IntroductionFirst things first: disclaimer time! This post is about my beliefs and my spirituality. Part of what makes Asatru and most pagan/heathen traditions different than the large organized religions is that each person finds their own path. We each honour the gods, and our ancestors, in different ways. We might even disagree on certain core tenants. This post is to help me answer the questions that often get asked when people find out I am a heathen. The history of heathenry is accurate as I understand it, but the rest are my opinions on what it means to be a heathen, and how my clan and I follow the traditions of our ancestors.
History of Heathenry
Heathenry and Asatru is the modern worship of the ancient Norse/Germanic gods, which includes ancestor worship; the gods themselves are actually said to be the ancestors of humanity. There is proof of the ancient Germanic religion’s roots dating back to 1CE, but the stories at that time give the impression that it is much older. The proof we have from this time period are depictions of Wodanaz and Tiwaz, who would later develop into Odin and Tyr respectively. These traditions were followed as the primary religion of the Nordic people throughout the Iron Age, and what is called the Migration or Viking Era. The decline of the Viking Age begins with Harald Hadrada unifying the Northern Kingdoms, and it is considered to come to a close with Olaf Oathbreaker and the Christianization of the Nordic peoples in the 11c.
For 700 years, if anyone kept the old ways it was done in secret and hidden places to avoid the persecution of the Church. It isn’t until the 1700s that we see a resurgence of interest in ancient Norse/Germanic culture during the period of Germanic Romanticism, which led to renewed study of the faiths of that region. We see new groups pop up that research and honour the old gods. This is when the seeds of Folkism are planted, an era where much of the hate in Heathenry traces its roots to, people who used the old gods as an excuse to claim their heritage was pure and better than others. In the 1930s, these were the groups that created some of the culture of the Nazi party, and it is the reason many pagan symbols are associated so strongly with hate groups: runes like Othala were corrupted by the hateful ideologies of that time, and used on their banners.
First High Priest of the Ásatrúarfélagið
people who call themselves Asatru, which represents 1.5% of the population and is the largest group per capita in the world. Today, it is estimated that there are between 8,000-20,000 Asatruar in the United States, but it’s difficult to get an accurate count due to the non-structured nature of the religion and the different terms people use to describe them.
How did I find my Way?I was very young when I saw that Christianity wasn’t for me. I was raised in a Catholic family, but my grandmother taught me to ask questions, which caused issues: there were so many things that didn’t make sense, or went against what I felt in the core of me. The final straw came at a sleep-away camp when I was around 8 or 9 years old: we were in our circle group, and the Youth Leader went around asking if people had questions. My cousin, who also attended the camp, knew I wasn't a devout Catholic and suggested that I ask and see if it helped any. Bad idea. Standing up, I asked the leader if animals went to heaven, something important to me as my dog had recently passed and I was very close to her. The Leader took a moment to think on my question and then answered that since animals don't have souls, they couldn’t go to heaven. He went on to say that Jesus Christ had died for our sins, so the Kingdom of God was promised only to his followers, and that an animal can’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. This shook me to the core —the idea that living and feeling creatures were believed to not have a spirit that would be preserved beyond death— and it was the end of my association with the Christian faith in all its many flavours. I still occasionally go to events at the Church since my family is Catholic, and I want to make it clear that I don't hate Christianity or the Abrahamic faiths, they just aren’t my faith.
|Common symbols associated with Asatru|
Odins Ravens and Wolves. The Tree of Life. Mimirs
Who are the gods?In ancient times and in modern Asatru, there are two tribes of gods: the Vanir and the Aesir. There are also countless spirits and other beings that make up the mythologies and the world of the gods. In this post, I am not going to go into heavy detail on any of the gods, or the cosmology of the worlds, because that can be several separate blog posts by themselves. The basic idea is that, in the time before history, there was a war in the realms between the Aesir and the Vanir, which ended when the Vanir surrendered and gave the Aesir two fosterlings as hostages. Since that time, there has been peace, but the Aesir are the principal deities of the Norse faith.
The AesirThe Aesir are the clan of Odin the All Father, the warrior deities. They encompass a wide range of portfolios and belief systems, and are typically the most well-known of the Norse deities.
