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Asatru

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Ásatrú, Icelandic for "Æsir faith", pronounced [auːsatruː], in Old Norse [aːsatruː], is a polytheistic reconstructionism movement whose focus is reviving the Norse paganism of the Viking Age - as described in the Eddas - prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia.

Ásatrú was established in the 1960s and early 1970s in Iceland, by the Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið, an organization founded by Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson. Ásatrú is a religion officially recognized by the governments of Iceland (since 1973), Norway (since 1994), Denmark (since 2003) and Sweden (since 2007) and Spain (since 2007). The United States government does not officially endorse or recognize any religious group, but numerous Ásatrú groups have been granted nonprofit religious status going back to the 1970s.[1]

Contents

Terminology

Ásatrú is an Icelandic (and equivalently Old Norse) term consisting of two parts. The first is Ása-, genitive of Áss, denoting one of the group of Norse pagan gods called Æsir[2]. The second part, trú, means "faith, word of honour; religious faith, belief"[3] (archaic English troth "loyalty, honesty, good faith"). Thus, Ásatrú means "belief / faith in the Æsir / gods".

The term is the Old Norse/Icelandic translation of Template:Lang, a neologism coined in the context of 19th century romantic nationalism, used by Edvard Grieg in his 1870 opera Olaf Trygvason. The use of the term Ásatrú for Germanic paganism preceding 19th century revivalist movements is therefore an anachronism.

Template:Lang (plural Template:Lang), the term used to identify those who practice Ásatrú is a compound with Template:Lang (Old Norse Template:Lang) "man"[4] In English usage, the genitive Template:Lang "of Aesir faith" is often used on its own to denote adherents (both singular and plural).

While the term Template:Lang as introduced in the 1970s referred specifically to the Icelandic adherents of the religion, Germanic neopagan and reconstructionist groups widely identify themselves as Ásatrú. In this wider sense, the term Template:Lang is used somewhat synonymously with Germanic neopaganism or Germanic paganism, along with the terms Forn Sed, Odinism, Heithni, Heathenry and others.[5]

History

Ásatrú originated as a second (or third) revival of Germanic paganism in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið was founded on summer solstice, 1972, and was recognized as an official religion by the Icelandic government in 1973, largely due to the efforts of Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson. Around this time, Stephen McNallen, a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, began publishing a newsletter titled The Runestone independently of the Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið in the United States. He also formed an organization called the Asatru Free Assembly, which was later renamed the Ásatrú Folk Assembly which is still extant. Else Christensen's Odinism, which is sometimes identified with the term Asatru, originated around the same period. An offshoot of McNallen's group is the Asatru Alliance, headed by Valgard Murray, publisher of the "Vor Tru" newsletter. The Asatru Alliance held its 25th annual "Althing" gathering in 2005.[6]

There is another Norse neopagan group called Vanatrú, who focus on the worship of the Vanir rather than the Æsir. [7]

The Icelandic government has recognized the Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið as an official religion shortly after its inception. Other Scandinavian governments have begun to recognize Germanic neopagan organizations as religious communities with official status from the 1990s (Sweden: Sveriges asatrosamfund 1994; Norway: Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost 1996; Foreningen Forn Sed 1999; Denmark: Forn Siðr, formed in 1999, recognized in 2003[8])

Beliefs & organization

The core belief of the Asatru is the worship of the Norse gods as living, real, super-human entities. Such worship is done in both private and public. The Asatru believe the Norse gods can (and do) wield power in world today. Some Asatru believe that certain runes can channel the power of the gods, controlled, to a degree, by the rune carver.

The main gods which are worshiped are

  • Thor - slayer of giants, protector of humanity. Thor's hammer is the most common symbol of the Asatru.
  • Odin - master of magic, poetry, as well as chaos and death.
  • Tyr - a god of justice, order, and war.
  • Freyr - a god of fertility and good fortune.

A few Asatru also worship Loki, although others within the movement oppose worshiping a god who is dedicated to the destruction of the Earth.

A major event for the Asatru is a Blót (usually held in the fall and again around the December solstice). Historically the Blót was a yearly gathering when many animals (and in some places, men) were sacrificed to the gods. The animals were cooked in large pots and then eaten by the whole community. Modern blots are gatherings where much food is cooked and much beer (or ale or mead) is drunk while the gods are praised and their aid is (sometimes) requested.

Goðar

A Goði or Gothi (plural goðar) is the historical Old Norse term for a priest and chieftain in Norse paganism. Gyðja signifies a priestess. Goði literally means "speaker for the gods", and is used to denote the priesthood or those who officiate over rituals in Ásatrú. Several groups, most notably the Troth have organized clergy programs[1]. However, there is no universal standard for the Goðar amongst organization, and the title is usually only significant to the particular group they work with.[9]

Kindred

A Kindred is a local worship group in Ásatrú. Other terms used are garth, stead, sippe, skeppslag and others. Kindreds are usually grassroots groups which may or may not be affiliated with a national organization like the Asatru Folk Assembly, the Ásatrú Alliance, or the Troth. Kindreds are composed of hearths or families as well as individuals, and the members of a Kindred may be related by blood or marriage, or may be unrelated. The kindred often functions as a combination of extended family and religious group. Membership is managed by the assent of the group.[10]

Kindreds usually have a recognized Goði to lead religious rites, while some other kindreds function more like modern corporations. Although these Goði need only be recognized by the kindred itself and may not have any standing with any other Kindred.

Politics and controversies

Ásatrú organizations have memberships which span the entire political and spiritual spectrum. Many adherents are solitary practitioners who practice their religion alone with their family or a small local community, and are not involved with organized Ásatrú. Despite the wide divergence of beliefs and politics, the sole common denominator amongst adherents of Ásatrú is the goal of reconstructing and practicing the historical pre-Christian religion of the Eddas.

While Ásatrú is generally a tolerant religion, it is sometimes erroneously identified with neo-Nazi and "white power" organizations which also use the same symbolism.[11] The three largest American Ásatrú organizations have specifically denounced any association with racist groups.[12][13][14] There is actually an antagonistic relationship between many neo-Nazis and the membership of most Ásatrú organizations in the USA, who view "National Socialism as an unwanted totalitarian philosophy incompatible with freedom-loving Norse paganism".[15]

There is nevertheless a significant number of self-described adherents of Asatru or Odinism who hold racist or white power ideologies. Mattias Gardell in 2001 estimated that

The racist position has grown tremendously fast in the last four or five years. The militant racists today probably make up between 40% and 50% of Odinists and Asatrúers. And I would say the anti-racist position makes up another 30%. And the remainder goes to the ethnics.[2]

Some Finnish neopagans consider Asatru a part of their faith, while others think it is foreign. Those who make a distinction between Asatru and Finnish neopaganism think Asatru is based too much on beliefs of neighbouring countries and not on their own local traditions. Some even see Asatru as a kind of cultural imperialism.


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