Introduction, definition and similes:
Every Heathen website or organization tries to answer this question, and, while most answers are similar, they do offer some differences. This is going to depend on the denomination of the tribe, the organization and even the country. Since this is the AMERICAN Asatru Association, and we focus on modern Heathen living, I will answer this in more than one context.
Asatru is a modern term (roughly 40 years) that can be broken down into “Asa” and “Tru”. “Asa”, or “As” means god, and the gods of Asatru are the Aesir. “Tru” means to honor, or be loyal to. So the word means “To honor and be true to the Aesir”.
Asatru in America has two definitions.
1.) Anyone who follows the pre-Christian Germanic gods of Northern Europe.
2.) Anyone who follows the Icelandic denomination of Heathenry.
Heathenry is a simile in America for Asatru. Americans use both the terms Asatru and Heathen to label someone who followers the Aesir (Asatru), Vanir (Vanatru), Jotuns (Rokkatru), and other cultural groups Forn Seiðr (Swedish), Asatro (Swedish), Theod (Anglo-Saxon), Urglaawe (Pennsylvanian Dutch) and/or Odinist (Continental German). Sadly there are those in Europe and America, who like 70 years ago with the Nazis, adopt and pervert our symbols and lore into racism. You can find these people normally under the label W.O.T.A.N.ist or Volkish.
** Just an FYI, Wotan is the Anglo-Saxon name of Odin, or Wodan, Wodanez. Some Odinists, and some Anglo-Saxon Heathens use the term Wotanist to describe themselves. Normally this is in America. They are not the same as WOTANists **
There division further – there are “camps” called Universalist, Tribalist and Folkish:
Universalist – believe anyone, no matter their race, can follow Asatru. The camp is as vast as you can believe. Many Univeraslists are soft polytheists (mix/match pantheons), honor many gods and have a tendency towards Wicca-based practiced. Many are hard polytheists (every pantheon is separate) who adhere only to the Icelandic, or Swedish or Anglo-Saxon practice (Recon or UPG) and give skin color no mind. Almost all Universalist traits are shared with Tribalist.
Tribalist – believe the tribe makes its own path and members are chosen by the tribe. Tribalist is the closest you’ll find to the ancient tribal beliefs of the cultures pre-Christianity. Tribe decides on members, based on what the tribe believes, not on skin color or ancestry.
Folkish – believe ancestry is what makes one Asatru (or Heathen). Many believe Folkish means whites-only, which is false. Folkish is about the bloodline, the family, ancestry. Your greatest grandfather down to you. Those who marry into the tribe are family, and that bloodline also effects the tribe. How this is handled (mixing of cultures), is for the Folkish tribe to decide. This mirrors Tribalist belief. There are Folkish who believe ONLY Northern European descendants should practice Asatru. I say to them, if that’s their belief, I will support it but show me your DNA test and what percentage is needed to be considered “enough” Northern European to deny even the 1% a tie to their ancestors folkways.
Asatru, or Heathenry, in Europe has a different breakdown, but only slightly. Asatru means:
1.) Those who follow the Norway/Icelandic folkways that exsited before Christianity. Simply, if someone asks you what religion you are in Europe, and you say Heathen, youll be asked what kind – Asatru, Ford Seiðr, Theod, etc etc.
Heathen paths in Europe are private affairs and practice between tribes is hardly a topic for debate. And race, while it exists, isn’t as large an issue in Europe as in America (but it DOES exist. See Soldiers of Odin, Odinia, AFA Europe branches, Nazi movements in Europe/Anti-semetic).
RE: the term Heathen
Heathen is the anglicized word for many words in native European tongues. Heidr (Old Norse), Heiden (High German) and they mean those of the heath, wildfolk, those who do not follow the Abrahamic “God”. This is also a linguistic simile to pagan which comes from the Latin paganus, which means wildfolk, uncivilized, those who do not follow the Abrahamic “God”. And even further, the word Heathen in modern pagan circles means those who follow the Germanic gods – which is from north of the Rhine to Vinland (the Viking settlement in North America by Leif Eriksson).
RE: the term Odinist
In America, the term Odinist is fought by those in both Asatru and Odinist camps. Some use them interchangeable and some absolutely refuse and say they’re different. One argument is Odinist is older, as the word was mentioned in a late 19th century work. Some say Asatru is modern because the word was invented in the 1970s. Some say Asatru is fluff, founded in Wicca. Some say Odinists are racists.
Let me set this straight – there was no name for the religions of the hundreds if not THOUSANDS of tribes of ancient Europe. Neither “Odinist” nor “Asatru” was used. It was just the way of things. We bicker over word usage because of half-researched topics and dusty old books written in the 1800s by occultists longing for esoteric relief of their boring lives in a modern word.
