Recently I, a Wiccan, had the pleasure of interviewing an Asatruar. In my personal experience practitioners of Asatru are not always open or welcoming to Wiccan’s, other Pagan paths, or opening up and talking about their practices. In fact, I have had several bad experiences in other places when dealing with the Asatru. So much so that at the last Pagan Pride Day that was here in Tacoma I avoided a booth that was clearly Asatru even though I feel a strong connection to many of the Norse gods. After talking with this local Asatruar I feel far more comfortable with them and well more interested in their practices. The interview below is between myself and Asatruar William Goetz of Bonney Lake Wash. Because of my past experience with the Asatru this raw interview is very special to me and I want to thank William for doing this.
Question: Many Pagans that I know don’t know what Asatru is, why do you think that is?
Answer: In my opinion, Asatru isn’t as well known as some of the other traditions for a few reasons: The first is because it doesn’t have the amount of publication exposure that more popular ones like Wicca do. Second, the structure of it is very different from some of the others; Wicca was developed by Gerald Gardner, who was previously involved with the Golden Dawn, which was an order of Christian mystics. So, even though Wicca is by no means Christian, it has a quite a bit of undertones in it that carry over from that influence, making it an easier transition for people coming from a culture which is dominated by Christianity. In fact, many people are first exposed to Wicca and only later actually find out that Asatru exists. Third, Asatru has long had a problem with elitists within its own community, and sadly there are a lot of people who don’t want to talk about it to anyone who’s not either already a member or is looking to become one, because they don’t feel like it’s worth their time.
Question: Because Asatru seems to be a bit withdrawn, I have to question, is there more than one path in Asatru?
Answer: On the contrary, Asatru is actually one of the paths under the Heathen umbrella. Heathenism includes primarily the ancestral traditions of Northern Europe: Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Slavic, and even Finnish pagan paths are grouped in under the Heathen term. Asatru is the common term for the specifically Norse path, and translates to “Faith in the Gods”. Some have translated it to “Faith in the Aesir,” which has given rise to groups calling themselves Vanatru or Rökkatru, referring to focusing on the Vanir or Rökkar, Vanir being the other group of gods and Rökkar being the Jotnar, or giants seen as forces of nature. As a sidenote, many of the gods have at least one Jotun parent and several of the gods were originally Jotnar, such as Skadi before she was included among them.
Question: For those that do know a bit about Asatru, there is a rumor that its practitioners hate Wiccans. Is that true? Why?
Answer: Asatru as a religion is not opposed to or at odds with Wicca, but within the community there is some frustration which gets directed at Wicca. There are two factors at the root of that frustration: one is that a lot of people get the idea that Wicca=Paganism=Wicca, so all Pagan paths must be just like it. I think that this goes back to the fact that Wicca has so much exposure than other traditions. The other is that there have been some widely published books about Northern Paganism which were written by Wiccans, that have presented a lot of misinformation and little actual research. The two books most often referred to are D.J. Conway’s “Norse Magic” and Ed Fitch’s “The Rites of Odin”, both of which are basically Wicca with some Norse flavor. Now, I know that Conway’s book at least doesn’t advertise itself as an authority on Asatru, but it has still been a big contributor to a lot of misinformation, so it’s left a bitter taste behind.
Question: There are rumors that the Asatru are white supremacists, is that true, why do you think people think that?
Answer: Asatru is most definitely not a religion based on white supremacy, but sadly there are some people who use it as a way to excuse their own personal racism. Asatru essentially comes in three flavors: Universalist, Folkish and (to the disdain of the others), White Supremacist. Universalist Asatruar believe that Asatru should be open to anyone who feels the call of the gods and that there is no less validity to their desire to be involved; the Troth is a universalistic Asatru organization. In my opinion, it can be harder for someone who isn’t of any Norse/Germanic heritage to connect to it because there is not as much cultural influence in their life, but if they feel a call and have the desire to form that connection then there’s no reason for me to hold them back. Folkish Asatruar believe that people should seek traditions that correspond with their own heritage, and by that they believe that Asatru should be limited to people of Norse/Germanic heritage; the Asatru Folk Alliance is basically of this mindset, even if they don’t outright say it. I don’t agree with that philosophy, but most people within that mindset at least aren’t of the opinion that their culture is better than all of the others. The White Supremacist version isn’t really a true branch, but it’s given its own term because no one else wants them. They’re basically doing to Asatru what the Nazis did to German culture. Sadly, they are also some of the most vocal, as is often the case, and a lot of people unfortunately come across them before they come across the other branches, especially the Universalist.
Question: The Asatru are rumored to hold animal sacrifices still to this day, does that really happen?
Answer: Some kindreds (practicing groups, similar to Wiccan covens) do, some don’t. It really depends on the group of people. My kindred has done one before, but it was basically a turkey that a member was raising as livestock and he decided to slaughter it there and then cook it that night. This is usually the case if there is such a sacrifice, that rather than going out and buying or capturing an animal just to kill it, a person will offer up a livestock animal of their’s, and it’s always consumed as much as can be rather than just killing it and throwing it out. The blood is used for blessing the people there, as blood is seen as having tremendous spiritual power and significance. It’s not a super common thing, but it is still practiced in some groups, and even in my kindred I’ve only seen one sacrifice since I joined.
