Faith in the Aesir and the Vanir : proposal for a Circle of the Asatru
(Circle for the faith in the Aesir)
Asatru (normally spelled Ásatrú) is a religion that honors all the Gods of ancient Scandinavia (and, as always, this implies the Goddesses as well since they are in equal number and of equal importance as the male Gods), and also those of the various "Germanic" peoples before they were Christianized. These Gods left many traces in our unconscious collective mind, in spite of the efforts made by the Christian churches to get rid of them. Our unconscious mind still carries Óđinn (often written "Odin", and also called Wodan), the traveler one-eyed God who appears abruptly and humiliates princes and kings, or who helps his wife, Frigg, in leading the devastating storms of the "wild hunt." We still carry in us Ţórr ("Tor", or "Thor"), the thundering God, friendly to the humble ones, who also hallows the sworn contracts with a blow of his hammer. We still carry in us Frigg or Nerthus, the mother Goddess who controls our lives and our deaths, who appears in the winter skies to cover the ground with snow. In a more hidden way, we carry in us Loki, the God of ambiguous sexuality, warlock and malignant, always ready cheat anyone. In spite of the layers of shame and blame brought by the Christian religions, the layers of physiological efficiency brought by modern rationalism, we all feel deep within us that the sexual act is also a sacred act which should be looked upon as neither shaming nor casual. This is perhaps due to a faint trace in us of the male God of love, Freyr, and of the female Goddess of love, Freya. Both are symbols of fertility and sexual pleasure, where the sexual and the mystical are closely related in a way hardly conceivable nowadays.
Our faith often holds ceremonies in temples where representations of the Gods are common, but they can also take place outside, and the notion of hallowed thicket, hill, source or stones is also very significant. Thus, we respect both gathering in temples and gatherings within miraculous Nature which should never be soiled due to human laziness or greed. Asatru respects and honors still many other Gods that each individual can hold in more or less high respect, in a sharing relationship similar to the one of a family. The discovery of the divine word seems more like a self discovery than like a forced-upon law!
Obviously, we "rebuild" this religion of which a few traces are available. These too rare traces are provided to us by the skaldic poems, the poetic Edda, and to a lesser extent by the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and the German saga Nibelungenlied, by descriptions left by the historians of the Scandinavian world of the 12 and 13th centuries, by the historians of the Germanic world (in the broad sense) pre Christian, and by some Icelandic sagas.
This rebuilding can be done in a spirit of exclusion, or in a spirit of fraternity. We do it in a spirit of fraternity, and we feel close to anyone who wishes to retrieve their ancestral roots. Moreover, all who wish to join our path are welcome, whatever their social and ethnical origin, or their personal way of living. On the other hand, we firmly reject those wanting to impose the idea of a particular ethnical superiority/inferiority on us, or a particular mode of private or social life.
From the strict religious point of view, we feel a deep relationship with the religions of the Pagan Celtic world. Inversely, our Gods are so different from the Gods of the revealed religions, in spite of some surface similarity, that we do not have any other interest for them than the one of an ethnological comparison, just like for any other religions of the world. In other words, we are opened to any form of comparison, but are closed to any form of assimilation of our Gods to other Gods. Our faith is based on five fundamental grounds, besides the respect of nature:
a series of myths describing the Gods,
some ground features by which we establish a kind of human scale of
religious ceremonies whose principal ones are the blot and the sumbel,
a civil ceremony during which each one is consulted: the althing,
They describe the creation of the universe, the behavior and various wanderings of the Gods. It is always interesting to discuss their significance from a historical point of view (what the pre Christian Scandinavian man might have thought of these myths?) and of their significance today (how should these myths influence our behavior?).
Basic behavioral features.
They are implicit in the myths, and the importance of each one deserves a thorough discussion. Following McNallen, the modern Nordic-inspired religions call them nine noble Virtues: courage in front of danger, love of truth, honor, honesty, hospitality, courage at work, perseverance, self-discipline, feeling responsible. These features are ideal, and it is up to each one to decide on the behavior, according to the circumstances, to honor oneself, his/her family, his/her community, and his/her Gods.
The Blot (blót) is a sacrifice showing both a religious and a festive aspect: An animal is killed to honor the Gods, and its meat is cooked and shared by the participants. A country community could reconstitute this ceremony rather exactly, but it does not fit in the prejudices of city people. Moreover, our Christian civilization tends to dissociating fun and mysticism, two features firmly associated in the Blot and Sumbel.
The Sumbel is a kind of ritual toast which is made in three rounds. A bottle or a horn of mead or beer moves around and each participant raises it in honor of God he/she chooses. A short speech can explain why this divinity has been selected. The whole assembly then cheers the selected divinity.
