Dear Asatru,

We need to talk
When I got involved with the greater Heathen religious movement in the early 2000’s, Asatru was the preferred nomenclature for anyone who didn’t identify as Theodish belief. It didn’t matter if you were Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, or Icelandic, you were Asatru. I can only speculate as to why that was, but I strongly suspect a good deal of it was a lack of access to information. Many of us learned Heathenry from the Eddas, the Sagas, and bad Victorian scholarship.

As the years have passed, there has started to be somewhat of a divide in the community. On one path are those who identify under the banner of Heathen, who actively engage in trying to understand not just who or how the Arch Heathens worshiped, but how they thought and why these practices were meaningful. On the other path are those who identify under the banner of Asatru, who are more interested in grafting a branch of Norse belief onto the modern Wiccan influenced Neo-Pagan movement, including the trappings of that movement.
There is a very key difference that I believe separates the two of these paths, and that is the view of the individual. The reconstruction path takes the view that the individual is an expression and a representation of the tribe. Therefore, whatever the individual does, it is not for themselves, but for the good (or ill) of the tribe. If someone engages in activities to improve themselves, they are not just improving themselves, but affecting their kin as a whole. The more Neo-Pagan influenced path is focused on the self, and sees each person as an individual. Self-improvement in this case would be for the self.

This difference expresses itself into how the divine is approached. When the reconstructionist approaches the divine, he does so with his tribe, or at least representing his tribe. When the Neo-Pagan approaches the divine, they do so on a more personal level. Therefore, the way we do ritual, even if we are doing the same physical actions and saying the same words is profoundly different. It also can cause many arguments when there is a discussion about “solo ritual.” There are no solitary Heathens in the reconstructionist mindset. Everyone has tribe by the sheer fact they were born into a family, they live in a community, and they interact with others on a daily basis. One can be a solitary Neo-Pagan.

There is a last area of divide in the road, and that has to do with how we see the world. The reconstructionist mindset tends to be very world accepting. Rarely do you hear the reconstructionist talk about dying with honor or going to Valhalla. Life is taken on life’s terms, with the understanding that the purpose of life is to create luck for your kin. There is no need to be “called by Odin” or other such special favor of the gods. In more Neo-Pagan circles, the opposite is true, and there is an expectation of having a patron deity that takes an active, personal interest in your life.

When I first joined this movement, I fell into the first camp. I had 20 years of living a worldview that is focused on the individual and not the tribe. It took me another ten to finally understand what it means to be Heathen, to live in a state of frith and feel the awe inspiring power of my ancestors. I have come to find that the approach offered by Neo-Pagan and New Age inspired paths doesn’t offer me the same things.
Asatru has become the Neo-Pagan path. Heathenry has become the reconstructionist paths. Once we all walked together down road that was neglected and rarely used. This was meaningful and helped Heathenry grow into what we are now. However, the path is splitting, and it is time to say goodbye to Asatru. Your beliefs are not mine, your worship is not mine, and I no longer wish to be seen as a part of your system of belief. I no longer want groups who claim the title Asatru to control the public dialogue about who my kindred is and how the greater public perceives us.

Goodbye Asatru. You served your purpose in my life. However, we’ve grown apart. It’s not me, it’s you.

 

Lauren

Posted by Lauren

Lauren is one of the hosts of Heathen Talk and holds the title of SHMBO of Black Bear Kindred of Central Arkansas. She prides herself on being able to leverage Heathen Talk into getting hired at her dream job.

Website: http://www.accessibleheathenryproject.org

This article has 8 Complaints

  1. Your article: Dear Asatru, may be right for USA, but think that the word Heathen or Heathenry has no translation in some other languages. So that the denomination Asatru may have a neo-pagan aspect in USA but not obligatory in the rest of the world.

  2. The clear historical lineage of white supremacism is Odinism, essentially as formulated by Guido von List and then passing through The Thule Society to the Nazis and then to the United States through individuals such as Else Christensen and Stephen McNallen. That McNallen appropriated the Icelandic word “Asatru” and several Wiccan holidays to his Odinism in the mid-1970’s and *called* it Asatru is something rarely discussed in the United States, because so many are relatively new and uninterested in that history.

    Intentional obfuscation has muddied all non-Icelandic uses of the word Asatru, and I think the growing use of “Heathen” reflects that discomfort.

    I have met very few white supremacists who prefer the words “Heathen” or “Pagan” to “Odinist” or “Asatru,” so I suspect that it may eventually be abandoned to them.

