There are several different methods and ways of viewing Ásatrú and Heathenry. It is my hope that the following ideas clearly express my way of approaching it. It is from this perspective that I write this blog. There is no single “right way” to approach, believe, practice Ásatrú and I encourage others to take the time to figure out what works best for you.
1. Liberal: The Eddas, sagas, and other period Germanic texts provide a set of ethical and spiritual guidelines, not ironclad laws from above. The gods seem to care much less about how historically accurate our rituals are than about how ethically we handle ordinary life.
Interpreting the lore liberally does not give Heathens carte blanche to import elements from any foreign faith they admire. It does mean that changing old rituals or creating new ones isn’t necessarily wrong, if enough practical reasons exist to justify the new practice and if enough connection with the lore exists to keep a Germanic look and feel. For example: Sacrificing live animals may be meaningful and practical for Heathens who raise them on a farm, but no one should claim that this is the only acceptable offering to the Æsir and Vanir. Both lore and archeological evidence prove that other forms of sacrifice existed. Heathens who cannot follow saga standards exactly need not fear that Thor will strike them down for blasphemy.
2. Modern: Although Heathens should take the gods and their worship seriously, our religion should stay relevant to our own time, place, and society. The Æsir and Vanir are not stuck in a time warp somewhere over Northern Europe, they aren’t ignorant of the way our technology or social structure has changed in a thousand years, and haven’t shown any signs of wanting us to go back. Paradoxically, sometimes the best way to imitate the ancient Germanic peoples is not to imitate them.
Additionally, we shouldn’t forbid anyone using ancient elements (such as period garb or relevant Germanic languages) in ritual. Denying anyone the right to practice as they see fit is wrong, if it brings him closer to the gods. I reject only the idea that ancient trappings should be a requirement of Heathen practice, instead of a personal choice.
3. Cultural: I am neither “Folkish” nor “Universalist” in the popular Heathen senses of those terms but combines some attitudes from both camps. I acknowledge that the Heathen revival builds on history, lore, and other cultural elements that developed in Northern Europe. I accept that ancestry was important to those people at that time, and that many converts to Heathenry still find the gods through an interest in their ethnic background. This should not be a reason to turn anyone away in itself. I believe that the Æsir and Vanir don’t attract just anyone to our religion, nor do they expect us to go forth and convert the world.
On the other hand, I believe that Heathens are made, not born. DNA does not encode Heathen values, lore, or acceptance of our gods as real. The thing which defines social and spiritual identity most strongly is not ancestry but mutual acceptance into a culture. The key word here is mutual (two-way) acceptance. All people have the right to reject their birth cultures in favor of another, but those others have the same right to refuse newcomers. Thus, it’s equally wrong for a would-be Norse Heathen in the US to act Danish, if Danes typically reject him or for a Norwegian convert to Hinduism to be told he’s “betraying his ancestors” by not being Heathen, if other Hindus typically accept the change. (Of course, a Heathen convert who feels happy with the family and culture he grew up with shouldn’t feel pressured by those who don’t. My point is that different people experience family, home and ethnicity differently and that this will affect how anyone sees himself and the gods.)
4. Living Tradition: A living tradition is a custom that has survived the changes of history and culture to remain meaningful and relevant. Even after the conversion period was over, our beliefs didn’t completely die out. They changed, sometimes greatly, but the roots remained. The folklore and folk traditions of the nations that would form out of our tribes and kingdoms still reflect our deep heathen roots, we just have to be willing to do the work to figure it all out.
Reconstruction efforts in Ásatrú have gone a long way towards advancing our understanding of who we were, what we did, and why we did it. Reconstruction methodology has changed Ásatrú, and the wider Heathen world, for the better. However, I don’t believe that all the answers as to who we are today will be found in material that is over 1000 years old. We need to look to what matters today while remaining true to our past.
I would like to express my thanks to my good friend Ingeborg Nordén for the vast majority of this text. While I have edited it as appropriate for context, most of what is written here is her work. She has been a good friend for many years, and a good teacher. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without her influence and guidance.