A modern replica of a Viking Age
pendant representing Mjölnir
, the hammer of the god Thor
; such pendants are often worn by Heathens.
Heathenry, also termed Heathenism or Germanic Neopaganism, is a modern Pagan religion. Scholars of religious studies classify Heathenry as a new religious movement. Its practitioners model their faith on the pre-Christian belief systems adhered to by the Germanic peoples of Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe. To reconstruct these past belief systems, Heathenry uses surviving historical, archaeological, and folkloric evidence as a basis, although approaches to this material vary considerably.
Heathenry does not have a unified theology although is typically polytheistic, centering on a pantheon of deities from pre-Christian Germanic Europe. It adopts cosmological views from these past societies, including an animistic view of the cosmos in which the natural world is imbued with spirits. The religion's deities and spirits are honored in sacrificial rites known as blóts in which food and libations are offered to them. These are often accompanied by symbel, the act of ceremonially toasting the gods with an alcoholic beverage. Some practitioners also engage in rituals designed to induce an altered state of consciousness and visions, most notably seiðr and galdr, with the intent of gaining wisdom and advice from the deities. Although many solitary practitioners follow the religion by themselves, members of the Heathen community often assemble in small groups, usually known as kindreds or hearths, to perform their rites outdoors or in specially constructed buildings. Heathen ethical systems emphasize honor, personal integrity, and loyalty, while beliefs about an afterlife vary and are rarely emphasized.
The interlaced horn design from the Danish Snoldelev stone
was adopted as the official symbol of the Asatru Folk Assembly in October 2006.
The Asatru Folk Assembly, or AFA, a Heathen organisation, is the American-based Ásatrú organization founded by Stephen McNallen in 1994. Mattias Gardell classifies the AFA as folkish.
The AFA has been recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization or church. It is based in Nevada City, California. The organization denounces racial supremacism, however, the former head (Stephen McNallen) has called for the reformation of the Freikorps, and the current leader of the organization has routinely quoted white supremacist, David Lane.
The Asatru Folk Assembly is a successor organization to a group called the Asatru Free Assembly founded by McNallen in 1974 and disbanded in 1986, splitting into the "folkish" Ásatrú Alliance and the "universalist" The Troth. The Asatru Free Assembly had been an outgrowth of a group called the Viking Brotherhood founded by McNallen together with Robert Stine in 1971.
The defunct Asatru Free Assembly is sometimes distinguished from the modern Asatru Folk Assembly by the usage of "old AFA" and "new AFA", respectively. From 1997-2002, the AFA was a member organization of the International Asatru-Odinic Alliance.
The title page of Olive Bray's English translation of the Poetic Edda depicting the tree Yggdrasil
The Poetic Edda, also known as Sæmundar Edda or the Elder Edda, is a collection of Old Norse poems from the Icelandic medieval manuscript Codex Regius ("The King's Manuscript"). Along with Snorri's Edda the Poetic Edda is the most important source on Germanic mythology and heroic legends.
The first part of the Codex Regius preserves poems that narrate the creation and destruction of the mythological world as well as individual myths about gods such as Odin, Thor and Heimdall. The poems in the second part narrate legends about heroes and heroines such as Sigurd the Dragonslayer, Brynhildr and Gunnar.
The Codex Regius was written down in the 13th century but nothing is known of its whereabouts until 1643 when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt. At that time versions of Snorri's Edda were well known in Iceland but scholars speculated that there once was another Edda — an Elder Edda — which contained the pagan poems Snorri quotes in his book.
When the Codex Regius was discovered it seemed that this speculation had proven correct. Brynjólfur attributed the manuscript to Sæmundr fróði, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. While this attribution is rejected by modern scholars the name Sæmundar Edda is still sometimes encountered.
Bishop Brynjólfur sent the Codex Regius as a present to the Danish king, hence the name. For centuries it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen but in 1971 it was returned to Iceland.
Lóðurr is a god in Norse mythology. In the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá he is assigned a role in animating the first humans, but apart from that he is hardly ever mentioned, and remains obscure. Scholars have variously identified him with Loki, Vé, Vili and Freyr, but consensus has not been reached on any one theory.
Regarding afterlife, the Heathens may hold different views. According to the Heathen lore, the soul is not a single entity, but a composite of parts both physical and metaphysical, a microcosm of the immense macrocosm. The soul is typically thought to have nine to twelve parts, however some Heathens combine some of the soul parts. These beliefs makes sense since according to myths man was created by the gifts of three gods, Odin, Hoenir and Lodur.
