New and Old Names for the Nordic Way

(and a little something about the modern ”Asatro/Asatru” movement)

All of us in The Fellowship of Kvasir has a deep and sincere admiration for the pre-Christian society in the Nordic peninsula and its ability to in one all-embracing philosophy
of life summarize an ecological living, religion, folklore, ethics, moral, broad-mindedness, and a deep trust in your own ability. By the ancients this was quite simply called The SED (Siðr), that is THE WAY. The word ”Sed” comes from an old Norse word that means approximately ”the common customs we all share.” (Please note that what today is called ”religion” is only one small part of the Sed).

When the Christian mission came to Scandinavia the new faith was at first called The Krist Sed (Hinn Kristni Siðr), that is The Christian Way or more often The Ny Sed (Hinn Nýi
Siðr), that is The New Way. Only at the very end of the Viking age the new faith was sometimes called Kristendom (Hinn Kristinn Dómr), that is Christianity. However, the use of the word Christianity did not become really common in the Nordic countries until as late as the high Middle Ages. By the Christian missionaries and the newly Christianized Norse, The Sed (The Way) was quite locically called The Forn Sed or somtimes The Heden Sed (Hinn Forni/Heiðni Siðr), that is The Old Way or sometimes The Heathen Way, because they wanted to abolish it! So the words (or more correctly concepts of) The Old Way or The Heathen Way did have very strong pejorative connotations which in our opinion make them utterly unsuitable for use today. In Scandinavia the words Hedendom (Hinn Heiðinn Dómr or later just Hedhindomber), that is Heathendom or Paganism, did not appear until the late part of the 10th century. The word is most probably taken from the Old English word Hæen (Heath or Moorland) that was introduced to Scandinavia by English and/or Irish missionaries and was exclusively used by the Christians as a scornful term of abuse and as a derogatory contrast to the new Christian faith. This means that the words Heathenism and Heathen does still give you the same extremely unpleasant associations as the derogatory concept The Forn Sed, that is The Old Way. Strangely enough these concepts are today used by far too many people who quite obviously have no idea whatsoever what they really stand for.

In opposition to the newly Christianized some believers in the ancestral ways then started to call The Sed (Siðr), that is The Way, The Norrön Sed (Hinn Norrøni Siðr), that is The Nordic Way, to manifest their strong belief that The Way was a concept that truly belonged to the people of the North and that the new strange faith belonged to the many peoples of the South who never should have tried to export it to us at all. In The Way was included a broadminded tolerance that at first welcomed Christianity as a new aspect of the divine.

The problems started when Christianity revealed its true face with a fanatical, intolerant and from a Nordic perspective utterly absurd claim to be the only way. We of The Fellowship of Kvasir are trying, to the best of our ability, to live our lives according to the The Way, updated to the demands of the modern world of today. We have like our ancestors chosen to use the concept The Sed, that is The Way and sometimes The Norrön Sed, that is The Nordic Way. More to the point we use the concept The Way in the Nordic countries and The Nordic Way outside Scandinavia.

So where did the word ”Asatro”, sometimes spelled ”Asatru”, come from?

First and foremost it is NOT an old word or concept used in the Viking Age! It was in fact invented much, much later. If you think about it that word could never have been used by the ancients. In the Viking Age you always talked about the balance between The Aesir and The Vanir. During the earlier part of the Viking Age you even talked about the balance between The Aesir, The Vanir and The Alfar, the three immortal kindreds that influence us humans the most. To use the word ”Asatro” would mean that you then broke that precarious balance and only mentioned The Aesir and excluded all other Divine Powers.  So how about The Vanir or The Alfar? The Aesir are of course in no way whatsoever more important than The Vanir or The Alfar! Besides and most importantly our male and female ancestors would never ever even think about doing anything so stupid as to pluck the part of religion out of the concept The Way and give it a separate name. (And with a particularly excluding name at that). The whole point with The Way is that it was and is a philosophy of life! The part of religion is just one part of The Way coexisting with many other just as important parts.

