Ásatrú

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Ásatrú, Icelandic for "the Faith of the Æsir", is the modern reawakening of the ‘Old Religion’ that was practiced by the Germanic people of Northern Europe (including the Vikings) before Christianity took over. The rebirth took place simultaneously and independently in Iceland, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Besides the name Ásatrú as introduced in the 1970s referred specifically to the Icelandic adherents of the religion, but other names such as Heathenism, Odinism, Norse paganism, Forn Sidhr, are used as well and Ásatrúers often refer to themselves as heathens. Ásatrú is a religion officially recognized by the governments of Iceland (since 1973), Norway (since 1994), Denmark (since 2003) and Sweden (since 2007).

History

Most people associate Ásatrú with the Vikings, but the roots of the ‘Old Religion’ can be traced back as far as the Stone Age. The Germanic people are first mentioned in 320 B.C.E. while the Vikings enter history in 792 C.E. By 1150 C.E., the ‘Old Religion’ was replaced by Christianity in the whole original area. Much of the legends and history was written down 150 to 200 years after the conversion of their country by Icelandic writers of which Snorri Sturluson is the best known. After several revivals and subsequent suppression, the modern rebirth took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Around that time, several organizations were founded in the USA and other countries. The main American organizations nowadays are the ‘Ásatrú Folk Assembly’ (founded in 1994), the ‘Ásatrú Alliance’ (1988), and ‘The Troth’ (1987).

Beliefs & organization

Ásatrú is Icelandic and means the troth of the Æsir or "Æsir faith". The Æsir are one of the two groups of Gods in Ásatrú, the others are the ‘Vanir’.

Some of the main gods and goddesses are:

Odin

The one-eyed Allfather who resides in Valhalla where the remaining slain warriors go after Freya picked hers. A god of wisdom, rune magic, poetry, war, chaos and death.
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Freya

The goddess of life, sexuality, seidhr magic, war and death. Has the first choice of the slain warriors.
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Thor

Slayer of giants, protector of humanity. His hammer, Mjølnir, is worn by many Ásatrúer for protection and is the most common symbol.
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Tyr

A god of balance, and as such, the god of oaths, justice, law, courage and warfare when needed to maintain balance.
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Freyr

god of fertility, peace and good fortune.
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Frigga

the mother goddess, wife of Odin. A goddess of motherhood, fertility, love, marriage and housework.
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Loki

Loved by some, despised by other, he is the trickster who only can do that with the permission of Odin.
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Central in the belief of Ásatrúers are the Nine Noble Virtues they live by: Courage, Truth, Honor, Troth, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Independence and Steadfastness.

Ways of devotion

For most heathens, the deities are living, real, super-human entities who can and do wield power in the world today. Often, heathens treat their gods and goddesses as friends or members of their extended family. Many Ásatrúer honor their gods by having an altar where they make offerings and pray.

During the year, various special occasions in the year or a persons life are celebrated such as Yule, midsummer, and rite of passage. Often, this is celebrated with a Blót, a ritual with a specific focus, often followed by a feast with food and drinks (beer, ale, mead). In the Viking era, sacrifices of animals were a common aspect of blots and the animals were cooked and eaten by the whole community. A part of many heathen gatherings is the sumble, the passing of a horn filled with mead for making toasts, boasts or oaths.

A Goði (Gothi) and Gyðja are the historical Old Norse term for a priest and priestess. Goði literally means "speaker for the gods", and they often officiate over rituals.


Kindred

The Kindred is literally an extended family related by blood and marriage, but nowadays used for any local group of Ásatrúers. Many groups are part of Ásatrú organizations. Some Ásatrúers are solitary either by choice or lack of kinsfolk. The kindred often functions as a combination of extended family and religious group. Most kindreds have a clear organization structure, but there is considerable variation between groups. Most groups have a Jarl or chieftain who is the formal leader, while the lawspeaker deals with the legal aspects. Many have a recognized Goði or priest who is the spiritual leader and leads the religious rites.