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Sticky: Introduction to Asatru/Northern Heathenry
6 years ago  ::  Aug 22, 2008 - 5:48PM #1
TonyCoyote
Posts: 118
History

The history of Asatru and Northern Heathenry begins with Indo-European pre-history, when the Germanic Tribes first established themselves, later growing and migrating throughout Europe to Northern Italy, Germany, France, BeNeLux, Scandinavia, and England. In those times Germanic tribes had no name for their religion, simply following the customs and traditions of their tribes. Unfortunately, these native polytheistic religions of the Germanic tribes were supplanted with a Soteriological Cult from the East during the period from the 4th Century until approximately the 12th Century, leaving fragmented information about them as these cultures were pre-literate.

Nevertheless, many throughout the modern era have attempted to look back to these religious and spiritual customs of their ancestors and this is the genesis of modern Asatru and Northern Heathenry. While there were many earlier thinkers from the Romantic era who attempted similar endeavors, the roots of modern Asatru and Northern Heathenry date back to approximately the 1970's when several groups surfaced with the general aim of reviving Germanic Religion as a viable modern tradition. Among these are names such as Steven McNallen, one of the founders of the original Asatru Free Assembly and now Drigthen (leader) of the Asatru Folk Assembly; Edred Thorsson, occultist, PhD scholar, and founder of the Rune Gild; Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, founder and allsherjargoði of Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið (Icelandic fellowship of Æsir faith) until his death in 1993; and Garman Lord, founder of Theodism. The last two decades have also seen the establishment of Irminenschaft by James Hjuka Coulter, ASH (Anglo-Saxon Heathenry) by many people, and a rise in unaffiliated general "Heathens."

Theology and Beliefs

The Gods: Modern Germanic Heathens worship the Germanic Gods as best known from the Norse myths collected in the Prose and Poetic Eddas. However, ancient Germanic religions were not orthodoxic with a theological dogma about the nature of the Gods and modern Heathenry maintains this tradition. Many (if not most) are strict polytheists who believe that all of the Gods are distinct, unique entities. Some view similar Gods from related Indo-European cultures as stemming from a common divine root. Some are henotheistic, some panentheists, and some animistic. There are even atheist (or "godhlauss") Heathens. Whether one is a Heathen or not is typically defined by one's actions rather than one's beliefs. There are two tribes of Gods worshipped, the Aesir and Vanir, who at one time warred with each other. Some Heathens do not recognize this distinction as strongly as others. Some of the major deities include:

Odin: Chief God of the Norse pantheon, God of magic, war, poetic inspiration, wisdom, and nobility.

Frigg: Wife of Odin, Goddess of married women, hearth and home, and domestic skills. Frigg is said to know Wyrd (similar to "Fate") but keeps silent.

Thor: Thunder God of storms, fertility, protection, and the working man. Friend to mankind and protector of Midgard (the realm where humans reside).

Freya: Goddes of love, sex, war, magic, and fertility. Came to the Aesir tribe of Gods as a hostage from the Vanir. Said to have taught the magic of Seidr to Odin.

Frey: Twin brother of Freya; Lord of Alfheim ("Elf Home"), also a fertility God and said to be the God who decides when the sun shines or the rain falls.

Tyr: One handed God of honor, justice, law, self-sacrifice, duels, and the tribal assemly.

There are also many other Gods, but these are the most commonly heard of by the general populace.

Ancestors: Ancient Germanic religion also involved much worship of ancestors and tribal/cultural heroes. In the modern day Heathens differ on their focus on this aspect. To some, ancestor worship is an integral part of their worship while to others ancestor worship figures in few to none of their practices. Some honor ancestors and cultural heroes but shy from the term "worship." History, continuity, and a connection to something larger than oneself is, however, a major concept among these various types of Heathens.

Nature: In ancient Germanic religion, the natural world was seen as inhabited by various nature spirits. A particular river (like the Rhine or Danube), mountain, tree, or other natural feature could even be seen to contain a powerful spirit. As with everything, modern Heathens have a range of opinions. At the very least a Heathen may have a sort of "enlightened self-interest" view on nature, seeing it as simply practical to preserve the thing that sustains human life. Others have a spiritual focus on spirits of nature to the point of "earth based" spirituality. The rest of Heathens' opinions range between these extremes, but it would be rather surprising to find a Heathen who is completely apathetic or antagonistic to nature.

