What is Asatru by Stephen MCnallen

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  • 8/9/2019 What is Asatru by Stephen MCnallen


    A publ ica t ion of th eASATRU FOLK ASSEMBLYNevada City, California



    Stephen A. McNallen

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    Runes ar e ancient German ic symbols representing var iousconcepts or forces in the universe - the holy mysteries.Taken together, they expre ss our ancestors ' worldview.Their meanings are intimately connected with the teach-ings of Asatru. Our lore tells ho w Odin, father of the Gods,wo n them through painful ordeal so that Gods and hu-mans alike might benefit from their wisdom.Th e use of the runes for me ditation and divination are in-tegral to the modern practice of Asa tru. Properly used,they ar e powerful keys fo r personal transformation an dupward evolution.

    How is Asatru organized?There is no all-powerful spiritual leader wh o speaks for allof Asatru, but there are numerous leaders who speak toand for their particular constituencies. While Asatru ha sdefinite principles accepted by most of our adherents, wegeneral ly allow a considerable degree of freedom in inter-preting religious truth.

    What is the Asatru Folk Assembly?Th e Asatru Folk Assembly is a religious corporation in theState of California and has Federal 501(c)(3) nonprofitstatus. Our purpose is the practice, promotion, and fur-ther development of our ancestral faith. We welcome in-quiries and support from interested men and women.


    Stephen A . McN allen

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    from ou r ancestors as instinct, emotion, innate predispo-sitions, an d perhaps even racial memory. By combiningthese sources of internal and external wisdom with the l it-erature left us by our ancestors, we arrive at religioustruths. This living spiritual guidance is better than anydusty, dogmatic "holy book".I 've heard Asatru described as a "Nature religion".What does that mean?We treasure the spiritual awe, the feeling of "connecting"with th e Gods an d Goddesses, which ca n come from ex-periencing the beauty an d majesty of Nature. Our deit iesact in and through natural law. By working in harmonywith Nature we can become co-workers with the Gods.This att i tude removes the opposit ion between "natural"an d "supernatural" , and the suppos ed conflict between re -ligion an d science.For us , fo l lowing a "Nature religion" means recognizingthat we are part of Nature, subject to all its laws. We maybe Gods-in-the-making, but we are members of the ani-mal kingdom nonetheless!

    1985,2004 Stephen A. McNallenASATRU FOLK ASSEMBLY

    P.O. Box 445Nevada City, CA [email protected]

    Where did the universe come from, according toAsatru?Our myths descr ibe the beginning of the universe as theunfolding of a natural process, rather than an event re -quiring supernatural intervention. Followers of Asatruneed not abandon modern science to retain their religion.Th e old lore of our people des cribes the interaction of firean d ice, and the development of l ife from these - but thisis symbolic, and we will leave it to the physicists to dis-cover how the universe wa s born.What are the runes, and what do they have to dowith Asatru?

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    There is also a tradition in Asatru of rebirth within thefamily line. Perhaps the individual is able to choosewhether or not he or she is re-manifested in this world, orthere may be natural laws governing this. In a sense, ofcourse, we all live on in our des cenda nts quite a part froman afterlife as such.To be honest, we of Asatru do not over ly concern our-selves with the ne xt world. We live here and now, in thisexistence. If we do this and do it well, the next life willtake care of itself.Does Asatru involve ancestor worship?Asatru says we should honor our ancestors. It also sayswe are bonded to those ancestors in a special way. Oneof the implications of this relationship is that the ances-tors need our veneration, and that they reciprocate bylooking out for us from beyond death.We also believe ou r forebears have passed to us certainspiritual qualities just as surely as they have given usvar ious physical traits. They live on in us. The family orclan is above an d beyond the limits of time, space, an dmortality.Does Asatru have a holy book, like the Bible?No. There ar e written sources that ar e useful to us be-cause they contain much of our sacred lore in the form ofmyths and examples of right conduct, but we do not ac-cept them as infallible or inspired documents. An y religionholding such beliefs of infallibility is deceived about thepurity a nd precision of the written word.There are two real sources of holy truth, an d neither ex-presses itself to us in words. One is the universe aroundus, which is a manifestation of the underlying divine es-sence. The other is the universe inside us, passed down

