A Quick Look at Ásatrú as a Folk Religion

One of the things that I have found hardest to explain to people who are still part of “mainstream” religious organizations is the idea that we do not, have not, and most likely never will have a central organization that defines our religious beliefs and practices. This is because we are a folk religion. This means that our faith, customs, and practices are derived from the people who practice it. Ásatrú varies from place to place and from community to community. A good example of this is how American and Icelandic versions differ. While Americans are more focused on the gods, the Icelanders are more focused on the land wights. Americans make a far bigger deal of ancestor veneration than just about anyone.

These differences exist because they meet the needs of the people practicing Ásatrú in these differing cultural areas. This gets to the hear of what it means to be a “folk religion.” Even though we share a common cultural heritage, Ásatrú finds itself being expressed in ways that are meaningful to the people who practice it and those ways aren’t going to be the same everywhere. This isn’t a new thing for us. Instead, this is part of our religious heritage. Not only did there use to be variation along larger cultural lines (i.e. Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and the continental Germanic tribes) but there were also variations within those cultural groups that reflect regional and tribal distinctions.

In some cases, like with the Swedes and the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, there was cross-polination of ideas resulting for economic and social ties, but there wasn’t a central religious authority that dictated matters of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We do see some large cultic centers, such as the hof at Gamla Uppsala but even these large religious centers didn’t dictate practices for everyone in Scandinavia. A good example of this is the goddess Nehelenia. She was known to the folk of Zealand but is otherwise unknown to other Scando-Germanic groups.

What all of this means is, essentially, Ásatrú isn’t a monolithic religion. We are a diverse folk attempting to meet the needs of our people in the ways that vary not only by geo-political or linguistic lines, but also by regional variation. Ásatrú in the American Mid-West has its own feel, as it does in the South, the Pacific North West, New England, and Southern California. I don’t see this lack of a monolithic governing body as a weakness. Instead I see it as one of our greatest strengths because Ásatrú adapts to meet the needs of the folks who worship the Æsir and Vanir instead of imposing foreign ideas and beliefs that simply muck everything up.


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