Core Beliefs of Heathenry

In a recent social media group post, someone asked about a core set of beliefs in Asatru or Heathenry. They stated their experience of many different groups with different words, names, and practices and wondered if there really was anything that tied us all together. Many of the responses addressed individual but specific differences. Others worried about how a core might exclude people who had differences. When it comes down to it, the differences are not very great, and here's why.

Though Asatru is one of the more common names for the religion, it really has a specific meaning: Loyalty to the AEsir. The AEsir are just one family of the Gods, so people who are more dedicated to the Vanir, calling themselves Vanatru, feel the name is exclusionary. This is one of the reasons the name Heathen is popular. Even this is a matter of terminology and not really a difference in religion.

Many of the different names we have for the Gods and the different stories we tell do not show a difference in the Gods Themselves, but show variations in human experience. Each group of humans with their own language and view of the world will interpret their interactions with the Gods in a unique manner. This is why the Norse refer to Thor, the Germans say Donnar, and the Saxons call Him Thunor. It's not that there is a difference in the God of Thunder, but that each group of people had its own set of sounds and interactions. It makes it interesting that in the United States, a predominantly English-speaking country, the name Thor caught on.

In the same way, some groups seem to have different collections of Gods with different aspects of the universe over which They hold sway. Again, this is not an aspect of the Gods. Each group of people had its own interactions with the Gods and then made assumptions only on the things they had seen. For example, the Saxons do not have a name for Vidar, as far as we know, but the Norse do. Does that mean you should not believe in Vidar if you follow the Saxon path, or does it mean that the Saxons simply did not encounter The Silent One? It's also possible that we've just lost any records of the Saxon interactions with Him.

This means that we can take the various pieces of information from the old beliefs and put them together to get a big picture. Also, we work under the belief that the Gods are still active, so new information and tales should still appear; we need to integrate these things. Even doing so does not settle things, because we are still humans and will still interpret the interactions according to our own linguistic and mental limitations.

This leads to a simple idea. Instead of focusing on the concrete expression of beliefs, we need to look into the underlying philosophy. For example, we all tend to be polytheistic, even though there are some arguments over what a God actually is. That would be a core component of the religion.

Another common idea is trying to strengthen oneself, usually so you can lend your strength to your tribe. There is some debate about strengthening, but it is usually about health in general. The bigger debate is over the definition of tribe. Some say it is just your family and friends. Others have expanded the term to cover the community, nation, or entire planet. Regardless of your tribe, you want to be strong enough to contribute positively as best you can.

Along with tribe, we want to defend our place and keep it wholesome. Definitions of wholesome can be very contentious. The concept of place varies with range, whether it is your home, your parks, or the whole world.

There is often a belief in the importance of honor. People have many views of honorable behavior. The common thread is strength of character. If we see honor as such a strength, then its place in the core is similar to the strength mentioned above. If you are strong of character, then you can use that to the benefit of your tribe, just as you would use physical strength.

Religions tend to have bad guys too, and we are no different. In the old tales, there are the Ettins, also called Giants. These are primitive forces that tend to be at odds with the Gods. Sometimes, the Gods can get along with and use the Ettins, and other times the Ettins are trying to make the other worlds more like their own. In many interpretations, the Ice Giants represent absolute order, or form without energy. The Fire Giants represent absolute chaos or energy without form. Life can only exist by having a proper balance of these forces, so the Gods are constantly working to keep them in balance.

Within the Heathen community, there are those who want too strict an interpretation of our religion. They tend to walk too closely toward the Ice. The ones who want to divide us and keep us bickering tend to walk toward the Fire. We must use care or we will end up like the Judeo-Christian-Islamic peoples who constantly destroy each other over relatively minor differences in interpretation.

To summarize these points:

  1. We are polytheistic, usually using the Germano-Norse naming and understanding of living Gods
  2. We strengthen ourselves in body and character to contribute to our tribe and our place
  3. We have a tribe
  4. We have a place

We try to maintain a healthy balance between order and chaos in our lives, our tribes, and our place

There are probably plenty of Heathens who would disagree with these points, and that's okay. If you look at their arguments, many will simply be a slightly different approach to one of the ideas or just an attachment to a concrete implementation. Even then, it is perfectly acceptable that they see things their way. That's just something that happens with humans.

All of this is open for discussion. Is there something you believe should be different, even if it should be phrased in another manner? Is there something you absolutely disagree with? Please share that. The discussion itself can only strengthen the community in the long run.