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World religions

Part 1 of 2 parts:

Asatru: Norse Heathenism



There are a number of options for the spelling of the name of this religion. We have been informed that "Asatro" is the correct Swedish spelling. It is:

"... a combination of the words 'Asa', referring to the Asa-gods och Asarna (The Asa) ... and the word 'Tro', simply meaning 'belief'. Thus, it means something in the lines of "Belief in the Asa-gods".

However, Ásatru and Asatru are more popular on the Internet than Asatro by a factor of 12. If we used the latter, people using a search engine to find our essay would not be able to locate it. So we will use "Ásatru" and "Asatru."

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History of the religion:

Ásatrú is frequently regarded as one of the Neopagan family of religions. That family includes Wicca, Celtic Druidism, and modern-day re-creations of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other ancient Pagan religions. However, many Ásatrúar prefer the term "Heathen" or "Pagan" rather than "Neopagan;" they look upon their tradition as "not just a branch on the Neopagan tree" but as a separate tree.  Unlike Wicca, which has gradually evolved into many different traditions, the reconstruction of Ásatrú is based on the surviving historical record. Its followers have maintained it as closely as possible to the original religion of the Nodic countries.

Asatru or 'satr' is an Icelandic word which is a translation of the Danish word "Asetro."  Asetro was "first seen in 1885 in an article in the periodical "Fjallkonan". The next recorded instance was in "Hei'inn si'ur ' 'slandi" ("Heathen traditions in Iceland.") by 'lafur Briem (Reykjav'k, 1945)." It means "belief in the Isir," the Gods. "Ásatrú" is a combination of "Asa" which is the possessive case of the word 'sir (Æsir) and "Tru" which means belief or religion.

Throughout Scandinavia -- Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden -- the religion is called Forn Si'r (which means the Ancient way or tradition), Forn sed (the Old custom), Nordisk sed (Nordic custom), or Hedensk sed (Pagan custom). Other names are:

Norse Heathenism, Germanic Heathenism, the Elder Troth, the Old Way, Asetro, Vor Si r (our way), Forn Sir (Ancient way), Forn sed (the old custom), Nordisk sed (Nordic custom), or Hedensk sed (Pagan custom), Odinism or Folkish 'satr'.

The religion's origin is lost in antiquity. At its peak, it covered all of Northern Europe. Most of these countries gradually converted to Christianity during the first 11 centuries CE.

  • In 1000 CE, Iceland became the second last Norse culture to convert. Their prime motivation was economic. Sweden was ruled by a Pagan king until 1085 CE.

  • During 1387, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the last Pagan nation in Europe to convert to Christianity.

A modern day Icelandic poet, Goði Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, promoted government recognition of Asatru as a legitimate religion. This status was granted in 1972. Since the early 1970's, the religion has been in a period of rapid growth in the former Norse countries, as well as throughout Europe and North America.

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Some comparisons of the religion Ásatrú with the largest world religions:

Ásatrú is very different from the two largest religions in the world: Christianity and Islam:

  • It is polytheistic. Its adherents believe in multiple deities. In comparison, most Christians believe in the Trinity -- a single Godhead composed of three Persons: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Muslims believe that there is no God but Allah.

  • Asatru members do not view their religion as a potential universal faith for all humanity, as many Christians and Muslims do of their religions. It is a reconstruction of European Paganism and is directed at people whose ancestors were European.

  • They follow an Ethic of Reciprocity (a.k.a. the Golden Rule) but express it in a negative form: Don't treat others as you would not wish to be treated by others.

  • Followers of Asatru do not have a universal concept of what happens to people after they die:

    • Many believe that their individual Gods have great halls where their followers spend eternity.

    • "Hel" is a female being from Norse mythology who is associated with an underworld that is also called "Hel." Some refer to her as the Goddess of the Underworld and Death. She has also been recycled as "Hela" a modern supervillan by Marvel Comics. Unlike the Christian Hell, Hel is not a place where people are endlessly tortured. It is a place of rest and peace.

    • Meanwhile, Nastrond exists as a place of eternal punishment that is inhabited by oath breakers, murderers, and rapists -- the lowest of the low.