The most commonly recognised parts are the Lik or the physical body, the Ond or the divine breath which connects us to the greater web of being, the Hame or imagination which shapes our being, the Mod or the incarnated being which contains the emotions of a life, and the Wod or inspiration. However, the definitions can vary greatly from one group to another.
A popular belief among Germanic Neopagans is that of reincarnation; the Heathen view of reincarnation is exposed in the concept of Apterburder contained in the Edda. The Apterburder (roughly "rebirth") is the process whereby the essence of a man is handed down to his generations allowing him to be reborn later in the same kinship; in other words Heathens believe that reincarnation happens within the boundaries of a kinship, a genetic lineage — for example the grandson is the reincarnation of the grandfather or even earlier generations.
Another belief commonly held by Heathens is that after death one's soul joins divinity in the domain, or the "hall", of his own patron deity. These "halls" can be the traditional domains described in the Edda, the Hel housing Hella or the Valhalla of Odin, or the domains or other deities not described in the ancient lore. Ancestor worship is a very important part of Heathen piety; one can choose to worship his direct family ancestors, earlier lineage ancestors, or ethnic ancestors.
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Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson at a blót
Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson (July 4, 1924 – December 23, 1993), a native of Iceland, was instrumental in helping to gain recognition by the Icelandic government for the pre-Christian Norse religion. The Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið ("Icelandic Asatruar Association"), which he founded, and for which he acted as goði (priest), was officially recognised as a religious body in 1972.
Sveinbjörn lived his entire life in West Iceland. From 1944 on, he was a sheep farmer while also pursuing literary interests on the side. He published a book of rímur in 1945, a textbook on the verse forms of rímur in 1953, two volumes of his own verse in 1957 and 1976, and edited several anthologies.
Sveinbjörn was regarded with much respect and affection amongst Ásatrú. Not only was he a well known rímur singer, or kvæðamaður, in Iceland, he also gained an audience and followers in Europe and North America. He sometimes performed at rock concerts and is the opening act in the film Rokk í Reykjavík, directed by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson.
Sveinbjörn can be heard performing Ásatrú marriage rites for Genesis and Paula P-Orridge (now Alaura O'Dell) on Psychic TV's LP Live in Reykjavik and on the double LP entitled Those who do not. Additionally, former Psychic TV member David Tibet (né David Michael Bunting) released a CD of Sveinbjörn performing his own rímur and reciting the traditional Poetic Edda under the title Current 93 presents Sveinbjörn 'Edda' in two editions through the now defunct record company World Serpent Distribution.
In American Asatru as developed by Stephen McNallen and Robert Stine, the sumble is a drinking-ritual in which a drinking horn full of mead or ale is passed around and a series of toasts are made, first to the gods, then to other divine beings, then to heroes or ancestors, and then to others. Participants may also make boasts of their own deeds, or oaths or promises of future actions. Words spoken during the sumble are considered and consecrated, becoming part of the Wyrd of those assembled. Since the sumble is mainly derived from Anglo-Saxon sources the ritual is not known by this name among Icelandic Nordic Neopagans, who nevertheless practice a similar ritual as part of the blot, corresponding to the Anglo-Saxon husel.
Within Greater Heathenry, but in Theodism and Fyrnsidu in particular, the sumble has a particularly high importance, considered "the highest and most important rite" or "amongst the most holy rites" celebrated. It is considered a fate-weaving ritual, a commitment to future evolution, a ritual conditioning the Wyrd of the community. Each action of which the sumble is composed serves to strengthen the unity and interconnected luck between the participants. In sumble, the Heathens are called to remember those past deeds which strengthened their luck and brought might to the group, and they are called to rise above unshining deeds. The sumble reinforces the cohesiveness of the community setting each person not only in the active flow of Wyrd, but bringing them in alignment with the wisdom of their collective ancestry. It reaffirms the ethnic identity of a group.
Women are considered very important in the sumble ritual, they're usually the alekeepers who pass the ritual horn among participants. Of course more liberal sects give also men the opportunity to perform this task. This is because women are those who traditionally take care of the new generations, setting a future for the ethnicity, and in the myth are the three feminine Norns who nurture the world tree Yggdrasill and have access to the Urdarbrunn, sustaining all creation.
Quoting New York City Council member and Theodsman member of the Normannii Theod Dan Halloran: "Setting at Symbel is an act of setting words into the Well in a metaphysical attempt to affect Wyrd and direct it. It is the feminine aspect that is 'active' in this task and carries the water to the Well, sprinkling the Tree, and forcing the dynamic cycle of Wyrd to flow. It is the Woman who bares the Wyrd back and forth to the Well — which of course is also the metaphysical embodiment of the feminine 'frithy' part to the Tree's 'worthy' masculine part".