Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Asatru FAQ: Which Gods Are the Actual Gods?

A question asked in my group, the Asatru Facebook Forum: Which gods are the actual gods and which ones were just made up over the years?

My answer:

Well, that's a question, isn't it? What counts as an actual god? What are the criteria? Is it the passage of time? Does Wayland Smith count, because he started being worshipped long ago? Does Marvel Loki count because he's a fully realized aspect of Asa-Loki? Does Ostara count because of Bede, or because of modern worshippers, or even because of Xians using her name as Easter for the springtime bunny and egg holiday, or does she not count? Does Santa-Odin count as an aspect of Odin? Are Odin and Wotan different gods or the same god? Are Tyr and Zeus different gods or the same god? Who decides? Most Asatruars would say Odin and Wotan are the same god, but that Tyr and Zeus are two different gods. The distance between the two names in both cases is measured in culture, time, and linguistics in addition to actual geographical distance, but the distance is longer in the second case. Many disagree on the other questions. 

If one goes back far enough in history, eventually one will reach an age when the familiar gods of Asatru were not yet worshipped in their current forms. Some Viking Age god names had clear equivalents among the Roman Empire era Germanic tribes; for example, Viking Age Freyr is clearly the same god as Ingvi. If you keep going back in time you'll reach an age when the names of gods were not recorded, we only have stone artworks as evidence, and modern scholars disagree on whether the idols we know by such names as Venus of Willendorf and Venus of Laussel were even actual religious icons of goddesses or whether they were some sort of fertility magic short of actual worship. For myself, I consider them goddesses, and I include them in my heathenry. 

Are any gods "real"? How do you define real? Are you real? Am I real? Do we exist? Yep, there we go, that's existentialism. And I can't answer that question for you, because if you have not yet decided that I'm real, or that you're real, then my answer would be meaningless.

For myself, I think I'm real. I choose to believe the evidence of my own senses. I can see the sun, so it's real. I can hear the gods, so they're real. As they say, Your Mileage May Vary.

There was a time in my life when I couldn't feel the gods' presence, or the minds of other human beings either. That was when I was depressed for about a year in the 90s. The depression was a result of a side effect of a medicine I tried for a physical illness. It was awful to be mind-blind, cut off from feeling the presence of the gods, but I remembered being able to feel them, so I had faith they were still there. Eventually I returned to normal, and was no longer depressed, and could sense other people and the gods again. Those who can't feel other minds at all-- not humans, not animals or land spirits, not gods-- need faith. Faith is more difficult than simply believing in the evidence of one's own senses. But it is still a choice. Deciding whether other people, gods, etc. are real, and indeed whether one's own self is real, is still an existential question that each person must answer for themself. 

If you're just looking for a list of the gods of Asatru, there's one in my book. Link appears below. 

Image: classical art of the goddess Ostara, with an Ostara basket of dyed eggs, photo by Erin Lale

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


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