Asatrú Beliefs

 

This article is intended as an introduction to Asatrú for young adults

Asatrú is a living religion from Northern Europe that is thousands of years old.  At one point this religion was almost wiped out of existence by Christianity, and many of it's traditions had been lost during this time of persecution.  Some of these traditions have been re-constructed by the contemporary followers of Asatrú.  Since Asatrú was never entirely stamped out, it can be referred to correctly as both a reconstructed and a living religion.  Asatrú literally means someone that is Trú to the Aesir.  The etymology of the word reveals that there are two distinct words "Asa" and "trú."   The first part of the word, "Asa" refers to a god, specifically an Aesir (or Vanir) and the second half of the word, "trú" refers to a state of loyalty.  The term used for loyalty "trú" also implies faith.  So an Asatrú person is one who is god-loyal.

 

Asatrú recognizes several dozens of gods and goddesses from many different cultural areas around Northern and Western Europe, including what is now the United Kingdom and Iceland.

 

 

 

Heimdal is the guardian of the Bifrost Bridge, who sounds the Gjallarhorn when he sights the enemies of the gods marching on Asgard at Ragnarok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freyja is from the tribe of the Vanir.  She is a warrior that symbolizes freedom and love.  She gets the first pick of all the fallen heroes on the battlefield.




 

 

Odin is the leader of the Aesir.  He has two ravens that fly over the world of men and report back to him what they have seen.  He is also pictured here with his two wolves that eat all the food given to Odin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frigga is Odin's wife.  She knows all, though she often keeps her knowledge to herself.  She is attended by several handmaidens that loyally due her bidding.

 

 

 

 

 

Tyr is known for his honesty and forthrightness.  He is often the favorite of soldiers.  He is missing a hand due to an act of self-sacrifice that he performed for the good of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many other gods and goddess, these are only a few to give you an idea of what the Asatrú gods are like.

 

 

Asatrú is an Animistic, Polytheistic, Fatalistic, tribal-centric, family oriented pagan religion and tradition.

 

But what does that mean?  Let's start at the beginning of that statement and work our way through.  First is the term Animistic.  Animism refers to a belief that all physical things are imbued with a spiritual presence.  Most Asatrúar will agree that everything is composed of energy, and energy is often seen as at least partially synonymous with spirit.  While Asatrú does not teach that each and every individual thing in the world has it's own spiritual existence, it does teach that everything exists as energy, and that things with enough energy can have their own spiritual presence.  Therefore, while an individual rock may not have a spirit associated with it, a mountain certainly would.  Perhaps a large enough boulder would also, to a lesser degree.   So while Asatrú isn't strictly Animistic, it definitely does have an animistic element. 

 

Asatrú goes far beyond an idea that physical things exist in the realm of energy or spirit also. Many material objects or places are thought to have an ethereal consciousness associated with them, similarly to our consciousness being associated with our bodies.  There are many levels of spiritual beings ranging from the "spirit of a woodland grove" to animals, people, mountains, dwarves, trolls, elves, and gods.

 

The next term in our verbose statement is Polytheistic.  Polytheism is the belief in a multiplicity of gods.  Asatrúar (the plural of a follower of the Asatrú tradition) believe in two tribes of gods known as the Aesir and the Vanir.  The two groups are believed to inhabit various spiritual planes of existence which include Asgard, Vanaheim, Midgard (our physical world), and several others.  Each group of gods have several gods and goddesses that make up members of these two distinct groups or tribes.

 

We come next to the term Fatalistic.  This refers to the Asatrú belief that this world and all the gods and spirits of all the nine worlds are heading to an ending that cannot be prevented.  While the worlds themselves won't be destroyed, most of mankind and many of the gods will face their end.  This event is called Ragnarok, and since it cannot be prevented, Asatrú is considered to be Fatalistic. 

 

Tribal-centric refers to the tendency for Asatrú groups to operate in small tight-knit pseudo family groups, or tribe-like organizations.  Since Asatrú has never had a central organizing authority, individual followers tend to come together in small groups.  When those groups grow to a certain size, they often splinter into several smaller groups that continue on.

 

Asatrú is family oriented in that the family unit is greatly valued.  The loyalty to family is of paramount importance, and is reflected in the myths of the gods and goddesses of Asatrú.

