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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
The Afterlife in Asatru

In Asatru, and many other sects of heathenry, we believe the soul has multiple parts, and that some of these parts can go on to an afterlife, while other parts can be reincarnated. The soul part that corresponds with the personality and memory can go either way, and it can also reach oblivion before being recycled / reincarnated. Other parts of the soul complex can go on, be reincarnated, or just stop. Actions one can take on Earth can affect this outcome. If one is going on to an afterlife, there are many possible afterlife destinations, some of which are here on Earth—which we call Midgard—and some of which are in other worlds / other dimensions.

Some people have been sharing a meme based on a Wikipedia page on one sect of heathenry, "Norse Paganism," thinking that it applies to all sects. It does not apply to Asatru. The page, and the meme, is divided into 4 sections, labeled Valhalla, Folkvangr, Helgafjell, and Helheim. The sections on Valhalla and Folkvangr are not bad. Those realms are the two places where the battle slain go, to Odin in Valhalla within Gladsheim and to Freya in Sessrumnir within Folkvangr.

The section on Hel gets Hel wrong. Hel is not a place of punishment. It's just the world of the dead. Christians used the word Hel to translate their word for the realm of the dead, just like they used the word godh (god) to translate their word for God. Both words ended up having Christian connotations in modern English, but the original heathen Hel had as much resemblance to the Christian Hell as original heathen god has to Christian God. Rather than a place of punishment, Hel or Helheim is the catch-all, or default realm. It is ruled by Hel, or Hela. Hel the goddess and Hel the place have the same name for the same reason that Normandy is the name of a land and a Duke.

Helgafjel is an obscure place name that most heathens don't even recognize. Is it a place within Hel, or a mountain on Earth? It can be argued that all grave mounds are simultaneously on this earth and in the realm of the dead. There is a real place in Iceland called Helgafell, meaning "holy mountain." The place spelled Helgafjel also means "holy mountain," but it may not have been the same place. It may have been in Norway, in which case, it is now named something else, since it no longer appears on any maps. Either way, Helgafjel was a real physical mountain, and the belief in Helgafjel was a local belief in a mountain in which the dead of a particular set of linked families or the dead of a particular locality went. The page is specific to a sect of heathenry where the people lived within sight of the mountain. The meme makers have mistaken it for a generalized belief across heathen cultures (that is, pagan cultures which worshipped the gods generally called the Norse gods.) As a physical place where the dead are said to reside, this then is a type of mound-dead belief, even though there is no evidence the mountain was actually used as a burial site. The dead in a specific mountain, mound, ship burial, graveyard, etc. are specific dead people with names, usually people who lived in the area.

Historically, the line between the mound-dead and the mound-elf was fuzzy. Freyr as king of Alfheim (elf home) may have had an aspect in which he was also king of the male dead ancestors. His sister Freya may have had an aspect as queen of the female dead ancestors, as indicated by her name Vanadis, goddess of the disir (female ancestral spirits.)

Other possible afterlife destinations include the home of Thor, who may have been considered to collect farmers in historical times, although the word used in the lore was a more general word for the non-warrior caste. The goddess Ran collects the drowned dead. Frigga (or Frau Holle) collects the souls of dead children; this is the meaning of Mother Night, when the Dark Mother rides the Wild Hunt. In an earlier time, when Tyr was king, his wife Zisa collected the dead in her war-boat. Gefjon, who may be an aspect of Freya, is said to collect the souls of unmarried women. Many if not most of the heathen pantheon have halls where they house the souls of dead humans.

In historical times, people who wanted to go to a specific god tried to live their lives in such a way that they would be likely to die doing the god’s special thing, such as sailing. Some heathens today also do this, although others believe that devotion to a god as a priest or other type of specialist opens the way to that god.

Naming customs also can affect the afterlife, but it affects the afterlife of the named person, although this is a bit complicated. The soul part in which talents reside is not the same as the soul part that contains memories, so when someone names a child after their grandfather hoping to gain grandfather’s musical talents, that does not necessarily draw the memory part; it is possible for grandfather to both be reborn in his line and stay with his god in the afterlife at the same time. On the other hand, if one names a child after a friend specifically to honor that friend who is still alive, no part of the still alive person’s soul is transferred at the ceremony, but it is possible for part of the soul to arrive later, upon the death of the other party, as the shared name opens the way between them.

Historical heathen cultures spanned a great deal of time over a great many places. Some heathens spoke languages that other heathens from other times and places would not understand. Modern heathens in America usually draw their heathenry from a wide variety of cultures, although some of them can be as local and specific as their European counterparts.

