Reprinted with permission from "The Seeker Journal," December 2000.

There are many names for the kind of people I call "Asatru": Norse Pagan, Heathen, Odinist, the Troth, Theodish Belief, even "the religion of the Vikings." Some of us insist on one term and reject the others. In any case, we are the folk who are "true to the Aesir"--the literal meaning of Asatru. We worship the ancient Gods of the Germanic people of Northern Europe: Freya, Thor, Odin, Frigga, Balder, Hel, Sif.

We are not Wiccans. We believe in many Gods, not a God and a Goddess; we meet in Kindreds, Hearths, and Garths, not covens and circles. An Asatru priest is called a gothi; a priestess is a gythia--though in some groups, they may be called elders. We have a Bible--more than one actually. We use the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, and the other ancient sources, such as the Germania of Tacitus, to understand the true roots of our faith.

We tend to be more diverse in our opinions than the Wiccans. We have political conservatives and moderates as well as liberals, feminists, and those suspicious of feminism, gay people, and people worried about "the gay agenda." And many of us don't fit any political pattern--supporting both gun rights and gay rights, for example.

We don't trace the history of our religion back to Gerald Gardner. Our religion was revived in 1907 in Germany by the artist Ludwig Fahrenkrog. One of Fahrenkrog's followers, Dr. Ernst Wachler, built an outdoor theater, the Harzer Bergtheater, and produced plays on Germanic themes. During the Nazi era, Fahrenkrog was forbidden to hold public meetings, his group was forbidden to use their group's symbol, the swastika (which they had been using since before the Nazi movement came along), and Dr. Wachler, a man of Jewish ancestry, was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.

The German group died away in the years after the war (though it has since been revived). It was around 1971 that Asatru again sprang to life. Groups began to form independent of one another, in Iceland, England, and the United States. There are a number of Asatru groups in the U.S. today. The Asatru Folk Assembly, the Asatru Alliance, the Troth, the Odinic Rite-Vinland, and the American Vinland Association are some of the best-known groups.
One belief that some, but not all, Asatru believers share is that ancestry is important to one's spiritual life. Specifically, it is believed that a person with one or more ancestors from Northern Europe will get better spiritual benefits from Asatru than would a person with no Northern European ancestors. Similarly, one might believe that an American Indian would get more benefit from American Indian spiritual traditions than would a European-American dilettante. Some people wrongly fear that this belief might feed race prejudice, but, quite obviously, there are people of all races who have at least one Northern European ancestor.

One source of spiritual wisdom that we have in Asatru is the runes. The runes are an ancient alphabet, but more than just an alphabet. The runes are arranged in a meaningful order, in meaningful groupings. They have been used for magic and divination, but they can also be used for prayer and meditation. There are many books on runes, most of them utter nonsense. Choose a rune book by Edred Thorsson, Freya Aswynn, or Kvedulf Gundarsson.

How do you learn about Asatru? First, go back to the ancient sources--the Poetic and Prose Eddas, for example--and to good scholarly books about the Norse and Germanic peoples and their religion. This takes precedence over the unsupported opinions of modern people about what our ancient religion is.

There are a great many periodicals on Asatru, and it's a good idea to subscribe to a variety. My own, the Nine Virtues News, is a weekly newsletter that covers a lot of religious freedom news and includes Asatru religious articles as well. (Subscription price is $30 a year, $40 in Canada; write to Nine Virtues News, W4213 Co. Rd. 360, Daggett, MI 49821 USA.)

Some other Asatru periodicals:

  • ASA FOLK - Published 4 times a year by the Utah Asatru Kindreds. Subscriptions are $10 for a year. Send to: The Eagle's Kindred, PO Box 521737, Salt Lake City, UT 84152-1737.

  • IDUNNA - Published quarterly by The Troth. Subscriptions $20 in U.S., $24 elsewhere. Write to: The Troth, Box 472, Berkeley, CA 94701.

  • LINA - The quarterly journal of Frigga's Web. Subscriptions $20 annually (U.S. & Canada) payable to Frigga's Web. Frigga's Web, PO Box 721554 Oklahoma City, OK 73172-1554.