Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ásatrú describes a variety of revivals of the indigenous, pre-Christian religions of the Teutonic tribes of Northern Europe. Organizations which identify themselves as Ásatrú usually base their theologies on Norse mythology and the Icelandic sagas as well as other available historical evidence.
The religion that Ásatrú attempts to resurrect was an integral part of the culture of the region that is today known as Scandinavia, Germany, The Netherlands, and parts of the United Kingdom. It served as the justification of the legal and political system of the Norse nations. Reverence for gods, heroes and ancestors was incorporated in daily customs, diplomacy, parliaments, life rites, holidays and other events. Custom seems to have dictated that guests should respect the gods and traditions of their hosts. The conversion efforts of the Roman Catholic Church succeeded in exploiting this practice by supporting royal claimants who had converted to Christianity. It should be noted, however, that on several occasions the people under a lord who converted to Christianity refused to follow his lead and would sometimes force the lord to rescind his conversion.
In one of the most famous conflicts between what became known as "Heithingja mann" and "Kristinn mann", the attempt of the deposed Christian monarch Olaf II of Norway to retake the throne resulted in a bloody civil war in Norway. The battle of Stiklestad is considered one of the turning points, after which the reverence for Æsir and Vanir became marginalized and slowly faded, while worship of Christ, in both Christian or heathen ritual, was imposed or voluntarily adopted. Heathen rituals, beliefs and practices, however, proved extremely persistent. In Sweden, the last documentations of oral traditions about gods and secret sacrifices are from the early 20th century. By then reconstruction efforts were undertaken, but independently of popular traditions, and solely on written medieval sources. The term "Ásatrú" is of late 19th century origin and is pronounced "OW-sah-troo" in modern Icelandic but "AH-sah-troo" is a common pronunciation closer to Old Norse. The term "heathen" stems from the conversion period; pre-Christian practitioners are not known to have had a name for their religion.
Germanic mythology has deep roots in western culture, but its source materials are historically compromised and often fragmented or contradictory. Considerable study is required to get an adequate feel for the mythology as a whole. Important sources include the Eddas and Sagas, written in Iceland during its golden age of literature, 1150 - 1400. A collection of poems known from a manuscript called the Codex Regius known as "The Poetic (or Elder) Edda" is especially important as it contains some of the earliest known literary sources and several of its poems were clearly source material for Snorri Struluson when he wrote what is now known as "The Younger (or Prose) Edda." Other guidance can be found in the folklore, history, and antiquities of the Germanic and Nordic peoples, as well as those of their ethno-religious cousins the Slavs, the Finns, the Baltic peoples, the Celts, the Romans,the Greeks, and the early Hindus and Persians.
The living remnants of the Nordic pre-Christian religion may be regarded as an indigenous ancestral faith, as Shinto is for the Japanese. Many modern practitioners attempt to reconstruct or limit their beliefs to those common to the pre-conversion (roughly the year 1000) inhabitants of present-day Scandinavia, England, Germany and the Low Countries. It is closely related with Finnish paganism and Baltic paganism.
The historical religion appears to be a branch of an earlier Indo-European religion, analogous to the way in which the Proto-Indo-European language evolved into such offshoots as Sanskrit and the Germanic and Slavic languages. Religious siblings include the Greco-Roman religion in southern Europe, the Slavic religion in Eastern Europe and early Hinduism in the east. Numerous scholars such as Georges Dumézil, H. R. Ellis Davidson, and Hans Gunther have commented on the philosophical similarities of these religious systems.
Faith was not as central to the Norse Heathenry found in medieval sources as it was to Christianity. An individual was identified as heathen based on his or her participation in cultic rites rather than by any allegiance professed. There was no clear division between sacred and profane, or body and spirit. The culture in which this form of heathenry flourished was clan-based, with an established honour economy. The individual's identity and worth was tied to membership of an Ætt. Fulfilling the duty to the Ætt was their measure of what was morally right and worthy of praise. Interactions with other Ættr usually took the form of alliance, war or vendetta. These cultural traits were projected onto nature and the Norse culture itself, so that interactions with gods, spirits and ancestors took the form of diplomacy, attempts at befriending or warding off the harmful or beneficial powers which were thought to cause equivalent behaviour or natural events.
Several practices are known to have been important to them. One of the most well known was Blót, seasonal celebrations where gifts were offered to appropriate gods, and attempts were made to predict the coming season. Similar events were sometimes arranged in times of crisis, for much the same reasons.
In modern times, Ásatrú is a revived and reconstructed religion. It is not Neopagan in the usual sense, and many believers reject the Neopagan label, generally preferring the term Heathen. Neither is it an accurate reflection of the ancient or modern native beliefs and practices of the Norse cultures. Practice is based on historical record to the extent possible. The rites of different groups and individuals vary, but tend to be similar. Ásatrú survives by tradition, with a strong literary foundation.
