KIRAN ATMA: Norse Religion
Showing posts with label Norse Religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Norse Religion. Show all posts

Asatru - Norse/Nordic Paganism - Nordic Pagans Regarding The Nine Noble Virtues (NNV)



The views of Nordic Pagans regarding the NNV, in whatever form it takes, differ. 


Some Nordic Pagans are opposed to the propagation of anything that seems to them to be a doctrine or creed, since Asatru or Heathenry has always been a nondogmatic, nonauthoritarian, decentralized religion. 


Others view the NNV as a useful instrument for raising awareness and encouraging ethical debate among Nordic Pagans. 

Mike Smith, a Massachusetts Asatru leader, commented on the Nine Noble Virtues in an essay: 


  • Yes, around 6 or 7 years ago, I was one of those people who would proudly recite them [the NNV] over and again like a mantra... 
  • But, in the long run, I believe they cause more damage than good. My justifications are straightforward. One is that no two people can understand the same term in the same way... 
  • ... I've heard over 300 different definitions and explanations of each and every "virtue"... 
  • The NNV are essentially a "cheat sheet" or a very bad "Cliff's Notes" that are VERY loosely based on the Havamal. 
  • If reading "Cliff's Notes" or renting the movie didn't get you a "A+" on a literary exam in high school or college, why should you do the same for something as essential as your religion? 


Smith's account of his journey from initial enthusiasm for the Nine Noble Virtues to critical awareness of their inadequacy encapsulates a journey from a relatively simple and uneducated version of Asatru to a more sophisticated and scholarly one, based on a growing knowledge of Old Norse texts and Nordic cultural heritage. 


  • Many devout Asatruars and Heathens go through a similar maturation process. 
  • Though educated Nordic Pagans like Smith may dismiss the NNV as simple or foolish, the interviews done for this study revealed that Asatruar and Heathens have a great concern for ethics. 
  • Above all, individuals questioned indicated a strong desire to live a life of honor, integrity, and honesty, as well as to work hard to improve one's situation in life, both financially and otherwise, to contribute to the development of one's community, and to protect and care for one's home and family. 
  • Though such ethical issues are not uncommon, what sets Nordic Pagans apart is that their framework for debating, thinking on, and acting on these ethical concerns is based on their knowledge of ancient Nordic culture and lifestyle as drawn from the Eddas, Sagas, and other sources. 



If some contemporary American Christians ask, 


"What would Jesus do?" in ethical situations.

 

Their Nordic Pagan equivalents ask, 


"What would the Vikings do?" or 

"What would the Sagas' heroes do?" 



As far as can be reconstructed, Nordic Pagan principles are deeply rooted in Nordic cultural heritage; this is also true of ritual processes, organizational structures, and attitudes toward the Norse gods.


  • Nordic Pagans utilize historical building blocks to construct new religious structures for use in contemporary culture in all of these areas. 
  • Many issues are still being debated, but what unites the often fractious community is a shared belief in the spiritual and moral value of Nordic heritage, which Nordic Pagan individuals and communities continue to reexamine and reinterpret from a variety of perspectives, depending on information available, their knowledge of history and languages, and their personal motivations.



For others, the old way of life is most significant, while others value deity worship and the moral purity associated with the Vikings and other Nordic peoples of the past. 

All agree, however, that there is something spiritually valuable in the Nordic past, which they are eager to resurrect for the present and then continue into the future.



You may also want to read more about Asatru, Norse Paganism and Nordic Pagans here.


You may also want to read more about Paganism here.

Be sure to check out my writings on Religion here.


Online Resources


American Asatru Associations




Icelandic Asatru Association


Ásatrúarfelagi≥ (Asatru Fellowship of Iceland). At http://www.asatru.is.


Icelandic Photography



Statistical Information


  • Hagstofa Islands (Office of Statistics, Government of Iceland). 2004. “Ísland ítölum 2002–2003” (Iceland in Numbers). Reykjavík, Hagstofa Islands. At http://www.hagstofa.is.


Asatru Publications Available Online


  • “The Asatru Folk Assembly: Building Tribes and Waking the Spiritual Path of OurAncestors.” Available at http://www.runestone.org/




Asatru - Norse/Nordic Paganism's Worldview and Values



The ancient writings, such as the Eddas and Sagas, have a significant effect on the Nordic Pagan perspective of the world and sense of moral values, but this is not a question of slavish adherence to a set of absolute dogmas proclaimed by the ancients. 

Nordic Pagans study and reflect on ancient writings and any other material they can discover about previous Nordic beliefs and ways of life, but they delight in their freedom to rethink and retrofit old traditions to contemporary circumstances as needed. 