Odin- The All Father, the principal of the Aesir. Odin is known as the god of War, Wisdom, Magic, and Secrets. He sits upon his throne and looks out over the world using his ravens, Hugin and Munin, to learn all that is happening. He spends his days preparing for Ragnarok and the end of the cycle.
Frigga- The All Mother, wife of Odin. Frigga is the goddess of the Home and Hearth. Prayed to by wives and mothers, she is known for her spinning and as a powerful seeress. Like all Norse women, it is Frigga who runs the house of the gods and among her symbols are keys.
Thor- The Red Bearded Thunderer. Wielder of Mjolnir, Thor is the protector of Asgard. He is physically the strongest of the gods, but is often seen to be of short temper and easily fooled because of it. He rides a chariot pulled by two goats, Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, who can be eaten and brought back to life.
Tyr- The One Handed God. Tyr is the god of sacrifice and justice. He is the impartial one who does whatever is necessary for the good of all. It was he who sacrificed his hand to bind Fenris until the time of Ragnarok. He is looked to by warriors and those who must sacrifice for the good of others.
There are many other Aesir, but this gives a good idea of some of them. Among the others are Baldr the Beautiful One, Forsetti the God of Judges, Idunna the Keeper of the Golden Apples, and many more, each with their own myths and legends.
|Statues of some of the Gods|
The VanirThe Vanir are the second clan of the gods. During the War, their leader was Mimir, the Wise One or the Rememberer. At the end of the War, he was decapitated and his head was placed alongside Mímisbrunnr, the well of wisdom from which Odin drank after sacrificing his eye.
Freyja- The Lady of the Slain. Freyja is the most well known of the Vanir, and along with her brother, were the two fosterlings sent to Asgard at the end of the War. She is the goddess of Magic, Sex, Fertility, Love, and the Slain. It is her Valkyries that bring the honoured dead to Odin, but only after Freyja gets first pick!
Freyr- Lord of the Harvest. Freyr, brother of Freyja is also a fertility god, but of the fields. He is also known as the god of prosperity and the land. He is associated with horses and is a great warrior in his own right, defeating Jottuns even after giving up his sword, a magical blade that could fight on its own.
Njord- Lord of the Fishers- Njord is the Norse god of the Sea, although in my readings it seems he is the god of the sea close to the shores: those seas that are friendly and welcoming, where the bounty of fish feed the people. He was married to Skadi, the Goddess of Winter and Wolves. Often they are called upon for a peaceful divorce. Njord rules over his hall, Nóatún.
Ullr- Guardian of Skiers- Ullr is a hunter god, patron of skiers and archers. He is the son of Sif, and stepson of Thor. He is often associated with Skadi, Njord’s ex-wife, the goddess of winter.
As with the Aesir, this is only a small list of deities that I find interesting to share with you guys. If you want to know more about either of the tribes, let me know, and perhaps I can start doing some regular posts speaking about individual gods and spirits.
The AncestorsThere is one more parallel aspect to Asatru: worship and honouring of the ancestors. In ancient Norse culture, who you were and where you came from was enormously important. This is a tradition that is kept alive even today in the continuing use of patronymics by some Nordic people. A patronymic is a name that says who your father, and sometimes mother, is. Ex: Hafthor Bjornsson’s father is named Bjorn. Part of the reason for this is that it was believed that your ancestors watched over and guided you in life, much in the same way the gods might. This means it is important to also bring honour and glory to your line and behave in a manner that would respect those who came before you. It also means that those that come after you have to deal with your legacy —positive or negative— and so you have a duty to them as well.
Vincent Enlund (Heathen Artist, Owner of http://longshipstudio.com/) wrote:
My name is not my own,
It is borrowed from my ancestors,
I must return it unstained.
My honor is not my own,
It is on loan from my descendants,
I must give it to them unbroken.
Our blood is not our own,
it is a gift to generations yet unborn,
We should carry it with responsibility.
I think this sums up the idea of the spirit of our line stretching back to the dawn of time, and forward
|Comic from Humon Comics(They are great!)|
showing traditional clothing for Godi.