Then we have the unpleasant but fully legitimate follow-up question about the modern so called ”Asatro/Asatru” movement…

THE WORD:

The very first time whe hear about the word ”Asatro” is when the Danish poet Gruntvig  mentions the word in a national romantic, ostentatious, long and winding poem from the
begining of the 19th century. After that there is, to the best of our knowledge, not a single  mention of the word until it suddenly comes into use again at the end of the 19th century.
Then the word ”Asatro” was sparingly used by some (but not all) German linguists and and historians of religion. It was then used as an all-encompassing word for the pre-Christian faith and belief system of Scandinavia. The real reason for this was of course that they desperately tried to find a word concept that closely connected to the Judeo-Christian concept of religion. They naturally knew very well about the Nordic conept of The Way but it was next to impossible for those harshly Christian indoctrinated people to understand what it really meant. To them it appeared both vague and bland and they strongly disliked what to them was the utterly alien and insipid concept of The Sed. Thus the notion was both simplified and coarsened to the point that even a Christian could understand it…

Completely analogous to this at about the same time in occupied India the British invented the concept of ”Hinduism”, so that they could deal with the (to us related) Indian non- Christian all-embracing philosophy of life in a way that the British public could understand it. – Incidentely the present Indians have the same intense dislike to the word ”Hinduism” as we have to ”Asatro”. – The word ”Asatro” was in fact not at all used by anyone anywhere in the whole of Scandinavia during the first half of the 20th century. Some sporadic use of the word did however occur during that time in Germany, especially during the Nazi era.

THE MOVEMENT:

But the word as well as the concept suddenly reappeared around 1970 in USA. For this we can mostly ”thank” a certain Stephen Flowers aka ”Edred Thorsson”. He was an American
accademic that had at first read about it in the old by then nearly forgotten German books.  He then became mightily interested when he realised the Nazis had made use of it. The
National-Socialist movement was one of his greatest interests. Then he had the bright idea of combining Nazism with some dark, Left-Path neo-odinism and then added a little
sprinkling of pure satanism and presto a new religion was born! (With him as top dog of course.) So he promptly relaunched the whole idea again in his own home-blended
odinist/rasist/neonazi/Left Path/New Age virulent mix. In our opinion complete balderdash!  Naturally it has nothing whatsoever to do with The Nordic Way… Unfortunately this blatant
falsification deceived far too many in the late 1970s and the early 1980s in the US, Great  Britain and even somewhat surprisingly in Germany. It also sadly became popular with
people who honestly was searching for the real Nordic Way as well as in New Age circles. To our despair we have even found some people in Scandinavia who still believe in this
utter garbage. (Admittedly few, but even so…Appalling!) Actually Flowers was not the first  to use the word ”Asatro” in the Anglo-Saxon vorld. Some other Americans had tried to
make use of the name as early as the late 60s, that is a few years before Flowers, but had  not succced at all. They too had read about the name in the old German books and in vain
tried to make use of it commercially. It is quite possible that Flowers had them as an  inspiration as well. Flowers changed the spelling of the word to ”Asatru” to make it appear
older and then even falsely publicly claimed that it really was a genuine Viking Age word.  So Flowers succeded where others failed. A lot of people did fall for that lie. In the late
1980s even a few non-left-path-odinists began to make use of the name. It was used more  and more by certain popular writers in the 1990s and by then it somehow crept in to
popular use. That unfortunate trend persists even today, first and foremost in the Anglo- Saxon world. However, the word ”Asatru” is even now never used in any serious and/or
scientific context. All contemporary researchers are naturally well aware of the fact that the  word is neither authentic, nor does it cover the concept of The Nordic Way or even Viking
Age religion. The only exception is if you for example do a serious investigation of certain obscure quasi-Nordic parts of the modern New Age movement in the US or Great
Britain.There we have seen that the concept of ”Asatru” regularly pops up and in those circumstances it is entirely appropriate.

In our opinion the modern ”Asatru” movement more or less has two important roots. The older more important one comes from the U.S. and is described above. You might also call it the theoretical foundation for nearly all that today call themselves ”Asatruar”. The other one, that you might call the emotional root, is the Islandic one. It began in 1972 when a certain Islandic sheepfarmer by the name of Steinbjørn Beinteinson began to call his personal belief in The Little People for religion. (That is the belief in gnomes, goblins, dvarves, vaettir, tomtar, nisser et al.) Wherever he got the name ”Asatru” from we have no idea, but one could always speculate. In any case he had a huge image of Tor made of cement. It was modelled on a small statuette from the Archaeological museum in Reykjavik. In the beginning he called himself ”asa-priest”. (Not godi, that came much later).
He was certainly a poet and wrote some poetry books in the 1940s and 50s. They mainly had nature-lyric themes. A few of his poems had some old-Norse themes taken from Edda Snorri Sturluson. Besides that he liked to recite his poems in public. And that was about all there was. The thing with the ”Asatru Fellowship” (Ásatrúarfélagið) was meant as a joke for his friends and a way of teasing some of his more fanatical Christian neighbours. But the main reason being a publicity stunt to sell more of his poetry books. The reason we of The Fellowship of Kvasir know so much of the early ”Asatru-movement” in Iceland is that we already in the mid 1970s sent a representative to Iceland. He was there for a long time and talked to a lot of people, including the ”asa-priest” himself. To put it mildly, you might say that the report of our member was not a positive one. According to him the ignorance of the so called ”Asatruar” of any of Norse beliefs was almost complete. The most ignorant of the whole bunch was not surprisingly the ”asapriest” himself. He had a completely different agenda. The little he know or even cared about was solely about The Little People. For certain nothing bad about The Little People but The Nordic Way is about so much more.