That is to say, Nordic Pagans, like other Reconstructionist Pagans, engage in a conversation with the past, trying to learn from it rather than copy it for the sake of the present and future. 

In this sense, they resemble the Viking explorers of 1,000 years ago, who took their ancestral gods and customs to new countries and created new civilizations that did not just replicate their old way of life, but also engaged in new and previously unimagined possibilities. 



To demonstrate the idea, a few instances of how contemporary Nordic Pagans simultaneously respect and reinterpret ancient traditions will be given. 

There are many descriptions of the old Nordic perspective of the cosmos in the Eddas and associated Old Norse literature. 


The various stories differ on certain aspects, but all agree that the Norse universe is split into several levels containing various orders of creatures, including as humans, gods, elves, dwarfs, and giants, as well as the dead, who are depicted as being separated into numerous places. 

The connection between these many worlds and their various inhabitants is not always apparent, and the explanations that are provided vary, but the basic concept of a multilevel cosmos populated by various kinds of creatures, both human and nonhuman, is constant. 


Though most faiths describe gods as eternal creatures who are immune to death, the gods of Norse mythology are associated with a tragic mortality. 


  • Three of the most renowned Norse gods die in fight against demonic opponents during Ragnarok, the cataclysmic conflict of gods and demons that destroys the universe. 
  • Odin dies battling against Fenrir, a gigantic wolf that would also eat the sun, as recounted in the poem Voluspa and elsewhere in the Eddas. 
  • The Midgard Serpent, a dragonlike creature so enormous that it encircles the whole world in its home under the sea, is a child of Loki, as is Fenrir, Thor's enemy (Midgard). 
  • Thor kills the snake, but succumbs to his wounds shortly after. Surtur (often abbreviated to Surt) is Freyr's adversary, a fire giant who defeats the god of fertility before burning the world to ashes with his conflagration sword. 
  • After the planet is completely destroyed and falls into the ocean, it rises again, fresh and fertile, with a reborn Baldur, son of Odin, as the new king of the world, followed by his brother and slayer, the blind deity Hoth. 



Few Nordic Pagans see Ragnarok as a literal prophesy of future events; rather, they regard it as a symbolic warning of the dangers of destruction if people behave irresponsibly in their interactions with one another and with nature. 


  • The death of the gods, especially Odin, is seen as a sad reflection on the inevitability of death and the necessity to live honorably and honestly until that day comes. 
  • The different worlds of humans, gods, and other beings are said to be supported and connected by the branches of a great "World Tree" known as Yggdrasil in a number of important texts, including the Eddic poems Grimnismal and Vafthrudnismal and the commentary on the Eddic poems known as the Prose Edda. 
  • The Nordic gods are believed to convene at the foot of this tree every day for their daily congress, debating and making decisions in the same way that the ancient Scandinavians did in their Thing gatherings. 


The Norns, three knowledgeable female creatures who carve runes (an old Norse alphabet used for both communication and sorcery) that direct the fates of both gods and mortals, tend to the tree. 

Most modern Nordic Pagans do not accept Norse mythology's depiction of the universe as a literal description of our world's nature, but rather see it as a symbolic expression of the existence of a higher realm of being beyond our ordinary, everyday experience, and of the interconnectedness of that higher world or worlds and our own. 



On the subject of the nature of the Norse gods, there is a broader range of opinions. 


  • Some Nordic Pagans believe the Norse gods are supernatural beings, while others see them as culturally coded symbols of important aspects of life and human nature, such as Odin representing wisdom and mystical insight, Thor representing valor, Tyr integrity, Frigg female intuition, Freyja female strength and sexuality, and so on. 
  • That is, some Nordic Pagans believe the gods are "out there," while others believe they live "in here," having existence on an imaginative, psychological level inside the minds and souls of people who pay attention to them. 
  • There are, of course, intermediate stances and alternative perspectives between these two, but these two ideas reflect most of Asatru and Heathenry's thinking regarding the nature of the gods.
  • Whatever their differing interpretations of the gods, all Nordic Pagans share the belief that the Norse mythology and associated Nordic traditions offer a cohesive set of principles on how to live in our world honorably and successfully. 
  • Although the Eddic poem Havamal (The Sayings of the High One [Odin]) offers a fair deal of pithy counsel about how to live with integrity and endure in the face of hardship, there is no final declaration of Pagan ethics in Old Norse religious and mythical literature. 