The first modern attempt at a revival of a Germanic religion took place in the 19th Century during the late Romantic Period amidst a general resurgence of interest in traditional Germanic culture. Organized Ásatrú groups existed in Germany in the early 20th century. Several early members of the Nazi Party were part of the Thule Society, a study group for German antiquity, although interest in Ásatrú seems to have been something of a fringe element that was not widespread among the party (see Nazi Mysticism). Adolf Hitler is quoted as opposing any open revival of belief in the Norse pantheon, and there is no evidence of official activity in the Third Reich fitting the description of Ásatrú, despite the Nazis' use of runic symbols in various contexts. Nonetheless, many people in Germany today associate Ásatrú with the Nazi movement and neo-Nazi groups, whereas in Iceland it has left wing associations.
A second revival began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ásatrú was recognized as an official religion by the Icelandic government in 1973, largely due to the efforts of Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson. At about the same time, Else Christiansen began publishing "The Odinist" newsletter in Canada. In the United States, Steve McNallen, a former U.S. Army officer, began publishing a newsletter titled "The Runestone". He also formed an organization called the Asatru Free Assembly, later renamed the Asatru Folk Assembly, which held annual "Althing" meetings. An offshoot of McNallen's group was the Asatru Alliance, headed by Valgard Murray, publisher of "Vor Tru".
In the late 1980's - early 1990's there was a cult in Norway run by the infamous Count Grishnack that was responsible for the burning of several Christian churches in an attempt to restore norway to its Ásatrú roots. Many Ásatrú adherents strongly disapproved of Grishnack's activities.
The Odinic Rite, the world's longest running international Odinist organisation, was established in England but has chapters worldwide. Today, followers of Ásatrú may be found all over the world, but principally in Scandinavia, Western Europe, North America and Australia/New Zealand. Estimates of the size of the Ásatrú population vary widely.
Ásatrú organizations generally favor democratic and republican forms of church government, as inspired by the parliamentary Things of the Viking era and subsequent parliamentary systems of Britain and the Scandinavian countries. They promote individual rights and freedom of speech reminiscent of Norsemen of the saga era. There is no central authority, and these groups are mostly small and often fractious.
In the United States, the most prevalent form of Ásatrú organization is a small group called a Kindred, sometimes also known as a Hearth, Garth or Stead. Larger Ásatrú organizations, such as The Odinic Rite, the Ásatrú Alliance , the Ásatrú Folk Assembly  and The Troth, serve as organizers of yearly gatherings ("Things" or "Moots"), and as clearinghouses for religious information.
In addition to local groups, an unknowable number of solitary practitioners exist. These are often people who have encountered Norse or Germanic mythology as literature and see it as a foundation for religion, but are unaware that others exist who share their beliefs. The Internet has been helpful in making them aware of modern Ásatrú as a larger phenomenon, although solitary practice continues to be the norm for many, even after they have discovered an Ásatrú organization.
Many modern practitioners view Ásatrú mythology, not as literal truth, but as metaphorical truth of great weight. There is no orthodox theology or dogma, although there are significant schools of thought. The school of hard polytheism, wherein the individual gods are viewed as individual and real beings, as opposed to facets of a larger deity, and independent of belief in them is the most widely represented. The natural environment is deified in several respects in its pantheon, and is revered in practice, but, unlike some nature-oriented religions, Ásatrú is not opposed to technology.
Truthfulness, self-reliance, and hospitality are especially important moral values, underpinning a more general notion of honor. Creative, productive, and intellectual pursuits are regarded highly, as are martial skills and military service.
Comparison with many other religions is difficult, and should start by expecting to find truly fundamental differences in outlook. For example, the mythology presents the gods as neither omniscient, omnipotent, immortal, nor infallible. Nevertheless, they are wise, powerful, long-lived, and good to know as friends. Furthermore, they are a product of existence, not the other way around. Humanity is seen as an honorable life form, and subject to the same constraints of decision, action, and consequence as the gods. The relationship between gods and humans is something like familial and not subordinative.
Ásatrú morality is also significantly different from that of many other religions. For example, there is no list of wholesale injunctions against various behaviors, but tradeoffs between freedom and responsibility are central themes in the mythic, legendary, and historical literature of the religion, which adherents are expected to read and consider very seriously. Some behaviors condemned by other religions are considered virtues when legitimately founded and properly managed. Pride is a good example of this. There is a theory of an afterlife, based mostly on a kind of rough justice. Discussions of "redemption", "salvation", or "perfection" are notably absent, as are the conceptual precursors that might require them.
