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Friday, October 16, 2009

Asatru and the Word

What is the power of words? What is the Word of God? Are words but symbols, scratches on stone or paper without power?

Accedat verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum ('add the Word to the elements and it becomes a sacrament). These ancient Latin words by Augustine, African Bishop of Hippo, point to a huge and unending controversy about the Word of God, form, substance, elements and the sacraments of the church.

I do not propose to add to it. 

I simply wish to point out that a belief in the power of words belongs to non-Christians as well. It was well known among the people of the North who recorded their travels and visions with symbols called runes. These runes formed the words that told the stories. Behind and beyond the runes, they believed, was the power and revelation of the gods. This ancient belief was taken up by many of the Nazi leaders as they incorporated it into their program to restore the supposed right of the Aryan race to rule the entire world. 

There are many things we Christians do not know about these ancients. It also surprising to many of us to learn that the religion of these people continues to the present day--along with a deep respect for the runes and runic writing. You probably are unaware of some of the following facts.

In Iceland the poet Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson won legal status for the religion in 1972 and Asatru is currently practised throughout Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and the English-speaking world, while forms of it exist in Eastern European countries.

Ásatrú is (pronounced 'asa-true') is the Norse word meaning 'True to Aesir.' The Aesir are the Norse/Germanic gods. The people who worship these gods are the Ásatrúar. It was the religion of the Scandinavian and Germanic lands, including England, prior to Christianity.

People frequently regard Asatru as but one of the Neopagan family of religions that include  WiccaCeltic Druidism, and re-creations of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other ancient Pagan religions.

Don't go there. Most Ásatrúar prefer the term "Heathen" or "Pagan" rather than "Neopagan;" they look upon their tradition as "not just a branch on the Neopagan tree" but as a separate tree.  Unlike Wicca, which has gradually evolved into many different traditions, the reconstruction of Ásatrú has been based on the surviving historical record. Its followers have maintained it as closely as possible to the original religion of the Norse people.

This is the religion of Hulda Schwarz, the priestess who appears in my upcoming novel, Freya's Child. She has deep respect for runes and the rune stones found in various northern lands, including North America.