pendants are commonly used as amulets and symbols of identification amongst Heathens
Heathenism (also called Heathenry, or Germanic Heathenry) is the contemporary revival of historical Germanic paganism, therefore it is also frequently known as Germanic Neopaganism. Precursor movements appeared in the early 20th century in Germany and Austria. A second wave of revival began in the early 1970s.
Attitude and focus of adherents may vary considerably, from strictly historical polytheistic reconstructionism to syncretist (eclectic), pragmatic psychologist (Jungian archetypal), Agnostic-Atheist/Humanist, occult or mysticist approaches. Germanic Neopagan organizations cover a wide spectrum of belief and ideals.
Different terms exist for the various types of Germanic Neopaganism. Some terms are specific in reference whereas other are blanket terms for a variety of groups. In a 1997 article in Pagan Dawn, the authors list as more or less synonymous the terms Northern Tradition, Norse Tradition, Ásatrú, Odinism, Germanic Paganism, Teutonic Religion, The Elder Troth (as the name of a specific organization and at the same time an attempt to replace trú with an English equivalent) and Heathenry.
Starting in the late 90s, the word Heathenism or Heathenry has gradually been accepted as an blanket term for the all the Germanic Neopagan movements, while other terms have developed into labels for specific cultural branches or denominations within Heathenry. For example Forn Siðr and its equivalents has become a popular self-designation in the Norse Neopagan milieu, while Urglaawe defines the Deitsch Heathen movement.
Heathen (Old English hæðen, Old Norse heiðinn, Old High German heidan) was coined as a translation of Latin paganus, in the Christian sense of "non-Abrahamic faith". In the Sagas, the terms heiðni and kristni (Heathenry and Christianity) are used as polar terms to describe the older and newer faiths.
Historically, the term was influenced by the Gothic term *haiþi, appearing as haiþno in the Gothic Bible of Wulfila for translating gunē Hellēnis, "Greek (id est gentile) woman" of Mark 7:26, probably with an original meaning "dwelling on the heath", but it is also likely that it was chosen because of its similarity to Greek ethne "gentile" or that it is not related to "heath" at all, but rather a loan from Armenian hethanos, itself loaned from Greek ethnos.
The White Marsh Theod — an Anglo-Saxon Theodish organisation — and several other groups, narrow the sense of the word to Germanic Neopaganism in particular, and prefer it over "Neopagan" as a self-designation.
Some proponents use Heathenry distinctively for strictly polytheistic reconstructionist approaches, excluding syncretic, occult or mysticist approaches such as Armanism. The term Heathenry is promoted by non-denominational groups or umbrella organisations such as the British Heathen Alliance, the American Heathen Nation or the Canadian Heathen House.
Heathenism, or the whole Germanic Neopagan movement, is sometimes referred to as Greater Heathenry, implying that it comprehends a variety of differing Heathen movements or branches. These subsets can differ in terms of cultural-ethnic background or doctrinal bases.
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.
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.
in a 17th century Icelandic manuscript.
Germanic Neopaganism is often defined as reconstructionist, meaning its adherents try to do the best to revive and preserve an authentic Germanic worldview. Adherents are mostly polytheists, worshiping a plurality of ethnic Germanic gods and goddesses, but in terms of high theology a pantheistic, monistic or "soft polytheistic" outlook is common; the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið defines "Ásatrú" as "Nordic pantheism".
All Heathen denominations share a worldview underlain by the concepts of Wyrd, Orlog, Rita and Yggdrasil (or Irminsul). The Wyrd (from Common Germanic *Wurþiz), sometimes described as the "Web of Wyrd", is both the subjacent principle of all things and the ceaseless interweaving of all the processes and events — both physical and metaphysical — which beget reality. It is eternal, but at the same time it is perpetually changing. Brian Bates, in his work The Way of Wyrd, describes the Wyrd in these terms: "Wyrd is constant change, like the seasons, yet because it is created at every instant, it is unchanging, like the still centre of a whirlpool. All we can see are the ripples dancing on top of the water." The Wyrd is the interconnectedness of all events and things, the wholeness of all nature.
The Wyrd is sometimes described somewhat narrowly as "Fate"; it is not fatalistic, since it is being transformed constantly by the ongoing action, but the future is always shaped to a certain degree by wires of the past. The Wyrd is the connexion of forces from the past, the present and the future, mythologically represented by the Norns (or Wyrdae, "Wyrds", the "Wyrd Sisters"), Urd (who is the Old Norse for "Wyrd" itself), Verdandi and Skuld.
The Orlog ("Orlay" or "Urlaw" in English, the "original law") is sometimes considered the same as the Wyrd. Actually it is the "primal Wyrd", the underlying primordial layer of causality which unfolds, in accordance with the Rita (corresponding to the Vedic Ṛta, the "Righteous Order"), as the massive web of interactions, the Wyrd. In other words the Orlog is the undeployed, unexpressed Wyrd, whilst the Wyrd is the "cosmic mind" or the Logos of the Stoics (being the Common Germanic root *Wurþiz cognate of the root of the term "word"); according to author James Coulter is safe for Heathens to say "in the beginning was the Wyrd". In Heathen terminology the word orlog (minuscule) is also used to describe the personal circlet of interactions within the Web of Wyrd in which one man in embedded at birth; this is inherited from the kin and expands and changes as these processes interact with others on the overall Web of Wyrd.
The world tree Yggdrasil and its "Nine Worlds" is the structure of reality that proceeds from the Wyrd and the guidance of the Rita. The term Rita also stems from the same root of the English words "right" and "art", and then it is the "Art of the Gods" and the world is their "work of art". At the base of the world tree is the Urdarbrunn, the "Well of Wyrd", where the Norns keep the Yggdrasil alive by sprinkling the roots with pure water from the well. The water is a symbol of the Orlog, the first principle. The source of water and the roots of the tree represent also the past, the ethnic memory of a people or a man, roots which must be nurtured to make them flourish and produce a future.
The pantheon of Heathenism comprehends various gods divided traditionally into three "races", the Ases or "Anses", the Wanes and the Jotuns. Every Heathen current oft uses the varieties of the names of the gods and their races belonging to the specific ethnic culture it makes reference to. The Ases mostly pertain to the sphere of human society, they govern the arts, force, law, wisdom, et cetera; on the other hand the Wanes embody elements and forces of nature, such as fertility, water, beauty. The Jotuns are the gigantic, elemental, primordial chaotic forces which the gods interact with and sublimate in their creative action of shaping reality. Anyhow the different divine races often overlap in domain and function.
The gods are thence conceived as the strains of the Orlog who set the order of the Rita out of chaos, who discipline the Jotuns. Their struggle to sustain the order — the Yggdrasil — is a perennial creation, the perpetual becoming, and renewal of the Wyrd. Also the men share on their level the struggle of the gods creating and maintaining through sacrifice and commitment the order of their own families and societies, and aligning themselves with the godly powers both without and within through worship.
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.
Categories and references
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".