Monday, March 18, 2013


Heathenry (also called the Elder Troth or Ásatrú is the pre-Christian tribal religion and culture of the Northern European peoples known variously as the Germanic tribes, the Teutonic tribes, or the Northern Europeans. Today, Heathenry is a living religion practiced by many in the Americas and in Europe. Within it are many different sects based on the various tribal traditions or modern versions of them. Anyone, regardless of ancestry however can be a Heathen, if they believe and practice the Heathen way.

Heathen does not mean godless, in fact the Heathen peoples had many gods and goddesses. The names of many of these gods are familiar to us even today. You may recognize such gods as Odin (Wóden) god of poetry, the runes, and death; Thor (Thunor) god of thunder and the storm; Frigga (Frige) goddess of the home and children; Frey (Fréa) god of fertility and the land; Freya (Fréo) goddess of love, magic, and cats; Tyr (Tíw) god of law. There are many other gods and goddesses as well, each worshipped by many. The various gods are known by many names due to the many Germanic dialects. For example, those of the Icelandic tribal tradition refer to Odin as Oðinn while those of the Anglo-Saxon tribal tradition refer to him as Wóden. These differences are minor however, and are no different than someone that is multi-lingual pronouncing their name different ways in the different languages.

The gods are worshipped daily by Heathens as they go about their lives, but eight times a year Heathens gather together in festivals to worship the gods and join in fellowship. The names and dates of these festivals vary from tribe to tribe, but everywhere are the rites of blót and symbel performed. A blót is a form of communion with the gods, a time when food and drink are shared with them, and their blessings for our gifts are received. Symbel is a rite where toasts are made to the gods, the dead, ancestors, and our selves. While in symbel Heathens boast of their past deeds and vow to do even better deeds. All of this is done to put oneself in contact with the concept known as Wyrd.

Wyrd is one of the most complex of Heathen beliefs for it is the Law of the Universe. To demonstrate Wyrd, the ancient Heathens described it either as a well and a tree or as a great web (cloth) being woven upon a loom. The loom and web model best demonstrates how all things are connected, while the well and tree model best demonstrates how past deeds affect the present. The Web of Wyrd connects all things just as the fibers of a cloth touch many others, so every deed done affects a myriad other things. The Web of Wyrd can be seen in the life cycles and the food chains of the environment, and in our own lives. The Well of Wyrd and the World Tree ensure that past deeds determine what happens in the present. The World Tree is the present and from it drips dew which falls into the Well of Wyrd. There it sinks to the bottom to be drawn back to the present by the roots of the World Tree, or when Wyrd and her sisters water the tree every morning. The dew on the Tree represents actions or deeds being done in the present, while the water in the Well represents deeds of the past. Deeds from the past have their results in the present. In many ways it is like karma. Every deed one does has a consequence based upon some previous deed. If the deed is a good one, a Heathen will gain mægen (spiritual strength), if it is a bad one he or she will incur a scyld or "debt," and lose mægen until he or she can pay that debt with another deed. Mægen or spiritual strength is needed to get into the gods' abodes upon death. Souls with insufficient maegen are incapable of the struggle to reach the god-homes, and instead dwell in Hel's quiet realms, from which they are often reincarnated into Midgard again. Since Heathens prefer to attain to the god-realms with their closest god-friends after death, it behooves them to accumulate maegen through worthy deeds, and avoid the loss of their maegen by eschewing unworthy deeds. Heathens are guided in their deeds and lives of worth by knowledge of the virtues or "thews" of Heathen faith.

The Heathen thews are: Bravery, or the ability to overcome fear; Industriousness, or the ability to work hard; Friendship, or the ability to be likable to others and treat them as kin; Generosity, or the ability to share what is yours with others; Honesty, or the ability to be truthful in all undertakings; Hospitality, or the ability to open your home to others; Self-reliance, or the ability to depend on oneself and be an individual; Self-worth, or the ability to have good self-esteem; Steadfastness, or the ability to persevere in the face of hardship; Strength, or the physical and spiritual might that allows you to accomplish great things; Troth, or loyalty to friends and family and spouse; and Wisdom, or the ability to gain and use knowledge. These thews encourage Heathens to depend on oneself and to help others, not just for the good of oneself, but for the good of all. Together they form what is known as honor or worth and it is the aim of most Heathens to be honorable by practicing these thews with friend and stranger alike.

Heathenry as said before is a tribal religion. In today's world however, after 1,000 years of Christianity, Heathens have had to form artificial "tribes." Many Heathens are members of local groups, most often called kindreds, but also called hearths, fellowships, garths, and samnungs. There are also the national organizations, such as the Troth, Asatru Folk Assembly, and The Asatru Alliance. While every group has its own tradition, nearly all of them express a belief in the beliefs outlined here or some variation of them. Every group has different guidelines for membership, and these vary a great deal.

Swain Wodening

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