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Asatru is the modern reconstruction of the religion of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples. Practice primarily consists of honoring the Gods and Goddesses from a polytheistic perspective, and also numerous honoring spirits and helpful beings. There are Nine Worlds, including the world of humans (Midgard) and the world of Gods (Asgard). The World Tree connects all the Nine Worlds, and binds them together. There are different afterlife options, depending upon which Gods one followed in life, what type of person one was, how one died and other factors.
The primary ritual is known as the blot (long "o" sound, to rhyme with float), and in its simplest form consists of an offering, typically of drink. Blots are generally performed to a single Deity or group of beings (land spirits, ancestors, honored dead). It would be very unusual to honor a God/Goddess pair as is commonly done in Wicca. Despite the very basic form, a blot can become very elaborate, and include lengthy invocations to the Deities, readings of appropriate material, rune divinations, magical workings, and even dramatic reenactments of the myths.
There is also a drinking ritual known as the sumbel. During sumbel, people take turns drinking from a horn; solemn oaths are made to the Gods and witnessed by all participants. It is also common to brag about achievements made since the last sumbel, and thank the Gods for their influence and inspiration. Speech may take a lighthearted turn, and then just as quickly turn to more serious matters. The more ambitious may recite poetry or tell stories. Sumbels may be freeform, or each round may have a specific theme.
The symbol of Asatru is a Thor's Hammer, and modern practitioners typically wear one around their neck. There is evidence that the old followers of the Gods started wearing Thor's Hammers as a direct response to encountering Christians who wore crosses.
There are a few historically important holidays that many groups and individuals celebrate, but while there is a certain consistency between calendars from different groups, each holiday calendar tends to reflect the needs of the people involved. There is no unified "Wheel of the Year." Solitary practitioners, freed from the need to accommodate others, often center their practice around honoring specific Gods or Goddesses and helpful spirits, with minimal emphasis on the seasons.
Many groups acknowledge the Nine Noble Virtues. This is a collection of values distilled from the lore, intended to embody certain important concepts. It should be noted that the Virtues are a modern innovation, but one that has caught the attention of many people within Asatru. There are different sets of Nine Noble Virtues, but the most common consists of Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self Reliance and Perseverance.
The two major types of magical practice are runic magic, and what may be loosely described as a shamanic series of practices known as seidhr. A through examination of what we know of historical runic or seidhr magicks and how this translates into modern practice today is far beyond the scope of this introduction, but for people inclined towards study and further knowledge of the magicks associated with Heathenism, there is much to explore and ponder.
(Links are to book pages at Amazon.com and may not be to the specific printing listed.)
For this section, I have focused on what the most vital, more useful, most-likely-to-appear in a Heathen library books. There are other useful books out there, but I would strongly suggest that these are your first "must buys."
Please note, all sources of Germanic mythology were written down after the Christian conversion. Contemporary accounts of followers of the Germanic Deities exist, but only written by outsiders. We have no material written by the living, original practitioners of the religion. When we strive to intelligently recreate the old religion in the modern age, it is very important to keep in mind how limited our source material is.
The Prose Edda. ( Young translation, Faulkes translation.)
So, Sturluson created The Prose Edda as a reference that included both mythological tales and material intended to instruct aspiring poets. To make it very clear to the reader that he is in no way suggesting anyone honor the old Gods, he carefully says at the beginning that these beings "weren't really Gods." They were powerful rulers people thought were Gods, back when people had forgotten about the real Christian God. Now that we've established this, we can now move on to reading tales about the Gods and enjoy every minute of it! This means that one should completely ignore Snorri's "history" of the Aesir coming from Troy at the beginning of the book, and keep in mind that his purpose is to entertain, not speak to believers.
That said, Sturluson's Prose Edda is very entertaining. The most commonly available translation of The Prose Edda, the one you are likely to see in your local bookstore or library is the Jean Young translation (ISBN: 0520012321). However, certain sections of the original Prose Edda are omitted, so you might want to also consider a copy of the Anthony Faulkes translation. (ISBN: 0460876163), which is sold as Edda (Everyman Paperback Classics).