For most of its history, the farmer has been at the heart of Icelandic society, and Havamal provides something of a tough Icelandic farmer's kind of unsentimental, down-to-earth folk wisdom, whose lot was never easy in the often harsh conditions produced by Iceland's far northern climate and isolation. 


  • A man should be a friend to his buddy and return gifts with presents; laughing should be given for laughter and treachery should be repaid with lies, among other sayings (v. 42) 
  • A farm of one's own, even if little, is preferable; everyone is someone at home; a man's heart aches when he has to beg for each and every meal (v. 37) 
  • A man should be average-smart, never too wise, since he lives the greatest kind of life, he who knows a fair bit (v. 54)
  •  A prince's son should be quiet and attentive while battling, and every man should be happy and joyous till he dies (v. 15) 
  • Fire is best for men's sons, and the sight of the sun is best for a man's health, if he can retain it while living without shame (v. 68) 
  • Cattle die, relatives die, and you will die. I'm aware of one thing that never dies: each deceased man's reputation. (v. 77) 


There is no ultimate ethical ideal or desire to saintliness or moral perfection in this book, as there is in faiths like Christianity or Buddhism, but simply a simple but strong resolve to live a life of pleasure, achievement, and integrity while accepting human limits. 


  • Without rejecting the significance of the holy or supernatural, this grounded and pragmatic outlook on life is deeply humanistic. 
  • Without shying away from confrontation or protecting one's rights, one strives to be on good terms with other people, the natural world, and the supernatural world. 
  • The Sagas honor brave, astute heroes like Egill Skallagrimsson of Egils Saga, Gunnar of Hlidarend of Njals Saga, and Gisli Sursson of Gislis Saga, who persevere in the face of adversity and do not give up, even if it means death. Gudrun Osvifrsdottir of the Laxdaela Saga is an example of a stouthearted and strong-willed heroine seen in the Sagas. 

The gods' perseverance reflects their mindset as they prepare for Ragnarok's ultimate battle. 


  • Despite the fact that they are doomed to die in battle against demonic forces, they prepare diligently and put up their best effort. 
  • The idea of living a dignified life without the expectation of a miraculous redemption is fundamental to the ethics and worldview of ancient Norse literature, and it is also embraced by contemporary Nordic Paganism. 


The list of Nine Noble Virtues was created by Nordic Pagans in the United States as a quick, easy-to-remember summation of their general ethical philosophy. 


  • The Nine Noble Virtues may seem to outsiders to be a Viking counterpart of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments, but the number nine has mystical significance in Norse mythology

  • Nine is the, 
    • number of worlds covered by the cosmic tree Yggdrasil, 
    • number of nights Odin hangs himself on the World Tree in a Shamanistic tale spoken in Havamal, 
    • number of steps Thor takes before dying after killing the terrible Midgard Serpent. 

  • Courage, honesty, honor, loyalty, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, and persistence are the Nine Noble Virtues (commonly abbreviated as NNV). 

  • Edred Thorsson promotes this version; AFA founder Steven McNallen promotes an alternative list of power, bravery, joy, honor, freedom, kindred, reality, vitality, and lineage. 

  • The McNallen form of the NNV emphasizes familial lineage and ethnic identity more than the Thorsson version, although they are otherwise quite similar.


You may also want to read more about Asatru, Norse Paganism and Nordic Pagans here.


You may also want to read more about Paganism here.

Be sure to check out my writings on Religion here.


Online Resources


American Asatru Associations




Icelandic Asatru Association


Ásatrúarfelagi≥ (Asatru Fellowship of Iceland). At http://www.asatru.is.


Icelandic Photography



Statistical Information


  • Hagstofa Islands (Office of Statistics, Government of Iceland). 2004. “Ísland ítölum 2002–2003” (Iceland in Numbers). Reykjavík, Hagstofa Islands. At http://www.hagstofa.is.


Asatru Publications Available Online


  • “The Asatru Folk Assembly: Building Tribes and Waking the Spiritual Path of OurAncestors.” Available at http://www.runestone.org/




Asatru - Modern Day Norse/Nordic Paganism (United States of America, Scandinavia/Europe)





    Nordic Revival



    In the early 1970s, individuals in Iceland, the United States, and the United Kingdom formed new religious organizations devoted to reviving pre-Christian Northern European religious beliefs and practices, particularly those of pre-Christian Iceland and Scandinavia, but also those of the Germanic peoples of continental Europe and the Anglo-Saxons of England. 


    • The term Nordic will be used to refer to the peoples and cultures of Northern Europe. 
    • Norse will refer to the pre-Christian culture and religion of Iceland and Scandinavia in general.
    • Whereas Old Norse or Old Icelandic will relate to the language and literature of those periods in more detail. 



