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What does Asatru mean?

Asatru is a Scandinavian term consisting of two parts: ASA referring to the Germanic Gods and Goddesses and TRU meaning faith. Thus Asatru literally means faith in the gods, although it is commonly misunderstood to mean ‘true to the Aesir gods’. The faith is also referred to as Odinism or Norse Germanic Heathenry. The Old Norse term for ‘heathenry’ is “heidni”. Yet another Old Norse designation is “Forn Sidr,” meaning “the ancient custom.”

A Brief History of Asatru

The ancient origins of Germanic religion date from prehistoric times and are thus unknown. Most of what is known about Germanic religion is derived from descriptions by Latin writers such as Julius Caesar (1st cent. BC) and Tacitus (1st cent. AD), descriptions by early Christian missionaries, and archaeological evidence including cult objects, amulets, grave goods, and place names.

Anglo-Saxon England was converted from Norse paganism to Christianity in the 7th century, Scandinavia in the 10th century. The Germanic/Norse religion gradually disappeared after this, although Christianity absorbed some of its external features, such as the name and popular customs of Easter.

After having few, if any, practitioners for many centuries, this religion was revived as Asatru in the 19th century by the Geatish Society.

It received a special impetus in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the religion became officially recognized by the Icelandic government (1973), and as several organizations began to spring up England, Germany and North America.

Faith in the Gods

Yes, these same Deities were once worshipped by most of the peoples of pre-Christian Germanic Europe. The myths are stories about the Gods and Goddesses of Asatru and we believe they are ways of stating religious truths. That is, we would say they contain truths about the nature of divinity, our own nature, and the relationship between the two. We do not contend that the myths are literally true, as history. Our ancestors knew of many Gods, and saw them as divided into two tribes; the Aesir and the Vanir.

The Aesir are the Gods of Order and Justice, societal functions, military necessity, and agriculture.
The Vanir are the Gods of Earth and Nature, and preside over the natural forces of the world.

Odin
All Father of the Gods, Odin sits at the head of the Norse Pantheon. He presides over war, wisdom, death and poetry. Odin is also the loving creator of humanity, and gifted man with a spirit and fiery will. Odin is a master shaman and wizard, and the teacher of all things hidden.

Frigg
All Mother and wife of Odin, Frigga presides over marriage, motherhood and fidelity. It is also said that Frigga has knowledge of all things to come, but remains forever silent and does not give prophecies.

Thor
Thunder god, slayer of demons and giants, and the warder of the Earth. Thor is a God of agriculture and farmers, of the working man labouring in the fields and forges. He is the son of Odin, but unlike the All Father was called upon by the common man. Thor wields the mighty hammer known as “Mjollnir,” one of the most prominent symbols of Asatru.

Balder
God of light, innocence, peace and rebirth, Balder was the son of Odin and Frigga. In mythology, he was thought to be invincible until, through Loki’s trickery, he was slain by a sprig of mistletoe thrown by his blind brother, Hod. Balder is said to rise again when the world comes to an end at Ragnarok.

Freya
Lady of Nature, and patroness of strong, independent women. Freya is the Goddess of fertility, war and wealth. In mythology, she rules over the realm of Vanaheim (Nature) with her twin brother, Freyr.

Freyr
The Lord of Nature, wild animals, the forest and all that grows. He is also a God of weather and fertility.

Hod
A blind god of winter and darkness and a son of Odin. Hod killed his brother Balder and was in turn killed by his brother Vali.

Loki
While not an Aesir in truth, Loki was a fire giant and blood-brother to Odin. In mythology Loki was seen as a trickster god and a trouble maker. His plots were tolerated until causing the death of Balder by supplying Hod with the mistletoe. In punishment Loki was bound to a rock until Ragnarok, at which time he will lead the giants in war against the Gods.

Njord
God of wind and sea, father to the divine twins, Freya and Freyr. Njord calms storms and protects those on the ocean.

Tyr

God of war and justice, Tyr was once revered as the head of the Norse Pantheon until replaced by Odin. In mythology, he lost his hand in the mouth of the vicious Fenris Wolf, as the gods bound the beast to prevent it’s destruction until Ragnarok.

Heimdall

Watchman of the Gods, Heimdall guards the gate and bridge into Asgard, the Gods’ Heaven. He taught man how to organize society, and is said to have sired three sons by human mothers whose blood runs in our veins

In English speaking countries four of the days of the week are named after these gods. Tuesday comes from Tiu’s day who is also known as Tyr. Wednesday comes from a compound meaning “Odin’s day,” Thursday from “Thor’s day” with Friday from “Freya’s day.” Throughout Scandinavia and northern Europe we find places that were dedicated anciently and named for the gods and goddesses who are still honored in this day and age.

