Frequently Asked Questions
This is the FAQ written up for a “potential” newsgroup SRA – soc.religion.asatru It is a collaborative effort spanning most major Asatru organisations and while far from comprehensive does provide answers that all can pretty much agree upon (and that’s saying a lot). It was created by a consensual process by individuals and representatives of various organizations from the Ásatrú community with strongly held and varying views and therefore represents areas of non-disagreement, which necessarily limits the scope.
What is Ásatrú? Ásatrú is a Norse term meaning literally a faith or belief in Gods, specifically the Old Norse and Germanic Gods known collectively as the Æsir. Ásatrú has its roots in ancient customs and beliefs, although it is best known from the Viking age when the old world view and the emerging Christian faith clashed and which was the period that the stories and customs were written down. As with many other ethnic or folk religions there was no specific name for the religion, although Ásatrú, Vor tru, “our faith,” or Forn Sed, “ancient customs/ways” are phrases/words that are used in the modern world to describe this faith. The religion was part of the culture, and the beliefs revealed not only in the mythology, but also in the customs, ethics, and laws, much of which has survived as a cultural ethos. Agreed to January 24, 2001
Who are the Gods and Goddesses of Ásatrú? Then spoke Gangleri: “Which are the Aesir that men ought to believe in?” Hárr said: “There are twelve Aesir whose nature is divine.” Then spoke Jafnhárr: “No less holy are the Asyniur, nor is their power less.” These are the words that introduce the gods and goddesses of the Norse and Germanic people to King Gangleri in Snorri Sturluson’s Edda. Here we find the a listing of the Aesir (gods), Asynjur (goddesses) and other beings of the Norse mythology and brief stories presented from the ancient mythology in an account written down at the end of the Viking Age. First named is Odin, his son Balder, Thor and his wife, Sif; Tyr, Njord and his son and daughter, Freyr and Freya, Bragi, Heimdall, Hod, Vidar, Ali, Ullr, Loki, Aegir and his wife, Ran. Also named are many of the goddesses, who include, among others, Frigg, Freya, Lofn, Var, and Skadi. The mythology also preserves an account a story of two warring groups of deities, the Aesir and the Vanir who pledged a truce with one another and are referred to now collectively as the Aesir. In English speaking countries four of the days of the week are named after these gods. Tuesday comes from Tiu’s day who is also known as Tyr. Wednesday comes from a compound meaning “Odin’s day,” Thursday from “Thor’s day” with Friday from “Freya’s day.” Throughout Scandinavia and northern Europe we find places that were dedicated anciently and named for the gods and goddesses who are still honored in this day and age. 1/30/01
What are the beliefs of Ásatrú? Ásatrú beliefs are rooted in the past and in the sacred mythos and cosmology of the Old Norse and Germanic people. As an ethnic or folk religion the authoritative source of belief that can legitimately be considered Ásatrú are the precedents found in the traditions, myths, folklore, literature, laws, customs, and cultural concepts which were shaped by belief in the Æsir and other supernatural beings and powers. There is no historical founder or prophet who made revealed pronouncements of law or belief. There is no central authority that lays down dogma or tenets. There is no injunction to proselytize, or any precedent for intolerance of other beliefs. This deep respect for tradition and custom is based on a underlying concept, ørlog, that is central to the cosmology and belief system of the old Norse and Germanic people, as well as Ásatrú today. . The word is a compound, ‘ør,’ something that is beyond or “primal” or “above/beyond the ordinary” and “leggja,” “to lay,” “to place,” or “to do.” It has the meaning of primal or earliest law, the earliest things accomplished or done. These things are sacred and provide the foundation of the Old Norse beliefs and rites of Ásatrú. They are symbolized in the mythology by the World Tree, which grows at the Well of Urdh or Wyrd. The norns water the World Tree with the water from the Well of Urdh which deposits layers of sediment over the roots, demonstrating the active, accretionary, growing nature of reality. The perception of being is also a reflection of this basic concept. Like the tree, a person continues to grow and change through experience and study, with each new experience or knowledge growing out of that which was experienced or learned before. A particularly numinous quality called hamingja, “luck” or “fortune”, can also be accumulated and passed on to ones descendents. In spiritual terms, this legacy can refer to wisdom, personality, or talent, while in practical terms, this can include one’s wealth, reputation and external family ties. 2/15/2001
How is Ásatrú organized? Ásatrú begins with individuals and families who may associate in small groups called félagið, or lagur (fellowships), godhordhs, kindreds, garths and hearths, among other historically based terms. They may be entirely independent or may be affiliated in or with a larger organization. A few larger organizations may be further allianced with one another. The most common term for an Ásatrú religious leader is Goði (masculine form) and Gyðia (feminine form), Goðar (plural). The word refers to a position comparable to that of a priest, but is translated from the Old Norse as chieftain, as are some similiar terms such as Drighten that may signify essentially the same thing but with more administrative duties in larger groups. 2/17/2001
Are Ásatrú and Odinism the same thing? There are Ásatrúar and Odinists who feel that they are the same religion, while many others who are Ásatrúar or Odinist feel there are distinct differences. The term “Odinist” refers to an individual who is primarily dedicated to Odin, and as such could also consider themselves Ásatrú, Wiccan, Neo-pagan or simply Odinist, depending on the rites, fellowship and beliefs that they express their dedication to that deity (and associated deities) in.