It is a general assembly where the various problems of the community are discussed.
Our faith still presents a component which is essential in almost each Asatru, namely the belief in magic. This magic can relate to various aspects of life. According to each one's choices, it can be very mundane or very mystical, but one thing is common to all Asatru: the use of the runes and/or the practice of an ancient Scandinavian form of shamanism called seidhr (seiđ or seiđr where the last can be also a kind of fish). Even those of the Asatru who are not much interested in magic have some knowledge of the runic writing which is quoted very often in the Eddas. Several splendid poems are dedicated to the runes and their meaning. The Norns, the three giantesses holders of Knowledge, engrave in runes the destiny of the humans and the Gods. Óđinn underwent a "shamanic death" while hanging nine days from the world-tree to acquire knowledge of the runes. This is why runic magic discreetly instills our faith. The knowledge of the runes and the practice of seidhr without being at all obligatory, help to improve our self knowledge, and to become familiar with our Gods.
My Asatru in questions / answers
On the religious experience
I am basically a rationalist unbeliever, where my upbringing naturally led me.
I discovered the feeling of religion through my shamanic experience when I unexpectedly, "met" these spirits called "power animals" by the Americans - without any feeling of "power" on my side. I felt only a kind of intimate communication by which my spirit and the one of Nature would deeply merge
This experience led me to reconsider my priorities. In our deeply humanistic society, humans are primary. My paganism consists in also taking into account the "spirits" of nature. Modern society then becomes a monster devoted to spreading the humans at any cost. My opposition to modern society is not based on pessimistic view such as "present day society leads humanity to its downfall." It is rather based on re-ordering the priorities: humanity is not more (nor less!) significant than nature, ground, trees, flowers and small birds. The "Great Spirit" of Humanity lives in harmony with the "Great Spirit" of the small-birds (a seemingly naive example), but our society lost contact with its own "Great Spirit." Pagans of all kind should help to re-establish it, or at least should try to do it.
Rules of life in a modern society
I insist on the fact that "my" Asatru is a reconstruction, it does not claim to go down from an established tradition. It borrows and it adapts.
Would this reconstruction take place in a tribal environment, and since the tribe is formed around a set of rules enabling common life, the difference between "law" and "ethics" would be tenuous. Who violates the laws must be excluded, or the tribe will not survive.
Since this reconstitution actually takes place in a non tribal environment, our modern society, the creation of such ethical laws is pointed at as being "sectarian" and rightly denounced as being typical of the sects.
Dislike of the sects and of any kind of sectarianism does not prevent from stating fundamental principles by which we analyze behaviours, our own and the one of the others. If someone does not respect some basic principles, this person should not be excluded but simply reminded of these principles.
The nine cardinal virtues are an ideal which shows us the way, not a law to judge and especially not to exclude someone. They oppose however many other ethical systems. For example, Christians have as a principle (I believe) that the love of Christ dominates all, and then comes the principle of the primacy of the spirit on the body, the one of the primacy of spiritual on the intellectual, etc. These principles are basically different from those of Asatru.
In spite of this relaxed attitude, we do not dream of a totally free society, and someone who does not respect any the basic ethical principles, and especially who does not give any importance to them, self-excludes from the Asatru ring.
Is Asatru a natural religion?
What is a natural religion compared to one which would not be natural? There are indeed religions which are more integrated to Nature than others, meaning that they respect or honour or make a God of nature, or of mother earth, etc.
Respecting or not Nature, as a fundamental principle, is not superficial, it is a capital problem. One has to choose between the primacy of nature and the primacy of humanity, otherwise humans destroy nature.
To admit the existence of magic, its reality, does not mean that one is ready to accept any claim. The basic problem is what is the "real" effect of magic on humans.
Magic appears today primarily in three popular forms:
- Magic of the Harry Potter kind has the real effect to make us dream.
- Magic of the astrology type has the real effect to modify our behavior (or, at least, to give us good sense counselling, for those which do not believe in it).
- Magic of the homeopathy type has as the real action to cure some amount of illnesses.
In these three cases, their rational support is almost non-existent, and thus we cannot know if "it is all in our head" or if an action external to us takes place.
These three kinds of magic seem to me the result of the evolution of the magic in Western civilization. At its origin, magic - for example shamanic magic - is a call to the Gods or the Spirits in order to change reality. Nowadays, the storyteller, the astrologer or the homeopath do not call any more upon "powers" higher than them, they imagine (storytellers), they observe (astrologers), or they manufacture (homeopaths) themselves their magic ingredients.
The bond between magic and higher "powers" has been broken by today civilization. It is up to us to restore it.