Table of Contents

Preliminaries

An introductory first-person narrative establishes Asatru as both an outlier and a participant in the American cultural milieu. The development of Asatru is set within the larger context of the growing contemporary Pagan movement and three cultural factors for the growth of Asatru in America are discussed. The personal motivations of Asatru adherents are also addressed. The study is framed by the importance of paying attention to new religions, which leads to a greater understanding not only of an alternative religion but also of our society by providing a critique to modern selfhood.

Part I

presents a descriptive history of contemporary Asatru. This short summary of Asatru’s development will familiarize readers with the people and organizations that have shaped the movement. In addition to this organizational history, the chapter looks at two independent sources for the origins and early development of Asatru: Germanic race mysticism of the pre-World War Two period, and the American counterculture movement of 1960s and 70s. The chapter closes with an examination of three innovative trends and several negative incidents that have recently occurred in the movement. Innovation occurs in response to changes within NRMs and their social contexts. Some NRMs are forced to innovate in order to address the decline and shrinkage of the movements. Yet at the present time, Asatru is expanding and growing. The evolution and innovation occurring in Asatru reflect the creativity and specialization concurrent with growth, while at the same time, the movement’s volatility continues to threaten potential mainstreaming of the religion.
looks at the Asatru movement in its context of modernity, globalization, and multiculturalism. The American Heathenry is placed in the context of global Asatru. Many scholars of NRMs have noted that new religions provide alternative solutions to the social problems which arise within modern society. The roles of women, technologies of knowing, social organization, race and ethnicity, and human relationships with nature are prevalent tensions in our society that have been addressed by NRMs. While a Viking religion may seem like an attempt to escape the present, American Asatru has developed within the context of modernity and has been influenced by the tensions in its environment. The chapter introduces the category of Reconstructionist Paganism and defines its various goals. Asatru provides innovative solutions by applying elements of its reconstructed Norse religious worldview to many of these social issues. In fact, reconstruction could be seen as an attempt to alleviate the perceived tensions and failures of modern society with ancient solutions.
provides an introduction to the ideology of American Asatru and discusses important features that shape the Heathen worldview. Taking into account definitions of Pagan religion by Margo Adler and Michael York, the chapter examines the extent to which Asatru exhibits elements of Paganism. A religious worldview can be analyzed in terms of three important components: cosmology, which describes the nature of the world; theology, which describes the nature of Ultimate Reality or the divine; and anthropology, which describes the understanding of human nature and its relationship with natural and supernatural reality. This chapter outlines the distinctive Heathen approach to each of these areas, including discussion of the cosmology of Yggdrasil, the World Tree; “hard” polytheism; virtue ethics, the uniquely Heathen concepts of Orlog and Luck; and the importance of ancestral religion for Asatru.

Part II

addresses the Asatru critique of the modern American family. Asatru is generally positive toward the family structure and seeks ways to support and enhance the experience of family. The basic Asatru organizational structure, called a kindred, functions as a type of alternative family for adherents. Asatru is also an ancestral religion, which emphasizes the personal experience of ancestors as a type of sacred family. The chapter discusses the role of ritual within the religion while specifically focusing on the ritual of sumbel. Sumbel is an ancient performative rite that emphasizes the connection of individuals with each other in a quasi-familial relationship. In its contemporary setting, participants both envision and enact this familial bond to create shared networks of meaning. The ritual is analyzed as a unique contemporary religious solution to the issues of modern rootlessness and the breakdown of family life.
focuses on the role of magical practice within Asatru and how it functions to address the ambiguity and limitations which characterize women’s modern social roles. Unlike Wicca, Asatru is not primarily a magical religion, and magical practice exists within a more contested space. Heathen attitudes toward magic are examined as well as the history and varieties of Asatru magic. Despite the controversy regarding magic in the movement, Asatru women have utilized magical roles to create and shape new identities and spheres of influence. Heathen magic has developed in ways that expand both epistemological possibilities and technologies of knowing, as well as the role of women within the male-oriented ethos of Asatru religion. Developing the case studies of two contemporary female practitioners, the chapter discusses Heathen magic as an alternative epistemology as well as a version of American healing religion.
discusses the themes of nature religion within Asatru, taking the work of Catherine Albanese as a starting point. It analyzes Asatru as an earth-centered movement that seeks to reconnect and re-envision the relationship between humans and the earth that has been disrupted by modernity. As a Pagan religion, Asatru expresses a form of corpo-spirituality, in which Nature is understood to express or manifest sacred realities. These connections are observed within the sacred calendar, sacred space, and environmental attitudes of Asatru adherents. Asatru symbols, ritual, and personal experiences of supernatural power within nature are examined as solutions to the growing awareness that modern lifestyles engender an alienation from nature. In its second half, the chapter presents Odinism, a sect within Heathenry, as an apocalyptic nature religion by analyzing the Odinist religious response to the modern conspiracy theory surrounding the purported practice of chem-trailing.
is a concluding chapter addressing ways in which Asatru challenges scholarly suppositions about the characteristics of NRMs in America. Scholars have suggested that America may be experiencing a Fourth Great Awakening in which a new type of religious consciousness is emerging. The chapter discusses that proposition by examining two possible scenarios for Asatru’s development. Asatru exemplifies many of the features of the new religious consciousness while being set apart by its emphasis on ethnic identity and continuity.