Image: Valknut, fiber art by Erin Lale

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Asatru FAQ: Was Odin Human?

The Asatru FAQ series is my answers to questions asked on my forum, the Asatru Facebook Forum. Frequently Asked Question: Was Odin human?

My answer:

That's a fairly common interpretation, but I personally don't think he was.

The logic of the interpretation of Odin as human who ascended to godhood goes like this: Tyr was the original Sky God and King. Odin appeared in the culture suddenly. Odin's myth includes a shamanic initiation, or possibly two-- the Tree and the Well. He was therefore a great mystic to ascended to godhood.

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Indeed, but he didn't have access to the full range of heathen mythology that we have today, and didn't know the story of Odin-and
  • Victoria
    Victoria says #
    Gesta Danorum is not very early, it was written in the early 13th century. Scandinavian countries were Christianised between 8th
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Wasn't it that historian Saxo Germanicus who first identified Odin as some ancient king?

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Asatru FAQ: Bad Ancestors

FAQ: I want to be a good heathen and honor ancestors but my ancestors were bad people. Who can I honor?

Related FAQ: I'm going to be attending a sumbel in which there will be a round toasted to the ancestors, but I was adopted and don't know my ancestors' names. Who can I honor?

My answer: One can honor Askr and Embla, the first man and woman according to heathen mythology (made by Odin and his brothers.) One could also honor any gods that appear in one's family tree. According to heathen mythology, everyone is descended from Rig, whom most Asatruars consider to be an aspect of Heimdall, thus, anyone could honor Heimdall. There might also be other gods one could include among ancestors, depending on one's family line. I have honored Lollus as an ancestor.

You don't have to honor your literal biological ancestors to be a good heathen. When the sumbel horn is passed in the ancestor round, you can honor the mighty dead whom you admire whether you are lineally related to them or not. You can honor your personal heroes, the elders of your path, a writer who influenced you-- that's my personal hope of ever being remembered, since I have no children. You can honor the founders of your nation, city, profession, or art. Honor your spouse's ancestors. Toast your favorite childhood teacher, the composer of your favorite song, or anyone with whom you have an emotional connection.

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Nods. The Disir have a named holiday, Disablot, so they were definitely honored in ancient times. One honor them, or the alfar per
  • Victoria
    Victoria says #
    Victoria Wednesday, 14 August 2019 · I honour the mothers and fathers of my ancestral lineage. Heathens get too wrapped up in in
Asatru FAQ: Shouldn't We Have a Sacred Language?

Every so often, people come up with ideas we've already tried. That's one reason long time heathens are a great resource for newer heathens. We remember. One idea that keeps recurring is the idea of having a liturgical language, like Latin for the Catholics, or an official common language for our religion that is also used as a common secular language, such as the modern revival of Hebrew among Jews as the national language of Israel.

Asatruars actually tried that before. In the 90s, Asatruars in the USA were calling themselves Ulfgar Tyrsson and Freya Freyasdottir and calling quarters with Thorsson's Hammer Rite in Old Norse. And saying "hailsa."

Hailsa

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Asatru FAQ: Patron Gods

Frequently Asked Question: Am I supposed to have a patron god?

My answer:  Some people have relationships with gods, and some don't. Some of those relationships are like a patron, like a father, like a co-worker, like a friend to relax and have a beer with, like all kinds of different sorts of relationships. Person A can have relationship type 1 with x god and type 4 with z god, while Person B can have relationship type 12 with gods a, b, and c, and think x god is too scary to work with and decline to have a relationship with them, and that's all OK. 

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Asatru FAQ: Do I Need a Kindred?

Frequently Asked Question: Do I need a kindred to practice Asatru?

This question is usually accompanied by a story like this: "Someone on a forum said I can't be a heathen by myself because Asatru is community oriented, but someone else told me I can't just go join a kindred like a church and I should just practice by myself, and someone else said heathenry is about family and I shouldn't even try to practice with other heathens."

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Asatru FAQ: Should I Do Daily Devotions?

A Frequently Asked Question about Asatru is: "Should I be doing devotional practices every day?"

My answer: "Should" doesn't get one very far, in my experience. If what you feel like doing is the standard holidays, do that. If you feel like doing no more than occasionally thinking about the gods and other powers, do that, then-- and if 30 years later you suddenly are excited about sharing joyous times with them, then there you go, change to that. "Should" makes things into church-on-Sunday boredom and obligation, and who wants to be somebody's boring chore? Not the gods, as far as I know. 

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thanks!
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Love this! Having a drink with spirits is my favorite way to initiate and deepen relationships with them. I also love the emphasis

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