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Corruption of Ásatrú:

It is not unknown for otherwise decent religions to become corrupted by incorporating racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic beliefs. For example:

bullet The Christian Identity movement within Protestantism is one part of the extreme right wing of the Christian religion which has adsorbed such beliefs.

bullet During the early part of the 20th Century, The National Socialist Party in Germany under Adolf Hitler attempted to pervert Ásatrú by grafting parts of the religion onto Nazi racist beliefs. This blasphemy died at the end of World War II. However, some neo-Nazi groups -- largely in the U.S. -- are now attempting to resurrect the practice.

This type of activity is in no way related to the restoration of Ásatrú as a legitimate Heathen religion. There is a very strong anti-racist, anti-Nazi stance among national Asatru groups in the Scandinavian countries. Such opposition is also found in almost all Ásatrú groups in English speaking countries. They typically have a clear rejection of racism written into their constitutions. Unfortunately, some anti-racism groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (in its Megiddo report) have mistakenly accused the entire religion of racism.

Many people are exposed to the name "Ásatrú" through role playing games, such as Mage: The Ascension. Unfortunately, the Ásatrú of these games bear little resemblance to the historical religion.

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Ásatrú beliefs:

bullet Ásatrú is a polytheistic religion. There are three groups of Deities in the Norse pantheon. They are all regarded as living entities who are involved in human lives:

bulletThe Æsir: These are the Gods of the tribe or clan, representing Kingship, order, craft, etc.

bulletThe Vanir: These represent the fertility of the earth and forces of nature. They are associated with the clan but are not part of it.

bullet The Jótnar: These are giants who are in a constant state of war with the Æsir. They represent chaos and destruction. At the upcoming battle of Ragnarok, many of the Æsir are expected to die. The world will come to an end, and then will be reborn.
bulletSpecific Gods: Some of the more important are:

bullet Thor is the Thunderer, who wields Mjölnir, the divine Hammer. His chariot, when racing across the sky generates thunder. Thursday (Thor's Day) was named after him.

bullet Odin is the one-eyed God; he gave up one of his eyes in order to drink from the Fountain of Knowledge (some sources say Fountain of Wisdom). He is a magician. He learned the secrets of the runes (Northern European alphabet) by hanging himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights. The story of the fountain may have shared a common source with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that is described in the book of Genesis, the first book in the Hebrew Scriptures.

bullet Frey (a.k.a. Freyr) is the God of fertility, the weather and farming. He was born on the Winter Solstice, approximately December 21. His father was Njord.

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bullet Specific Goddesses: Some important ones are:

bullet Freya (aka Freyja) is the Goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, and perhaps a dozen other attributes. She leads the Valkyries who take the souls of heroic slain soldiers to Valhalla (Odin's great hall).

Frigg is Odin's wife. Her name has been secularized to a slang term which refers to sexual intercourse.  According to the Encyclopedia Mythica:"

"Frigg is one of the foremost goddesses of Norse mythology. She is the patron of marriage and motherhood, and the goddess of love and fertility. She has a reputation of knowing every person's destiny, but never unveiling it....In some myths she was rumored to have had love affairs with Odin's brothers Ve and Vili."

The name of the sixth day of the week, Friday, originated with Frigg.

bullet Skadi is the Goddess of independence, death, hunting, and skiing. Scandinavia may have been named after her.

bullet Ostara, is a Goddess of fertility who is celebrated at the time of the Spring equinox. She was known by the Saxons as Eostre, the Goddess of Spring, from whom we have derived the word Easter. Ostara's symbols are the hare and the egg, which still remain associated with Easter today.
bullet Other Deities: Aegir, Balder, Bragi, Forseti, Heimdall, Hel, Loki, Njord, Ran, Tyr, Ull and Vithar. Followers of Ásatrú also honor the Landvaettir (land spirits) of the forest, earth and streams.
bullet Life Values: Asatruars in North America have created a list of Nine Noble Virtues: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance and Perseverance. The family is greatly valued and honored. They reject any form of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, race, sexual orientation, or "other divisive criteria".

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The next essay has much more information on
Asatru's beliefs, rituals, practices, celebrations
and books.

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Copyright © 1997 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2020-JAN-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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