    In the early 1970s, the Icelandic, American, and British Nordic religion revival organizations were not in touch or even aware of one other's existence. 


    • Each had come to the same conclusion—that the Nordic pagan religious traditions of the past should be resurrected for the sake of contemporary people. 
    • Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, a poet and farmer from Iceland, and a group of friends, many of whom were also poets and fans of early Icelandic literature, founded Asatruarfelagid, or "the fellowship of those who believe in the old gods," which is frequently shortened as Asatru. 
    • Stephen McNallen and Robert Stine founded the Viking Brotherhood in the United States, which was later renamed the Asatru Folk Alliance. 
    • The Committee for the Restoration of the Odinic Rite was founded in Britain by John Yeowell and his colleagues. 

    These 1970s Nordic Pagan revival organizations have since branched and split as more people became involved, introducing new ideas and sometimes divergent directions, while remaining united in their devotion to the religious and cultural traditions preserved in Iceland's and other Nordic nations' ancient literature. 



    Most contemporary Nordic Pagans identify to themselves as Asatruar (Asatru believers) and their religion as Asatru (believing in or trusting in the old gods).

    • Alternatively, they refer to themselves as Heathens (the ancient Germanic word for non-Christians) and their religion as Heathenry. 
    • In this article, the words Nordic Paganism, Asatru, and Heathenry shall be used interchangeably. 


    Many additional countries, including Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Australia, have formed Nordic Pagan revival groups. 

    Based on interviews and field research in both countries, this chapter will give a short history and evolution of the Icelandic and American versions of Nordic Paganism, as well as a sketch of Nordic Paganism at the turn of the twenty-first century. 


    Previous research on Nordic Paganism in the United States has tended to highlight (and maybe exaggerate) some racist and Neo-Nazi aspects within the Nordic Pagan movement. 

    The bulk of contemporary Nordic Pagans are ardent supporters of Northern European cultural heritage as well as outspoken opponents of Nazism and bigotry. 


    • Most contemporary Nordic Pagans condemn the minority of Nordic Pagans with Neo-Nazi sympathies as members of fringe organizations with whom they want nothing to do. 
    • Nordic Pagans' pride in their ethnic background should not be mistaken for bigotry, nor should dedication to Nordic culture be mistaken for Nazism. 

    One of the American Nordic Pagans interviewed for this article is a lesbian with an Asian lover, another is a member of a Nordic Pagan organization with an African American member, and a third has adopted Korean children whom he encourages to research their Korean spiritual and cultural heritage and only become Heathens if they feel compelled to do so. 

    These aren't the faces of aspiring Nazi goose steppers.




    United States - Brief History of Nordic Paganism 



    Since its inception in the early 1970s, Asatru/Heathenry/Nordic Paganism in the United States has gone through many different phases, as well as a number of schisms and disputes. 

    It has entered the twenty-first century with a new degree of organizational sophistication and a broad agreement on the need to reduce disputes and enhance collaboration across the many Nordic Pagan groups, regardless of their views on specific topics. 



    The Viking Brotherhood, established by McNallen and Stine in Texas about 1972, was the first Nordic Pagan group in the United States. 


    • This organization evolved into the Asatru Free Assembly (AFA), which existed until 1987 before resurfacing in the 1990s as the Asatru Folk Assembly, as it is currently called. 
    • Many of the major organizational and ceremonial structures created by the AFA are still in use in American Nordic Paganism today, but subsequent organizations and individuals have continued to experiment with them, adapting and reinterpreting them as they see appropriate. 




    Structures of Important Rituals: 



    The Blot and The Sumbel (sometimes written symbel) and the Blot are two ceremonial forms created by McNallen and Stine from Old Norse–Icelandic literary sources such as the Eddas and Sagas, as well as other Germanic writings and customs. 


    • The Sumbel is a drinking ritual that takes place inside and may happen at any time or location agreed upon by the participants. 
    • A series of toasts are given, first to the Norse gods and supernatural creatures, then to heroes and ancestors, and finally to others, while a drinking horn full of mead or other alcoholic beverage is passed and poured into individual drinking containers or drank straight. 
    • Oaths and "boasts," or pledges of future acts that participants plan to do, may also be taken at a Sumbel. 
    • Such vows and boasts are regarded serious and binding on the speakers, emphasizing the Sumbel's importance as much more than a simple drinking celebration. 
    • The Sumbel's words are regarded sacred and potent, and they are pictured as entering the Well of Wyrd, the Norse mythology's matrix of time and fate, to become part of the individual and communal destiny of all present. 
    • Mead, the beverage of choice at a Sumbel, is a traditional beverage of ancient Germanic and Scandinavian peoples, made from honey and plants. 



