My Issues With Modern Asatru

Asatru is the generally accepted term for people who practice pre-Christian Norse religion, so that is what I call my belief system when I describe it to other people. However, I honestly don't know if I can consider myself Asatru. I have a lot of issues with the attitudes prevalent in the community. This is kind of a rant and a little bit of an essay, so please bare with me while I vent and make a few observations along the way.

Firstly, I have an issue with the attitude of "if it isn't in the lore, we don't do it and anyone who does is WRONG." I strongly disagree with that sentiment. If we stick to the lore, we have a bare bones spirituality with very little real spirituality in it. For example, the average Heathen's household shrine (if they even have one) is a table with a hammer, a bowl, and maybe a statue on it. The average Heathen blot consists of people gathering around while the godhi pours out some beer and recites a (usually very short and mechanical) prayer.

This is PATHETIC compared to the rites of surviving polytheistic religions like Hinduism and the Mari Faith. To me, it seems like anything more colorful and emotional than that is written off as "Neopagan influence" which many Heathens loudly and frequently proclaim to be free from and disdainful of. This kind of knee jerk reaction is just stupid. Hinduism, one of the only surviving branches of Indo-European religion and thus a distant cousin to Asatru, has many loud, colorful, and vibrant celebrations of its gods and goddesses. The Mari, the last people in Europe to maintain their ancestral religion, also have several colorful and joyous festivals dedicated to their deities.

This anti-ritual attitude also has a strong undercurrent of wanting to be seen as a "legitimate religion" by the Christian majority, most of whom don't even see Judaism or Islam as legitimate religions. Because most Asatruars were raised in Christian denominations that have very little ceremony in them, I think they subconsciously associate a lack of ritual with being a legitimate religion. This is a Christian concept, not a Germanic one, and it needs to go.

Another issue is the over dependence on written sources and "the lore". Many Asatruar have replace the Bible with "the Lore" and treat the Eddas like scripture. I say stop fooling yourselves. Our "lore" consists of myths written down after the conversion by Christian skalds trying to preserve an artistic style, and a few mentions of sacrificial rites by Christian missionaries who tried (and succeeded) to wipe out the native religion. The lore is so fragmented and broken that it makes me want to weep sometimes. The lore should be a starting point to rebuild our broken traditions, not the limit of them.

Which brings me to the issue of people who believe the gods don't interact with people anymore, or that they have "gone from the world". If you think the gods don't do anything or are "gone" why even bother being part of this religion? In my experience, the gods are real, and they can and DO influence our world and those who worship them. This frightens a lot of people I think. They're used to a god who is distant and removed from the world we live in, not one you can hear in the roar of thunder like Thor, feel in the earth beneath your feet like Freyr, or see in the crash of waves on the beach like Aegir.

Then there are the people who want to be Asatru but believe "our ancestors didn't need the gods and neither do I!" Yeah, right. That nonsense comes from viking movies with little historical accuracy (thank you Hollywood). People who want to "do what my ancestors did" but not need and sometimes not even believe in the gods have completely missed the point. Go larp if you want to act like a viking (which most of our ancestors WERE NOT) but not worship the Norse gods.

There is the over importance of the"viking warrior spirit" that I can't stand. Most of our ancestors were farmers or craftsmen, not warriors, and unless you are in the military or are an extreme martial arts enthusiast, neither are you. People need to quit with the macho "I'm big and bad and have a huge ****" pseudo-warrior code thing. This is mostly a problem with guys, but I've also noticed it in a few women who think they're tough or that "viking women have to be as tough as viking men" (see above statement about how you are not a viking).

Lastly, we come to the Jotnar, aka "giants" and the subject of Loki worshipers. Ever notice how he ALWAYS pops up in a conversation about Norse religion? But that's an issue for another time. I say that if people want to worship Loki (or any other jotun for that matter) then LET THEM. It is their choice, not yours, not mine, or anybody else's. Disapproving of it is fine, but if it really is all that dangerous and likely to bring disaster upon them, then sooner or later they will learn the error of their ways. Also, there are a few references in the lore to certain Jotnar being propitiated. For example, there is mention (however briefly) of an Icelander composing poetry for Surtr, the King of Muspelheim, so Jotun worship does have some (shakey and circumstancial) historical record.

So, those are my issues with Asatru. I hope the community eventually weeds those issues out. I'm sick of reconstructing. I want a living, breathing faith, not some mediocre skeleton of what once was.
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6 Responses Oct 11, 2012

Our religion (actually I dislike the word religion as that implies having to deal with dogmas from people who want to force their own interpretations on others, just as the groups you mention are trying to do) has a very beautiful thing. Just because a lot of these dogmas are missing you are much more free to fill it in your own way. There's a base on which you can build yourself. I tend to think that if it would have developed more in a natural and a spiritual way it would have gone a bit towards the hindu way. I'm adding yoga and Eastern style meditative techniques to my experience in communicating with the Aces, and for me it works pretty well. But I guess everyone has to find their own way, whatever works best for you. The aces won't reject you because you are not a soldier, not a strict follower of the incomplete lore, or because you're not of North or South Germanic descent. Lastly I need to say that if you're not a 'Viking' you're not part of Asatru really makes me laugh. This would mean that all the Germanic peoples South of the Danish-German border (like myself and my ancestors) had no right to believe in the Aces for thousands of years.

