By Sam Stoker A particular interest to POTN due to its open roots in Scandinavian culture, leaving it permissible to practice by all, in this issue we will be focusing on Norse paganism, including heathenry, Ásatrú, reconstructionism and neopaganism.
Norse paganism has a rich history and, following its destruction by Christianity, as with so many other pagan religions, it began to be revived in the late 1800s and is now a reconstructionist polytheistic religion with followers worldwide.
HISTORY & BELIEFS
With beginnings around 1700-500 BCE, Norse paganism and mythology are linked intrinsically. The story goes that Yggdrasil, the World Tree, is at the centre of the nine realms (including Asgard and Midgard, that may be beginning to sound familiar thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!). Odin, the Allfather, and Thor, god of thunder, are the two most widely recognised deities in this multifaceted polytheistic religion. Yggdrasil and the realms are a part of Norse cosmology and formed the beliefs of what surrounds us in our universe. The deities are split into two groups, the Æsir, the major pantheon including Odin, Thor and Frigg, and the Vanir, fertility and health deities including the goddess Freyja. The two factions fought a war where the Æsir came out on top and absorbed control of the Vanir.
Despite Norse being the name of the religion, it is in fact from Scandinavia as a whole; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark all playing a part, with the religion spreading first to Iceland, which is considered a Nordic country, then on to England, the Scottish Islands, and other places where the Vikings moved in.
The lore includes mythical creatures such as elves, dwarves, and trolls, and is polytheistic with many gods and goddesses. It's origins are hard to pinpoint as much has been lost and history has been oral with some written in runes. The Icelandic Sagas are acknowledged as not being wholly historically accurate, so while there is written history from the 13th century, it cannot be taken as gospel.
Magic was believed to be largely related to divination and changing the future, and women were typically the seers, with the exception of Odin himself. In the original practising religion, followers would carry out blóts - that could include animal sacrifice - and celebrate outdoors, feast in honour of the gods, worship the mountains, worship in temples known as hofs, and wear pendants or other jewellery carrying a representation of Mjölnir, Thor's hammer.
As with most pagan religions, Old Norse was sadly quashed by the arrival of Christianity between the 8th and 12th centuries. The Scandinavian people, however, made it difficult - they took hundreds of years to fully convert, with the Sami holding on to their paganism until the 1800s.
ÁSATRÚ, HEATHENRY, AND OTHER SECTS
There is a great deal of conflation between descriptors used for modern day followers of the Norse path. Heathenry is used in general by many who identify as reconstructionists of the old religion. There is, however, an Ásátru Assembly based in the US and the UK. Taken from the UK site: 'Ásatrú (often anglicised as Asatru) is an Icelandic term meaning 'Faith in the Æsir'; it is a modern term used describe a strain of the contemporary revival of polytheistic paganism often referred to as Heathenry.'
Ásatrú, Vanatrú and Fyrnsudu are all under the Heathen umbrella, alongside Odinism, which is what heathenry is often called by its white supremacist followers.
The Viking Revival of Victorian Britain alongside Scandinavian nationalism triggered the beginning of Norse reconstructionism which has resulted in modern heathenry. With 'heathen' being a catch-all, there is no wrong or right way to be Heathen, and different people worship different parts of the pantheon. Modern Neopagans have taken elements of heathenry, and pulled the gods into their own practices. It's an easy religion to pick and choose from in order to figure out what is right for you.
Heathen meets take place across the North. Some recommendations for groups to take part in are as follows:
Northumbria Kith (Heathens of North East England) - Facebook group
North West Heathens (ᚾᚬᚱᚦ᛫ᚠᛅᛋᛏ᛫ᚼᛅᛅᚦᛅᚾᛋ) - Facebook group
Heathens of Yorkshire - www.heathensofyorkshire.com
APPROPRIATION BY WHITE SUPREMACISTS AND THE FAR RIGHT
In the 1970s with the increase in popularity of neopaganism, some of those practicing heathenry began to outwardly display racist attitudes, claiming that the old Norse religion is solely reserved for white people. These far right groups allege that people of colour are unwelcome and try to claim ancestral lineage to Scandinavia, promoting almost an Aryan race style fascist ideology that arguably goes against so much of what the old gods stood for. A problem becoming larger, particularly in America, these racist Heathens are known as 'folkish', and echo ideals held by Hitler. During the recent storming of the Capitol following the 2020 US election, white alt-right activists were seen with the valknut tattooed on them. This open claiming of the Norse religion can make antiracist Heathens afraid to openly show their faith due to not wanting to be perceived as racist, or to cause distress to people of colour.
The vast majority of Heathens hold antiracist views and are often called 'universalists'. There is a very active movement to root out and remove all racist ideology from heathenry.
Note: Pagans of the North is an antiracist publication and believes in equality and equity. It is the view of our team that Heathenry is open to all regardless of ethnicity.
Ryan Smith - The Way of Fire and Ice: The Living Tradition of Norse Paganism (ISBN 978-0738760049)
Snorri Sturluson - The Prose Edda (ISBN 978-0140447552)