What are the rites and ceremonies of Ásatrú? The rites and ceremonies of Ásatrú are based on cultural observances of the old Norse and Germanic people, many of which continued in the culture and societies that followed without a recognition of the sacral aspect that they were imbued with in the beginning. One such ritual is the highly ceremonial toast following a formal meal, which parallels the sumbel (ON sumbl). The sumbel is a ceremony that includes drinking communally and offering up inspired speech that was binding in terms of oath and intent, as illustrated in Beowulf and other Norse/Germanic literature. A blót, sacrifice or blessing, is an offering to deity or other supernatural beings. The offering may be a simple sharing of food or drink by an individual to a more elaborate community ceremony. These ceremonies may be performed indoors, or outside in a natural setting. Additonal ceremonies include the naming of a child and its acceptance into the family (ausa vatni), burials, healing, blessings in time of need and divination among others. 2/25/2001
Is there magic in Ásatrú? Like many other ethnic or folk religions there are magical components in Ásatrú based on a perception of an interactivity and interconnectivity between the natural and supernatural world that can be effected by men as well as gods through various methods. In the Eddas, sagas, and other literature we find both men and gods depicted using and teaching galdr (magical chants and songs), seið (a shamanistic magic involving altered states of consciousness and communication with spirits and gods) and runes (referring to the Norse/Germanic alphabet which had magical associations). Divination and auguries were also an important part of the spiritual and religious views of the Old Norse and Germanic people. In modern terms, seidh, galdr, and runes are incorporated in various ways and to varying degrees in both personal and community practice of the religion. As in the past, many do not practice nor necessarily believe in magic or see it as a necessary expression of the faith today. 3/1/01
How does one become Ásatrú? As with any religion, the answer to this question depends more on the individual asking it than anything else. Essentially, you are Ásatrú when you feel yourself to be Ásatrú. Others will recognize you as Ásatrú when you behave in a manner consistent with a belief in the Aesir, and indicative of a desire to meet their standards for a “good person”. Some feel that a rite of passage, an oath, or a formal renunciation of your previous life is necessary to indicate your new devotion. Others feel that this is not necessary at all – that the gods know the sincerity with which somebody claims to be Ásatrú. In general, if you can say “I am Ásatrú”, and really mean it, you have become Ásatrú. 3/23/01
Participants in the process of producing this FAQ as a consensus collaboration among and by the following participants, individuals representative of the diverse community of Asatru:
Susan Granquist – Irminsul Aettir, Greg Shetler, Nik Warrenson – New Zealand Ásatrú Fellowship, Åsatrufellesskapet_Bifrost, Hraesvelg Odinsson, Eagle Kindred, Asatru Alliance, Rorik Radford, Steven McNallen – Asatru Folk Assembly, Valgard Murray – Asatru Alliance, Jenny Blaine – The Troth, Bil Linzie Steward – The Troth, AVA Laurence Hiner, Wodalf@aol.com, Mike Dodd, Dirk Bruere – Odinic Rite
This FAQ is dedicated to the gods and the Asatru community, and hereby placed in the public domain.