What is Asatru?
Trying to define
Asatru can be rather like trying to nail jelly to a tree -
whenever one is
convinced it has stuck it finds a way around the nail to land once more at your feet. The word
itself is easy enough - it was invented by Scandinavian antiquarians in the 1830's to describe the
ethical and religious leanings of their forebearers. Literally it means "True to the Aesir", one of
the families of gods and goddesses worshipped by the Vikings. But the concepts go back much
farther, and are indeed much broader than medieval Scandinavia.
Five thousand of
years ago a people known as the Indo-Europeans swept out of
across steppe and sea in a wave of conquest, trade and exploration.. Asatru is essentially their
cultural legacy, now worldwide, wherever their descendants roamed. Scandinavia is simply the
last place this culture existed in it's purest form, untouched by the influx of Semitic and Oriental
religion and culture.
Asatru is a tribal
or folk religion. As such, it shares much with other tribal
those of the Native Americans. However, unlike nearly every other tribal religion, Asatru has a
written body of lore, the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda and many, many sagas, all collected in
Iceland in the Middle Ages and preserved.
An Asatru Kindred,
such as Ravenswood, is the modern expression of the tribe. It is
not a church,
although there is a strong religious aspect. Legally, it is a religious order. It is not exactly a
family, although the members consider one another to be kin. It somewhat like a fraternity, such
as the Masonic Orders, where one is bound by oath to ones fellows. We have no dogma, or
formal creed, although we do have a set of shared beliefs. Perhaps the best way to think of
Asatru is as an ethic, as a philosophy or a way of life. This ethic is best expressed in the Nine
Asatru places the
highest value of human freedom and individuality. This is true in
and religious matters, and is so strong that while we honor our gods and goddesses, we will
never grovel before them. The Shining Gods and Goddesses (the Aesir and the Vanir of
Scandinavian tradition) are models and inspirations: self-aware personifications of the forces of
nature and of life. They are our friends, but never will they be our masters, and we will never be
their slaves. We do not bow our heads before them, we do not bend the knee or surrender our
judgment or our sovereignty.
Asafolk view the
gods in many different lights. There are those of us who nearly
believing the Gods and Goddesses to be manifestations of pure Nature, and preferring to trust in
their own might and judgment entirely. For these folks, Asatru provides a context for their culture
and it's continuity. Others are literalists, believing the Eddas and Sagas to be divinely inspired,
and believing the gods and goddesses to be literal physical entities. Most fall somewhere in the
middle: finding our roots in the culture and our spiritual path on the road with the Shining Gods
The cultural context
that Asatru presents is indeed immense. Most of the holidays that
celebrate were original with our ancestors. Yule trees were decorated to celebrate, and the
Ostara bunny left his eggs in the grass at the Vernal Equinox. Even the days of the week reflect
our heathen heritage: Sunna's Day, Moon's Day, Tiw's Day, Woden's Day, Thor's Day, Frigga's
Day ... Saturn's Day was a Roman addition. Our system of common law and jurisprudence has it's
roots in the Thing, a general meeting of the community. This system, which has survived in
America, Scandinavia and England is utterly unlike the Roman or Middle Eastern system of
judges without juries and commands by divine kings.
At it core, Asatru
believes in human action. No waiting for the afterlife to be
happy: you must
seize your happiness in the here and now! By heroic action you can take your life in your own
hands. You are indeed the "Captain of Your Fate" and the "Master of Your Soul".
The family is the
pillar of Asatru. By tradition, people have been devoted to
family, and rightly
so, for the family is the basis of all enduring social achievements. Where families are strong,
freedom is guaranteed. Where they are weak, tyranny flowers, and freedom dies.
Beyond the family is
the community, not just other Asafolks, but the communities in
live and work. Asatru has no concept of doing good for the community merely for the sake of
doing good for the community. We believe that our deeds reflect our souls: to the extent that those
deeds build our family and our community we are spiritually healthy.
Our concepts of an
afterlife are fully consistent with our other beliefs. Those who
travel to the realm of the gods, Asgard. Evildoers and oathbreakers are sent to Nifelhel, a realm
of cold and fog. There is also a persistent belief in reincarnation, usually, but not always, within
the family line. Thus do our ancestors live again through us. This has caused Asatru to sometimes
be described as a "Norse Shinto"; Shinto being the ancestor worship as currently practiced in
Japan. And indeed, there are many parallels.
Asatru is practiced
in many ways. We celebrate the seasons with feasts and festivals,
the original customs to the best of our abilities. We practice many crafts, from brewing to
weaving. We honor the gods and goddesses on their special days. We remember our ancestors
and the heroes whose lives stand as examples to us. But most of all, we attempt to live our lives
with honor, enriching our families and our communities
The Kindred of Ravenswood
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