Wyrd, Orlog, and Sculd: These are the most complex concepts in Heathenry and take some time to fully understand and internalize. In many ways they are the core concepts of the Heathen religious worldview. To put it simply, Wyrd is the concept of an interconnection of all actions, their place in time, and their effect on the whole. Wyrd is often explained as a "web" where the actions at one point in the web reverberate throughout, affecting the course of time for all in the web (which is everyone and everything.) Orlog is the state of a single person's accumulated actions (although there can also be Orlog for families, tribes, etc.). The things we do get set down in the past ("put into the well" as we would say) and determine our present and the world around us. One can not change the past, and this is where the concept of Sculd comes in. Sculd literally means "debt," and one accrues Sculd through dishonorable actions, failing to live up to one's word or responsibilities, and other such things. Once one has laid such actions into their Orlog, they can only be made up for by actions in the present that attempt to make up for them. There is no seeking forgiveness or being "saved," one must own up to their actions and make them right. A good example of Sculd in the mythology are many stories of Loki; Thor's hammer, Odin's spear, and other objects were not "gifts" as is often erroneously described, but Sculd for his past actions. Obviously this is a very basic run down of the concepts, and there are various interpretations of them. I try only to give a description of their historical use and reappropriation today.

(CONTINUED)
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 22, 2008 - 5:50PM #2
TonyCoyote
Posts: 118
(CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS POST)
Ethics and Morals: Contrary to popular belief, pre-Christian European religions had well developed codes of ethics and morals. Asatru and Northern Heathenry are no different. The most important text for understanding modern Heathen ethics and morals is the "Havamal" ("The Sayings of Har" said to be the advice of Odin himself), a 164 stanza section of the Poetic Edda that advises on relations between mankind and touches on concepts of generosity, reciprocity, hospitality, and other virtues. In the modern day many groups have developed lists of virtues such as the Nine Noble Virtues, or "NNV," or the Nine Charges (both explained HERE). As far as Heathens can be said to follow the "Golden Rule," it would be the inverse version: "Do NOT do unto others as you would NOT have them do to you."

Afterlife: There are probably more diverse ideas about the afterlife than almost any other topic within Heathenry. This is mainly due to Heathen religions' focus on living and the hear and now rather than on an afterlife (similar to many polytheistic religions). Some believe in a system of various "heavens" (to use a commonly understood term) where humans' souls go to live in the halls of whichever God they were close to or lived their lives in example of. This is mostly a modern extrapolation of aspects of mythology such as battle-dead warriors going to Folkvang or Valhalla or the "common" dead going to Hel. The mythology also speaks of a Niflhel where only the worst oathbreakers and outlaws go to be gnawed on by the dragon Nidhogg for eternity.

Others believe in a sort of apotheosis of souls, where they inhabit a gravemound or more rarely other natural features. This is the basis for practices such as "howe-sitting" (communing with a dead spirit at the site of their grave) and making offerings to the graves of great kings or heroes. Atheist Heathens more often believe in the importance of being remembered by the living, as posited by our very own member Ancestral. Some combine various aspects of these different viewpoints, come up with their own interpretation of ancient practice, or leave the subject open until they actually find out...that is, by dying and finding out.

Practices

Blot: Blot (pronounced like "boat") literally means "blood" and was the word for a blood sacrifice to the Gods. This was mainly animal sacrifice where an animal (or many animals) would be chosen, slaughtered ritually, part of its meat used in a ritual meal (called a "Husel" or other related words), then the remains and blood offered to a God, ancestor, or powerful spirit. Human sacrifice was less common and usually consisted of enemy armies, slaves who served a particular role in a ritual, criminals, volunteers, and even Kings in particular circumstances. Today this has mostly been replaced by the same ritual being performed with libation and/or votive offerings into a fire, river, pit, etc. Some of the most traditionalist groups (such as Theods) distinguish between these sorts of rituals and proper Blot. To them, Blot ONLY refers to animal sacrifice (which they practice) and the aforementioned type of right would be called a "Bigang," "Faining," or other term depending on the group.