Question: What are the basics of Asatru beliefs? (really basic)
Answer: The core of Asatru basically focuses around the gods, the ancestors and the folk. There are a lot of variations within it, just like in pre-Christian times there was no unified form of worship, but those core concepts basically pull it all together. The gods are divided into two primary groups: The Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir include some of the most popular gods such as Odin, Thor, Frigga, Tyr, etc. The Vanir are lesser known except for three which most people recognize who have much of any exposure to it: Njord, Freyr and Freyja. The Vanir are mostly seen as deities of the Earth and natural processes (and fertility primarily), while the Aesir govern more of the human and social sphere. For example, Tyr is a god of both justice and combat; and Odin is a god of wisdom, poetry and warfare. There are also spirits of the land called wights, and they can have influence over many different aspects of life. Historically, they were actually called upon more often than the gods because they were more intimately connected with the same land on which the people lived. Within the group of wights there were also Disir (female ancestral spirits) and Alfar (male ancestral spirits), and some other groups. Ancestral spirits are highly venerated within the religion and family is hugely important. Similarly, there is a focus on community and heritage; this is unfortunately where pride in one’s heritage can turn into the sort of white tribalism that we have to deal with and dispel myths about. The primary sources of lore that we have to go off of are the Eddas (the older Poetic and the younger Prose) and the sagas, pretty much all of which were preserved in Iceland when the Scandinavian countries were being converted. Even with these sources, there is some amount of Christian influence as they were mostly recorded by Christian monks from older oral traditions, except for the Prose Edda, which was written down by a monk named Snorri Sturluson and was his interpretations of the lore as well as a few other things.
Question: Some say that the Asatru believe that the Gods have real human bodies or can appear that way. Is that correct?
Answer: This is a good example of where different people have different beliefs. A lot a people believe in the gods having physical bodies, while some believe in them more as spirits. The lore has many examples supporting their physical forms, but it’s still not 100% agreed upon whether that’s all the time or not. It kind of comes down to the difference between hard and soft polytheism, where a hard polytheist would be more likely to believe in separate gods with physical bodies/incarnations, while a soft polytheist would probably believe in separate gods, but less likely having physical forms and more likely being sprits or something of the sort.
Question: What about women in Asatru?
Answer: Contrary to what some may believe, Norse society had some of the greatest equality between genders of any society in that time, and certainly was more equal than in ancient Greece or Rome. While there were gender roles in most cases, women had a lot of say in what went on around them. For example, arranged marriages were common, but would often be called off if they went against the woman’s wishes. Also, there is evidence of female warriors, though not common, but that is certainly different from many other cultures where combat was completely reserved for men. Similarly, in Asatru women are seen as completely equal to men, and the goddesses are just as important as the gods. Even as far as attributes, we have goddesses such as Skadi, who is the goddess of winter, mountains and hunting; and Freyja is also a goddess of warfare.
Question: Are the Norse Gods the only ones that you communicate with?
Answer: Personally, yes. I focus fairly exclusively on the Norse pantheon, but I do believe in the reality of the gods of other cultures.
Question: How do you feel about the word heathen?
Answer: I think that heathen is really the best word to describe the tradition. If someone wants to be specific they can use Asatru, but to denote the Northern European traditions, heathen works really well. Linguistically, it comes from the term used in those areas to describe the people who dwelled outside of cities and refused to convert to Christianity. While it was originally a derogatory term, I see the use of it by modern practitioners as a way of saying “Yeah, we follow the older ways of our ancestors, and we’re proud of it”. Basically, it’s like peoples’ preference of the term Pagan, even though it was used in the same way.
Again, I want to thank William for taking part in this interview and for being so open. With my prior experience in dealing with the Asatru I have avoided a lot of Norse topics, in part because I don’t wish to offend them and in part because I know how I feel when I read an article about a piece of my beliefs and find that much of it is wrong. William is not only very well informed about his own path but also on Wicca and I find that to be very inspiring.
Moving forward from this interview I look forward to an open an valued relationship between myself and the Asatru. Many of my readers know that I refer to myself as Wiccan, but if you read many of my articles and postings you find that I have a very open mind to other traditions under the Pagan umbrella, in fact the main reason I prefer to refer to myself as Wiccan rather than a different part of the umbrella is because although I know the male gods and I feel a connection with them I do not communicate with them and feel no communication from them, only the feeling that they exist. The placement of the goddesses above the gods is more of a Wiccan philosophy and is why I consider myself Wiccan. A more accurate description of my practice would be to call myself a Pagan, who is very eclectic, who follows a goddess driven path that is influenced by Native American, Celtic, and Druid paths, that is also a hereditary and hedgewitch tradition and very ceremonial.
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