Some of the younger persons knew a little more about the Gods and Goddesses, mainly  because they learnt about it in school. It was painfully obvious they know next to nothing about The Nordic Way. However, it definately was about parental rebellion, slightly delayed New Age living hippie-style with drugs and partner changes and the occasional ”agarianist”, that is some young people who moved from the cities to the countryside in the 1970s and advocated a rural life instead of an urban one. So the Norse element in all this was virtually non existant but the common belief in The Little People which at that time still survived here and there in the backwoods of Iceland. Not without interest but… Apart from that our member was recommended th read the Eddas. Sure, he had done that a long time ago. Then what? Well, when our member pressed them for more information they referred him to the best and greatest authority they know, the man who was able to answer all questions about anything about the faith of the Norse peoples, that ”great Scandinavian savant Edred Thorsson”. Come on, ”Edred Thorsson???” Really!!! ”Case closed” as they say in the American crime series on TV.

Finally, we have a very unpleasant fact. The word ”Asatro/Asatru” is these days nearly always used by neo-nazis, neo-fascists, odinists, rasists, Nordic satanists (who believe that Satan and Odin is one and the same beeing) and/or ultra nationalists. There are only some very few exceptions from this. This is easy to check. Just Google ”Asatru” and see for yourself. Ninety times out of one hundred you end up at some unplesant rasist home page. In the nine other times you end up at some confused New Age page. In the one time out of one hundred searches you end up with some people who honestly did not know any better. This argument has really convinced many people in Sweden. Almost all Nordic associations has now stopped using the word ”Asatro” (as is the spelling in Scandinavia). Instead they use the words The Sed (The Way), The Nordisk Sed (The Nordic Way) or sometimes The Norrön Sed (The Nordic/Norse Way). The same could be said for many persons outside any association. We of The Fellowship of Kvasir has done our very best to emphasize this trend during our lecture and seminar trips around the Nordic region.

The above-mentioned Flowers is for example a highly ranked member of the right-wing extremist German ”Armanen-Orden” and its Sadean (sadomasochistic) branch ”Burg- Gesellschaft”. This means he is an organized Nazi since the ”A-O” and its branches both in Germany and Austria counts as a prohibited neo-Nazi association. He was also for a long time the principal of the ”Order of the Trapezoid (Triskelnorden)” which is an odinist branch of ”The Temple of Set” and that is a very large American Satanist organization. The ”ToS” is also openly rasist. This means he is both a rasist and a Satanist. In 1991 he and his wife founded ”The Order of Triskelion” a branch of the ”Triskelnorden” which is an organization ”for the practice of operant Sadeanism and Carnal Alchemy”. A former member of the ”Church of Satan” he has for many years been very active in several openly rasist, neo-Nazi, Sadean, Left-Hand Path occult organizations. Everything is connected!

We of ”The Fellowship of Kvasir” have formerly had our violent clashes with people like this. We dislike them intensely and will NOT have anything to do with them at all!

In conclusion: The word ”Asatro/Asatru” is an historical anomaly (=not authentic); conceptually wrong (=covers only a very small part of The Nordic Way) and gives extremely unpleasant associations for most people of today (=is almost always automatically linked with various vicious racist and/or right-wing extremist organizations).  ”Asatro/Asatru” in its modern form is also the name for a very unpleasant, utterly confused variant of New Age. We of ”The Fellowship of Kvasir” believe that our great dislike for the word and the concept of ”Asato/Asatru” is fully justifiable. Therefore all forms of ”Asatro/Asatru” is completely uninteresting to us!