What is Asatru?

[tab name=”Origins”]
Asatru is a Scandinavian term consisting of two parts: ASA (Genitive of Aesir) referring to the Germanic Gods and Goddesses (of both the AESIR and the VANIR), 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.”
Asatru is a somewhat modern term in Old Norse. Asatru is an Icelandic translation of the Danish word Asetro. This word was invented in the early 19th century by scholars studying the Norse Germanic pagan religion and folk beliefs along with the Eddas and Sagas.

The earliest use of the term Asatru that anybody has so far been able to find was in a song written by Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg. It was written around 1873 as part of the third scene of Grieg’s opera, Olav Trygvason, of which only the first act – the Heathen one – was ever written. But the word was coined sometime before that, earlier around the 1820s, as part of the Scandinavian Romantic movement.

The term Asatru became official when the religion was recognized by the Icelandic government in 1972 at the urging of the poet, Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson. Today, the term refers to the re-birth of the ancient ethnic pre-Christian religion of Northern Europe in its modern manifestation.

In the 1930s, Alexander Rudd Mills coined the term Odinist and founded the “The First Anglecyn Church of Odin” for his countrymen of northern European ethnic heritage. His activities resulted in his arrest and political detention by the Australian government during World War II.

Asatru is a living religion, practised by a rapidly growing number of people throughout the world. It is a polytheistic, nature-oriented faith, grounded in the honouring of the High Gods of the Aesir and the Vanir, the reverence for ancestors, and the observance of the Nine Noble Virtues.
Those who practice Asatru are called Asatruar, Asafolk, Tru Folk, Odinists, Germanic Heathens or just worshippers of the Germanic religion.
[tab name=”History”]
Asatru’s beginnings are lost in prehistory, but as an organized system it is older by far than Christianity. Strictly speaking, since Asatru is the religion which springs from the specific spiritual beliefs of the Northern Europeans, it is as old as this particular branch of the human race.

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 Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson was instrumental in getting Asatru recognized by the Icelandic government in 1973 and several organizations sprung up in England, Germany, and North America.

There are two groups of Gods in the Germanic pantheon; the Aesir, who are the predominant group, and the Vanir, some of whom have been adopted into the Aesir. The gods are, of course, mysterious and unknowable in some sense, but in another, they are very knowable. One may know them from the stories of their various actions, and one may further know them by spiritual experience. They seldom announce who they are when they appear in a dream or in some other way, but one generally knows.

These deities of Northern Europe are best known to most people as the Gods and Goddesses of the Old Norse legends, although these same deities were once worshipped by most of the peoples of pre-Christian Germanic Europe. But because the Old Norse legends provide the best knowledge of them, we usually refer to them by their Norse Germanic names.

Many people are primarily committed to one God or Goddess. Males tend to follow male gods, and women to follow female ones, but not always. It is largely a matter of compatibility, for the divinities have strong personalities, and even the Gods and Goddesses we hear little about can make their presence strongly felt.

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. These festivals can be kept personally, with the family or one or two friends, or with an organized Asatru group.

The two main styles of ritual celebrations which are performed to honour the Gods and Goddesses, and to keep one’s troth are called the blot and the sumbel. In addition to these, there are also numerous social and cultural activities.

‘Blot’ 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.

An Asatru religious ceremony is called a Blot pronounced “bloat.” Eight major Blots are celebrated by Asatruars 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) – January 31st
Ostara (Ostara) – March 21st
May Eve (Valpurgis) – April 30th
Midsummer (Midsumarsblot) – June 21st
Freysfest (Freysblot) – August 1st
Harvestfest (Haustblot) – September 21st
Winter Night (Vetrnaetr) – October 31st
Yule (Jol) – December 20th – January 1st
There is also the Alfablot to honour the Alfar (elves). Other Blots are also held for special life events such as weddings, funerals, coming of age rites, etc.

Besides the Blot, there is another kind of Asatru ceremony called the Sumbel, which 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 words spoken there should be thoughtful and meaningful.

Some who practice Asatru only adhere to the religion, keeping the festivals with Blots and Sumbels, but many are also involved in the esoteric arts of Germanic magic, such as the use of Runes and the shamanic practice known as Seidhr.

Other popular activities include the making of traditional crafts and honing of ancient skills, including: archery and other ancient sports, mead and ale brewing, rune carving, cooking, sewing, writing poetry and linguistic studies, camping and more. Many Asatruar are avid scholars and will read a great deal, including pursuing obscure texts, in order to gain more knowledge.

The Asatru way of life esteems: courage, honour, hospitality, independence (and liberty), individuality (with self-reliance, family and self-responsibility), industriousness (and perseverance), justice (including an innate sense of fairness and respect for others), loyalty (to family, friends and folk), truthfulness, and a willingness to stand up for what is right.
[tab name=”The Nature of Asatru”]
The Germanic Heathen religion of Asatru is an indigenous, ethnic, and ancestral faith much like many African, Oriental, Native American and Native Australian Heathen religions. It represents the indigenous pre-Christian spiritual beliefs of the Germanic peoples, and a return to our traditional values. This spiritual practice is the veneration of the ancestral Gods and Goddesses of the Pan-Germanic peoples (Northern Europeans), which includes the peoples, and their descendants, of present-day Scandinavia, England, Germany, Holland, Austria, Iceland, and Belgium, among others.