 

Finally, it is both a religion and a tradition, and it's very hard to separate the two.  It is a religion in that there is a greater spiritual understand, a story of creation, a belief in an afterworld, and moral guiding principles.  But it can also be thought of as a tradition, because living the Asatrú religion consists of practicing the principles of Asatrú in daily life and participating in the yearly rituals.  There may be Asatrúar who practice the traditions of Asatrú without actually spending much time worrying about whether they believe in the existence of the gods or other worlds described in mythology.  The actual belief in the gods is not a critical consideration for belonging to an Asatrú group or kindred and being considered a Trú member of the kindred.

 

 

 

What do Asatrúar believe?

 

The followers of Asatrú believe in living a life ruled by Honor.  They believe that their word must be their bond and that they must act according to their values.  They believe that their honor is maintained if they live their life, striving to increase their good qualities and decrease their character flaws.  The character traits they seek to increase are referred to as Virtues and modern Asatrú has quantified these into a group called the Nine Noble Virtues.  These are Honor, Courage, Truth, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and Steadfastness.  An Asatrúar must strive to be courageous in all things.  They must live a truthful life, being loyal to their family and kindred.  They must show self-discipline and always be hospitable to family or kindred.  They should be hard-workers that are capable of taking care of their own problems.  If they undertake a task they should be steadfast in their perseverance to succeed at that task.

 

The followers of the Asatrú religion take these virtues to heart.  If a kinsman visits another they must be offered drink at a minimum.  Perhaps food and drink both, especially if the trip was long.  They must be offered a place to stay if the trip is very long, or if they are very far from home.  An Asatrúar would not feel comfortable being out of work for long, unless they were contributing something back to their community, as they all share the belief that they must be a productive member of their community.  They do not believe in asking for help for things which they can do for themselves, although they enjoy coming together to work on community projects that require more than one person to accomplish.

 

Asatrúar believe that there are several distinct parts of a human being, among which can be found the physical body, and the spirit, and possibly many more parts.  While there is evidence in the lore that many of the earliest people that followed these traditions believed in many parts of the spirit/body complex, there is no general consensus within modern Asatrú as to exactly which components or even how many might exist. 

 

Asatrúar generally believe in many spiritual places existing beyond the physical world, and there is a general idea that the spirit (or parts of the spirit) may continue to live on in one or more of these places.  There is examples in the lore of the spirits of dead heroes being taken to Valhalla, and the mention of young unmarried maidens residing with Gefjon in her hall in Asgard.  There are mention of other gods and halls and the type of spirits that inhabit them.  The most populated hall in Asgard seems to be Thor's hall, known as Bilskirnir, which is said to have 540 levels!   There is also mention of many dead souls in Helheim and the spirits of some people were known to inhabit their bodies after death, or otherwise haunt their grave mounds where they might watch over or interact with their descendants.   There seems to be no one guaranteed path for the soul to follow in the afterlife, but a general belief that there is an existence after the death of the body. 

 

Many Asatrúar believe in the existence of all manner of creatures or spirits that exist below the level of the gods but outside of the normal human experience.  They may believe in a variety of spirits that often live within houses, some of whom can be mischievous to the point of danger, and some which can be quite helpful.  They may believe in spirits of the field or mountains.  They may believe that they have ancestral spirits that are watching over or protecting them.  None of these beliefs are necessary but many are common among Asatrúar.

 

Many Asatrúar believe that they may very well live on in Asgard, the home of the gods, after their death and be able to interact with a god or goddess with whom they feel a special connection.  Some Asatrúar do not strive toward this goal, instead preferring to watch over their descendants for as long as they may.

 

Asatrúar believe that a person's actions matter more than his thoughts or beliefs, and that each action causes permanent ripples in the web of wyrd that cumulatively effect each person's fate.  The web of wyrd is the interconnectivity of energy that makes up all things in the nine worlds.  This energy is considered to be the building blocks of all things spiritual and physical and it is believed that an action taken at one place, effects all of the nine worlds and helps set in motion the likelihood of future events.  Rather than a specific pre-determined fate, this is more similar to a belief that you have a most-likely path that you will follow, based on what you and your ancestors have done, and what you are now doing. 