Celebrations & Practices

The basic religion of Asatru involves keeping the major festivals of the year, which generally fall on the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days with one or two exceptions. In the old days these events would coincide with the natural calendar, the changing of seasons and to celebrate the events of the year.

The two main styles of ritual celebrations which are done to honor the Gods and Goddesses are called the blot and the sumbel. In addition to these there are also numerous social and cultural activities.

The Sign of the Hammer:
The sign of the hammer is a blessing action, it is made by tracing an upside down T in the air and stating something such as ‘Hammer of Thor, hallow and hold this Thy Holy Stead.’ There is a reference to the sign of the hammer in chapter 17 of the Hákonar saga góða, where the Christian King Hákon makes a sign of the cross over a horn of ale during a feast and upsets the farmers of Trondheim. Earl Sigurð, one of the king’s men, makes the excuse that the king was merely making the sign of the hammer in dedication to Thor.

BLOT:
Blot (Pronounced “bloat”) is an Icelandic word meaning blessing, and involves pouring out mead, ale, or other drinks onto the Earth as a sacrifice to the Gods & Goddesses, as well as sharing that blessing with the participants by passing around a drinking horn with that mead or ale, or by sprinkling some of the mead or ale on the participants.

Eight major Blots are celebrated by Asatruers each year. These are listed below, with the modern English name of each given first, followed by its Old Norse name in parenthesis, and its approximate date — although the usual practice is to hold the Blot on the nearest weekend.

Disfest (Disablot) 31 January
Ostara (Ostara) 21 March
May Eve (Valpurgis) 30 April
Midsummer (Midsumarsblot) 21 June

Freysfest (Freysblot) 1 August
Harvestfest (Haustblot) 21 Sepember
Winter Night (Vetrnaetr) 31 October
Yule (Jol) 20th December – January 1st

SUMBEL:

The Sumbel is a kind of formalized religious toasting. Sumbels are held whenever people want to hold them.
The sumbel is a ritualized toasting in which a horn with mead or ale is passed around and each participant makes a toast, a boast, an oath, or says something significant over the drink. It is said that the words spoken at a sumbel echo throughout all the Nine Worlds so that which is said should be thoughtful and meaningful.

The Nine Noble Virtues

The most commonly followed Asatru moral code of conduct is known as the Nine Noble Virtues. These virtues represent the distilled wisdom and ancient Germanic moral code gleaned from various ancient sources including the Poetic Edda (particularly the Hávamál), the Icelandic Sagas and Germanic folklore. They are commonly regarded as follows:

  1. Courage
  2. Truth
  3. Honour
  4. Fidelity
  5. Discipline
  6. Hospitality
  7. Self Reliance
  8. Industriousness
  9. Perseverance

 

Magic and Divination

Like many other ethnic or folk religions there are magical components in Ásatrú based on a perception of an interactivity and interconnectivity between the natural and supernatural world that can be affected by men as well as gods through various methods. In the Eddas, sagas, and other literature we find both men and gods depicted using and teaching galdr (magical chants and songs), seið (a shamanistic magic involving altered states of consciousness and communication with spirits and gods) and runes (referring to the Norse/Germanic alphabet which had magical associations). Divination and auguries were also an important part of the spiritual and religious views of the Old Norse and Germanic people.

In modern terms, seidh, galdr, and runes are incorporated in various ways and to varying degrees in both personal and community practice of the religion. As in the past, many do not practice nor necessarily believe in magic or see it as a necessary expression of the faith today.

 

Kindreds, Hearths, Garths and more

In Canada there is no one central authority or presiding body, although there are a few larger organizations that have membership within Canada and are formed by voluntary association and recognized principles of assembly. Ásatrú begins with individuals and families who may associate in small groups called félagið, or lagur (fellowships), godhordhs, kindreds, garths and hearths, among other historically based terms. They may be entirely independent or may be affiliated in or with a larger organization. A few larger organizations may be further aligned with one another.

The most common term for an Ásatrú religious leader is Goði (masculine form) and Gyðia (feminine form), Goðar (plural). The word refers to a position comparable to that of a priest, but is translated from the Old Norse as chieftain.

Asatru organizations generally favor democratic and republican forms of spiritual government, as inspired by the parliamentary Althings of the Viking era and promote individual rights and freedom of speech reminiscent of Norsemen of the saga era and their more modern descendants.

Norse Wicca / Wiccatru / Wicca

Norse Wicca is a synthetic religion that is based out of Gardnerian Wicca, using the Norse pantheon of deities. It’s philosophy is that there is a God and Goddess (Lord and Lady), and all other Gods and Goddesses are reflections of the one great Masculine and Feminine principle. Because it is a synthetic religion, many practitioners of Norse Wicca frequently “borrow” elements from other religious practices and pantheons; thus you now have Runic studies mixed in with Native American traditions, or Norse deities wedded to Egyptian archetypes among members of the more “ecletic” forms of this worship.  Needless to say, such practices are regularly looked askance by the more traditional heathen community, and Norse Wicca generally does not enjoy a favorable reputation among fundamentalist practitioners of Asatru.

