To define Ásatrú is not as easy of a task as defining Heathen. There is the literal definition deriving from Icelandic “As” meaning the Æsir, which is one of the tribes of Gods in the Northern Pantheon (more on this later). While “Tru” meaning faith and/or belief in.
In the literal definition, Ásatrú roughly translates to “Faith in the Æsir”. However, this does not encompass the breath of belief of those who consider themselves “Ásatrú”. For many who are Ásatrú (plural Asatruars), the Æsir 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. Find out more about our Practices.
What is Ásatrú?
Æsir gathered around the body of Baldr.
Painting by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1817)
The term Heathen 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 Ásatrú, Vanatru (which is belief in the Vanir), Rokkr, Forn Siðr, Theodism, Odinism, etc. 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 saving confusion, we are going to stick to either the terms Heathen and Ásatrú (to refer to forms of Ancient European Belief). Going forward, it's important to understand the migration of our ancestors, and the role this played in their shared culture throughout Europe. Regardless of what belief system you look at: Gaelic, Celtic, British, Norse, and Germanic, there will be many overlapping similarities, for as humans, we share many more common roots than differences.
Ásatrú is one of the native expressions of belief of the Indigenous European peoples. Thousands of years before Christianity, Ásatrú (in 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 further west, they diversified, and names changed. Example: Óðinn began Wotan, Wodan, Othin, and Thor began: 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, 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 comes from. The rest comes from folk knowledge, and the Icelandic Sagas, tall tales that have surprising amounts of truth within them.
After Europe was 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, thus modern Ásatrú was born.
At this point, you are probably wondering (although beginning to figure out) what Ásatrú actually is, and what it means.
Ásatrú is the native folk way of Europe; how the people of Europe connected with the divine and the world around them for thousands of years. How they answered the questions that still keep us awake late at night.. Ásatrú is a polytheistic, pantheistic religion, or folk spiritual way. What this means is that we have many gods and goddesses. (This is just the tip of the iceberg!)
The core structure and beliefs of Ásatrú 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 Ásatrú is placed.. the worlds in which modern day heathens draw their lessons, inspiration, and will to LEARN. Our beliefs, rituals, and holidays stem from these tales, legends and truths.
Drawing of a Viking Age gilded silver Mjölnir pendant (length 4.6 cm) found at Bredsätra in Öland, Sweden, now kept in the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities.
The core ideas of Ásatrú 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 (Blót), and by living your day to day life in a respectful and honorable way in the view of the community and The Holy Powers. Ásatrú is about life and the pursuit of knowledge. Being the best you can be!
From the Russian far east, to the British Isles, the religion of our forefathers played exceptionally important roles in the daily lives of our ancestors.
Today, as Asatruar (or Heathens), 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, morals, and ideals set forth millennia ago.
In Ásatrú we have many practices, beliefs, and rituals. Some that are based entirely on traditions and archaeological evidence, and some that were created more recently to fill gaps in our practice that we felt existed. The ideas and/or 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, and to our ancestors.
Ásatrú 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), which make up the two most important holidays in Ásatrú (and all paganism), named Midsummer and Yule. 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: thank them for the blessings that they give you throughout the year. Ásatrú, 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, such as: the Blót (or exchange of gifts), the Sumbel (or round of toasts), along with days of celebration, feasting, merrymaking, etc. These special times of the year are the backbone of the Ásatrú faith.
We love life, and 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.
May the gods and goddesses of our folk guide you, and may Thor's hammer protect you!
Hail the gods and the goddesses!
Hail the Vaettir!
Hail the Ancestors!
Hail our Community!
-Bringing the Old Ways to Heathens Today-