Ásatrú (Icelandic, "Æsir faith") is a modern revival of the pre-Christian Nordic religion as described in the Norse epic Eddas.
Ásatrú is an Old Norse word consisting of Ása, referring to the Norse gods, and trú, "troth" or "faith". Thus, Ásatrú means "religion of the Æsir." The term was coined by Edvard Grieg in his 1870 opera Olaf Trygvason, in the context of 19th century romantic nationalism.
Generally synonymous terms for Asatru include Germanic Neopaganism, Germanic Heathenism, Forn Sed, Odinism, Heithni or Heathenry.
Asatru, the modern attempt to revive the old Norse faith, was founded by the Icelandic farmer Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson (1924–1993). Beinteinsson was a sheep farmer and a priest in the religion, who published a book of rímur (Icelandic rhymed epic poetry) in 1945. In 1972 he petitioned the Icelandic government to recognize the Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið ("Icelandic fellowship of Æsir faith") as a religious body. It did so in 1973, and Denmark and Norway have since followed.
According to one Asatru website, similar communities were formed in the USA and UK at the same time as those in Iceland, each unaware of the existence of the others. This is a sign that "Odin, the wanderer, is once again seeking worshippers." (Irminsul Ættir)
Today, there are small groups of Asatru adherents throughout Scandinavia and North America. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, in the 1990s the approximately 300 Icelandic adherents hoped to dechristianize Iceland by the year 2000, the 1000th anniversary of the island's christianization.
Neither ancient Norse religion nor modern Asatru is predominantly text-based, but Norse myths are beautifully preserved in two Icelandic epics called the Eddas.
Ancient Norse paganism and modern Asatru are polytheistic. In the Viking Age (9th-11th cents.), there were four main deities, with earlier gods remembered as minor deities and other supernatural beings of varying importance. Most of these gods are worshipped by modern followers of Asatru.
Asatru beliefs about the afterlife vary, like those of ancient Norse religion. One Asatru website states:
We believe that there is an afterlife, and that those who have lived virtuous lives will go on to experience greater fulfillment, pleasure, and challenge. Those who have led lives characterized more by vice than by virtue will be separated from kin, doomed to an existence of dullness and gloom. The precise nature of the afterlife - what it will look like and feel like - is beyond our understanding and is dealt with symbolically in the myths. There is also a tradition in Asatru of rebirth within the family line. Perhaps the individual is able to choose whether or not he or she is re-manifested in this world, or there may be natural laws which govern this. In a sense, of course, we all live on in our descendants quite apart from an afterlife as such. To be honest, we of Asatru do not overly concern ourselves with the next world. We live here and now, in this existence. If we do this and do it well, the next life will take care of itself.
Communities of Asatru are called Kindreds, Hearths, or Garths. Priests are called Gothi; priestesses Gythia.
A central Asatru ritual is blot, which means sacrifice and may be connected with the word "blood." In place of traditional animal sacrifice, followers of Asatru offer mead (honey-wine), beer or cider to the gods. The liquid is consecrated to a god or goddess, then the worshippers drink a portion of it and pour the rest as a libation.
Another major practice is sumbel, a ritual toast in three rounds. The first round is to the gods, starting with Odin, who won the mead of poetry from the Giant Suttung. A few drops are poured to Loki to ward off his tricks. The second round is to ancestors and other honorable dead, and the third round is open.
Asatru holidays center on the seasons and are similar to other Neopagan holidays. The major celebrations are:
- Summer Finding (spring equinox, March 21) - dedicated to Ostara
- Winter Finding (fall equinox, September 21)
- Midsummer (summer solstice, June 21)
- Yule - the most important holiday; starts on the winter solstice (December 21) and lasts for 12 days
In place of a list of commandments, followers of Asatru try to follow these "Nine Noble Virtues":
- - Courage
References and Sources
- - "Germanic religion." John R. Hinnels, ed., The Penguin Dictionary of Religions, 2nd ed. (Penguin Books, 1997).
- "Germanic religion and mythology." Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2005).
- "Iceland." The World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, Vol. I (Oxford UP, 2001), p. 388.
- Rev. Patrick "Jordsvin" Buck, "Asatru, An Ancient Religion Reborn." Irminsul.org.
- Ásatrúarfélagið (Iceland, est. 1972)
- Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost (Norway, est. 1996)
- Sveriges Asatrosamfund (Sweden, est. 1994)
- Asatrofællesskabet (Denmark, since 2003)
- The Troth (USA, est. 1987)
- Asatru Folk Assembly (USA, est. 1974)
- Asatru Alliance (USA, est. 1988)
- Irminsul Ættir (USA)
- Germanic Heathenry The Penguin Book of Norse-Myths: Gods of the Vikings Kevin Crossley-Holland
- The Vikings: The Last Pagans or the First Europeans? Jonathan Clements
- A History of Pagan Europe Prudence Jones
- Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe H. R. Ellis Davidson
- Viking Gods and Heroes E. M. Wilmot-Buxton
- The Norse Tarot Clive Barrett
- Living Asatru Greg (Dux) Shetler
- New Edda Wayland Skallagrimsson
- Mimir's Well Noil Skeggold