Since I posted my second pagan book review about Asatru, I thought I’d share my research paper that I wrote on the subject for my World Religion class. Before I do so, let me explain that I first heard of Asatru from reading Drawing Down the Moon (excellent book, by the way). Once I learned that it’s based off of the paganism of “Germanavia”, it sparked my interest. My mother is German, Dutch and Swiss and my father is Norwegian and Swedish so I was excited to learn what my pagan ancestors were up to. Anyway, without further adieu, here is my paper…
Asatru is a Germanic pagan religion. Its traditions and practices are reconstructed from the old Germanic/Nordic/Scandinavian peoples before Christianity had taken over that region . In fact, of all the regions of Europe, the Germanic tribes were the last to convert to Christianity and were the most resistant .
Asatru means “loyal to the gods”; Tru meaning loyal and Aesir meaning “of the gods”  which was derived from Asii which means Asia . The Greeks called the ancient Nords (then known as the Alans) the Asii .
Asatru uses the Elder Edda for its mythology and folklore to keep to the ways of the Nords. Edda is Old Norse for “great-grandmother”, according to one theory . The Elder Edda is a compilation of skaldic (skald means “minstrel” or “poet” in Old Norse) poems that were passed orally dating back to the tenth century. The poems were collected and recorded in Iceland during the thirteenth century . The Eddas mostly describe two races of gods. One is the Aesir and the other is the Vanir, which means “friends of the gods” .
The first poem in the Elder Edda is Voluspa (Prophecy of the Seeress). The god, Odin, resurrects the seeress just long enough for her to foretell Ragnarok (a series of events leading to the end of the world). First, she proves her credibility by explaining the creation of the world when there was Muspellheimr (flames, heat, and light) in the south and Niflheimr (ice, water, mist, cold, and darkness) in the north. The two “worlds” merged together and from that, Ymir, a giant was born. He fed from the cow, Audhumbla, while she licked the ice and released Buri, a frost giant. Buri’s son, Bor, has 3 sons, Odin, Vili and Ve who killed Ymir and all the frost giants. They made the Earth (or Midgard) from Ymir’s flesh, the mountains from his bones, the seas from his blood, the rocks from his teeth, the wall blocking off Jotunheimr (the world of the etins) from his eyebrows and the sky from his skull. 4 dwarves hold the skull high above the Earth, one at each corner .
The first prophecy starting Ragnarok involves the giant, Surtr (“black” or “swarthy one” in Old Norse) leading the etins (giants) from the south to fight the Aesir at the field, Vigrid. Bifrost Bridge (a rainbow connecting Midgard to Asgard) is broken and most of the gods are killed (all the goddesses are spared) one way or another. Odin is swallowed by Fenrir (an enormous, highly vicious wolf). Odin’s son, Baldr, avenges him by tearing Fenrir’s jaws in half and spearing him in the heart. Jomungandr, the gigantic sea serpent that encircles the earth under water, then rises above the surface and is slain by Thor. Jomungandr’s collapse makes waves (literally) which cause the earth to sink under. The sun blackens and the stars fall from the sky. Thor is able to only get nine ships for people to avoid dying in the great flood. Then flames touch the heavens. Later, the Earth rises from the water and the remaining gods and people discuss what happened during Ragnarok and start a new civilization. The seeress ends her prophecy with a vision of Nidhogg, a dragon, flying over the earth with corpses in his mouth .
Also in the Edda, there are nine worlds. Midgard is the earth, where humans live. Asgard is where the Aesir live . Some historians dispute that Asgard was the capital city of the Asii. Vanaheimr is where the Vanir live. Historically speaking, it is theorized that the Vanir culture existed before the Aesir showed up . The Vanir are often generalized as fertility deities and peace bringers. Most of the Vanir are used in fertility rites. (It has been argued that “Vanir” may also derive from “Venus”, the Roman goddess of love.) Their attitudes towards sex seem to be more relaxed than those of the Aesir. The Aesir tend to be more creativity and war based .
One the most well-known deities (if not, the most well-known) is Odin. He is the oldest of the Aesir and the wisest. He is invoked for wisdom and creativity. Odin was said to have carved the first man and woman out of driftwood and gave them life and special knowledge and spirituality. Their names were Askr (Ash Tree) and Embla (Elm Tree, or Busy Woman). Since Odin is the god associated with words and language, he has the most names than any other Nordic deity. He is depicted as a wanderer and often linked to the weather. He wanders to keep learning and gain more knowledge. He put his eye in the well of knowledge to always see the inner world (therefore, he is also frequently portrayed with an eyepatch) .