Satanism / Fascism

Satanism
The object of worship in Satanism originates in Christianity and is based on Judaeo-Christian mythology, and thus has no connection to Asatru which is a separate and distinct religion. Ásatrú has been wrongly connected with the black metal subculture, church burnings, etc. but these actions belong to a few people looking for attention.

Fascism
As devoted Heathens we oppose oppressive political belief systems and we actively promote religious freedom, tolerance, and open communication. We strive, through education and by living example, to restore our ancient religion to its rightful place among the world’s faiths, and to reveal and refute, whenever possible, misrepresentations and propaganda against our beliefs and our ancestral Gods.

Folkish \ Universalist \ Tribalist

There is a strong divide in the Asatru community over the issue of ancestry and how Asatru should be practiced in modern times. These two camps are referred to Folkish and Universalist Heathenry

Folkish Heathenry: Essentially is Heathenry for the Folk – a central tenet to this path of is that the Heathen religion is tribal in nature, and that it is the rightful heritage of people with Northern European heritage. It has as one of its missions the preservation and continued development of the Northern European tribal descendants. Folkish Heathens do not (at least not in the main) consider themselves better than people from other races – they simply consider that a religion based on Northern European gods and ancestors is best followed by people of Northern European heritage, and that people with no Northern European heritage would be better off seeking out the gods and ancestors of their own racial heritage.

Universalist Heathenry: The belief that everyone in principle can be an Asatruar, and that there are thereby no qualitative differences between those, who can state with some rightful probability,  that they have Northern European ancestors, and those, for which such a probability is minimal. Differences in natural inclination of spirituality are rejected as unprovable, the whole idea is regarded as wishful thinking. The term ‘race’ plays no role.

Universalist Heathens believe that anyone can call themselves Asatruar by worshiping the Germanic pantheon, and by following the ethical Asatru code of the Nine Noble virtues. Whether one is Chinese, African, Polynesian or of any other origin, plays no role at all. <

Tribalist Heathenry : The members of the middle faction of modern Asatru are called Tribalists, and shun the errors of either extreme. The racism of Folkish practice is avoided as well as the “anything goes” motto of the Universalists. The answer the Tribalists have to the question of “Who can practice Asatru?” is: “Anyone who makes a sufficient effort to understand and adopt the culture of the ancient heathens.” This gives Asatru rigorous enough standards to make sure our practice is like that of the ancients, and is well understood, for to fully adopt another culture requires MUCH study.

Additionally the gods first came to be known in the context of the ancient culture, so it stands to reason that they can only be truly understood in the terms of that culture. It also keeps us from the untenable argument that “other races” are somehow so intellectually inferior to the Norse and Germanic that they cannot attain this understanding. After all, someone brought up in modern Western culture is quite likely, from childhood on, to have been inundated with images, stories, and ideas from that Western culture, thus including our religion. This would make anyone in our culture, whatever the color of the skin, likely enough to have a way of thinking predominantly drawn to Asatru in religious matters, and much more ready to understand it, than some religion their ancestors happened to practice so long ago it isn’t a part of their lives anymore.

Nazi corruption of Asatru Symbols

While Ásatrú is generally a tolerant religion, it is sometimes erroneously identified with neo-Nazi and “white power” organizations which also use the same symbolism.

The three largest American Ásatrú organizations have specifically denounced any association with racist groups. There is actually an antagonistic relationship between many neo-Nazis and the membership of most Ásatrú organizations in the North America, who view “National Socialism as an unwanted totalitarian philosophy incompatible with freedom-loving Norse paganism”.

The often problematic association comes from the fact that among neo-Nazis, there tend to be specifically ‘white power’ forms of Ásatrú and Odinism, which are viewed in such groups as being important attempts to retrace early segments of  white European history, especially amongst those who view Christianity as a fundamentally Judaic religion.

Associations with paganism, heathenry, stereotypical Vikings and other such “old ways ” have always been popular in romantic movements, and as such were adopted by the early racialist precursors of National Socialism, eventually making their way into contemporary neo-Nazism and causing all the contention evident today. It has been primarily in the past sixty years, however, that such associations have become specifically and significantly problematic.

The content presented in the FAQ has been compiled from a number of Asatru related FAQs online. For more indepth information please visit their sites, here are their links:
http://www.runestone.org/faq.html
http://www.odinsvolk.ca/O.V.A.%20-%20ASATRU%20INTRO.htm

http://www.irminsul.org/arc/022.html
http://www.wizardrealm.com/norse/index.html
http://www.boudicca.de/folkuni.html

http://www.religioustolerance.org/asatru.htm
http://asatruutah.org/

http://www.uppsalaonline.com