Less than a thousand years ago the elders of Iceland made a fateful decision. Under political pressure from Christian Europe and faced with the need for trade, the Allthing or national assembly declared Iceland to be an officially Christian country. Within a few centuries the last remnants of Nordic Paganism, which once stretched through all of Northern Europe were thought dead. However, Iceland was a tolerant country and the myths, stories, and legends of Pagan times were left unburnt to kindle the fires of belief in later generations. In 1972, after a long campaign by poet and Gothi Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, Iceland once again recognized Nordic Paganism as a legitimate and legal religion.
Iceland and Sweden were the last two bastions of the Pagan religion originally practiced by the people of the various Germanic tribes. Today, different types of Nordic Paganism with an emphasis on reconstructing the old ways are known as Heathenism, Northern Tradition, the Troth, or Asatru (an Old-Norse term meaning "loyalty to the Gods") The Nordic Gods are honored in virtually all the countries where they were originally worshipped, as well as the Americas and Australia. The different types of Nordic Paganism are among the many religions calling themselves Neo-Paganism which include Druidism, the revival of ancient Celtic Paganism, and Wicca or Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. However Asatru remains largely unknown even within the community of Neo-Pagan believers.
This book is intended as a basic introduction to the beliefs and practices of the Raven Kindred of Asatru. We do not pretend to be experts and won't act as if we were. Rather we are simply believers in the Old Gods seeking to share our practice and research with others who are true to the Aesir. Our aim is to present a simple guide which will allow easy understanding of the principles behind Asatru and to give hints for further study and exploration.
While we attempt to be historically accurate to our religion's roots, it's important to note that there are many things that we simply don't know or which aren't written in stone. It is very important to us to stay as true to the ways of the old Pagans as is possible. While we occasionally need to flesh out our systems where we don't have direct evidence of historical precedent, we are not likely to simply make up things. In those places where the various myths, legends, and folklore are not clear, we have tried to indicate this.
This approach also accounts for the sometimes significant variety in practice among members of different Nordic Pagan faiths with an emphasis on reconstruction. Different scholars have posited different interpretations of what is actually known of historical practice. In turn, modern practioners, often with impressive scholarly backgrounds themselves, have added their own perspective. Last but not least, the fact that Asatru, and all other Nordic Pagan faiths are modern, living faiths means brings its own imperatives. We will not do exactly as the ancients did, for we are not the ancients, and we have our own perspectives. To give some very simple examples, a group whose members are strongly interested in Odin will probably place more emphasis on that God during their events, or a group may choose not to hold a traditional spring festival if their part of the world still is deep in winter.
The most important thing for modern people to remember about Asatru is that it is a religion. It is not a system of magick or spirituality or "New Age Practice" which can be grafted onto something else or onto which other "systems" can be grafted wholesale. Asatru is a word derived from "As" a God of the Aesir family and "tru" meaning troth. To be Asatru is to be bound by loyalty and troth to the Old Gods of the North. While we may believe in the deities of other religions and peoples, and even respect them, these are not our Gods. While we may take part in rituals dedicated to other Gods at Pagan festivals or ecumenical gatherings which encompass many other religions, we must not forget that Asatru is our religion and our primary concern. One simply does not collect membership in Asatru (or any other religion) as if one were collecting stamps. Our Gods are real and worthy of our respect. For modern Asatruar, troth also means being loyal to the ways in which our religion was practiced in the past; thus we are not eclectic and tend to focus on learning about historical ways of worshipping. We do not present our way as the only "true" Asatru, but we do feel that all Asatru should be solidly connected to its roots in ancient Norse practice. Where we do not know the certain answer to a question, there is room for exploration, but not for simply making something up out of whole cloth. While inspiration from the Gods is an important part of our movement, this is not "make believe" and any additions to the historical system should be made with respect to our ancient roots.
Asatru is not a path for everyone. We are true polytheists and see the world as encompassing a rich multitude of religions which worship many Gods. We do not deny the beliefs of others, and we also do not confuse them with our own. The idea that "it is all one" is anathema to the true Heathen. To claim that Odin is the same God as Zeus is madness. Would one claim that green and red are the same merely because they are both colors? If one disagrees with this perspective or finds it limiting so be it. Since our belief is that Asatru is not a path for everyone it follows that it is better to find ones own way rather than bend the religions of others to fit ourselves.
In accordance with this point of view, as much as we have been able to, we have not adopted the practices of other Pagan religions or magickal systems. Those familiar with Wicca will note that most modern Neo-Pagan systems are derived from it. Wicca is in turn derived from Western Esoteric practices. This is not the case with Asatru. Our religion began with reconstruction based on written sources dating from the ancient Pagan period. This has been followed by over 20 years of innovation and practice within the Heathen community. While we make no pretensions that this has resulted in a system that is identical with that of our spiritual ancestors, it is at least a system that is our own.
In saying this I would reiterate that we do not put down any religion for its beliefs. We merely ask for the integrity of our own. We are not rejecting other systems because they are wrong or because we think ill of them, we are rather choosing Asatru because of our love and devotion to it.
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