The Poetic Edda. (Hollander translation, Larrington translation.)
There are two distinctive translations of the Poetic Edda available. The first is by Lee Milton Hollander (ISBN: 0292764995), this translation seeks to preserve the distinct, alliterative poetic style of the original material. The main criticism is that clarity and exact meaning are sacrificed for style and it is not easy to read. The second translation is by Carolyne Larrington (ISBN: 0192839462). This is a very literal translation; clear, easy for a modern reader to understand, but not conveying the sense of the original poetry. It would be worthwhile to acquire both editions, and compare them directly.
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (ISBN: 0140136274), by Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson -- This is one of those rare sightings, an insightful academic book written with a poetic sensibility. Not only is it a well-written and regarded academic book, there is a respect and love for the Gods that I think would move most modern practitioners. (Not an essential buy, but people with an interest in reading cross-comparisions between Germanic and Celtic beliefs would be well advised to check out her Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, somewhat dry reading, but with many intriguing nuggets of information.)
Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland (ISBN: 0613264185) -- Not an academic book, but an exceptional modern retelling of the Norse myths. The book is lively, enjoyable, and respectful of the source material. If you're having difficulty getting through the Prose or Poetic Eddas, read this book. There are also extensive notes (about fifty pages worth) at the back talking about sources, themes and making connections between different myths, all in very clear language. Last but not least, many sections are ideal for reading aloud as part of a ritual, keep this book in mind when it comes time to perform a blot.
Our Troth, Volume I -- The original edition is long out of print, and has been sought after. A new edition has finally appeared. It has been expanded and updated with boththe latest scholarship and with much personal insight and meditation from almost fifty Heathen writers, compiled by Kveldulf Gundarsson and edited by noted author Diana Paxson. Volume one is available now with Volume two scheduled to appear in the Fall of 2006.
Many folks want to learn about the runes, but are confused by the sheer amount of material available. It is best to begin with a solid foundation in the history and background of the runes, the better to judge the works of esoteric authors.
Rudiments of Runelore by Stephen Pollington (ISBN: 1898281165) is aimed at the dedicated lay person who wishes a scholarly introduction to the runes. This is a slim volume, but one that provides a excellent grounding in the subject. The author keeps well within the realm of "just the facts, ma'am", but is not unsympathetic to modern rune esoterists.
This gives him an advantage over the work by R.I.Page, Runes (ISBN: 0520061144). Page's work is solid, but is so intent on being serious that he has trouble admitting the runes might have been used for magical purposes. His work, although sound, can be jarring to the modern practitioner. Both books are reasonably priced, and there's no reason not to have both in one's library, with preference given to Pollington's work.
Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic by Jenny Blain, (ISBN: 0415256518) -- Not so well known outside of the Asatru and greater Heathen community is a series of vaguely shamanistic practices known as seidh. These practices might have been seen as "women's magic" and appear to have been associated with seeing the future, speaking to the dead, speaking to spirits, and trance work. Jenny Blain is both a Heathen and a University lecturer, and the twin processes of scholarship and experience clearly inform her writing, much to the reader's benefit.
Germanic Mythology -- Attractive hypertext introduction to the mythology, created by by a Germanic studies graduate from Dickinson College.
Germanic Myths, Legends, and Sagas -- A more in-depth exploration of the mythology (including a geography lesson and information about runestones and other artifacts), and is part of a larger site called Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts. Compiled by a folklore researcher and former University of Pittsburgh professor.
Other sections of interest at Sacred Texts include:
Anglo-Saxon Section Includes Beowulf, written in the Christian era, but with pre-Christian themes.
Germany Section Includes the Nibelungenlied, written in the Christian era but referencing Germanic mythology and themes.
Iceland Section Includes the aforementioned Eddas, and also several Sagas. All Sagas were written post-conversion, but frequently included Heathen characters or mentioned Heathen beliefs. How accurately these characters or beliefs are depicted is a matter for some debate.
Scandinavia Section Includes The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus, which includes some mythological material found nowhere else.
There are a number of sites with significant material written by modern Heathens. Sites with significant written material aimed at beginners include:
Asatru Basics A nice basics page, with an experiential feel.