Asatru in modern America WAS started with a good amount of Wicca. GASP! In 1974 — there was barely anything — compared to 2016 in terms of cultural and academic work readily available. The internet? Pfft. The 1990s gave us that and Asatru evolved. Since Asatru in America is considered an umbrella term it encompasses the Reconstructionist Heathen (those who seek to practice as closely as those who did before Christianity) and the eclectic Heathen (scattershot practice, undefined path, or unique path). They’re both Heathen, and they can both use the term Asatru; however, the term has evolved, and Asatru now seeks to revive the practices and beliefs of the people of Northern Europe.
Odinists, like Asatruars, can fall into many camps. Some are more modern, yes, forsaking period-era clothing and language. Some see everything they do as a religious action. Odinists are more likely to lean towards conservative politics and a theocracy. Not all do though. Odinists are polytheistic, with Odin and Frigga being a spiritual center.
To sum this up, because I said a mouthful, in America, Asatru means::
1.) Those who follow the Icelandic denomination of Germanic Heathenry;
2.) Those who follow the Old Gods of Northern Europe. (interchangeable with Odinist, or Heathen)
The latter causes issues for people. Scandinavian lore is the newest of the ancient pathways (we have Sagas and Eddas), so many find it first and branch out. Some leave it. If you want to believe Asatru is a New Age belief, you’d be wrong. But it is also not an ancient cultural one. Asatru is an attempt to return to a belief system before Christianity, and even during it, as Christ was accepted by some as just another god.
Asatru in Everyday Life aka How to be Asatru:
Practicing Asatru is not that at all. It’s living it. It’s about tribe, family, kin. Be they of blood, marriage, adoption or tribal acceptance. The gods started everything. They are our eldest kin and they are not alone. There are the Vanir and the Jotuns. The landwights, the Alfar and the Disir and the dark elves (dwarves). All these tribes show a singular concept that all Asatruars should take to heart – the tribe.
The gods influenced life as we know it. Displacing the Jotun tribes from Midgard and pushing them to Jotunheim. Battling the Vanir in The First War. Exchanging hostages to ensure peace brought the Vanir and Aesir together (Mimir and Honir, for Njordr and Freyr. Freyja came as a bride for Odin). My theory is Loki was given to the Aesir as a hostage and bound to Odin to ensure the peace between tribes of Jotuns and the Aesir (who the Jotuns received is unknown, possibly Tyr as he was displaced as the chieftain).
The gods influenced our evolution. They were involved in the lives of tribes they came into contact with and started. The families of the Sagas that interacted with the gods. But the gods also traveled. Jotunheim, all of Midgard, Asgard, Helheim. The belief they never left Northern Europe is ridiculous. Heimdallr came down as Rig throughout history and enhanced the DNA of the hominids that would evolve into us. These can be read in the Poetic and Prose Eddas and the multitude of family Sagas (Sagas of the Icelanders).
The gods did not create the land. And the land was already inhabited. Landwights and Alfar lived here before and will outlast us. We respect these beings and make offerings to them as the land we reside is also inhabited by them. Alfar our the parts of our male ancestors after their death. Disir the female. We have house elves called Tomte (or Nisse). They are quiet, private beings that can sicken and energize our lands, or drive us crazy in our own homes or lands. They, like us, take to kindness and manners. Something taught to us by Odin in The Havamal.
Our past means as much to us as the future, for the past influences us as much if not more. Our ancestors who have passed on are not gone and their influence remains in us and beyond. Everything is bound by wyrd (“fate”), our individual path is called orlog and it’s influenced by our ancestors through harmingja (“luck”, personal honor, or lack of). Actions of our ancestors effect us and our actions effect our children and so forth. A tribes strength is based upon it’s collective harmingja (upholding honor, personal honor, victories, loses, peace accords, expansion, wealth, success as a tribe).
Frith, Grith, Innangard, Utgard and Your Tribe:
An Asatruar supports their tribe, their family, no matter their religion (shared or not) so long as it’s not harming/hampering each other. Many Asatruars ask “Are their any Heathens in my city? I feel so alone and my family has turned me out.” I highly doubt your family turned you out. They most likely do not understand your faith, and you probably never tried to explain it to them because you’re asking strangers for help.
A shared religion is not required for Asatru. Asatru is your spiritual path and your workings in it will strengthen your tribe, be they all Christians, Buddhists, Jews or Muslims. If your family does shun you, your requirement of frith to them/of them to you is no longer valid, as they already broke it with you. Even if they decide not to accept it this does not release you (or them) of the influence of wyrd on your entire family and the orlogs of all of you effecting each other. There are millions of good Christian people out there, accepting, tolerant or interested in our faith. To shun them because they don’t share it flies in the face of a healthy tribe. And tribe is what matters to us.
Now, looking for information about those who feel the same as you about Asatru isn’t the same. Information needs to be found and absorbed. We live in the 21st century. Since the late 20th we’ve had information available to us about the cultural practices of those Asatruars and Heathens before us. Find all you can – academic and UPG – and absorb it. Do your own research and do not rely on someone’s UPG or academia ONLY on how to form your spiritual path. What you find can strengthen your family at home.I’m not a teacher. I do not like lecturing or even responding to questions which can easily be answered through the most basic of Google searches or in books that have been available for over a decade now.
