Why I use the term Ásatrú to describe my faith

There are several terms that we use to define ourselves, not just Ásatrú. Some people prefer to call themselves Heathen. Others prefer to call our faith Fórn Siðr / Forn Sed, the Old Custom. Some people consider themselves Theodish, from a particular approach to reconstructing our faith. Then there is the classic Odinism. There are also plenty of other names and terms that people use that I simply don’t want to list because it would just take too long to do so. Simply put, there is no single correct answer as to what we should call ourselves but I do have a particular model of how I think of it.

The largest, most basic layer is Heathenry. This encompasses all of the various expressions of our faith. I look at it as an umbrella term. Regardless of what variation we belong to, we are all Heathens. Under this umbrella term is where I see the different “denominations” existing. Ásatrú, Odinism, Theodism, Forn Sed, and so on are all Heathen traditions but they all have differences that make them unique expressions of our shared Troth with the Gods of the North.

For me, I have chosen to identify as Ásatrú because I believe it is a term that accurately reflects my faith in the gods. It is not a term that you will find in the Lore because it doesn’t appear in writing until Edvard Grieg’s incomplete opera Olav Trygvason. Since then, the word has ignited imagination about belief in the Norse Gods. I like this word because, to me, it deliniates our past from our present. As much as I wish it were not so, there is a very long and large gap of time between the historical practice of our faith and the modern reconstruction of it. I believe that “fórn siðr,” the old custom, best describes how things were while Ásatrú accurately describes what we’ve become.

No matter how hard we work to revive and rebuild our faith, there is a limit to how much we can resuscitate the past. There are also elements of the past that simply can’t be brought forward in time because they simply aren’t appropriate to today’s world. We risk becoming anachronistic if we don’t acknowledge that there is work to be done modernizing our faith so that it meets the needs of folks today. We are deeply tied to our past. It informs us of who we are and where we’ve been. It allows us to rediscover ourselves in a world that has been dominated by Christianity; a world where our inheritance has been stolen from us and buried under foreign beliefs and thought forms. However, we are of the modern age. We are people of indoor plumbing, air conditioning, the Internet, and cell phones. We are not our ancestors and our ways today would be different from their’s even if we hadn’t been so rudely interrupted. That is why I like the name Ásatrú. It is derived from our past but it points us towards our future.


Why I use the term Ásatrú to describe my faith — 4 Comments

  1. I usually call myself heathen, but perhaps you could clarify something for me. Ásatrú means ‘true to the Æsir’ but for me the Vanir are equally important. But then again, doesn’t ‘As’ mean ‘god’ in general, wouldn’t it include the Vanir? I feel that by calling myself Ásatrú or Vanatrú, I am dishonoring or denying half of the gods!

    • You are correct, Ásatrú does mean “true to the Æsir.” The Vanir are also equally important but I don’t see the term as excluding them. I honor the Vanir along with the Æsir. It seems, at least somewhat, that the Vanir we know by name, and who dwelled in Asgard, got “lumped in” with the Æsir on a regular basis. Given that we really don’t know how the difference was thought of, if at all, we can only go with our ideas and what little we can discern from the lore.

      Now, I’ve got nothing against the term “Heathen.” I tend to use the Old Norse variation of “heiðni” if I am using it around people who aren’t heathens because of the loaded terminology that comes with heathen. Now, I also think of “Heathen” as a general category that includes Theodism, Ásatrú, Anglo-Saxon Heathenry (ASH), Irminism, and so on. We are all Heathen religions but these are different, albeit similar, religions. Now, that’s just the way I see it.

  2. Ah, thank you for the reply. I guess you are right, but it still doesn’t sit 100% well with me. I feel like I’d rather label myself ‘too broad’ as a heathen than ‘too small’ by perhaps not including the Vanir. Also, I guess it’s a cultural-geographical difference, over here (mainland Europe) heathenism is a synonym for the north-germanic way of life, without any negative connotation. I do agree that this might include Theodism and ASH and such… I’m guessing this is probably simmilar to another blog I read by you, about the difference in Swedish and Americain Ásatrú. Since we are a germanic people and land, perhaps there’s less of a need to have a specific label that devides us from other heathens. Interesting, I never really looked at it in that way. I guess in international contacts I’ll refer to myself as Ásatrú but within my country heathenism is fine to go by.

    • In all honesty, I don’t think the gods really care what we call ourselves. I’d imagine that they are far more concerned with what actions we take. We can translate the term fairly accurately as “Faith in the Gods” as easily as we can “Faith in the Æsir,” even if the second is a bit more accruate on a technical scale. Being in the USA we do have to take into account certain connotations and that does limit us in what our “acceptable” options are. It’s unfortunate but it’s true. In many ways, the term really only matters in how we interact with outsiders. From the inside, we all know that our religions vary and there are numerous ethnic traditions, but we are all heiðni. I tend to think of “heiðni” as an internal identifier that “people in the know” use. It has been my experience that one term works best with outsiders and requires a lot less time on my part to explain things.

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