Table of Contents
Contemporary Paganism has been a growing segment of American religiosity for over forty years and is composed of a variety of groups, practices, and ideologies. Ásatrú (Asatru), a movement which seeks to revive the practice of pre-Christian Norse religion, remains one of the least studied of these Pagan movements despite its growing prominence in the Pagan community.
Being Viking: The Asatru Movement in America is one of the first books to provide a rigorous ethnographic account of the Asatru religion, also known as Heathenry. Arising from five years of original ethnographic field work among American Asatru adherents, the book expands our understanding of this religious movement, analyzing it as part of the American religious context. Asatru offers a distinctive counterpoint to the characteristic patterns of religious life found in other forms of contemporary Paganism. Adherents are well-versed in the sacred stories and culture of the Viking Age and are distinctly polytheistic, representing a type of “hard polytheism” not found in Wiccan spirituality. Asatru theology consists of a number of distinct concepts that are entwined in a set of ritual practices, enacted by a cast of religious specialists all derived from the movement’s reconstruction of the ancient Paganism of pre-Christian Northern Europe. Asatru is also marked by a strong system of virtue ethics that frames social life according to both warrior and familial values.
In addition to describing this rich religious ideology, Being Viking sets the movement within the context of contemporary American culture. Scholars have recognized that new religions offer alternative solutions to social problems arising from modernity. Using this paradigm, Asatru can be approached as a movement that provides creative religious solutions to the tensions experienced by modern Americans. This study addresses several of those tensions including the socially isolating effects of modernity, women’s roles, epistemology, and human relationships with nature. Asatru draws on ancient Norse ideas and practices to create new modes of living in the modern world that seek to create meaning and deepen the lived experience of its contemporary adherents. Asatru provides an opportunity to study a new religion in the process of transformation. Being Viking comes at an opportune time to provide an in-depth account of the religion as parts of the movement shift toward lower tension with American culture to find a more accepted place in the American religious milieu. Asatru is in the process of emerging as a viable and complex religion that achieves a degree of cultural continuity by reinvigorating certain American values. In this light, Asatru can be seen as a new American religion that incorporates and adapts important cultural values while at the same time challenging some scholarly assumptions about new religions.