Germanic Paganism:

A Brief Introduction

 

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(Reprinted from "Rainbow Wind" Magazine)

There are various forms of Germanic Paganism, of which the best known is Asatru, which is based on the Heathen (a native Anglo-Saxon word preferred by many of us over the Latin-derived "Pagan") beliefs of the medieval Scandinavians. There are also Anglo-Saxon and other non-Asatru groups. The Germanic peoples (a linguistic term; the speakers of the Germanic languages are rather mixed ethnically) include the English (and the rest of the English-speaking world, originally colonized by England), Lowland Scots, Dutch (and Flemish, Afrikaaners, and Frisians), Scandinavians (Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders, and Faroese), and the German-speaking peoples (Germans, Swiss-Germans, Austrians, Luxembourgeois, Pennsylvania "Dutch"...). The Goths, Vandals, Lombards, and other Germanic tribes no longer exist as such; their languages are extinct and their descendents absorbed into the dominant ethnic groups in the countries in which they settled. Our symbol, since at least early medieval times, is the Thor's Hammer. We do not use the pentagram.

The modern Asatru revival dates back to the early 1970's, with several groups forming within a few months of each other without any knowledge of the others' existence. Germanic Heathenism is not as well known in the larger Pagan community as are the somewhat related Celtic and Hellenic/"Greco-Roman" (Sophia, put down that Labrys) Paganisms. There are several reasons for this. One is that the Hellenic myths are what are taught in the schools (I remember my high school mythology class with great fondness). Another is that the Wiccan community (around 2/3 of contemporary Pagans, not counting Native American and Afro-Latin American practitioners) is extremely interested in Celtic lore (I'm not sure why; Wicca isn't really Celtic, it has just borrowed a great deal of Celtic material). In fact, from the Heathen perspective, pre-Gardnerian Wicca (which I do believe in although many Heathens don't), is really the remnants of Vanir worship. More on the Vanir later. The last reason is that, while most nasty right-wing extremists are, fortunately for us, Christian, those that want to be Pagan usually gravitate toward Germanic Heathenism. It is, after all, the indigenous Paganism of Germany, which had a Nazi regime for 12 years. The Nazis abused both Christian and Heathen symbolism. They misused the Swastika and some runes (the original alphabet of the Germanic peoples, used mostly for magick and short inscriptions). The Nazis handed out plenty of Iron Crosses too, and very few German Christians stood up to them. We hear about the few that did, and usually got killed for their stand. The Swastika is a very old solar symbol used by many peoples. Real Heathenism has nothing to do with Nazism. Unfortunately, Germanic Heathenism does have a loud scary fringe. The Wiccans get harmless flakes on their fringe. We get the more dangerous loons: racist, homophobic, even fascist.

Germanic Paganism is open to anyone interested irregardless of race, sexual orientation, or any other devisive criteria. Individuals of many racial/ethnic backgrounds, as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks, are active in Asatru groups around the country. What we are basically looking for is a basic level of human decency. You don't have to be perfect, but you do have to be trying to live an honest and productive life to be a "good Heathen." We have complete equality of the sexes within our religion. Any individual can do any ritual to any Deity, and all offices in the various mainstream Asatru organizations are open to both sexes. Some groups have legally recognized clergy for the purposes of weddings, etc, but most of us see Asatru as non-hierarchical and non-initiatory. The initiation is between the individual and the Gods, without a degree system. Our local (Kentucky, USA) groups are definitely non-discriminatory.

Asatru has a definite ethical system. We believe in courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self reliance, and perseverance (the Nine Noble Virtues). We are by no means prudes, but we don't have much use for liars and thieves. We have no problem with adults who have not pledged sexual fidelity having more than one sexual partner, but most of us don't see it as a means to spiritual advancement. We believe individuals and families should provide for their own financial needs whenever possible. There is more alcohol (we tend to brew lots of mead, a sort of honey-wine) and less use of other drugs than in most Pagan groups. We tend to watch out for each other. When one of us is messing up big-time, we tell them and offer help. My experience with the larger Pagan community is that almost anything is tolerated (at least until things reach a boiling point) in an effort to avoid judgementalism. In short, there is a lot of plain common sense in Asatru. Our politics are varied, but we tend more toward libertarianism, where many "mainstream" Pagans (it seems to me) gravitate toward some sort of socialism, often fairly utopian. We are, as a whole, plain-spoken and down-to-earth, but unfortunately are not exempt from the general Pagan tendency toward internal squabbling.