TraditionsEach person makes their own traditions, their own way to interact with the gods, the ancestors, and the world around them. Sometimes, those traditions grow into a group of people who practice the same way, and sometimes one remains an individual practitioner. Neither way is better than the other, they each have their benefits.
Personally, I have a large group of chosen family who, while many aren't Asatruar or even pagan, they join me when I follow my traditions, whether at Yule feast or the ceremony for my marriage. I am very fortunate to have my clan.
For the sake of space, I am only going to give two examples of my personal traditions, and without much detail. The two major holy days that I celebrate are Yule (the Winter Solstice), and the Feast of the Einherjar. I did a blog post years ago on the Feast of the Einherjar (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2013/11/we-raise-horn-to-einherjar.html) that goes a little bit into what it means to me and what we do for it. Yule is actually going to be a future blog post (probably around Yule!), but the basic idea is a large feast where we gather as a clan and celebrate our victories over the last year and boast of our deeds for the coming year. We also play games and compete to see who will be the champions for the new year. These two events, I think, are really endemic of what Asatruar rituals are like. They involve food and merriment, but also honouring the gods and traditions of old. We also work hard to build up the members of the clan so that everyone can move forward.
Several times in this post, I have discussed worshiping or honouring deities or ancestors: how does that work for Asatruar? It depends on each individual person. For me, I honour the gods and the ancestors with my actions and trying to live my life based on the lessons they have taught me. I will also make a sacrifice on holy days to them (a drink or a plate of food), as a thank-you for the guidance and strength that they give me throughout my life. This isn’t too different from Christian worship; the main difference is typically Asatruar don’t ask the gods for something: instead, we ask the gods for the capacity to acquire it. Our faith teaches us that we must be self-reliant and that we must hold ourselves up. In fact, hard work and self-responsibility are two of the Nine Noble Virtues, traits that were codified from the Havamal and other works when Asatru first emerged in the 70s. Here is my post about them in specific. (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2013/11/nine-noble-virtues.html)
Asatru and the SCAOddly enough one of the things that confuse people the most when they meet me is that they think the SCA and my faith are intertwined, that everyone in the SCA is Asatruar, or that my religion is part of the reenactment.
To me, the SCA serves several purposes. First, it allows me to meet people with similar interests in history and Western Martial Arts. Second, it allows me a path way for my research into the lifestyles of the ancient Norse; I use this research to better understand and honour the Ancestors. Finally, the SCA allows me to hang out with my friends and family in what I consider a very positive atmosphere where people respect honour, chivalry, and loyalty, virtues which often feel like they have started to die out in the world.
So, the SCA is not part of being Asatruar, but I feel like it does help me become better, both in my religion and in my day-to-day life.
|People have tried to turn Asatru into a bastion of white supremecy|
we arent going to allow that.
A Warning Against FolkismThere are many people in the Asatruar community who say that they follow the path of the gods, but then hate on those that are different from them; who use the colour of someone else’s skin or their ancestry as a means to block others from joining this community. This is bullshit. It’s prejudiced, it’s hateful, and it doesn't follow anything that we know about the ancient Norse. Our ancestors travelled the world, they interbred and interacted with cultures as far east as India, and as far west as North America. Along the way, they met and traded with many people. We have no records anywhere, in any of the massive tomes of history from this period, that says they had issues with people of different races. Erik the Red had a Black viking on his crew called Thorhall the Hunter, and this is just an example we can find easily in the sagas. Asatru has no place for racism. If you see a group acting in a questionably racist matter, do not feel like you need to just accept it because it's part of the religion: it is not, and never should be.
Where can I learn more about Asatru?There are tons of resources out there for people to learn more about Asatru. We live in a time when there is a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips.
Here are some helpful links to get you started on your journey.
The Asatru Community- http://www.theasatrucommunity.org/intro-to-heathenry
Asatru Alliance- https://www.asatru.org/aboutasatru.php
Essential Asatru- https://www.amazon.com/Essential-Asatru-Walking-Norse-Paganism/dp/080654029X/ref=asc_df_080654029X/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=266178720949&hvpos=1o14&hvnetw=g&hvrand=16760556980759262997&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9051839&hvtargid=pla-594717014608&psc=1