Thor is the god of thunder and defender of the earth. He keeps a balance between humans, etins and gods. He is the son of Odin and Frigg (Odin’s wife, a domestic goddess). He is invoked for weather and winning wars or battles. He is usually portrayed in armor with a hammer .
Freyr is of the Vanir and is, therefore, a fertility deity. He is invoked to bring peace, prosperity and crops. He is viewed as a lover by women and a symbol of potency for men. He is almost always shown as a handsome, naked man with an erect phallus. He is also called Yngvi, who is an ancestor of the early Swedish kings .
Loki is not determined to be a god. He is known as a troublemaker who stirs up mischief. This may be seen as a blessing in disguise due to his provocations usually leading to hard work and innovation from others. He is often seen as Thor’s right-hand man .
Freyja is Freyr’s twin sister, thus also from the Vanir. She is the only one of the Vanir to live in Asgard with the Aesir. Like her brother, she has wheat-blonde hair and is very beautiful with a golden necklace that was crafted by the dwarves. She is rarely ever seen without her necklace, as it is believed a lot of her power comes from the necklace, also known as Freyja’s Strand. It allows her to change her shape at will. She had to spend a night with each of the 4 dwarves to receive the necklace. She is invoked for sexuality, magic and shamanism. She is a possible source for the traditions of English witchcraft. Freyja chooses those slain in battle to feast in her hall. Those not chosen are taken to Odin’s hall .
Hella (or Hel) was born from Loki and the giantess, Angrbodha. She was born half rotting corpse and was cast under the earth by the gods because of it. She is the guardian of the ancestors of the Germanic tribes. Those who die from old age or illness feast in Hella’s hall in the underworld (also one of the nine worlds). All wisdom can be gained by conversing with those in her hall .
A temple in Uppsala, Sweden that was destroyed in approximately 1100 was recounted by Adam of Bremen about 100 years after it was destroyed. He describes the temple as decorated all in gold with a gold chain around the outside of it. There were three statues of deities and a priest for each deity. The deities were Odin, Thor and Freyr. Sacrifices to each deity were made, depending on what which one was needed to invoke. Adam says that every nine years there is a massive festival where nine males of every living creature were sacrificed and hung on the trees surrounding the temple. He also says that the pagans who worshipped there were worshiping men who they immortalized because of their heroic deeds. All that remains at the site in Uppsala are some postholes in the ground and three burial mounds .
The Asatruar are typically of Germanic descent, as they feel they are walking the path of their ancestors. They believe that they, like the rest of the Nordic peoples, are descendants of the the Aesir and Vanir. Asatru is a heritage-based religion, although it is not exclusive to only people of Scandinavian origin. The Asatru Folk Assembly was started by Stephen McNallen in 1994. He was the subject of much controversy when he claimed the Kennewick Man as his heathen ancestor. The Kennewick Man are the remains of a 9000 year old body found in Washington , believed to have been of Native American origin .
Asatru became a legally recognized religion in Iceland in 1973. It receives the same support from the state alongside other official religions. Icelandic Asatruar hold a large Yule celebration for about 12 days in the middle of every winter. Yule is the most important holiday for Asatruar as it is their new year . It is a time where women are celebrated partially for their domestic qualities . My great-great-grandmother, Dora Johanson was born in Gothenberg, Sweden and came to the United States as an indentured servant. She married my great-great-grandfather, Oscar Alexander Andresen, who came to the United States from Oslo, Norway as a crate loader for ships . I know for a fact neither one of them were pagan since Christinity had already been ingrained into society by then, but they’re the reason I chose to write about this religion.
1. Essential Asatru: Walking the Path of Norse Paganism. Paxson, Diana L., 2006
2. History of Pagan Europe, A. Jones, Prudence & Pennick, Nigel, 1995
3. Poetic Edda. (translated by) Hollander, Lee M., 1962
4. runestone.org Asatru Folk Assembly
5. Interview with Hutchinson, Irving (my grandfather) 2007
By the way…I got an A. 😀