Asatru - Norse Heathens of Modern Paganism

Many Pagans follow the ways of their Norse ancestors. Ascent Xmedia / Getty Images

Many people today follow a spiritual path rooted in the practices and beliefs of their Norse ancestors. Although some use the term Heathen, many Norse Pagans use the word Asatru to describe their beliefs and practices.

Did You Know?

  • To the Asatru, the gods are living beings—the Aesir, the Vanir, and the Jotnar—who take an active role in the world and its inhabitants. 
  • Many Asatruar believe that those who killed in battle are escorted to Valhalla; those who live a dishonorable life will end up in Hifhel, a place of torment.
  • Some Asatru and Heathen groups are publicly denouncing white supremacists who have co-opted Norse symbols to further a racist agenda.

History of the Asatru Movement

The Asatru movement began in the 1970's, as a revival of Germanic paganism. Begun in Iceland on the Summer Solstice of 1972, the Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið was founded recognized as an official religion the following year. Shortly afterwards, the Asatru Free Assembly was formed in the United States, although they later became the Asatru Folk Assembly. An offshoot group, the Asatru Alliance, founded by Valgard Murray, holds an annual gathering called "Althing", and has done so for over twenty-five years.

Many Asatruar prefer the word "heathen" to "neopagan," and rightfully so. As a reconstructionist path, many Asatruar say their religion is very similar in its modern form to the religion that existed hundreds of years ago before the Christianization of the Norse cultures. An Ohio Asatruar who asked to be identified as Lena Wolfsdottir says, "A lot of Neopagan traditions consist of a blend of the old and the new. Asatru is a polytheistic path, based in existing historical records—particularly in the stories found in the Norse eddas, which are some of the oldest surviving records."

Beliefs of the Asatru

Viking metal
ManuelVelasco / Getty Images

To the Asatru, the gods are living beings who take an active role in the world and its inhabitants. There are three types of deities within the Asatru system:

  • The Aesir: gods of the tribe or clan, representing leadership.
  • The Vanir: not part of the clan directly, but associated with it, representing earth and nature.
  • The Jotnar: giants always at war with the Aesir, symbolic of destruction and chaos.

The Asatru believe that those who killed in battle are escorted to Valhalla by Freyja and her Valkyries. Once there, they will eat Särimner, who is a pig that is slaughtered and resurrected each day, with the Gods.

Some traditions of Asatruar believe that those who have lived a dishonorable or immoral life go to Hifhel, a place of torment. The rest go on to Hel, a place of calmness and peace.

Modern American Asatruar follow a guideline known as the Nine Noble Virtues. They are:

  • Courage: both physical and moral courage
  • Truth: spiritual truth and actual truth
  • Honor: one's reputation and moral compass
  • Fidelity: remaining true to the Gods, kinsmen, a spouse, and community
  • Discipline: using personal will to uphold honor and other virtues
  • Hospitality: treating others with respect, and being part of the community
  • Industriousness: hard work as a means to achieve a goal
  • Self-Reliance: taking care of oneself, while still maintaining relationships with Deity
  • Perseverance: continuing despite potential obstacles

Gods and Goddesses of the Asatru

Odin And Bragi
Archive Photos / Getty Images

Asatruar honor the Norse deities. Odin is the one-eyed God, the father figure. He is a wise man and magician, who learned the secrets of the runes by hanging himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights. His son Thor is the god of thunder, who wields the divine Hammer, Mjolnir. Thursday (Thor's Day) is named in his honor.

Frey is the god of peace and plenty who brings fertility and prosperity. This son of Njord was born at the time of the Winter Solstice. Loki is a trickster god, who brings discord and chaos. In challenging the gods, Loki brings about change.

Freyja is a goddess of love and beauty, as well as sexuality. The leader of the Valkyries, she escorts warriors to Valhalla when they are killed in battle. Frigg is the wife of Odin, and is goddess of the household, who watches over married women.

Structure of the Asatru

The Asatru are divided into Kindreds, which are local worship groups. These are sometimes called a garth, stead, or skeppslag. Kindreds may or may not be affiliated with a national organization and are composed of families, individuals, or hearths. Members of a Kindred may be related by blood or marriage.

A Kindred is usually led by a Goðar, a priest and chieftain who is the "speaker for the gods."

Modern Heathenry and the Issue of White Supremacy

Runes with pouch and candle
Pshenichka / Getty Images

Today, many Heathens and Asatruar find themselves embroiled in controversy, stemming from the use of Norse symbols by white supremacist groups. Joshua Rood points out at CNN that these supremacist "movements didn‘t evolve out of Ásatrú. They evolved out of racial or white power movements that latched onto Ásatrú, because a religion that came from Northern Europe is a more useful tool to a “white nationalist” than one that originated elsewhere."

The majority of American Heathens disavow any connection to racist groups. In particular, groups that identify as "Odinist" rather than Heathen or Asatru lean more towards the idea of white racial purity. Betty A. Dobratz writes in The Role of Religion in the Collective Identity of the White Racialist Movement that “The development of racial pride is key in distinguishing whites who belong to this movement from whites who do not.” In other words, white supremacist groups make no distinction between culture and race, while non-racist groups, conversely, believe in following the cultural beliefs of their own heritage. 


  • “11 Things to Know about the Present Day Practice of Ásatrú, the Ancient Religion of the Vikings.” Icelandmag,
  • “The Asatru Alliance.” The Asatru Alliance Homepage,
  • Grønbech, Vilhelm, and William Worster. The Culture of the Teutons. Milford, Oxford Univ. Pr., 1931.
  • Hermannsson Halldór. The Sagas of Icelanders. Kraus Repr., 1979.
  • Samuel, Sigal. “What To Do When Racists Try To Hijack Your Religion.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 2 Nov. 2017,
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Asatru - Norse Heathens of Modern Paganism." Learn Religions, Aug. 29, 2020, Wigington, Patti. (2020, August 29). Asatru - Norse Heathens of Modern Paganism. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "Asatru - Norse Heathens of Modern Paganism." Learn Religions. (accessed March 26, 2023).

Watch Now: Norse Gods and Goddesses