natural for people to have questions about Heathenry. We've
attempted to answer some of the more common questions below.
But, please keep in mind that Heathenry has no central authority and
varies greatly from person to person, group to group, and even by
region. These are the best answers that we can give from our
perspective, but others heathens may give answers that vary from
these a little or possibly a lot. This diversity
and difference of opinion can be a little disconcerting
for newcomers to Heathenry, but over time you will likely come to
see that this is one of Heathenry's strengths. Please feel free to share
these questions and answers with new heathens, or even your
non-heathen family members or friends who are concerned or confused
about what Heathenry is and what it all means.
-----What does "Asatru"
-----When did Asatru
-----From what sources does
-----What is the structure
-----What Gods or other
beings do Heathens honor?
-----What rites and
celebrations to Heathens perform?
-----What are the Heathen
festivals or holidays?
ethics, virtues, and values do Heathens hold?
-----Do Heathens believe
in or practice magic?
-----What do Heathens
believe happens after death?
-----How do Heathens and
Heathenry is a term used to describe the
religious practices of two main groups of people, one historical and
The original Heathens were the pre-Christian
North European peoples who lived a thousand and more years ago in
the lands around what is now called the North Sea. These included
the peoples of Anglo-Saxon England, Scandinavia, Germany and Frisia
Modern Heathen groups around the world are
reviving these old practices and call their religion by various
names including Asatru, The Northern Tradition, Odinism, Forn Sed,
Germanic Pagan Reconstructionism or, simply, Heathenry. In Iceland,
which did not convert to Christianity until the 11th Century,
Heathenry has once again become an official (nationally recognised)
Heathens work to build healthy relationships
with gods and goddesses, ancestors, spirits of the land, and others
in their communities, both through holy rites and through their day
to day actions and deeds.
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What does Asatru
It means, roughly, "belief in the Gods" in Old
Norse, the language of ancient Scandinavia in which so much of our
source material was written. Using the term "Asatru" in
reference to heathen ways is fairly recent in origin, as the
Icelandic folk chose this term for their reconstructed religion in
The term could also be interpreted "Truth of the
Gods," though the translation "Belief (Troth) in the Gods" is
closer in meaning.
If asked, our Northern European ancestors, would
probably have called their beliefs simply "my
beliefs/customs." Thus a more accurate name for
heathenry would possibly be "Forn Siğr" (Old Ways, Old Beliefs, or
Heathen (heiğinn in Old Norse) is often used as
a wider term referring to different beliefs within modern heathenry,
and can be used to encompass Asatru, Anglo-Saxons, Theodish beliefs,
Odinism, and others).
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When did Asatru
Asatru is thousands of years old (though it is
practiced in a modern form today, to meet the needs of our age). Its
beginnings are lost in prehistory, but it is older than
Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or most other religions. The spirit
it expresses, though, is as ancient as the northern European peoples
themselves - anywhere from a mere 40,000 years old to perhaps as
much as 150,000 years. As you can see, we have been Christian for
only a small percentage, at most, of our existence as a distinct
group and developing cultural group.
The modern revival or reconstruction of Asatru,
or Heathenry, is much more recent. Icelandic poet Gothi
Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson promoted government recognition of Asatru as
a legitimate religion; this status was granted in 1972. Since the
early 1970's, the religion has been in a period of rapid growth in
the former Norse countries, as well as in Europe and North
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From what sources does Heathenry
There are literary sources that tell us how
Heathenry was practised before the advent of Christianity. The main
sources include medieval Icelandic Eddas and Sagas, Anglo-Saxon
poetry, the works of the 8th century English monk Saint Bede, and
the Germania by the Roman historian Tacitus.
Although most of these were written in Christian
times, they record the religious beliefs and practices of a culture
that existed before Christianity came to Northern Europe.
Archaeological evidence continues to be discovered which supports
this picture of Heathen religion obtained from such classical and
Alongside these historical sources, modern
Heathens experience their own, personal, understanding of their
religion as lived today, and their own relationship with their
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What is the structure or
organization of Heathenry?