 

Another common Asatrú belief is that there is no definitive good or evil; that there is no god or person that is all good or all evil.  That actions that are helpful to you may be inadvertently harmful to others, but this makes the action itself neither good nor bad.   Asatrú recognize that certain behaviors are always undesirable, such as lying, cheating, murdering and so forth; but that some of these may be necessary on occasion to achieve a greater good.   That most of people's actions occur in a grey area that cannot be classified as implicitly good or implicitly evil, but that some actions can be so close to one extreme or the other, that for all practical purposes they are viewed as good or evil.  

 

Most Asatrúar would agree that the gods are interested in their children (all humans), and that they watch our struggle here on Midgard, our physical world, in a similar way as to how a great, great grandparent might watch the progress, success or failure, of their great, great grandchild.  The gods enjoy helping us on the one hand, but understand better than we that that help always comes with an unexpected consequence and that we must live our mortal lives on our own, for the most part.

 

Asatrú also believe that their personal growth comes from striving to emulate the best qualities of the gods and the heroes of the people.  Asatrúar are a studious group and will often read the myths of the gods and goddesses, called the Eddas, and read the stories of their ancestors who were Asatrú, referred to as Sagas.  From these stories they will try to understand better what their ancestors believed about the gods, and determine how they too might honor the gods and come to know them better.

 

Asatrúar tend to believe that each individual person can connect as easily with the spiritual world or the gods as anyone else, and so their priest-class, called Godhis, is perceived as having a mostly social or political role, not as an intermediary between the Trú people and the gods.  The primary function of the Godhis (male form) and gydjas (female form) of Asatrú is that of an administrator.  All Godhis are expected to be able to lead any of the blessings or other religious ceremonies at need, but it is understood that anyone can do this with no special preparation.

 

There is no central governing body, nor any specific dogma universally recognized.  Asatrú continues to be a very individualized religion.  Most of Asatrú is structured around small groups known as Kindreds that may consist of 2 to hundreds of members, with most kindreds probably having between 5 and 15 members.  Since individual Asatrú practioners are fiercely independent there has been no movement to organize into larger groups with only a few exceptions. 

 

Asatrúar tend to be very loyal to the Kindred groups to which they belong.  These groups are usually not open to anyone wishing to join, but instead, newcomers must undergo some kind of training, or initiation process, sometimes including oaths of fealty to the group.  The family unit of a married man and woman couple and their children are seen as the heart of the group.  Anyone with experience in the military or other protective roles are particularly appreciated by the Kindred.  They view the entire groups as a kind of extended family and everyone is expected to pitch in for the common good to the extent they can feasibly do so.

 

Asatrúar believe that it is a great thing to be a human and to live in this world.  That our existence is a gift from Odin, and that it would be remiss of them to waste that gift.  They believe that living fully, having fun, accomplishing great things and working hard while staying true to your promises are the things that matter most in life.  That if you do all these things you honor your ancestors and the gods, even if you do not acknowledge them.

 

There is no body of literature that is considered implicitly sacrosanct, rather all of the literature is considered an important window into understanding how the elder Asatrú viewed the gods. This means that Asatrú has no Bible or Holy Book.  Remember that Asatrú says that nothing is either all good or all evil (harmful), here is a good example of that.  Since there is no one Holy Book that teaches what all Asatrúar should believe, it is left up to each person to go and study the hundreds of books that are available and try to make sense of them and decide what things are most important.  The good part of this is that an Asatrúar may learn a great deal of history and culture and become very educated about their religion, and the bad part of this is that it can be a daunting challenge, and many Asatrúar may put this task off for a very long time.

 

What Asatrú means in Daily Life

 

What would it mean in one's daily life to be Asatrú?   Being Asatrú means making decisions that you consider to be reasonable and honorable.   It means being careful when you make promises, and trying your very hardest to fulfill them.  It means knowing the gods are there if you need them and wanting the best for you.  It means living a life free of guilt or shame, knowing that it is good to be human and enjoy this life.  It means having a vast knowledge base of power spiritual and magical history to draw on if there be need.  It means no fears of the unknown, supernatural, or otherworldly events.  An Asatrúar should feel empowered to explore any kind of knowledge, whether that be scientific, spiritual, or humanistic.   It means no worries about death, or what may come afterwards. It means sharing a bond with a community of other practical, open-minded, fun-loving people that treat each other with respect and live up to their word.