    According to medieval custom, the drinking horn used to pour or drink the ceremonial wine is made from the horn of a bull or other equally big and magnificent animal. 


    • Many Asatruar and Heathens have mastered the art of making mead and constructing drinking horns, which they exhibit, sell, and, of course, drink from during seasonal Pagan celebrations. 
    • This convention is an excellent example of how, in Heathenry and Asatru, reviving traditional skills, crafts, and folk arts of past Nordic culture goes hand in hand with reviving spiritual beliefs and activities of past Nordic religion; cultural and spiritual heritage are not thought of as separate and distinct areas of life, but as different branches of the same tree. 



    McNallen and Stine derived the Blot from ancient sources in Old Icelandic literature and elsewhere. 

    • It is similar to the Sumbel but differs in many aspects. 



    At times of yearly holy days or feast days, it is conducted outside around a fire and under the open sky, and it includes specific ritual processes that go beyond what is done in the Sumbel. 


    • Invocations of the gods, similar to those spoken in the Sumbel, precede the Blot. 
    • Mead is used again in the Blot, but instead of being drunk from a horn passed around to the participants in the Sumbel, it is kept in a sacred bowl and sprinkled on the participants, altars, and images of the gods by the priest or priestess, who does so with a sprig or branch of an evergreen tree dipped in the mead. 
    • The mead is spilled onto the ground or into the fire as a last gift to the gods or ancestor spirits at the end of the ritual. McNallen published a series of books with ideas for Blots for various deities and events. 



    The Blot was originally associated with animal sacrifice in Nordic folklore. 


    • Blood was collected from the cut neck of the killed animal in a holy bowl, sprinkled on participants, and then spilled or smeared over statues of the gods positioned on altars, as the literal definition of the term Blot suggests. 
    • Most contemporary Nordic Pagans have replaced blood with mead, thinking that they are maintaining the same meaning of a distribution of life energy between the participants and their gods. 
    • The old ceremony would conclude with the attendees eating on the sacrificed animal, which had been prepared. 



    Similarly, modern Nordic Pagans end their Blots with a feast. Although the Sumbel and the Blot are the most well-known and frequently practiced rituals in the Nordic Pagan community, there are others.

    • Seid or Seith (Icelandic Seir), a Shamanistic ritual including trancelike, oracular states utilized for contacting gods and spirits, as well as life cycle ceremonies for births, comings of age, marriages, and funerals, are among them.



    You may also want to read more about Asatru, Norse Paganism and Nordic Pagans here.


    You may also want to read more about Paganism here.

    Be sure to check out my writings on Religion here.



    Online Resources


    American Asatru Associations




    Icelandic Asatru Association


    Ásatrúarfelagi≥ (Asatru Fellowship of Iceland). At http://www.asatru.is.


    Icelandic Photography



    Statistical Information


    • Hagstofa Islands (Office of Statistics, Government of Iceland). 2004. “Ísland ítölum 2002–2003” (Iceland in Numbers). Reykjavík, Hagstofa Islands. At http://www.hagstofa.is.


    Asatru Publications Available Online


    • “The Asatru Folk Assembly: Building Tribes and Waking the Spiritual Path of OurAncestors.” Available at http://www.runestone.org/




    Asatru - Norse/Nordic Paganism - Ambiguities in Europe



    There is some uncertainty in terms of what Nordic Paganism is, where it originated from, and who it is for when Nordic Pagans in the United States talk of their European roots or ancestors. 


    • Asatru or Heathenry is often described by Nordic Pagans as the religious manifestation of the cultural legacy of “Northern European” peoples, or even, as in the Runestone text mentioned above, of “Europeandescended” peoples. 
    • The lack of clarity regarding which particular linguistic or cultural group the contemporary religion is derived from or connected to is remarkable, given the variety of countries and language groups that have existed in Europe and especially Northern Europe from ancient times to the present. 


    Many Nordic Pagans seem to have a propensity to "essentialize" Northern Europe, and occasionally Europe in general, as the "country of our ancestors," without specifying which ancestors lived in which region, spoke which language, and so on. 