I agree. There is so much missing from our history and the ways of our people is something we are relearning, but we must not forget, they did things in the way they understood them.

The gods and goddesses are our ancestors. we can call on them for a hand in times of trouble, but feeling that connection with them is how our for-bearers knew they were working hand in hand with the deities. When i go to my alter and pray, I invite the gods and goddesses to be there with me, not as my masters, but as my friends and loved ones. I share my time and energy with them, and as a gift requires a gift, they do what they can for me, their friend and family.

Any fundamentalist view on religion where your believe yours is the only way, is the fastest way to war.

Very well written article. I definitely consider myself to be a Heathen, but decided at some point that "Asatru" wasn't for me either. My Asatru experiences weren't all negative of course, but here are examples of some that lead me to my decision. I've posted them elsewhere, sorry if readers have seen them before:

1. I once described by pre-Asatru religious experiences to some folks, said that I was glad that Asatru was my new spiritual path, and the testy response was: "Spiritual path? That's a New Age! We don't use that expression!"

2. I mentioned that I had honored the Aesir and Vanir on my own, in my own way, before deciding to look into Asatru, and that I'd definitely felt the presence of the Gods in my life. The response: "How you FEEL has nothing to do with honoring the Gods!"

3. Some regarded me a bit incredulously because I believe that the Gods are REAL, not just symbols, archetypes, or representations of natural forces.

4. The "You aren't really an Asatruar unless you belong to a kindred!" thing annoyed the hell out of me. In ancient times, you were born or possibly adopted into your kindred, and members of that kindred had good points and flaws, as any humans do. Kindreds today often seem like exclusive "clubs" with only the "right" kind of people being admitted. One fellow (who's contributed much to the Asatru community overall) told me that he'd had interaction with a certain kindred for years, that members liked him, but that they didn't want him as a member. Go figure.

5. Some that I met were the Asatru version of Christian fundamentalists. Nothing like hearing "You can't honor the Gods like that, it isn't in the lore!" from people who perform the Hammer Rite and don't believe that the Gods even exist.

I almost agree with you 100% I can only add one thing and alter one thing in my view I do think some people have warrior souls even though they don't fight though I agree not every one is a Viking or needs to be and ill add that I hate when people use there blood and this religion to say " oh im better then the other colors and asatru is a white only religion" which is dumb I don't think the gods care about skin color I hold a lot of value in blood even though I can tell u the name my ancestors do to my family but I do know I am asatru and descendent of a norse warrior who I think was a berserker do to my family's short short tempers but that's neither here nor there

I agree. It always bugs me when people use the Eddas as a "bible" because that's not what I think Asatru should be about. It's about understanding, and being intelligent, and logical enough to not need a "rule book" to tell us exactly what to do. We communicate with our Gods/Goddesses in our own ways, and we find, and follow our own paths, wherever they lead us, we do not adhere to "preaching" or to a specific book, especially ones that were written about a century AFTER all the real books, and temples had been destroyed by the Catholics. I believe there is a lot of truth in the Eddas, but they should be taken with a grain of salt. Just my 2 cents, lol!

I have read the Eddas myself but do not hold it to be the bible of our belief. The passages in the Eddas like the Havamal are guidelines that one should live by if they want to have a long prosperous life. There is nowhere in the Havamal where it states you have to do any of these things. But I hear people preaching as if you should. The Havamal is not the Asatru equivalent of the Ten commandments.

Also I find most Asatru folks like Stephen Mcnallen to be wrong in his interpretations of our beliefs. It seems like he is trying to centralize our beliefs into religious dogma to equal the likes of Christianity. He has sucked the individuality out our beliefs replaced it with something that can be held like mass. I have few people around me to share my beliefs but according to Mcnallen I cannot individually commune with the gods. I need a group of people headed by a high priest type fellow (sounds a bit like church) in order for the gods to even hear me. I do not know about you but that sounds a lot like Catholicism to me. It seems like for the most part he wants to standardize our belief system into a uniform religion.

Another flaw I see is the celebration of Wulpurgis is centered around a women with a familiar name who so happened to be a christian saint? So even though Wulpurgis was originally celebrated for the nine days Odin hung from the tree Yggdrasil to obtained knowledge of the runes the modern Asatru Alliance decides to ignore that and celebrate on behalf of a christian saint. Which makes me question their validity as authorities on our beliefs.

In short practice Asatru your own way. Because what I took from the Eddas and the history of the norse culture is that we celebrated individualism. And what is the opposite of that legacy is to have someone make you practice your belief's their way. The gods will listen to anybody and accept any offering as long as it means something to you in some way. Blots and libations are supposed to be personal. Something people have lost sight of nowadays,