There are no central authorities in Heathenry
and no single organisation to which all Heathens belong, though
there are national and international organisations created to
facilitate networking between Heathens. There is no widely
recognised priesthood, although sometimes individuals may be
recognised as godhis and gydhjas (priests and priestesses) within
their own communities.
Many Heathens belong to small groups made up of
Heathen friends and family members. These groups are sometimes
called 'hearths' or 'kindreds' and meet for religious rituals in
members' homes or in outdoor spaces. Some hearths and kindreds have
recognised leaders. Others are entirely egalitarian.
Jotun's Bane Kindred follows a consensus-model
of decision-making, and in this regard is partially
egalitarian. But our kindred recognizes that some members will
have various roles and responsibilities within the kindred. We
have a Chieftain who helps lead our forward movement and growth,
builds consensus for important decisions, and makes final decisions
when consensus cannot be reached. We have a Godhi who guides
our members spiritual growth and learning, and helps organize our
fainings and symbels. We have a Thyle who maintains a record
of kindred decisions and activities, and who keeps track of and
maintains the integrity of our oath-keeping.
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What Gods or other beings do
Heathenry, like all ancient European pagan
religions, is polytheistic and recognises a large number of gods and
other spiritual entities. Although the Heathen gods are best known
from Norse Mythology (and often called by Anglicised versions of
their Old Norse names) they were honoured by many peoples outside of
Scandinavia. For example, the god known to early Germanic tribes as
Wodhanaz became Odhinn in Old Norse, Woden in Anglo-Saxon and Old
Saxon, and Wuotan in Old High German. Some of the most well known
Heathen gods are enshrined in our English days of the week. Tuesday
is named after Tiw (Tyr), Wednesday after Woden (Odin), Thursday
after Thunor (Thor) and Friday after the goddess Frige
In addition to the better known 'major gods',
the names of several dozen local or tribal gods are known through
medieval literature, runic inscriptions, and votive stones. Most
Heathens choose to actively honour a subset of gods with whom they
have developed personal relationships, although offerings are also
often made 'to all the gods and goddesses'. Heathens relate to their
gods as complex personalities who each have many different
attributes and talents. For example, whereas Thor is popularly known
outside Heathen circles as the mighty hammer-wielding God of
Thunder, in Eddic poetry he is called by names such as Deep Thinker,
Man's Well-Wisher, and Consecrator Thor, revealing a gentler side to
In addition to gods, Heathens recognise and
relate to a wide variety of spiritual beings or 'wights'. These
include the Norns - who are three female entities who weave the web
of wyrd - and the Disir - who are female ancestral spirits attached
to a tribe, family, or individual. Heathens also work with 'hidden
folk' such as elves, brownies, dwarves and etins (giants and other
not so pleasant folk). They interact with the housewights who live
in their homes and the landwights who occupy features of the
landscape such as streams, mountains, forests or fields. Having a
relationship with landwights is an important feature of Heathen
religion and outdoor Heathen rituals will not proceed until the
permission of landwights is sought and obtained.
Another characteristic of Heathen religion is
the respect given to ancestors in general. These may be a person's
literal forebears, or may be people now dead who have inspired them
in some way.
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What rites and celebrations do
The main rites celebrated in Heathenry are
called blot (pronounced 'bloat') and symbel (pronounced 'sumble').
Heathen groups and individuals hold feasts and celebrations based
around blot and symbel at rites of passage (such as weddings or
baby-namings), seasonal holidays, oath-takings, rites in honour of a
particular god or gods, and rites of need (in which gods are asked
A blot was originally the ritual sacrifice of an
animal to one or more gods, elves or ancestors. A feast followed
afterwards at which the meat was shared amongst the participants.
Blots were held to honour the gods or to gain their favour for
specific purposes such as peace, victory, or good sailing
weather. Because the term "blot" originates with the word
"blood," some heathens (including Jotun's Bane Kindred) call
A modern blot centres around the offering of
food or drink (often mead) to the gods and tends to be followed by a
feast. It may be a simple rite or a more elaborate one depending on
the purpose of the blot and the number of participants. In an indoor
blot where food is offered, it is common to lay a place for the god,
ancestor or elf at the table. In an outdoor blot offerings are often
thrown onto a fire.
Symbel is a ritual drinking ceremony in which
one or more drinking horns or other vessels are filled with mead (or
another appropriate drink) and used for toasting or boasting. It is
common for modern Heathens to pass the horn(s) around all those
participating after liquid is blessed. The first round of toasts may
be to the gods, the second round to wights or ancestors, and the
third round may be to whatever else the assembled Heathens wish to
toast. There may be many more rounds, or the symbel may stop after a
designated number. A separate libation (drink offering) may be given
to the gods, landwights or housewights, or some of the contents of
the horn may be poured out as an offering to them.
As well as major offerings to the gods or elves,
Heathens like to leave gifts for their domestic hidden folk: the
wights who live in their garden and house. For this purpose, many
Heathens keep a special bowl to leave offerings in the house of
cakes and ale, or may leave food or drink on or near a small garden
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What are the
Heathen holidays or celebrations?
Different Heathen communities and individuals
celebrate different cycles of seasonal holidays based on their
cultural affiliations, local traditions, and relationships with
particular gods. There is no fixed calendar of Heathen festival
Some examples of commonly held Heathen festivals
are Winter Nights - usually celebrated in October or
November, Yule - a twelve day festival that begins around the
time of the winter solstice, [b]Ostara[/b] - a festival for the
Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre in the spring, Midsummer - held on
the longest day of the year in June, Freyfaxi - a harvest
festival held most often in August.
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What principles, ethics, virtues,
and values do Heathens hold?
One of the central concepts in Heathenry is
wyrd, the force that connects everything in the universe throughout
space and time. Heathens believe that all of their actions can have
far reaching consequences through the web of wyrd. They understand
that who they are, where they are, and what they are doing today is
dependent on actions they and others have taken in the past, and
that every choice they make in the present builds upon choices they
have previously made.
With an understanding of wyrd comes a great
responsibility. If we know that every action we take (or fail to
take) will have implications for our own future choices and for the
future choices of others, we have an ethical obligation to think
carefully about the possible consequences of everything we do. Thus
one of the principal ethics of Heathenry is that of taking
responsibility for one's own actions.
Another Heathen value is
frith, the maintenance of peace and friendship within a social
group. Obligations towards friends, kin and community are taken
seriously by Heathens. Like many peoples living far apart in a harsh
climate, pre-Christian Heathens put great stress on hospitality, and
this is still valued by modern Heathens. A related concept is the
giving of gifts, though both gift-giving and hospitality are bounded
by reciprocity, a principle that Heathens consider
Plain speaking, honesty and forthrightness are
also important to Heathens. This may be seen as part of a value
system based upon personal honour, which eschews deceit and
dishonesty towards members of the social group. Thus Heathens place
great value on the giving of their word, and any form of oath-taking
is taken extremely seriously. This often means that Heathens will
not sign their name to something unless they can assent to it in
both letter and spirit.
Heathens often refer to the "Noble Virtues," or
other such lists that have been assembled to help explain the
virtues or values they hold dear. These virtues are drawn from
the epic tales and poetic lore passed down to us through the ages
from our ancestors, and a Tru Heathen strives to nourish these
virtues in his life, his Kindred, and Heathenry in general.
Below is a list of the Noble Virtues. For a closer examination of these
virtues, including their origin and detailed descriptions of each,
visit the Noble
page here on our website.
(Frith, Loyalty, Honor)
3. HARD WORK
4. TRUTH (Honesty,
6. FAIRNESS (Justice,
8. STRENGTH (Endurance,
9. MODERATION (Self-control,
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believe in or practice magic?
Magic and seership were practised by some
individuals within ancient Heathen cultures, and this is also the
case with today's Heathen community.
Some Northern European magical practices being
revived by Heathens include the carving of runes onto talismans and
the chanting of charms called galdor. Some Heathens are also
rediscovering Northern European shamanistic practices known as seidh
(pronounced 'sayth'). In a ritual called 'oracular seidh' a seer or
seeress answers questions or gives advice to participants. Many
modern Heathens also practice runic divination.
Although magic was part of ancient Heathen
culture, it did not play a part in the religious rituals of blot and
symbel. Therefore, it is not seen as an intrinsic part of the
religion. Although all Heathens share a belief in the ability of the
gods to enact change in the world, they do not all believe in the
ability of magicians to do so.
Jotun's Bane Kindred sees magical heathen
practices such as galdor and seidh as "gravy," and not an intrinsic
part of our religion or way of life. Heathens should work to
be knowledgable in the solid core of the belief system, its
practices, and way of life before moving on to learn about the more
magical elements of our ancestor's beliefs.
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What do Heathens believe happens
Heathenry is focused on right living in the here
and now and does not place as great an emphasis on the afterlife as
do some other religions. Whereas Valhalla - Odin's hall - is
popularly seen as the Norse equivalent of heaven, this is a
misconception. According to the mythology as recorded in the Eddas,
Valhalla is only for warriors who die in battle. Moreover, half of
these battle-slain warriors go to Freyja's hall and half to Odhin's
hall. Those who drown at sea go to the goddess Ran's hall. People
who die of natural causes go to the hall of the goddess Hel. Most of
today's Heathens see Hel as a neutral place where they will be
reunited with their ancestors.
Sources do not enable a complete reconstruction
of the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon views of the soul.
One concept, however, which is still retained in folk stories, is
that of the fetch or fylgia. The fetch was held to be a part of the
person which might be contacted during life, but which would not be
physically seen until just before death. The sight of one's fetch
was, indeed, a signal of the ending of one's life.
There are a few passages in the sources which
are interpreted by some as indicating an ancient Heathen belief in
reincarnation, but they are far from compelling. Many of these
passages or references to reincarnation appear to be the result of a
transcriber of the Lore trying to make sense of differing versions
of a story, where the hero's name is the same...but the differing
stories vary greatly in time-period. Some modern Heathens
believe in the continuation of part of a person through
reincarnation, while others do not.
Most Heathens focus their thoughts on this life
and this world, and leave the afterlife to their gods and
ancestors. What will come after death, will
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How do Heathens and wiccans (and
other pagans) differ?
Heathenry is pagan...and Wicca is pagan, but
Heathenry and Wicca are not the same...and have more differences
Heathenry is a living religion based on literary
and archaeological sources for the religious practices of a
particular pre-Christian culture and extended by the relationships
of modern Heathens with their gods. It differs from Wicca and other
modern day non-reconstructionist Pagan paths in a number of ways.
Perhaps the primary difference is that Heathens are 'hard
polytheists': they honour a large number of individual gods,
goddesses and other spiritual beings whom they see as existing
independently from humans. And in common with many indigenous
religions world-wide, they also honour their ancestors.
Heathens differ from Wiccans and many of the
other modern day non-reconstructionist Pagans in many other ways.
They reject the concept that all goddesses are aspects of 'The
Goddess' and that all gods are aspects of her consort. They also
reject the Jungian concept of Gods and Goddesses as archetypes in
the unconscious mind. Heathen festivals do not follow the 'Eight
Fold Wheel of the Year' based on solstices and equinoxes. Their
rituals do not involve 'casting circles' or 'calling quarters'.
Magic is not an essential or central part of Heathenry, and the
majority of Heathens do not consider themselves 'witches'. There are
no 'degrees of initiation' within Heathen religion and no 'high
priests' or 'high priestesses'.
articles have been written on the differences between Heathenry and
Wicca. To read more, click here
Despite these theological differences, some
Heathens are involved in the wider pagan community for social and
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