    • Because most Nordic Pagans base their religion on the worship of Odin, Thor, and other gods from Old Norse–Icelandic literature, it appears that the religious heritage of one region of Northern Europe is being used as a convenient shorthand for respecting the collective religious heritage of a more diverse group of past peoples and cultures, that of pre-Christian Northern Europe. 
    • The general ambiguity of American Nordic Pagan views of the Northern European "homeland" is a poignant commentary on the distance that separates American Heathens and Asatru followers from their spiritual ancestors' homelands, but it also helps to mediate conflicting definitions of Nordic heritage and divergent loyalties toward different specific regions of Northern Europe. 
    • However, some Nordic Pagans are very educated and eloquent about the regional variations of old Northern European culture and religion, and they travel to meet with their Pagan counterparts in Iceland and other countries. 
    • Heathens and Asatruar who gain a thorough understanding of the texts, traditions, and languages of pre-Christian Northern European peoples are highly respected in their communities, and they frequently publish articles in Asatru or Heathen magazines, as well as compete in lore contests at Things and other important events. 


    Nordic Paganism's Origins 


    Nordic paganism is a type of reconstructed paganism. 


    • The main source materials are literary works produced in medieval Iceland in the Germanic-Scandinavian language known as Old Norse or Old Icelandic, which is very close to contemporary Icelandic, between the years 1100 and 1300. 
    • Modern Nordic Pagans think that these writings retain pagan ideas from long before Iceland's conversion from Norse Paganism to Christianity in the year 1000, which will be explored in more detail later. Modern Nordic Pagans value a number of different types of literature. 
    • The Poetic Edda, for example, is a collection of mostly mythological poems, with individual Eddic poems recounting the world's past creation and future destruction, the nature of the Norse universe, the adventures and misadventures of the various gods, as well as the exploits of certain nondivine heroes and heroines. 


    A companion book, the Prose Edda, authored by medieval Icelandic scholar and politician Snorri Sturluson, has more material on the same subjects. 

    Odin, the one-eyed deity of knowledge, battle, magic, and poetry, among other abilities and duties, is the Norse gods' commander. 

    Other notable Norse deities include Thor, the dependable protector of humanity who wields a hammer to slay malevolent giants and other foes; 


    • Tyr, god of war and oaths; 
    • Frigg, Odin's wise wife; 
    • Baldur, Odin's son, fated to be slain by his own brother and then return from death to rule the world; 
    • Loki, the sometimes harmful, sometimes helpful god of guile and trickery; 


    Other supernatural creatures, such as Elves and Landspirits, are revered in both old Norse tradition and contemporary Nordic Paganism, and are portrayed in less depth in Old Norse literature. 


    The Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda are the most important sources of information on pre-Christian Norse religion in Iceland and Scandinavia, but another category of texts, novel-like narratives known as the Sagas, is just as important for providing a realistic picture of Icelandic life and society in the early centuries of Icelandic history. 


    The so-called Family Sagas, which account of families, feuds, and political maneuverings among the earliest generations of Icelandic settlers after the arrival of the first Vikings in the latter third of the ninth century CE, are particularly important. 



    Modern Nordic Pagans draw most of their knowledge of Norse organizations like the Thing and the godi, as well as ceremonial practices like the Blot, from the Sagas. 


    • The Sagas also had a significant effect on contemporary views about the morals and ethics of ancient Pagans, with the heroes and heroines of the Sagas acting as role models in the same way as Jews and Christians regard prominent figures from the Old and New Testaments. 
    • Despite the fact that the Eddas and Sagas are by far the most revered and important books among contemporary Nordic Pagans, other texts and sources of knowledge are extensively shared and debated. 
    • Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla is a semihistorical, semimythological narrative of ancient Norwegian monarchs that includes information about gods, rituals, and life and culture on the Scandinavian mainland (as opposed to the Icelandic focus of the Sagas). 
    • Skaldic poetry, an ancient Icelandic form dating back to the Viking era, provide vivid stories about warrior heroes and gods. 



    There are other writings that aren't Norwegian or Icelandic. 


    • Beowulf, a medieval AngloSaxon epic about Scandinavian warrior life, is a prized literary gem from England. 
    • More fragmentary Anglo-Saxon texts, such as the Nine Spells Charm (Rodrigues 1993), provide insight into AngloSaxon variants of Norse Paganism, such as the Norse Odin worshipped as the Anglo-Saxon Woden in England.
    • The poem The Dream of the Rood, which combines Christian and Norse Pagan motifs in strange and startling ways. 
    • The Merseburg Charm, a fragmented German book, describes charms and incantations including mythical material. 
    • The Nibelungenlied, a German epic, is well-known as an example of warrior ethics. 


