath of allegiance and kinship to the Gods of Asgard, the Æsir and Vanir. It is a simple ceremony usually done in the presence of a Goði or Gyðja and the rest of the Kindred, Hearth or Garth. It is taken on an oath ring or some other sacred object. Some followers of Ásatrú believe that only those with Norse ancestry should be eligible to join.

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Seasonal Days of Celebration

Their main holy day is 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.

In addition, many kindred or even individual follower may celebrate:

bulletSummer Finding, at the spring equinox, typically March 21. This is dedicated to Ostara.

bulletWinter Finding, at the fall equinox, typically September 21

bulletMidsummer, at the summer solstice, typically June 21.

Some also celebrate days between the solstices and equinoxes. Various traditions within Ásatrú observe them on different dates:

bullet The Charming of the Plow on February 1st weekend, a celebration of Freya and the Disir.

bulletMerry-Moon on May 1st weekend, celebration of spring dedicated to Njord and Nerthus.

bulletHarvest or Freyfaxi on August 1st weekend, the first harvest and celebration of Frey and his horse

bulletFogmoon on November 1st weekend, a celebration of war-dead and Ragnarok Dedicated to Odin and Freya.

Many followers of Ásatrú 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 Odin's warriors in Valhall. 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.

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Amazon.com's online bookstore lists the following books on Asatru:

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References and further information:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Assembly of the Elder Troth," at: http://www.aetaustralia.org/ http://www.aetaustralia.org/
  2. For a list of Ásatrú home pages, consult Yahoo at: http://dir.yahoo.com/
  3. The Irminsul 'ttir 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 Troth, which is perhaps the largest Ásatrú group in North America, maintains a home page at: http://www.thetroth.org  They list Ásatrú events, have an on-line membership application form, and describe a new Ásatrú boy scout troop in Utah!
  5. Jordsvin's Norse Heathen website contains extensive information and many links on "Norse Religion, Rune work, Seidhr (Norse 'shamanism,' very roughly speaking...), and much more!" See:  http://home.earthlink.net/
  6. 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.ravenkindred.com/
  7. The Asatru Alliance of Independent Kindrids is a free association of local groups, called "kindreds". They publish a magazine Vor Tru and have a FAQ section, many articles and links to other Asatru groups. See: http://www.asatru.org
  8. Dr. Jenny Blain from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax NS Canada has made available anthropological papers on Asatru. They can be downloaded at: http://www.geocities.com/
  9. There are Ásatrú 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 Kindred List at http://ravenkindred.com for addresses. Other Ásatrú groups are found throughout Scandinavia.
  10. An excellent book on Ásatrú is: Kveldulfr Gundarsson, "Teutonic Religion," Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN.
  11. "Ragnar'k," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  12. From the Encyclopedia Mythica at: http://www.pantheon.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-FEB-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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