    Frequent ly asked Quest ionsWhat is Asatru?Long before Christianity came to northern Europe, thepeople there - our ancestors - had their own form of spiri-tuality that inf luenced every aspect of their culture. Oneexpression of this European spirituality was Asatru. It waspracticed in the lands that ar e today Scandinavia, Eng-land, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and other coun-tries as well. Asatru is the original, or native, religion forthe peoples who lived in these regions.Nevertheless, Asatru is more than just a religion in thenarrow sense of the word . It is our way of being in theworld; some of us call it the "Germanic Folkway" to un-derline this larger concept.What does the word "Asatru" mean?It means, roughly, "belief in the Gods" or "those true tothe Gods" in Old Norse, the language of ancient Scandina-via in which so much of our source material was written.(A more literal translation would be "gaining experience ofthe ances tral sovereign gods.") Asatru is a name given tothe religion of the Norsemen, but we use this term to in-clude the spir i tual wo r ldview of al l the G erman ic peoples,not just theScand inav ians.When did Asatru start?Asatru is thousands of years old (though it is practiced ina modern form today, to meet the needs of our age) . Itsbeginnings ar e lost in prehistory, but it is older thanChristianity, Islam, Buddhism, or most other religions.Th e spirit it expresses, though, is as ancient as the north-er n European peoples themselves because it is an innateexpression of who and what we are - not merely a set ofarbitrary beliefs we have adopted.

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    Why do we need Asatru? Aren't most people whowant religion satisfied with Christianity or one ofthe other "established" religions?People are attracted to the better-known religions be-cause they have genuine spiritual needs which must befilled. People ar e looking fo r community, fellowship, an danswers to the "big questions": the purpose of life, howwe should live it, and what happens after death. Formany people today, the so-called major faiths do nothave answe rs that work. Asatru does. Once seekers re -alize that there is another way - a way that is true to ourinnermost essence - they will not be satisfied with an y-thing less than a return to the Way of their ancestors.Why is the religion of our ancestors the best onefor us?Because we are more like our ancestors than we are likeanyone else. W e inherited not only their general physicalappearance, but also their predominant mental, emo-tional, and spiritual traits. We think and feel more likethey did; our basic needs are most like theirs. T he relig-ion which best expressed their inn ermost n ature - A sa-tru - is better suited to us than is some other creedwhich started in the Middle East among people who areessentially different from us. Judaism, Islam, and Chris-tianity are alien religions that do not truly speak to oursouls.Why did Asatru die out if it was the right religionfor Europeans?Asatru was subjected to a violent campaign of repres-sion over a period of hundreds of years. Countless thou-sands of people were murdered, maimed, an d exiled inthe process. The common people (your ancestors! ) didnot give up their cherished beliefs easily. Eventually, themonolithic organization of the Christian church, bol-

    lieve without questioning when the teachings of their re-ligion conflict with reason or with known facts about th enature of the world ("You must have faith.").Of course, many people believe in the values of Asatru ona gut level. After all, they're instinctive, passed down tous from our ancestors. We want to bel ieve that the bet-ter-known rel igions espouse those values, so we see whatwe want to see. Most people just haven't yet realized thatthe major religions are saying things that conflict with thevalues we know in our hearts ar e right. To find Europeanvirtues, one has to look to a religion truly consistent withthose virtues - Asatru.What do you have to say about good and evil?Good and evil are not constants. What is good in one casewill not be good in another, an d evil in one circumstancewill not be evil under a different set of conditions. In anyon e instance, the right course of action will have beenshaped by the influence of the past and the present. Theresult may or may not be "good" or "evil," but it will stillbe the right action.In no case are good and evil dictated to us by edicts writ-ten by an authoritarian deity. We are expected to use ourfreedom, responsibility, a nd awarene ss of duty to servethe highest and best ends.What does Asatru teach about an afterlife?We believe that there is an afterlife, an d that those whohave lived lives of virtue and power will go on to experi-ence greater fulfillment, pleasure, an d challenge. Thosewh o have le d l ives characterized by vice, weakness, and alow level of consciousness wil l be sepa rated from kin,doomed to a vegetative state of dullness an d gloom. Theprecise nature of the afterlife - what it will look like andfeel like - is beyond ou r understanding and is dealt withsymbol ical ly in the myths.

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    seeking their blessing through formal rites and informalmeditation. Actually, living a full an d virtuous life is aform of prayer in itself. Our religion should affect all partsof our lives, not just some fragments that we choose tocall "religious."Don't you worship stones and trees and idols?No . W e know that trees, wooden statues, the Sun, an dother natural or man-made objects are not Gods, so wedon't worship them. We do sometimes use these items asreminders of a God or Goddess, but we would never con-fuse them with the actual deity!You mentioned certain standards of behavior taughtin Asatru. What are these?Some of the qualities we hold in high regard ar e strength,courage, joy, honor, freedom, loyalty to kin, realism,vigor, and the revering of our ancestors. To express thesethings in our lives is virtuous, and we strive to do this.Their opposites - weakness, cowardice, adherence todogma rather than to the realities of the world, and thelike - constitute ou r vices and are to be avoided. Properbehavior in Asatru consists of maximizing one's virtuesan d minimizing one's vices.This code of conduct reflects the highest and most heroicideals of our people.Don't all religions believe in these things you've justnamed?No. People may honestly believe that this is the case, bu texaminat ion does not bear this out. They believe in free-do m on the one hand, yet at the same time admit theyare slaves to their God. They agree that joy is good, buttheir teachings laden them with guilt because of someimaginary "original sin." They want to accept the realwor ld on a pragmatic basis, yet they are trained to be-