Ravenbok A online book intended to get folks started.
Other significant sources of material include:
Community Resources -- A number of good articles, hosted by the Ring of Troth.
Thorshof -- A significant amount of written material on this website based out of the United Kingdom.
On Freya Aswynn's site, Kveldulf Gunndarsson's Teutonic Religion and Teutonic Magic are both available as e-books for a very reasonable sum. These two books were originally published by Llewellyn, and have long been out of print and highly sought after. Gunndarsson's latest, a book on Odin, is also available. Aswynn's site has a number of recommended books reflecting her own eclectic interests, scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the E-books.
Jordvin's Rune of the Month Club -- Exactly what it sounds like. Very casual and chatty in tone, fun to read.
Return of the Volva -- An introduction to seidh from Diana Paxson of Hrafnar.
For further reading:
Contacts and Organizations
I would be amiss in writing about Germanic Paganism if I did not spend some time writing about the "Folkish" movement. (The alert reader will notice a similarity to the term "Volkish", and all the implications therein.)
People that identify as "Folkish" within Asatru say that practice of the religion is only suitable for those of "Northern European" descent. In other words, "whites only."
The exact manifestation of this belief can vary depending upon the individual, some are obviously rabid Neo-Nazis, some claim that their only intention is "pride in one's heritage." This latter claim seems rather dubious to those who are familiar with contemporary Neo-Nazi literature, in which it's typically claimed that "pride in one's heritage" is the only motivator, no matter how extreme the group in question. The other statement frequently made is that only people of Northern European descent will be satified with being Heathen, and that people of other ethnicities would be happier elsewhere. In practice, one never hears it suggested that someone of Irish background should seek the Celtic Gods, and eschew the Germanic Gods, this suggestion only seems to consistently come up for people who can't pass as Northern European.
Curiously, many people who would turn away anyone deemed insufficiently Northern European from joining their Kindred would adamantly deny any racism. My theory is that a significant number of people have managed to internalize the idea "racism = bad", without this preventing them from behaving in a discriminatory fashion towards others! Or, a dear friend puts it, "Identifying as folkish is a way of saying that you're a racist without actually admitting to yourself that you're a racist."
Anyone investigating Germanic religion will encounter these people, if only by reputation. There have been some excellent articles examining how these ideas have made their way into Asatru, both in tracing the tendency of nationalist movements to spring out of esoteric movements and in taking a look at how some of this has played out in contemporary Asatru.
Before looking at getting in touch with the Asatru community, I strongly suggest taking the time to review at least these articles on the web, and preferably also reading the book by Jeffrey Kaplan:
Aside from the practical and very real issue of racism, the Asatru and Heathen communities have long shown a tendency to fragment into special interest groups and smaller communities. In referring people to organizations, there are few choices between very small, local groups and large, umbrella organizations.
For a large umbrella organization, I would recommend the Ring of Troth. Aside from their magazine Idunna, and their mailing list, they also run a yearly gathering.
It would be extremely difficult to try and compile a definitive list of Kindreds and individuals, I would recommend using a good search engine like Google and doing searches on "Asatru", "Heathen" and one's region, and seeing what results come up. And of course, in contacting people, keep in mind that Heathens are no better than the rest of humanity, and exercise all due caution and judgement that you would exercise when meeting any strangers for the first time.
A good way of getting to know people is through internet mailing lists. Lists are especially useful because the Asatru community is still very small, and, even if you can find fellow Heathens, if your interests are at all specialized, there may be no one in your part of the country to share them with. The number of mailing lists out there now is truly stunning, and I am reluctant to try and even begin to pin them down. If you do a search on Yahoo Groups, you will find all manner of mailing lists most specific to a particular interest or region.
However, there are a few notable mailing lists:
One of the oldest general interest lists (dating from 1994, and now on its third owner) is The Asatru List.
Ring of Troth members have access to The Troth Members E-Mail List
People interested in a UBB-style message board should visit Asatru Lore
People wanting to discuss books in detail may want to check out Heathen Books.
We would like to thank Janna of the Raven Kindred South for providing most of the information and the text for this page.
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