 

What do Asatrú people do

 

As a person that follows the Aesir and the Vanir, there are a few things that you might do differently than other people.  You would be required to honor the gods during the 4 Great Blessings of the year.  These blessings mark the seasons, and correspond to Holidays which with everyone is already familiar.  The first of these blessings is the blessing of Yule, which marks mid-winter, the end of the old year, and is commonly known as Christmas among the Christians.  If you were Asatrú you would celebrate this blessing by sings holiday songs, giving and receiving gifts, watching for Red Thor to fly by in his sleigh pulled by the goats named Thunder and Lightning and drop off presents to the children of the families that were loyal to him!  You would light the Yule Log on Fire and share Wassail (and apple cider drink) and egg nog with your friends.  On Yule night (December 31st) you would participate in a blessing to give homage to the gods and make your oaths (resolutions) for the next year!

 

 

 

The second of the 4 Great Blessings of the year is Ostarra.   Originally called Eostré, which then became Easter, this blessing marks the Spring Equinox when Winter officially begins to give way to Summer.  If you were Asatrú you would celebrate this blessing by hunting Ostarra eggs and staying up all night to greet the sun at dawn.  You would exchange gifts and candy and participate in a blessing in which you ask the goddess to bless the land with fertility!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next is the blessing of Mid-Summer, and I'm sure you're beginning to the see the pattern here.  This blessing marks the middle of the Summer and there are usually Barbeques, parties, and summer games to mark this seasonal passage.  If you were Asatrú you would gather with as many other Asatrúar as you could and engage in sports such as wrestling, volleyball, axe-throwing, and swimming.
You would enjoy a great feast and gather at noon to greet the sun and honor the gods in a great blessing.  Hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill have replaced pigs roasting on the spit, but the fun of mid-summer games haven't changed in thousands of years!

 

 

 

 

The 4th blessing of the year that Asatrúar must celebrate is Harvest.  This one occurs during the Fall Equinox and marks the official end of Summer and the beginning of Winter.  If you were Asatrú you would gather with your kindred to honor the gods and appreciate the bounty of the summer.  There would be a huge feast with lots of meat and vegetables, usually including a Turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and most of the other dishes that you may associate with Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

Along with these 4 Great Blessings, there are any number of minor blessings or celebrations that can be thrown in throughout the year which aren't considered as important for each Asatrúar to attend.  

 

In your everyday life you might find yourself leaving gifts out for the sometimes mischievous spirits that inhabit the house, or the woods nearby.  You might find yourself offering a sacrifice of mead, ale, milk, or honey to one of the gods or goddesses.  Many Asatrúar will have a small shrine or altar somewhere in their house or yard where they typically make these offerings and observe the blessings.  You would tend to go to this place whenever you felt like talking to the gods.  You would wear a hammer of Thor, or perhaps some other symbol of one of the gods or goddesses that you felt particularly close to, as an outward symbol of your relationship with the gods.  You would introduce yourself to all of the gods, but there would most likely be one or two that you felt a kinship, or perhaps a friendship with, and these one or two, would become the ones that you usually went to with prayers, questions, or just to talk.  As an Asatrúar you would find yourself being careful with the promises you made, because you would expect to have calamitous things happen to you if you should not fulfill your word!  You would look for a kindred to join because humans love company, but you would be very careful to make sure any kindred you found was fully compatible, because if you commit to a kindred, then you would feel bound to honor your word, even if you later decided that this kindred wasn't a great fit for you!  You would enjoy living your life, work hard, and exercise your best judgment.  You would try to stand on your own against the world, if need be, without asking for any help, but you would ask the gods for help if you felt like you needed it.  You would know that your kindred would support you in all things and be there for you if you need a few extra hands.  You would expect the occasional miracle, and not be overly surprised when it happens, because Asatrúar expect their gods to help them, especially if the appropriate sacrifice is made, and the gods have been officially asked for help.  You would study history, study your ancestors traditions and beliefs, and constantly try to expand your knowledge of the history of Asatrú.   If you are the type of person interested in mysterious things, such as supernatural knowledge, then you may find yourself drawn to the Runes and begin studying them for divination or magic.  Not all Asatrúar will have an interest in the Runes, and some will be interested only in their historic use and as a system of writing.  As an Asatrúar you would be expected to greet all your visitors with good cheer and food or drink.  You would be a part of a community of people that believe that the best things in life and living life well and honestly.

   

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