    Folk and fairy stories from Germany and Scandinavia are also prized as representations of Nordic sensitivity toward life and environment. 


    • The Gesta Danorum, a Latin history of the Danes written by an ancient monk named Saxo Grammaticus, offers alternative and often startlingly different versions of Eddic mythology and gods. 
    • Germania, a Roman historian's description of German tribes on the outskirts of the Empire, is also regarded as the oldest documented literature connected to Germanic-Scandinavian peoples. 


    The majority of Nordic Pagans read these works in English translation, while academic Pagans study the native languages. 

    The importance of many nontextual sources of knowledge regarding historical Nordic life and culture is considerable. 



    The ancient kings' graves in Denmark and Sweden, as well as Viking tombstones and runic inscriptions on the Baltic island of Gotland and the site of the first Icelandic Thing parliament at Thingvellir, are all places of Nordic Pagan pilgrimage. 


    • From documentary programs on the Discovery Channel television network to archaeological publications, discussions of the history and importance of such sites are closely followed in both popular and academic media. 
    • The ancient Scandinavian writing and symbol system, known as runes, has sparked considerable interest among contemporary Nordic Pagans, who believe the runes have mystical, ceremonial significance. 



    While it is undeniably true that contemporary Nordic Pagans have a very favorable, even idealized view of previous Nordic history and culture, their perspective is not without flaws. 

    • They are only interested in reconstructing a few elements of the Vikings' and other previous Nordic peoples' worldviews and lifestyles, and they admit that there are other characteristics, such as slavery and wanton brutality, that they would rather leave in the past. 
    • Many Nordic Pagans are aware of academic disputes over Nordic history and are aware that, like current Nordic Paganism, contemporary knowledge of the Nordic past is always changing via the collision of different views and interpretations.


    You may also want to read more about Asatru, Norse Paganism and Nordic Pagans here.


    You may also want to read more about Paganism here.

    Be sure to check out my writings on Religion here.




    Online Resources


    American Asatru Associations




    Icelandic Asatru Association


    Ásatrúarfelagi≥ (Asatru Fellowship of Iceland). At http://www.asatru.is.


    Icelandic Photography



    Statistical Information


    • Hagstofa Islands (Office of Statistics, Government of Iceland). 2004. “Ísland ítölum 2002–2003” (Iceland in Numbers). Reykjavík, Hagstofa Islands. At http://www.hagstofa.is.


    Asatru Publications Available Online


    • “The Asatru Folk Assembly: Building Tribes and Waking the Spiritual Path of OurAncestors.” Available at http://www.runestone.org/




    Asatru - Norse/Nordic Paganism - Folkish vs. Universalist



    Divisions and Disputes 


    Conflicts have erupted in the United States between the three divisions of Nordic Paganism, as well as dozens of smaller local associations and nonaffiliated solitary worshippers, over differing definitions and interpretations of the Nordic heritage that all of these organizations and individuals are dedicated to reviving and upholding. 


    The question of whether this heritage is primarily cultural, as preserved in the myths, texts, arts, languages, and other cultural expressions of ancient NorseGermanic peoples, or genetic or racial, as encoded in the genes or DNA, collective unconscious, or racial memory of people of Northern European ancestry, is a hot topic of debate. 





    The two perspectives are frequently mediated by a third position in which Nordic heritage transmission is understood as both genetic and cultural; 

    • Inherited from ancestors as a genetic predisposition that is activated by cultural stimulation, but also passed on and shared via cultural communication to people of unrelated ancestry. 

    There is also a fourth viewpoint, which might be described as a more theological one: 

    • The Nordic gods exist as real, supernatural beings who reach out to people who want to become Heathens, imparting Nordic spirituality directly to whomever they choose, independent of genetics or culture. 


    The viewpoint that each group and individual member takes on this genetic/cultural split defines who is eligible to participate in the rebirth of Nordic Paganism. 


    Whether Nordic Pagan groups limit their membership to people of Northern European ancestry or open their doors to anyone with a spiritual interest in the Nordic cultural heritage depends on whether the Nordic heritage is understood as something passed through genes and ancestry, culture alone, or a combination of the two. 


    These two views were long contested as “folkish” vs “universalist” forms of Nordic Paganism among the American Asatru/Heathenry community. 


    • If Nordic Pagan organizations limited participation in Asatru or Heathenry to Northern European "folk," that is, individuals of Northern European origin, with some reference to nineteenth-century 
    • Romantic notions of each country having a collective "folk-soul," they were characterized as folkish. 