Symble: Pronounced as "sumbel," this right is ritualized toasting of worthy beings. Typically, a large horn is filled with mead or other appropriate substance and the assembled celebrants take turns raising the horn in toast. The typical format is the first round being dedicated to Gods (and demigods, depending), the second round being dedicated to ancestors or great heroes, and the third round being dedicated to bragging of ones accomplished deeds or boasting to complete a deed. It is important to note that the words spoken in Symble are not just words, as they are considered to be very religiously significant and spoken in the presence of the Gods. This has lead many groups to institute the ancient office of Thyle, whose responsibility is to check people who raise inappropriate horns or make boasts that are unlikely to be completed.

Life Changes: Heathens can come up with a rite to commemorate pretty much any important life occurrence they feel like, but the most common major ones are Namings, for newborn children where they are recognized as a member of the family (and tribe or clan in some cases) and given their name; Coming of Age Rites; Land Taking, a ritual used to begin a proper relationship with spirits of land or house when one buys either; Marriage Rites; and Funerals. Every family or religious group decides on the form of these rites themselves.

Daily Worship: Many Heathens also incorporate daily worship and prayer into their practices. This can range from formal ritual every day, making offerings in thanks to particular Gods, spirits, or ancestors or it can be as simple as an informal prayer in thanks before bed. Daily practice can be as varied as their are Heathens/Heathen families.

Controversies and Splits

Racial Issues: It is simply a historical fact that "Heathenry" (meaning, its various different religions generally included in this label) is an ethnic religion. It is the native religion(s) of the Germanic peoples, no different than Shinto is for the Japanese or Judaism is for the Jews. This fact, as with many issues, is interpreted very differently by various Heathen sects, however. Folkish Heathens believe that one of the most important aspects of their religion is their personal ancestral connection to it. Some take this as far as believing those of non-Northern European Ancestry would be better off practicing the traditions of their own ancestors. This has led Heathens on the OTHER side of the fence to simplify Folkish Heathenry down to the sound-bite definition of "doesn't allow non-whites." Folkish Heathens, on the other hand, counter with "how would we disallow someone from doing something?"

They in turn accuse so-called "Universalists" of wanting to dilute and bastardize the religion into a universal, purposely multi-cultural melting pot with none of its original ethnic/cultural flavor. The bad news is that this argument will most likely never end. The good news is that anyone can practice some form of Asatru or Northern Heathenry. Regardless of one's background, sexuality, or views concerning Folkishness, you can always find some Heathen group that agrees with you; so there really isn't any need to endlessly fret over what Folkish Heathens will think about you. My experience has generally been that most Folkish Heathens will not care one bit about what kinds of people belong to Heathen groups which they themselves are not a part of. Actual overt, politically motivated racists are few and far between in ACTUAL historically/literary based Heathenry, preferring to form their own groups based on bad revisionist history, theosophy, and racial politics. I've even seen NAZIs call Folkish Heathens "hippies."

Mysticism: Another subject of divisiveness is the role of magic and mysticism within Heathenry. There are many Heathens who practice mystical arts such as Rune magic, Seidr (a sort of Norse sorcery that many today equate with shamanism), and Spae (a practice that differs depending on who you ask, but is akin to "soothsaying"). There are others, however, who disagree with the modern practice of these disciplines for various reasons, ranging from a belief that magic was not of as much importance in history as modern practitioners claim to the belief that modern Nordic magical practices are not accurate enough to historical Nordic magical practices to truly be equated with each other. As with the racial issue, one can easily find a camp within Heathenry that holds the same beliefs on the subjects as oneself.

Level of Reconstruction: Finally, another important sticking point is the debate over how involved should the Reconstruction or Revival of Germanic Religion be. Some believe that only painstaking study into every historical, archaeological, toponym-al, and numismatic piece of evidence should be used to develop practices before modern innovation is used to fill in "the gaps." Others feel that Heathenry should be a more modern religion, where "the Lore" is the jumping off point for developing a new religion based on the old. Again, there are positions varying between these camps. There are also debates over what evidence is reliable and other scholarly concerns.