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    stered by threats of economic isolation an d assisted byan energetic propaganda campaign, triumphed overthe valiant but unsophisticated tribes.Or so it seemed! Despite this persecution, elements ofAsatru continued down to our own times - often in theguise of folklore - proving that our own native religionappeals to our innermost beings in a fundamental way.Now, a thousand years after its supposed demise, it isalive and growing. Indeed, so long as there are menan d women of European descent, it cannot really diebecause it springs from the soul of our people. Asatruisn't just what we believe, it's what we are.Wasn't the acceptance of Christianity a sign ofcivilization - a step up from barbarism?No. The so-called "barbarians" who followed Asatru(the Vikings, the various Germanic tribes, and so forth)were the source of our finest civilized traditions - trialby jury, parliaments, Anglo Saxon Common Law, theright to bear arms, and the rights of women, to name afew. Our very word "law" comes from the Norse lan-guage, not from the tongues of the Christian lands. Wesimply did not, and do not, need Christianity or otherMiddle Eastern creeds in order to be civilized.You say Asatru was the religion of the Vikings,among other early European cultures. Weren'tthey a pretty bloodthirsty lot?Modern historians agree that the Vikings were no moreviolent than the other peoples of their times. Remem-ber, the descriptions of Viking raids and invasions wereal l written by their enemies, who were hardly unbi-ased. Both the Islamic and Christian cultures usedmeans every bit as bloody, if not more so, than theNorsemen. It was a very rough period in history for allconcerned!

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    We keep talking about the Vikings. Does this meanthat Asatru is only for people of Scandinavian an-cestry?No . Asatru, as practiced by the Norse peoples, had somuch in common with the religion of the other Germanictribes, and with their cousins the Celts, that it may bethought of as one version of a general European religion.Asatru is a natural religion for all people of European ori-gin, whether or not their heritage is specif ically Scandina-vian.What are the basic tenets or beliefs of Asatru?We believe in an all-pervading divine essence which is be-yond our immediate understanding. We further believethat this spiritual reality is interdependent with us - thatwe affect it, and it affects us.We believe that this divine essence expresses itself to usin the forms of the Gods and Goddesses. Stories aboutthese deities are like a sort of code, the mysterious" language" through which the divine reality speaks to us.We believe in standards of behavior which are consistentwith these spiritual truths and harmonious with our deep-est being.How does Asatru differ from other religions?Asatru is unlike the better-known religions in many ways.Some of these are:We are polytheistic. That is, we believe in a number ofdeities, including Goddesses as well as Gods. (We have atongue-in-cheek saying that a religion without a Goddessis halfway to atheism!)We do not accept the idea of "original sin," the notion thatwe are tainted from birth and therefore intrinsically bad.

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    Thus, we do not need "saving."We do not claim to be a universal religion, a faith for all ofhumankind. In fact, we don't think such a thing is possibleor desirable. The different branches of humanity have dif-ferent ways of looking at the world, each of which is validfor the ancestral group in question. It is only right thatthey have different religions.

    Do you consider the Norse myths to be true?Th e myths ar e stories about the Gods an d Goddesses ofAsatru. We believe they ar e ways of stating spiritualtruths. That is, we would say they contain truths aboutthe nature of divinity, our own nature, and the relation-ship between the two. We do not contend that the mythsare literally true, as history. Rather, myth can be thoughtof as "the dream of the race" or "that which never hap-pened, but is always true."What about these Gods and Goddesses? Are theyreal?Yes, they are real. However, just as most Christians donot think their God is really an old bearded figure sittingon a golden chair in heaven, we do not believe Thor (forexample) is actually a muscular, man-shaped entity car-rying a big hammer. There is a real Thor, but we ap-proach an understanding of him through this particularmental picture.Do followers of Asatru pray to their Gods and God-desses?Yes, but not quite the way most people mean by theword. We never surrender our will to theirs or humbleourselves before them, becausewe see ourselves as theirkin, not as their property. Nor do we beg and plead. Wedo, however, commune with them and honor them while