    The universalist term was given to individuals who thought that anybody, regardless of race or ethnic origin, might join a Heathen or Asatru organization if they showed a genuine interest in Asatru— if, as one interviewee put it, they felt a strong “pull” toward the old Nordic gods. 


    • The AFA and the Asatru Alliance have tended to prefer a more ancestrally focused folkish viewpoint, while the Troth has favored a more open-to-all, feel-the-pull, universalist viewpoint. 
    • Some have ridiculed the universalist-leaning Troth as "Wiccatru," which refers to an unholy mix of Asatru and Wicca. 



    However, dividing these organizations, as well as the numerous smaller groups and individuals associated with them, into folkish vs universalist, racist versus nonracist groupings, is not true, no matter how appealing it may seem to those seeking tidy categories and classifications. 


    • The ideas at stake in the folkish-versus-universalist argument are not established matters of doctrine in any of these groups, but they are open to dispute in all of them. 
    • The never-ending arguments in Judaism over who is allowed to be a Jew and under what circumstances and with what limitations a non-Jewish person may convert to Judaism are a good analogy. 
    • Individual kindreds and individuals take a wide range of positions on this and many other issues, owing to the decentralized structure of authority in Asatru and Heathenry, with the AFA, Troth, and Asatru Alliance only being umbrella organizations, not hierarchical authorities delineating a strict party line for all to follow, regardless of the stances of such leading figures as Steven McNallen of the Asatru Alliance. 



    An additional complication is that, despite their apparent doctrinal differences, members of various Nordic Pagan groups often communicate with one another. 


    • Even when disagreements arise in e-mail discussion groups or other forums, the similarities among various Nordic Pagans or Heathens usually exceed the differences. 
    • Even among the more exclusive or folkish Nordic Pagans, the desire to preserve the cultural and spiritual heritage that they see as a cultural and/or genetic inheritance from Northern European ancestors is not an assertion of superiority over other peoples with different ethnic traditions, nor is it a call for hatred against other peoples and their traditions. 



    As one writer in the AFA magazine Runestone puts it, 


    • "It is a sad commentary on our times that murmurs raised in pride by Europeandescended people would attract charges of "racist," while furious screams from other groups will not." 
    • WE ARE NOT RACE HATERS (unless being of European heritage and not hating yourself is racist). 
    • We condemn all forms of racial hate and intimidation, regardless of who is perpetrating them. We celebrate brave men and women of all races, ethnicities, and religions. 



    The AFA sympathizes with all ethnic and racial groups in their struggles to preserve their identity and advance their legitimate interests... 

    After that, we'd want to point out that we're not pathetic ethno-masochists, cowering in front of the politically correct court, ready to apologize for existing. 

    We are proud of the many generations who have given us birth, and we shall proudly stand as their sons and daughters. (“The Asatru Folk Assembly: Building Tribes and Awakening Our Ancestors' Spiritual Path,” Asatru Folk Assembly website) 



    In contrast, Raven Kindred North, an East Coast Asatru group, supports the idea that, although Nordic Paganism is about Northern European ancestry, it is not only for Europeans. 


    • “Asatru is for everyone who wishes to live with respect and serve the Eddic Gods,” the group's advertising material says. 
    • Anyone, regardless of gender, race, color, nationality, national origin, or any other dividing criterion, may become an Asatru. It is NOT necessary to be of European ancestry”. 



    To give you a taste of a third, somewhat different point of view, consider the following statement from the Asatru Alliance's promotional literature: 


    “Prior to the Christian dominance of Europe, Asatru was the native/organic religion of the peoples of Northern Europe... Those who actively promote and believe in the Aesir and Vanir [the two major groups of gods in Norse mythology] and our common European heritage are invited to join the Alliance. Anyone interested in joining the Asatru Alliance should seek approval from their Kindred of choice” 


    (Asatru Alliance website).


    You may also want to read more about Asatru, Norse Paganism and Nordic Pagans here.


    You may also want to read more about Paganism here.

    Be sure to check out my writings on Religion here.



    Online Resources


    American Asatru Associations




    Icelandic Asatru Association


    Ásatrúarfelagi≥ (Asatru Fellowship of Iceland). At http://www.asatru.is.


    Icelandic Photography



    Statistical Information


    • Hagstofa Islands (Office of Statistics, Government of Iceland). 2004. “Ísland ítölum 2002–2003” (Iceland in Numbers). Reykjavík, Hagstofa Islands. At http://www.hagstofa.is.


    Asatru Publications Available Online


    • “The Asatru Folk Assembly: Building Tribes and Waking the Spiritual Path of OurAncestors.” Available at http://www.runestone.org/