Although it derives from a warrior culture, Ásatrú is not a male-dominated religion. Men and women are seen as equals in most regards, and simply different in others. Women have a pre-eminent role in seidh, an important rite.
Ásatrú has Norse/Germanic mythology at its core, but there are regional variations in its emphasis, often due to the subjective interpretations of influential local practitioners. For example, in Iceland, many consider it politically left-leaning, and some in Germany and America view it as having a racial aspect. Views within Ásatrú range from a "folkish" outlook, which is actually ethnically oriented as opposed to racially and respects other races and cultures, to a more extreme outlook that is patently racist whose adherents are generally not considered truly Ásatrú by the wider community. "Universalist" Ásatrú takes no account of race. Ásatrú organizations tend to make a point of where they stand on this issue.
People come to Ásatrú of their own accord. Proselytizing is frowned upon.
A Blót (pronounced "bloat") is an Ásatrú rite that honors the gods, usually focusing on one of the gods in the pantheon. A blót may be highly formalized, but the underlying intent is something like inviting and having an honored guest or family member in for dinner. Food and drink may be offered. Most of this will be consumed by the participants, and some of the drink will be poured out onto the earth. The usual drink is mead (a wine made from honey) or ale.
Sumbel (also spelled "symbel") is a rite in which a drink is passed around an assembled circle. At each passing of the drink, participants make a different kind of statement, usually following the pattern of Toast-Boast-Oath. The Toast honors some mentor, revered relative, or favorite god of the participant. The Boast is an opportunity for the participant to honor self, in terms of some good work accomplished. The Oath is a promise to carry out some good work in the future. Participants are not required to make any statements and may simply pass the drink along. Oaths made during Sumbel are considered binding upon the persons making them. Another common pattern is to toast to a God or Virtue, then a Hero or Ancestor, and the final round being either open, or dedicated to boasts or oaths.
Seidh (pronounced "sayth", where the th is voiced) is a shamanistic rite. It is fairly difficult to carry out, and not all Ásatrúar participate in seidh. In the past, Seid was considered somewhat shameful; something that only women did and only in time of dire need. Today many former Wiccans are drawn to Ásatrú and find Seid to be important to them.
"Ásatrú" is an Icelandic/Old Norse term consisting of two parts. The first is Ása (Genitive of Æsir) referring to the gods and goddesses of the mythology. The old languages had no indigenous word meaning "faith" or "belief", instead employing the term trú or tro, whose original meaning approximates "truth" or "loyal to". This has led to some inconsistencies in translation and even theological differences.
The genitive of 'Ásatrú' is 'Ásatrúar'. Thus it means 'of Ásatrú'. "These five people are Ásatrúar" means "these five people are of Ásatrú", i.e. they have that faith. In English 'Ásatrúar' is sometimes used as a noun meaning "a practitioner of Ásatrú".
Ásatrú is also referred to as Norse or Germanic Heathenry. The Old Norse term for 'heathenry' is "heiðni". Yet another Old Norse designation is "forn siðr", which means "Ancient Custom", though some people distinguish this as something different from Ásatrú. In modern Scandinavian, these words have become "he(i)dning" and "forn sed".
"Blót" derives from the Indo-European word for blood, as does the modern English word "blessing".
- Finnish paganism
- Nazi mysticism
- Nine Noble Virtues
- Nine Charges
- Norse mythology
- Runic alphabet
- Trollkyrka (Troll's church, which appears to have been the last traditional sacrificial ground)
- The Asatru Alliance
- Ásatrúarfélagid (The Icelandic Ásatrú Fellowship; some English-language pages)
- Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost (The Asatrufellowship Bifrost, Norway; introduction in English)
- the Forn Sed Community
- The Asatru Folk Assembly
- Northvegr Foundation (Promotes Heithni rather than Ásatrú – "Groups using the name Asatru in America or Odinism are often based on socio-political or neo-pagan/secular ideals and have little to do with a genuine Northern world-view and ethic.")
- The Odinic Rite
- Odin LIVES! Radio
- The Ásatrú Portugal
- Sveriges Asatrosamfund (The Swedish AsatruSociety; introduction in English)
- The Troth (possibly the most comprehensive text by modern Asatruar on the Internet)
- Woden's Harrow ("Asatru - Norse Mythology - Art - Literature - Runes" by Óðindís)
- home of Heathens Against Hate
- A critical report on racist Odinist groups from Mattias Gardell , in an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center - NOTE: This is a seriously flawed article that is in no way reflective of the reality of the Asatru community and serves as a clear demonstration of the sort of bias Asatruar encounter in popular perception. NOTE TO NOTE: No amount of excuse-making will be sufficient to sweep any sort of racist movement under the rug. Every religious persuasion has its bad sorts, and none are exempt.
- Google category: Ásatrú
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