The concepts of Innangard and Utgard (Inner-yard and Outer-yard) are what makes your tribe and affiliation. Innangard IS your tribe, your closest friends. Those you share frith (“peace”) with. You exchange gifts with, you share something beyond words with and you bolster it. Your own personal and tribal honor and love flows through you both constantly, and shapes it now and for times to come. Decisions are made as a tribe, for the tribe betterment. Utgard, or Outeryard, means those who you don’t share frith with. The outlaws, the strangers of the word. Simplest terms, those you owe nothing to. Be they no one of consequence, or those lawbreakers or criminals. You do not owe someone who is Asatru anything just because they’re Asatru. Asatru is not a defined set of ethics or morality. That is defined by the tribe. Inherent morality, but on a larger scale, as we in the USA have laws in place to protect you and yours, and punish those who move against others civil and criminal.
Griths most recognizable definition is a peace bestowed upon people by a leader, lord, king or lawspeaker. Groups share grith of respect and no-harm. If you enter a courthouse, if it is lawful, you are given and expected to give grith to those inside. Enemies when meeting under truce or parlay observed it. Kings when hosting other lords, or opposing factions, promised the safety of all parties under their banner.
What ISN’T Asatru?
This is easy.
1.) Racialist beliefs in a “pure bloodline.” There isn’t one. Our ancestors traveled a large portion of the world (Canada to Russia, down to North Africa and half way to India). They married into families in these lands. They brought these people back as slaves, fellow warriors and wives. “Vikings” traveled and traded with Muslims, Christians, Far Eastern peoples and interacted with the Native American tribes of North America. Celts, Saxons, Franks – all met with, traded, battled and bred with our ancestors.
Segregation is a form of racism. Separate but equal. Many tribes or organizations claim that only those of Northern European descent can be Asatru (or Heathen).. They do not run DNA tests, and lineage questioning goes as far back as the grandparents, or as far back as the person applying can remember (with or without a DNA test or records). Admission is based on SKIN COLOR. Something our ancestors could not control, yet acknowledged. Our ancestors had slaves, but slavery was not based on skin color, but social status. And a man or woman could earn or buy their freedom and build a place in society.
These people are easy to find. They scream WHITE PRIDE, WHITE POWER, 14/88! REMEMBER THE 14 WORDS!
This isn’t Asatru. This is someone’s inferiority complex feeding their spiritual bankruptcy.
2.) The open mocking of violence against Abrahamic faiths. There are so many Heathen groups who find it hilarious to celebrate Mosque and Church burnings. They advocate a return to “Viking-era” law. They consider Lindesfarne a time of celebration. They call for Christian expulsion. Many call for the death of Christians. They forget (willingly sometimes) that theyre ancestors were Christian. They claim the Christians hurt them, tried to kill Heathenrny across Europe. That Christians are racist, bigoted, weak. Then they go onto want to do exactly what Christian migraration did a thousand years ago but from a Heathen side.
This isn’t Asatru. This is someone’s inferiority complex feeding their spiritual bankruptcy.
3.) Viking-ophiles. Also called Brosatru, the Valhalla Bounders. Victory or Valhalla! The modern belief that Valhalla is where Heathens should want to go is based purely on a mis-translation. Valhalla suffers from the modern era Renaissance artists and writers paralleling it Olympus and Heaven. Asgard is the land which all Aesir lands fall (save a couple). And unlike Olympus or Heaven, there are halls and lands in it that are more expanded upon and known. Since the Viking Era is the best known, it is considered the keystone of everything Heathen and Valhalla being totally misunderstood took the role of Heaven. And Hel was made into Hell, because no one seems to want to understand that the punishments of the Christian Hell do not mirror Heathen Hel. There is a single hall in Helheim for those who would fall into the Christian Hell. It’s called Nastrond. And it’s a hall in a land with many.
There’s a need for some who come to Asatru to have something to aspire to and they dont understand the concept of thew. They don’t understand tribe as our ancestors do, because in modern times, America especially, we have no communal culture. We do not have tribes as families as our ancestors had. So they cling to the comfortable – Valhalla is were good warriors go, Hel is were bad warriors and the weak go. I read once that less than 12% of Vikings were actual warriors. Others were skilled tradespeople, traders, explorers and those just going to land-to-land.
The warrior culture is clung onto because modernly we have 1960s thru now white power groups preaching that idea because weak willed individuals want to get behind an imaginary “race war”. Does this sound familiar? Charles Manson mentioned it – Helter Skelter. White power groups invented the motto “Victory or Valhalla!” and since they preach to inferiority complexes, many come to them.
This isn’t Asatru. This is someone’s inferiority complex fueling their spiritual bankruptcy.
So there was have it. What is and is not Asatru.
President and Founder
American Asatru Association
Further reading can be found at: