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Ásatrú

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Ásatrú is an Icelandic term consisting of two parts: Ása (Old Norse Æsir) referring to the gods and goddesses, and trú meaning faith. Thus Ásatrú literally means true to the gods. The faith is also referred to as Norse or Germanic Heathenry and may be regarded as an indigenous ancestral faith much like Shinto, Native American spirituality, and Judaism. It represents the indigenous pre-Christian beliefs of the Germanic peoples. This included the peoples of present-day Scandinavia, England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, among others. Ásatrú might be viewed as the northern branch of several philosophical offshoots of an earlier Indo-European religion, analogous to the way in which the proto-Indo European language evolved into such off shoots as Sanskrit and the Germanic and Slavic languages. Religious siblings of Ásatrú include Druidism in western Europe, the Greco-Roman religion in southern Europe, and early Hinduism in the east. Numerous scholars such as Georges Dumezil, H. R. Ellis Davidson, Hans Gunther (author of "The Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans") have commented on the philosophical similarities of these religious systems. Friedrich Nietzsche laid some important groundwork in his works in which he felt the pagan philosophical system of the Greek religion of the ancient heroic and classical era was vastly superior to Christianity, which he felt suffered from a "transvaluation" (or inversion) of healthy instinctive values.

After having few if any practitioners for many centuries, this religion was revived as Ásatrú in the 19th century. It received a special impetus in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson[?] was instrumental in getting Ásatrú recognized by the Icelandic government in 1973 and a Danish emigrant to Canada, Else Christiansen, began publishing "The Odinist" newsletter. In America, Steve McNallen, a former U.S. Army officer, began to publish in the early 1970s a newsletter titled "The Runestone" and hold annual "Althings." An offshoot of McNallen's Asatra Free Assembly (later renamed Asatru Folk Assembly) was the Asatru Alliance, headed by Valgard Murray, and publisher of "Vor Tru", followed by the establishment of the Odinic Rite in England and later founding of The Troth in America. Today, Ásatrúar may be found today all over the world but principally in Scandinavia, Western Europe, North America and Australia/New Zealand. In Iceland many practitioners consider it a left-leaning phenomenon, whereas in parts of America torn by racial strife it has been interpreted by some groups with a rightward bias.

Ásatrú organizations generally favor democratic and republican forms of church government, as inspired by the parliamentary Althings of the Viking era and subsequent parliamentary systems of Britain and the Scandinavian countries, and promote individual rights and freedom of speech reminiscent of Norsemen of the saga era and their more modern descendents. An important distinction many Asatruar like to make when comparing their religion to various neo-pagan cults and "new era" philosophies is that Asatru was once the conscious, mainstream religion of self-sufficient sovereign nations which from the Roman period through the Viking Age successfully resisted and counterattacked against highly organized and determined efforts by outsiders to violently subjugate them and suppress their religion.

As the ancestral religious "common law" of the Nordic peoples, Ásatrú can survive by tradition much like the Anglo-Saxon common law, and does not require a lot of theology and dogma, just like the British parliament evolved without an equivalent of the U.S. Constitution. Important source material include the prose and poetic Eddas written in Iceland during its golden age of saga literature, but other guidance can be found by studying the folklore, history, and antiquities of the Nordic peoples as well as the religions of their ethno-religious cousins (Druidism/Celtic mythology, Greco-Roman religion, and early Hinduism). Ásatrúar generally look at the Norse mythology as "truth in poetry" rather than literal truth. They find spirituality in "the music of the spheres" or mathematical order of the cosmos, therefore the kind of rationality and technology content that other religions reject as "sterile" and "scientific," many Ásatrúar find spiritually enlightening. As an example, many ancient Asatruar chose to be buried or burned in Viking ship graves; the ships, which have been termed "poems carved in wood," are an instance in which seafaring and exploratory technology became a spiritual aesthetic; in contemporary terms, the "Faustian" urge shown by Odin when he traded an eye for all-knowledge may be reflected in a desire to create universities, build a better computer or space ship, or evolve a more advanced civilization, all of which has an enobling, spiritual dimension.

The Asatru approach to religion is very similar to the motivating factors behind the Protestant Reformation in which most of the Nordic peoples in different countries around Europe, ranging from northern France and Germany to the Baltic states, Scandinavia, and Scotland rejected Vatican authority. They sought the right to run their own local church government and the right to find religious truth through personal learning, analysis, and self-examination rather than through coercion by a centralized source, dogma, unquestioned "divine" revelation, or through forms of spiritual "possession" or (in the case of religions elsewhere in the world) drug-induced states of altered consciousness. Even contemporary American Protestants have had problems fathoming the nature of Scandinavian spirituality, for example when American evangelist Billy Graham once visited Denmark, he was shocked to find out that only about 10% of the people regularly went to church, even though the land of Kierkegaardian existentialism wears the cross on its national flag. Ásatrú is suited for people who do not want to let going to church interfere with their personal religion.

   
See also Norse Mythology, Neopaganism, Runic alphabet

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