Well, that is my basic introduction to Asatru and Northern Heathenry. For more information, visit this thread.

Feel free to ask further questions about Heathen Religions in this thread, as well as share your own views about the information here presented or explain an important introductory concept that I may have missed.
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 23, 2008 - 3:18AM #3
Incognitus
Posts: 593
I've heard of all these religions. Why did they assume they are not known?
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 23, 2008 - 5:32PM #4
Chicagoheathen
Posts: 881
Because many people have  heard of them. I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me what Asatru is, or just given me a completely blank look. Just because you know a thing, does not mean others know a thing. I should think that would be self-evident.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
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5 years ago  ::  Jan 11, 2009 - 3:35AM #5
John_T_Mainer
Posts: 1,658
I have just come from the first session of a Poetic Edda study group.  The first session was primarily a meet and greet, with the bulk of the people present having felt called or drawn to the Northern path, but not knowing much about it.

Much of the information you can get easily is wrong, some of it really really wrong.  We spent about three hours basically sharing what Heathenry was, not simply the gods, but our views on wyrd and orlog, our relationship with our sacred ancestors, our connection not just with our blood relatives, but with all those who touch our lives.

There were so many questions, so many misconceptions.  So many fine groups have done such great work in rebuilding what was taken from us, but honestly, most newcomers still need a guide to point them to the important works, and the very different understanding of our place in the universe than is shared by even most of the pagan community.

I cannot underscore enough how important threads like this are.  Many of us reading this can boast that we know all this already.  How many of us remember how little we knew when first we took our stumbling steps towards a goal we could sense but not see?

I remember.

Keep posting, for as much as there are the usual suspects posting here, there are so many others lurking simply trying to understand, simply trying to see if what they know they are seeking is what we all know to be here.
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5 years ago  ::  Jan 11, 2009 - 3:35AM #6
John_T_Mainer
Posts: 1,658
I have just come from the first session of a Poetic Edda study group.  The first session was primarily a meet and greet, with the bulk of the people present having felt called or drawn to the Northern path, but not knowing much about it.

Much of the information you can get easily is wrong, some of it really really wrong.  We spent about three hours basically sharing what Heathenry was, not simply the gods, but our views on wyrd and orlog, our relationship with our sacred ancestors, our connection not just with our blood relatives, but with all those who touch our lives.

There were so many questions, so many misconceptions.  So many fine groups have done such great work in rebuilding what was taken from us, but honestly, most newcomers still need a guide to point them to the important works, and the very different understanding of our place in the universe than is shared by even most of the pagan community.

I cannot underscore enough how important threads like this are.  Many of us reading this can boast that we know all this already.  How many of us remember how little we knew when first we took our stumbling steps towards a goal we could sense but not see?

I remember.

Keep posting, for as much as there are the usual suspects posting here, there are so many others lurking simply trying to understand, simply trying to see if what they know they are seeking is what we all know to be here.
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5 years ago  ::  Jan 11, 2009 - 10:45AM #7
Jonny
Posts: 13
[QUOTE=John_T_Mainer;1011069]I cannot underscore enough how important threads like this are.[/QUOTE]

I agree, I can only hope people just starting to learn about Asatru begin with threads like this rather than some others I've seen out there. Also my complements to TonyCoyote for writing this.

[QUOTE=John_T_Mainer;1011069]How many of us remember how little we knew when first we took our stumbling steps towards a goal we could sense but not see?

I remember.[/QUOTE]

Unfortunately I made a blog when I first found Asatru...
If I ever need to remind myself of how hard it is to find your way at the start I just need to read that.

[QUOTE=John_T_Mainer;1011069]Keep posting, for as much as there are the usual suspects posting here, there are so many others lurking simply trying to understand, simply trying to see if what they know they are seeking is what we all know to be here.[/QUOTE]

I am always lurking and should probably post more but for some reason I'm not very good at it.
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