Asatru & Modern Heathenry
Heathenry is at its heart individualistic, there are no concrete lists of rules for how to live your life and no central authority. This is considered an ideal situation for most heathens, not the least because it mirrors the practice of archaeo-heathenry, wherein regional belief and practice varied widely. Many modern heathens are members of local groups called hearths, kindreds or kiths. Most religious practices take place within these communities, often officiated by recognised (or unrecognised) priests known as Godhis (male) and Gydhjas (female), however despite the isolation of individual groups, organisations like ours, in the spirit of the great heathen festivals (such as those at Uppsala, a centre of pre-Christian belief) endeavour to bring heathens together in large numbers to network, learn, worship together and show unity.
The beliefs of modern heathenry can be extremely difficult to catechise due to its ever changing nature as we understand heathenry better through study and research. We are all polytheists, though the definition and view of deities often differs widely from person to person. The gods an individual chooses to acknowledge are usually a personal decision, but invariably they are normally present in the Northern European pantheon comprising the Æsir, Vanir and related divine beings. Another area of devotion for heathens is ancestor worship, a deference to passed family members both recent and ancient. This can be shown by offerings given during rituals or care given to family burial sites etc. Also many animist heathens honour the wights or vættir, nature spirits inhabiting nearly all environments, which are sometimes propitiated with offerings. All heathens share a similar worldview based on these principles, as well as along some of the principles of Norse Cosmology which divides the universe into 9 worlds connected by a ‘world tree’ named Yggdrasil, however many heathens see this as an abstract concept.
Despite the lack of regulation there are a few simple views that heathens share, that by holding these beliefs, they shape the way we live our lives. Probably the most important of these is a concept of fate, or wyrd, through which heathens recognise the interconnectivity of all beings, forces and decisions in the universe. In myth this is controlled by the Norns, three sisters of destiny and fate. It is believed that an individual can navigate through their wyrd, and thus, the heathen worldview oscillates between concepts of free will and fatalism. There is no unified school of thought regarding the afterlife and while many heathens speak of Valhalla, the home of the chosen slain, this is not necessarily believed in a fundamental sense. Heathenry tends to focus on our life on earth (or Midgard in Norse Cosmology), rather than what comes after.
The heathen worldview manages to offer us a unique standpoint without lambasting its believers or constraining them. Moral and ethical views are often based on the perceived ethics of archaeo-heathenry, most notably extracted from the stories of heroic figures from the Nordic Sagas and the proverbs of the Hávamál (a collection of poems attributed to Odin, known as the ‘Words of the High One’). Ideals highly prized by the community include honour, courage, integrity, hospitality, hard-work and familial loyalty. Some organisations, especially in America have compiled these values and others into a list of ‘Nine Noble Virtues’, however these have not been endorsed by scholars or religious experts and outside of America have been widely rejected as syncretic Christian influence (although vastly different in content many have compared the NNV to the Ten Commandments).
Heathen places of worship are as of yet, extremely thin on the ground. Historically a heathen temple was called a Hof, though none are left standing, we can still learn about them through archaeological study. In Iceland, where Ásatrú is most prevalent, heathens have gained planning permission for 2 purpose-built hofs, the first of their kind in modern Europe. Sacred enclosures and way shrines were also sites of worship. In modern heathenry rituals regularly take place in the great outdoors, sometimes at ancient sites of historical interest, or more often in any available quiet space. Obviously many aspects of Archaeo-heathenry cannot be replicated in modern times, so naturally some recent practices do not have corresponding ancient rituals. However, such is heathen respect for the past that wherever possible, we strive to follow in the footsteps of those before, something that many heathens feel is missing from many Neo-pagan movements. While Asatru is not Archaeo-heathenry, we believe it is a valid interpretation of those beliefs and means as much to us as it did to people hundreds of years ago.