Before I get started, I’d like to take a moment to apologize for things having been so quiet around here lately. For the last few weeks I’ve had some upheaval in my life and it’s taken a toll on my writing time. I switched back to a day shift at work, which means I’m a lot busier there and have a lot less time to research or write. I also came down with a bad case of food poisoning that left me in bed for 10 days. I also got a promotion at work and that has increased my work load a bit. I’m happy to be doing the new job but it is does mean I have a lot less down time. Things are finally settling out a bit, however, so that means I should be able to get back to writing and updating the blog regularly again. Now, on with the show!
One of the questions I see in a lot of places, whether it’s online, private messages I get, or even at events where newcomers show up, is what someone has to do to “convert” to Ásatrú. Of all the questions I get asked, this one is the hardest for me to answer. Heathenry, in all its forms, is not centralized. Some forms are more hierarchical than others, such as Théodism, and these versions tend to focus more on becoming a member of the group than on religious conversion. Other forms, like Ásatrú, is so highly individualistic that membership in a group isn’t even required to profess faith in the Aesir and Vanir. As someone who does not currently belong to any kind of local group, I am somewhat torn in my own opinions on the matter. I’d like to address the two different aspects present here, as they are both important.
I have said repeatedly that I believe being Heathen is fundamentally a cultural matter. In truth, this is a slight step to the side of Tribalist thought, where the emphasis is placed on tribal membership. I see this cultural approach as a modernized variation. Cultures were made up of many tribes and in today’s world the tribes are long gone. What remains, however, is the culture of now more unified people. To be Heathen necessitates being part of a Germanic culture because the way we think, speak, and act is what makes us Heathen as much as the gods we honor. For most of us, we live in a culture of Germanic origin, so this is partly met already. We do, however, have to work through 1000 years or more of outside influence to regain our identities. In this respect, all of us have some work to do regarding “conversion.” We all have to retrain our thoughts in some way.
In addition to our cultural identity, to be Ásatrú means that we worship the Aesir and Vanir. Our faith is a part of our culture. To the outside world, it is our defining trait. While I disagree with that assessment, it is the thing that most separates us from those around us. This is even at the very core of the issue. It is our faith that began to re-emerge first. It was what has allowed us to begin to revive our cultures and identities. When troth with the Gods of the North was re-established, it gave birth to any number of efforts to become who we once were. It is the faith that draws people in and opens the door to an entire world of cultural values and ideas. A conversion of faith leads to a conversion of being. And this is where we fall flat on our faces.
Because we are not centralized in any way, and because we are newly revived, we do not have hundreds or thousands of years of traditions telling us how to bring someone into the group. Instead, we are figuring that out right now. The truth is, we don’t have a conversion process. What we do have is a wide assortment of group membership customs that are as numerous and varied as there are Heathen groups out there. So, this leaves us with the question of how does someone actually convert?
Conversion isn’t just a matter of “accepting” a belief and then professing it. That may work for others but I don’t believe it works here. That’s just the start of things. As I see it, the first step is to do a lot of study. Like so many things in life, what you put into Ásatrú effects what you get out of Ásatrú. There are many different ways to approach Heathen faith. It can be culturally or regionally specific. It can be tribal, historic or modern. It can be pan-Nordic or even pan-Germanic. I can’t say what is right for you but I can say that I prefer a culturally specific approach. Whatever choice a person makes, it means they are going to have to do a lot of research. As I said earlier, being Heathen is about culture, not just religion. That means it’s about folklore and history. It’s about music and art. It’s about song and dance. It’s about being part of a cultural group, not just acting like it.
A person also needs to learn the basic tenets of the faith they are going to practice. This is probably the sticking point for most because there really isn’t one religion, and that doesn’t even count the different interpretations of those faiths. Those who are starting out today have it a bit easier, I think, than I did. There are a lot more books out there that discuss all sorts of different variations on Heathenry and Ásatrú. I suggest that newcomers read several different books and talk to others about those books. There probably isn’t going to be someone to teach you, so you need to be a self-starter and be self-motivated.
A lot of people want to jump ahead of themselves and make some profession of belief soon after discovering Ásatrú. I strongly advise against that. In all the excitement of things being shiny and new it is easy to over-look the obligations that come with being Heathen. A change of heart is also possible. I’ve met several people who were gung-ho at the start but within 6 months, they had decided it wasn’t for them and had moved on. We place a great deal of importance on the value of our word. If you should make a commitment in haste and then disregard it when things are no longer fun or interesting, it isn’t taken very well. I genuinely suggest at least of year or more of study and worship before making a solid commitment and professing belief. That said, I do advocate for a ritualized profession of faith. I believe that it helps mark the event in your life and gives gravity to it. If you belong to a group, this can be part of the process of becoming a full member of that group. This kind of act makes a clear delineation in your life and I have seen it be the action that reinforces a person’s faith when things are tough and belief is hard.
I have no doubt that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other things that can or should go into this article. I hope that this serves as just a starting point for thinking about what you need to do if you are thinking about honoring the Gods of the North or are helping someone through the process. I would love to hear from readers of all experience levels on this subject, so please take a moment to comment on your experiences and ideas. What you add to this conversation just might help someone else.