Asatru, an Ancient Religion Reborn
"Asatru" (often known as "Heathenism," "Germanic Paganism," "Elder Troth," and other names) means "faith in the Aesir", which are the Gods of pre-Christian Scandinavia. The other Germanic peoples (Goths, Germans, Dutch, Frisians, Anglo-Saxons, etc.) had essentially the same religion. Similar Deities were once worshipped throughout most of Europe, and as far away as India (the Gods of the Rig Veda). Asatru never really quite died out. Medieval Icelandic books of magical spells (galdrabok) show that some were calling upon the Aesir long after Christianity was forced upon the Germanic peoples. In northern Scandinavia, the Lappish (Saami) people were openly celebrating the worship of Thor, which they had learned from their Heathen Scandinavian neighbors in the pre-Christian period, as late as 1800. The modern revival began in the early 1970's. Within a few months of each other and quite unaware of each other's existence, groups were formed in the USA, Iceland and the United Kingdom. Odin, the wanderer, is once again seeking worshippers. Despite claims of racist/racialist Asatru groups, anyone who wishes to join Asatru may do so, irregardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. Today, people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are working happily and productively with the Norse Pantheon.
In addition to Thor, the Thunderer, friend of the common folk, and Odin, Allfather, chief God, poet, and wandering wizard, we worship many other Gods, including Tyr, God of war and justice; Ingvi Frey, God of peace, fertility and nature (the European images of the Green Man may be a memory of Frey and similar Gods); Balder, who although tragically murdered is still very present to his worshippers today; Heimdall, the Watchman of Asgard, etc. Nor do we neglect the Goddesses, who are equal in power and holiness to the Gods: Frigga, wife of Odin, seen under such guises as Allmother (feminine counterpart of Odin), the all-knowing but silent Goddess, and many other aspects; Freya, Goddess of fertility, love, magic and war; Idunna, Goddess of renewal (Eostre/Ostara, an Anglo-Saxon and German Goddess who provided the name for "Easter" may be the same Goddess); Hela, who rules over the place between death and rebirth (most of us Heathens believe in some form of rebirth or reincarnation); Nerthus, the Mother Earth Goddess mentioned in Tacitus' book Germania (98 C.E.), and many others. This should lay to rest erroneous notions, popularly held in the larger Pagan community, that Asatru is "patriarchal" or a "testosterone rush." We also revere the spirits of nature (landvaettir) and various guardian spirits, such as the Disir and Alfar (Elves). Our Gods are friendly, practical, dependable and approchable. They basically ask only that we honor them and in doing so live our lives in such a way that it helps uphold cosmic harmony, preserve life in Midgard, the world of which we are apart, and help life and the Universe continue to evolve. Thus, Asatru is in a very real sense a nature or Earth religion. We are friends and co-workers of our Gods, whom we sometimes address as "Elder Kin." We are not their slaves, nor do we grovel before them.
Our two main rituals are the blot and sumbel. "Blot" means sacrifice. While scholars debate whether or not it is connected with the word "blood", we use mead (honey-wine), beer or apple juice today. The liquid is consecrated to the God or Goddess being worshipped, and we commune with that Deity by drinking a portion of it. The rest is poured as a libation. The Sumbel is a sort of ritualized toasting. The first of the usual three rounds is to the Gods, starting with Odin, who won the mead of poetry from the Giant Suttung. It is good to pour a few drops to Loki the Trickster, (also Odin's blood-brother), to ward off nasty surprises! The second round is to ancestors and other honorable dead. The third round is open.
While devoid of rigid, legalistic rules, ours is by no means an amoral faith. We start out with basic principles, such as the Nine Noble Virtues (a modern innovation but a good summation of our ethics): courage, truth, honor, loyalty, hospitality, industriousness, perserverance, self-discipline, and self-reliance. The 6-fold Goals; right, wisdom, might, harvest, frith (roughly = fruitful peace but not in a pacifistic sense), and love, while less well-known than the Nine Noble Virtues, are also used as guidelines by many of us. From these, individuals can decide the appropriate course of action for a given situation and honor themselves, their families, their communities, and their Gods (and Goddesses) by striving to do what is right. Common sense and practicality are very important to us. The Gods organized the Universe from chaotic material (represented by the body of the dead Giant Ymir), which was what was available. A remaining bit of chaos allows for a random factor, which helps the Universe and all in it to keep evolving. An important function of Humanity is to care for the Earth and to help the process of evolution to continue by growing and evolving ourselves. Not even the Gods themselves are all-powerful or all-knowing, so perfection is neither required nor expected. On the contrary, imperfection is inherent in all things.
The Elder and Younger Eddas (also called the Poetic and Prose Edda) are texts we hold in high esteem for the information on our religion that they contain, although most of us do not interpret our myths literally. While the Elder Edda is a compilation of anonymous mythological poems compiled from various medieval Icelandic manuscripts, the Younger Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson around 250 years after the official Christianization of Iceland in 1000 C.E. For scholarly research on Asatru, read Myth and Religion of the North by E.O.G. Turville-Petre and the many books on the subject by H.R. Ellis Davidson. Llewellyn Publications Inc., PO Box 64383-K069, St. Paul, Minnesota 55164 USA (or www.llewellyn.com) has many Germanic-Pagan-Related books in print. Links from my own web page (http://users.aol.com/jordsvin/kindred/kindred.htm), especially "Our Troth" and the Thorr Sheil links, will provide much useful information on the practical aspects of our living religion.
Magical work is a part of the spiritual life of many practitioners of Asatru. Magic involves working with natural but unseen forces, including those embodied in the Runes, the indigenous alphabet of the Germanic Peoples, as well as galder (spellcraft) and seidhr (shamanic-type workings). Magic can help forsee the probable direction of future events, obtain healing, and help us in all that we do, but it does not substitute for "mundane" efforts. Ours is a practical, active religion! For more information on Asatru, please see my web page.
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