What is Asatru?
To define Asatru, is not as easy of a task as defining Heathen. There is the literal definition, deriving from Icelandic “As” meaning the Aesir (One of the tribes of Gods in the Northern Pantheon, more on this later) and “Tru” meaning, faith, or belief in. So, in the literal definition, Asatru means “Faith in the Aesir”. However, this does not encompass the breath of belief of those who consider themselves “Asatru”. For many who are Asatru, plural Asatruars, the Aesir are not the only ones in which belief and honor is applied. For many, the Vanir, Ancestors, Land spirits etc. are honored as much if not more. Thus by this meaning, the definition does not really apply. However, this is the best word that many of us have to describe our more specific beliefs. Find out more about our Practices.
As we discussed, the term Heathen means someone who is not Christian, and is generally an umbrella term for those of us who follow the Northern Tradition, in any of its wide scopes. However, we can break this term down. We have Asatru, Vanatru (Belief in the Vanir, another tribe). Rokkr, Forn Sed, Theodism, Odinism etc. However, all of these belief systems stem from the same Northern European/Germanic roots, and are extremely similar, if not the same in many aspects. For the sake of not confusing all of you (and more importantly myself) we are going to stick to either the terms “Heathen” or a form of “Asatru”, to refer to forms of Ancient European Belief. Going forward, its important to understand the migration of our ancestors, and the role this played in thier shared culture through out Europe. Reglardless of what beleif system you look at, Gaelic, Celtic, British, Norse, Germanic, there will be many overlapping similarities, for as humans, we share many more common roots, than differences.
Asatru is one of the native exspressions of belief of the Indigenous European peoples. Thousands of years before Christianity, millennia in fact, Asatru, is some form or another, was practiced by the peoples whom passed over the Caucus Mountains into Europe; spreading their religion, culture and beliefs. As the years passed, and the peoples spread farther west, they diversified, names changed, Odin began Wotan, Wodan, and Othin. Thor transformed into various forms, Thunnar, Thonar, Thorr. All representing the same divine beings, and systems of beliefs. Regardless of the expanse of time or distance, the ideas and beliefs of these people remained extraordinarily similar. So similar in fact that each can be used to fill in the missing pieces of the other.
Today however for the most part, the Scandinavian representations of these beings are what we are most familiar with. This is due to the fact that Scandinavia was the last threshold of heathenism in Europe during the Christianization of Europe around 1000 C.E. Being so far to the North and heavily isolated in certain areas, the peoples of Scandinavia retained their ancestral beliefs far longer than their counterparts in Germany, England etc. This allowed for their beliefs to be written down by an Icelandic scholar, Snorri Sturllsson around 1020 C.E. He wrote down all that we know of the Northern Lore in two books, the Poetic, and Prose Eddas. This is where the largest body of our knowledge on Norse Mythology and Northern Beliefs. The rest comes from folk knowledge, and the Icelandic Sagas, tall tales that have surprising amounts of truth within them.
After Europe was finally Christianized it was over a thousand years before the Gods of the North truly began to find their threshold in our lives once again. For a thousand years those who continued to practice the ancestral path of Europe, had to do so in secret, or fear the punishment of death. Until the 1970’s in Iceland when Svienborn Bentinsen and his two companions banded together and decided to bring the old ways back into the light. And thus, modern Asatru was born.
So at this point, you are probably wondering (although beginning to figure out) what Asatru actually is, and what it means.
Asatru is the native folk way of Europe. How the people of Europe connected with the divine and the world around them for thousands upon thousands of years. How they answered the questions that still keep us awake late at night. Asatru is a polytheistic, pantheistic religion, or folk spiritual way. What this means is that we have many, and I do mean, many gods and goddesses. And that is just the tip of the iceberg!
The core structure and beliefs of Asatru are formed around what we know of Norse Mythology, the tales and legends that have been passed down generation to generation since they were first formulated. These are the tales of Sigurd the Volsung, Thor the Thunderer, Odin the Wanderer, and Frejya the sorceress.
There are many different beings that populate the worlds of Norse Mythology; Gods, dwarves, Elves, Dragons, etc. Magic, and extraordinary feats are common place to these people, our gods, and our ancestors. This is the world in which Asatru is placed, the worlds in which modern day heathens draw their lessons, inspiration, and will to learn. The hunt for knowledge that is oh so prized. Our beliefs, rituals, and holidays, stem from these tales, these legends and truths.
The core ideas of Asatru, are maintaining strong and healthy relationships between oneself (The Individual), ones family, the community, the divine, nature, and the ancestors (collectively to be referred to as The Holy Powers.) The way in which we maintain these relationships, is by observation of holidays, the giving of gifts (Blot) and by living your day to day life in a respectful, and honorable way in the view of the community and The Holy Powers. Asatru is about life, and the pursuit of knowledge. About being the best you can be.
Modern day Heathenism, which many call Asatru, Odinism, or FornSeid, is the modern representation of the ancient beliefs of the indigenous Europeans. The beliefs of our ancestors, whatever you would like to call them.
From the Russian far east, to the British Isles, the faith, and dare I say it, religion of our forefathers played exceptionally important roles in the daily lives of our ancestors.
Today, as Asatruar, as Heathens, or whatever we want to call ourselves, we owe it to our ancestors to continue to rebuild is path, to learn as much as we can, and to strive to be better people in our day to day lives, living to the virtues, morals, and ideals set forth millennia ago.
In Asatru, we have many practices, beliefs, and rituals, some that are based entirely on traditions and archaeological evidence, some that were created more recently to fill gaps in our practice that we felt existed. Whenever they came to be, these ideas, general basics of these rituals have been in use for thousands of years, and we continue that today in order to create the strong connection to the past, to the divine, to our ancestors, to our past, that so many of us are craving in our lives.
Asatru, like many folk ways, celebrates the changing of seasons, and other holidays based on a more agricultural basis. What this means, is that there are four major holidays. The solstices (Summer and Winter) make up the two most important holidays in Asatru (and all paganism). They are named Midsummer, and Yule Respectively, but we will go into this more later. The next two important, are the Equinoxes, (Fall and Spring). Being Winter Finding, and Ostara. These holidays are the corner stones of our folk way. During these times of year, it is of the utmost importance to honor, and respect the divine. To thank them for the blessings that they give you throughout the year. Asatru, as you will find with most pagan religions, has many holidays, the ones that we have discussed here are but a few.
During Holidays, there are many rituals that are commonly performed, the Blot, or exchange of gifts, the Sumbel or round of toasts, along with days of celebration, feasting, merrymaking etc. These special times of year, although frequent retain their importance, and are the backbone of the Asatru Faith. We shall go more into these rituals and how to do them as we progress.
We love life, we look forward to the many afterlife’s we can have, but we do not in general rush to get there. Life is good, this world is good, and we love living in it. We love life.That is pretty much it for an into to Asatru, for more information and in greater detail please look at the rest of my blog!
May the gods and goddesses of our folk guild you, and may thors hammer protect you! Hail the gods and the goddesses! Hail the Vaettir! Hail the ancestors! Hail Asatru! Hail our community!