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Ásatrú

Solid Color Vinyl Photography Background (backdrop roll)Historians and mythologists have been fascinated by the Vikings for centuries, but we have seen a significant cultural revival in the last decade. From Marvel’s Thor to the Odin Missile, Norse Mythology has found its way back into modern culture. One reason for this, is the popular representation of Vikings – their fearlessness in battle, hardy ships and supposed horned helmets – have led to many people having a romanticised view of their culture. 

Moreover, their religion, Ásatrú – a pre-Christian heathen religion originating in Iceland – has found new followers in contemporary society.

 

What is ‘Ásatrú’?

Ásatrú (Icelandic, “Æsir faith”) is a modern revival of an early Nordic religion, originating from two early Norse epics. Ásatrú is an amalgamation of two old Norse words: Ása, which refers to the Norse Gods, and trú, which means “troth” or “faith”. Thus, Ásatrú means “religion of the Æsir.” The term was popularized in the 1870’s by Edvard Grieg in his 1870 opera Olaf Trygvason. It is generally thought that Greig was inspired by a wave of romantic nationalism, that swept through the 19th century. Ásatrú has connections to Germanic Neopaganism, Forn Sed and Odinism. It is a polytheistic faith which focuses on several deities as well as other supernatural beings. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular in a number of Scandinavian societies, particularly Iceland, as well as the United States (where it is often connected to Nationalism).

 

What do they believe in?

Followers of Ásatrú focus on a number of primary gods, including Odin (Óðinn, the god of the gods) and Thor. In addition, they also believe in several lesser deities. No one actually prays to the gods and how (and if) you choose to ask for their intercession is entirely up to you. The gods are imperfect and not divine. They do not judge humans, rather they are seen as friends.

Adherents have no unified conception of the Afterlife: some believe that fallen warriors go to Valhalla to rest with Odin. Conversely, others believe there is no afterlife. At the same time, many believe in reincarnation and the passing of ‘souls’ from one human vessel to another.

However, Ásatrú does not emphasize the afterlife, as much as it does the present. Unlike Christianity, there are no Commandments, but followers are encouraged to follow the Nine Noble Virtues, which are:

  • Courage
  • Truth
  • Honor
  • Fidelity
  • Discipline
  • Hospitality
  • Industriousness
  • Self-Reliance
  • Perseverance

Many neo-pagan groups in Europe and the US who consider themselves observers of Ásatrú, have chosen to glorify battle, militarism, masculine heroism and in some cases chauvinism, intolerance and racism. Some white-power groups and members of Aryan Nation gangs have associated themselves with Ásatrú. However the Ásatrúarfélagið, the Icelandic Association for modern Ásatrú, rejects this as a misreading. As a consequence, they have cut all ties with these groups.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, the high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, has said “It is a religion which teaches you how to live in harmony with your surroundings and yourself, and how to deal with the different phases of your life. How to become of age and then how to age.”

 

Festivals

Followers of Ásatrú celebrate four major festivals in the year. The most important festival is the Yule, which starts on the winter solstice (21st December) and lasts for 12 days. The Summer Finding (spring equinox) is celebrated in honor of the Goddess Ostara on the 21st March. The Winter Finding, which honours Odin, is celebrated on September 21st (autumn equinox), and Midsummer is celebrated on the summer solstice, June 21st.

 

Religious Texts

Ásatrú has no prescribed dogma or scripture. As of yet, there are no religious texts that all modern followers adhere to. All the original stories and traditions originate from two Icelandic epics, the Edda, written by the 13th-century chieftain and scholar, Snorri Sturluson. There have been a number of excellent translations of these manuscripts, into several languages.

 

The Present

According to figures from Statistics Iceland, Ásatrú is Iceland’s fastest growing religion. 3,583 people belonged to Ásatrúarfélagið (the Pagan Association) on January 1 2017, up from 1,040 members 10 years ago. Membership has grown by 244% since 2007, making paganism the fastest growing religion in Iceland over the past decade. The first pagan temple built since 1000 is under construction, near Reykjavík, right now! All the ceremonies and meetings of the Ásatrúarfélagið are open to the public, so if you’re ever visiting Iceland, you will be welcome go along and find out more.

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