As the ancestral religious “common law” of the Northern European peoples, Asatru can survive by tradition much like the Anglo-Saxon common law, and does not require a lot of theology and dogma, just like the British parliament evolved without an equivalent of the U.S. Constitution. Important source materials include ancient accounts of our ancestors written by their contemporaries, and the Prose and Poetic Eddas written in Iceland during its golden age of saga literature. Other guidance can be found by studying the folklore, history, and antiquities of the Germanic peoples as well as the religions of their ethno-religious cousins, (Druidism/Celtic & Greco-Roman religion, and early Hinduism).

The Asatru approach to religion is very similar to the motivating factors behind the Protestant Reformation, in which most of the Nordic peoples in different countries around Europe –ranging from northern France and Germany to the Baltic states, Scandinavia, and Scotland– rejected Vatican authority. They sought the right to run their own local church government, and the right to find religious truth through personal learning, analysis, and self-examination, rather than through coercion by a centralized source, dogma, and unquestioned “divine” revelation. Thus, as might be expected, rites and practices of the faith in modern times vary from person to person and group to group, differing branches of a tree whose roots are found in the common sagas and traditions of the pre-Christian Norse Germanic cultures.

Our ancestors constantly watch over us and are with us in everything we do. We honour them and their past endeavors and keep them constantly in our thoughts. They are our guiding light to the future and we learn from their mistakes and their victories alike. To separate an Asatruar from their ancestors and relatives is to separate them from the vital aspects of existence that knit together our universe and keep the great World Tree of Yggdrasil strong against the forces of destruction.

While Asatru is the ETHNIC and ANCESTRAL religion of the Germanic peoples, it should be emphasized that Asatru is not a political or racial supremacy movement. There have been some in the past who have tried to use Asatru as a cover for a political agenda but the vast majority of Asatru organizations are all religious organizations which are not interested in being used as a platform for any racist or political propaganda. Those who wish to do so would not be welcome in any of the major Asatru organizations. Asatruar span the political spectrum from conservative to liberal. A lot of us are involved in the ecological movement, and many have libertarian leanings, but in any case, many keep their religion separate from their politics.
This ethnocentric orientation of Asatru does not mean that we are indifferent to the goals and aspirations of others. Indeed the followers of the Heathen Way believe very strongly in the expression of individuality, and thrive both intellectually and creatively in an atmosphere of diversified pursuits. Our ancestors were great traders and adventurers and were accustomed to meeting with, and doing business with, the peoples of various faiths and cultures long before Christianity entered the scene. It is well known today that Swedish Heathens opened the trade routes to the East through Russia and had contact with Arab and Oriental populations many centuries ago. And in fact, Heathen Germanic explorers discovered North America, which they called “Vinland,” hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus was even born.

Asatru is fundamentally a folk-oriented belief system and well-suited to followers with cultural and genetic ties to the history and beliefs of the pre-Christian peoples of Northern Europe. The reasons for this are to be found in the nature of the faith itself. The High God Odin, known as our All-Father, is described as the creator of our people and the worship of Heathen ancestors is very closely allied to a belief in the halls of the dead, and the protection and guidance offered to the living by those who have gone before us.

Asatru is a polytheistic, nature-oriented belief system in which the Earth, called Midgard (personified by our Goddess Nerthus, or Jord) and the preservation of her splendor, fertility and wholeness is a constant concern. In this respect, we share much with our other Heathen brothers and sisters who continuously and tirelessly work in the fields of conservation and ecology. We believe that the Gods gave this planet called Midgard to us as a mother and a womb for future generations and her health and well being are paramount – or there will be no future generations. Consequently, we do not focus on a life hereafter and its rewards but on the life we are given as people of our folk on Earth, here to live, work in harmony with all life and with all of Earth’s people.

Asatru places a high value on self-reliance, individuality, strength of mind body and soul, trust, staying true to ones word, and camaraderie; individualism and community are not seen as mutually exclusive, but as complimentary.
If you feel that you would help revitalize the native religion of your ancestors, you must do so after careful consideration and research. Asatruar do not acknowledge the holding of simultaneous religious beliefs, thus Asatru has one imperative, once you have made up your mind, and that is that you will take an oath of loyalty to the High Gods and that you will swear to uphold the Nine Noble Virtues and honour your folk and family with all of your being. No one will ever stop you from leaving the faith if you so wish. You are your own individual and your path is chosen only by your own integrity. Do not give your word lightly, for your word is your bond in Asatru.

Upon death, the valiant and noble of Asatru are chosen by the Valkyries and taken to the various Great Halls of the Gods or Goddesses. There they are honoured until they are chosen to return to the Earthly plane as guides and leaders. This Germanic spiritual tradition of re-incarnation is unique in that most of our people are eventually reborn back into our tribe along family lines.

Organized Asatru groups are known as a kindred, hearth, garth, or by other names.
Asatru organizations generally favour democratic and republican forms of spiritual government, as inspired by the parliamentary Althings of the Viking era (and subsequent parliamentary systems of Britain and the Scandinavian countries), and promote individual rights and freedom of speech.

In the world today, Asatruar are largely misunderstood, distrusted and at times openly ridiculed and condemned. We stand strong in our desire to be free and we support all those who likewise face discrimination. Victory is never easy when the path is overgrown. We strive therefore to clear the way and to bring the light of the Gods to every follower of Asatru who hears the call of the ancient way.

In conclusion, the path of Asatru is not an easy one. Rewards are not material and struggles are difficult to win. There is no Heaven, there is no Jesus and there is no Satan. Sometimes there is no road and the way must be cut with the luminescent sword of knowledge. There is only steadfastness and integrity and a supreme and abiding love and respect for the Gods and Goddesses of our folk to bring us through the darkness of Ragnarok and fear of the unknown.