Heathenry in the United Kingdom

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In the United Kingdom, a variety of contemporary Pagan movements professing a form of Heathenry exist.

Religious belief and practice[edit]

Most Heathens in the UK operate in small groups or family units, often termed kindreds or hearths.[1] There is a tendency for such groups to develop their own approaches to Heathenry independently, assisted by networking groups and Internet communication.[2] Thus most kindreds remain unaffiliated with one another while remaining in contact.[2]

The most evident forms of ritual practice among the British Heathen community are blot and sumbel. The first of these is a rite of offering, while the latter is a rite of toasting. The latter rite is typically more formal, while blot can be more simple, and performed without words.[3]


In the United Kingdom Census 2001, 300 people registered as Heathen in England and Wales.[1] However, many Heathens followed the advice of the Pagan Federation (PF) and simply described themselves as "Pagan", while other Heathens did not specify their religious beliefs.[1] The 2011 census however made it possible to describe oneself as Pagan-Heathen (or any other chosen subgroup). The figures for England and Wales show 1,958 people self-identifying as Heathen. A further 251 described themselves as Reconstructionist and may include some people reconstructing Germanic paganism. The comparable figures for the UK as a whole in 2001 were 278 Heathen and 92 Asatru:[4]

Heathen groups[edit]

Anthropologist Jenny Blain asserted that the largest divide in the British Heathen community was between groups who believe that humans are naturally divided into distinct races and those who see racial distinctions as being cultural.[2]

The Odinic Rite (OR) was founded in 1973 under the influence of Else Christensen's Odinist Study Group. On 24 February 1988 the Rite became the first polytheistic religious organisation to be granted "Registered Charity" status in the UK.[5] This led to some controversy that the Rite had presented Odinism as a monotheistic religion in order to gain acceptance by the Charity Commission.[6] In 1990 a split occurred in the Rite. Two organisations were formed from the schism,[7] initially each claiming the same name and therefore known by their postal addresses. "BCM Runic" is now known as the Odinic Rite with the motto "Faith, Folk and Family".[8] "BM Edda", now known as the Odinist Fellowship,[9] is the part of the organisation which retains charitable status.[10] The Odinist faction of British heathenry has been accused of racism or a racialist perspective on religion, especially the more hardline Odinic Rite.[11]

An annual gathering of Heathens in the UK called Heathenfest was held at Peterborough from 2005, it was organised by Woden's Hearth. Past speakers included Pete Jennings, Jenny Blain, Thorskegga Thorn and Stephen Pollington.[12] However, this event is no longer extant.

In 2013 Asatru UK (AUK), an online social media group, was founded on Facebook. Soon after its inception AUK began to offer real-world events, bringing the online exclusive group, offline. The group's constitution (see AUK Facebook page, link below) openly displays AUK's stance on inclusion, family-friendly and individualistic approach to Heathenry/Asatru, which may have contributed to its rapid growth (Currently at 1,611 online members, 23/07/2017). It is speculated that AUK may now be the largest heathen organisation in the UK. AUK hosts Moots (typically used as a synonym for a gathering) across the UK and there may be scope for larger events as demand and the community grows [13][14].

Such demand led to the creation of AUK's first festival, "The Asgardian", which was held in 2016 featuring speakers, workshops, traders, musical acts and rituals ("Sumbel" and "Blot"). The event can likely be claimed as the largest heathen event in modern UK history. It received much acclaim following the festival on the AUK page from UK heathens and from international visitors, leading to it becoming an annual event [15],[16].


Anthropologist Jenny Blain noted that by 2005, it was common for Pagan moots (regular social gatherings) to contain a small number of Heathens.[1] However, many Heathens distance themselves from the wider Pagan movement, which they deem to have been too heavily dominated by practitioners of Wicca.[1] Thus, there are few Heathen members of the Pagan Federation, although increasingly mutual links between Heathens and the Pagan Federation are being established.[3] To this end the Pagan-Heathen symposium was established in order to foster support and dialogue between the rapidly diverging paths of heathenry and other neo-pagan sects.[17]

The internet also provided a factor in unifying the British Heathen movement, as websites such as UKHeathenry and Midgard's Web became increasingly popular in the early 21st century.[1] The popularity of Asatru UK also owes much to this, the rise of social media has allowed heathens to connect more effectively. Heathens were also involved in the creation of the Association of Polytheist Traditions,[1] as well as the creation and maintenance of the International Asatru Summer Camp (IASC), a loose coalition of real-world heathen groups across Europe. Asatru UK is a signatory of the IASC, along with its sister group, the Kith of the Tree and the Well.[18]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Blain 2005, p. 191.
  2. ^ a b c Blain 2005, p. 193.
  3. ^ a b Blain 2005, p. 194.
  4. ^ Office for National Statistics, 11 December 2012, 2011 Census, Key Statistics for Local Authorities in England and Wales. Accessed 12 December 2012.
  5. ^ Michael York (1997), Paganism and the British Charity Commission, paper given at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion 1997 Annual Meeting - San Diego
  6. ^ Polly Toynbee (1996). "A being that works in mysterious ways," The Independent, 15 July 1996
  7. ^ York (1997)
  8. ^ The Odinic Rite website, accessed 27 November 2011
  9. ^ The Odinist Fellowship website accessed 27 November 2011
  10. ^ Charity Commission website, accessed 27 November 2011.
  11. ^ "A Study of Racist Discourse in the Odinic Rite Website" (PDF). Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  12. ^ "Heathenfest". Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  13. ^ "Asatru UK Community Page". Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  14. ^ "Asatru UK Social Media Group". Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  15. ^ "The Asgardian Festival". Retrieved 23 July 2017. 
  16. ^ "The Asgardian Festival". Retrieved 22 September 2016. ..  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  17. ^ "The Pagan-Heathen Symposium". Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  18. ^ "IASC". Retrieved 22 September 2016. 


Blain, Jenny (2005). "Heathenry, the Past, and Sacred Sites in Today's Britain". In Strmiska, Michael F. Modern Paganism in World Cultures. ABC-CLIO. pp. 181–208.