  3. I completely agree with HederaHelix. There is a problem with Asatru in the US. It is important to note, that paganism in the US (and its communities) is different to pagan groups and practices in Europe. Where I live, Wicca hasn’t infested everything, even though there are people who try to bring esoteric elements into paganism. There are a lot of differences, because naturally, paganism means you are connected to the land, which in turn means there are local differences.

  4. Asattru has NOTHING to do with neo nazi or any thing else here in Denmark we honor our old gods we worship them that must be an american problem dont judge the rest of the world because you guys have to many bigots thats try to destroy the faith by hiding their racist belives under the term asatru
    this is not the thing here in Dk we honor our ancestors we honor our gods

    1. Varg Vikernes is from Norway, I believe, and lives in France. I enjoy his videos, but he can very much be racist. Racism in Heathenry is, unfortunately, a problem for many people.

  5. The problem here is not heathens, Asatru, etc, it is the political (and it is) identity of Folkish/Volkish. While this identity does not require one to be racist, it surely contain ALL the racists in the group in question.

  6. Lauren, I agree with you to a point. We certainly need to define ourselves as being separate from racist bigots.

    However, when I was interviewing people for my book and asked, “What flavor of Heathen would you call yourself?” most of my respondents couldn’t or wouldn’t classify themselves along any line because their beliefs are so nuanced, as are mine. When I was called (and there’s no other way to describe it other than possibly haunted) by Hela nearly 19 years ago, I was part of a very small community on a military base overseas. There was no other word that I knew of other than Asatru, not until I returned to the States in 2004. It wasn’t until I met the folk in NW Arkansas that I even heard the word Heathenry attached to my belief system. Being Heathen was one of the reasons I pursued my MA in Medieval History. Even now, thought, I can’t say I’m a reconstructionist, even though I do try to consider how things may have been. But that’s just it, we don’t know. We’ll never know unless someone invents time travel. And now that I’m in the Heathen no man’s land that is SE Tennessee, I say that I’m solitary just because I have no Heathen community with which to do anything. You’ve always had your kindred, the comfort of knowing Ben & Dee have your back even when you distanced yourself for a while. Many of us do not have that comfort. Even though I’m part of a secular community here and have friends, there are only a couple I’ve even mentioned my religion to because I don’t feel safe doing so. That’s what makes it solitary. I’m not safe. It is alienating and frustrating and saddens me deeply. What other word would you suggest those of us without a Heathen community call ourselves? I’m willing to use another word, I just don’t know what that would be. You know I rarely, rarely engage in online Heathen boards, etc. because of the nastiness there, so maybe a new word has been suggested and used but I don’t know it.

    Do I think we need to differentiate ourselves from the racist bigots in the AFA and elsewhere? Hels yeah! I really hope we can do that. I’m certainly willing to drop the word Asatru as any kind of identifier for myself and other non-dickhead folk if that’s what needs to happen. But trust me, there are a lot of nuances in our personal beliefs and drawing a line between reconstructionist and neo-pagan isn’t where you want to draw it. Doing so alienates all of the European women I interviewed, as well as their communities, on top of many, many good folk here in the US. I really don’t think that’s our goal here. Differentiating ourselves from racist bigots is the goal, right?

  7. Unfortunately, our modern culture is fixated with labelling and people are more comfortable when that label has a clear-cut definition. I personally self-identify more as Heathen than Asatru and agree with nearly everything that Alvilldr in fägra responded with, myself being solitary not out of choice but circumstance. I don’t see productive utility in delineating Heathenry and Asatru as described in your essay, as there’s a wide array of overlap and characteristics of each that are important, productive and spiritually fulfilling. A collective goal should be to make our belief system accessible and many respectable books have been published with Asatru somewhere in the title. Both personal and tribal relationships with the deities are equally important. While the kindred has a shared path, each member has their own unique life challenges and situations so a personal (and family unit) relationship with a particular deity is crucial at times. There are very few documented accounts of genuine witnessed Heathen ritual (e.g. Tacitus’ Germania), probably evolved considerably over time, varied widely from one tribe to the next, one kingdom to the next, so reconstruction can only go so far in terms of accuracy. One attribute of our faith that is refreshing is the abandonment of dogma in how we worship. While identifying, condemning and alienating the racist bigots among us is absolutely necessary, making them synonymous with Asatru is harmful to us as a whole. Say goodbye to the Asatruar that have put a bad taste in your mouth if you want, but don’t disregard others if they aren’t willing to make that same defining delineation as you have.

How are we doing it wrong?