But more about our religion, which is what is most important to us. While some have said that Wicca is a magickal system first and a religion second (ever notice that some of their rituals spend more time setting up and taking down the circle than worshipping the Gods and Goddesses?), Asatru is definitely a religion first and foremost. While there are associated magickal systems (runes, galder/spoken spellcraft, and seidhr/intuitive and shamanic work), one can be an active Heathen without ever working any magick! In fact, some Heathens of more than 20 years' standing are in just that position. Many are not, of course. Some also do tarot, astrology, etc, but these are not a part of our religious and magickal system per se. Our major religious rituals are the blot and the sumbel. A blot is a ritual to one or more Gods and Goddesses. We also honor our ancestors, predecessors in faith, and various spirits, including nature spirits. Blot may or may not have an etymological connection with the word blood, but we use mead or apple juice! The liquid is offered to the Deity being honored, and then used to sprinkle the participants. Then some of the liquid is consumed. Our rituals take about thirty minutes, and they can be performed without robes and with a minimum of equipment. A glass of liquid will suffice for the sumbel. For the blot, add a bowl and twig. Kitchen glasses and bowls will work just fine. Sacred space is cleared, but no circle is cast. The sumbel is a sort of ritualized toasting. We toast the Gods and Goddesses, great heroes, and our ancestors, then open up the toasting. Boasting of one's accomplishments is fine if not done to excess or obnoxiously. The idea of the sumbel is to bring the power of great deeds of the past into our lives today. Both rituals are very moving.

Our major Gods and Goddesses are Odin and Frigga, Thor and Sif, Tyr, Frey and Freya, and Njord and Nerthus. Others include Heimdall, Ull, Skadi, Bragi and Idunna, Ran and Aegir, Hela, Balder, and Loki, the Trickster. Most are multifunctional, with considerable overlap in their functions. They are, for the most part, exceptionally approachable and worshipper-friendly, although Nerthus, Ran, Aegir, Hela, and Loki should be invoked only by the advanced practitioner, and one should not invoke Tyr when angry to avoid absorbing too much of the energy of this God of war and justice. There is a strong tradition of choosing (or being chosen by) a patron God or Goddess, and calling on him or her for most needs. I am dedicated to the God Frey (Ing).This is polytheism, however (we believe our Gods and Goddesses to be real beings, as we are, and not mere archetypes or facets of an amorphous "One") and our Gods and Goddesses aren't jealous. It is perfectly fine and appropriate to worship Greek Gods and Goddesses with our Hellenic Pagan friends if they invite us to one of their rituals. Nevertheless, most of us see ourselves as dedicated to the Aesir and Vanir, and worship only these two families of Gods in our own personal worship. Nerthus, Njord, Frey and Freya (these last two names mean "Lord" and "Lady" respectively) are Vanir, a family of Gods seen as immanent in nature. Nerthus is a very old and dark Earth Goddess. Njord rules over harbors, seacoasts, fishing, and by extension wealth in general. Frey and Freya are nature/agriculture/fertility Deities. Freya also rules, along with Odin (chief God, God of the Dead, a war God....) over magick. The rest are Aesir, and are seen as more or less beyond, as well as in, Nature. Frigga is the Mother of Gods and Men. Thor, of course, is our Thunder God, as well as a God of hallowing, warding and protection. While some groups use a modified Wheel of the Year, others have a monthly blot. Moon phases have little place in our worship or magick.

Finally, Asatru, like virtually all religions, recognizes a life beyond the grave. Reincarnation , often in the same family, is one of the things that can happen to you. Our concept of Wyrd is similar to karma, except that wyrd is more evolutionary, while karma functions more like a scoreboard. In Asatru, the Gods do not keep hitting you over the head with lessons you have mastered just because you 'owe' . We believe that the afterlife will take care of itself, as long as we take care of the here and now.

For more information, I recommend Teutonic Religion and Teutonic Magick, both by Kveldulf Gundarsson and published by Llewellyn Press (1-800-THE-MOON). There are various modern retellings of our myths (which as a whole we don't take literally, our Gods and Goddesses are beyond the petty foibles of mythic characters), of which The Norse Myths by Crossley-Holland is an excellent one. D'Aulaire's Norse Gods and Giants is a "kiddie" book with great illustrations, but well worth reading. Iceland (whose modern Icelandic language is almost identical to the Old Norse spoken by the Vikings!) is where most of what we know was written down. The Elder (Poetic) Edda and the Prose (Younger) Edda (the latter written by Snorri Sturluson) are essential reading. Various translations are available. Lost Gods of England by Brian Branston, Myth and Religion of the North by Turville-Petre, and Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis-Davidson are scholarly texts essential to the serious student. At all costs avoid D.J. Conway's Norse Magic, Ed Fitch's The Rites of Odin, and anything by Ralph Blum. Our religion is better known from the historical record than many others, and we believe that while any living religion must evolve and grow over time, we must know Asatru's past if its new growth is to be healthy and viable. Asatru has been of great help to me in the three years I have been dedicated to its Gods and Goddesses, and I have had many prayers answered and even some personal/visionary contact with the Gods and Goddesses, and I plan on it remaining my religion for the rest of my life.

 

Jordsvin

Created by Chandonn and Jordsvin

all works used by permission of the authors

last modified 07/20/2003