Asatru is of Norse origin, derived from the Danish word Asetro. It was first seen in 1885 in an article in the periodical "Fjallkonan". The next recorded instance was in "Heioinn siour a Islandi" by Olafur Briem (Reykjavik, 1945)." The title means "Heathen traditions in Iceland." Members of Asatru refer to themselves as Heathens, not pagans.
Throughout Scandinavia the religion is called Forn Sior (which means the Ancient way or tradition), Forn sed (the Old custom), Nordisk sed (Nordic custom), or Hedensk sed (Pagan custom). The religion's origin is lost in antiquity. At its peak, it covered all of Northern Europe. In 1000 CE, Iceland became the second last Norse culture to convert to Christianity. Their prime motivation was economic. Sweden was ruled by a Pagan king until 1085 CE.
Icelandic poet Gothi Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson promoted government recognition of Asatru as a legitimate religion; this status was granted in 1972. Since the early 1970's, the religion has been in a period of rapid growth in the former Norse countries, as well as in Europe and North America.
During the early part of the 20th Century, The National Socialist Party in Germany under Adolf Hitler attempted to pervert Asatru by grafting parts of the religion onto the Nazi racist beliefs. This blasphemy died by the end of World War II.
Asatru is a legitimate Heathen religion. There is a very strong anti-racist, anti-Nazi stance among national Asatru groups in the Scandinavian countries. This is also found in almost all Asatru groups in English speaking countries. They typically have a clear rejection of racism written into their constitutions.
Followers in North America have created a list of Nine Noble Virtues: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance and Perseverance. The family is greatly valued and honored. They reject any form of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, race, sexual orientation, or "other divisive criteria".
Asatru is a polytheistic religion. There are three races of Deities in the Norse pantheon. They are all regarded as living entities who are involved in human life.
The Aesir: These are the Gods of the tribe or clan, representing Kingship, order, craft, etc.
The Vanir: These represent the fertility of the earth and forces of nature. They are associated with the clan but are not part of it.
The Jotnar: These are giants who are in a constant state of war with the Aesir. They represent chaos and destruction. At the battle of Ragnarok, many of the Gods will die, the world will come to an end and be reborn.
Odin is the one-eyed leader of the Aesir; the All Father. He gave up one of his eyes in order to drink from the Fountain of Wisdom. He is a magician and wise one who learned the secrets of the runes (Northern European alphabet) by hanging himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights. Many of his attributes included being a god of war, poetry, wisdom, and death. His halls were called Gladsheim, Valaskjalf and Valhalla. Odin's high seat, Hlidskialf, was in Valaskjalf. It was from this throne that he could see over all the world.
Thor is the son of Odin and a member of the Aesir, he was the god of thunder and the main enemy of the giants. He would smash their heads with his mighty hammer Mjolnir. To wield this awesome weapon he needed iron gloves and a belt of strength. Mjolnir would return to Thor's hand after being thrown and was symbolic of lightning. Thor would ride around middle-earth in his wagon drawn by two goats, His abode was Thruthheim [Land of Strength] and his hall, Bilskinir. His wife was Sif. Thursday (Thor's Day) was named after him.
Frey is the God of Yule (born on the Winter Solstice, typically December 21). He is a God of weather, peace and plenty who brings fertility and prosperity. He ruled over the land of the light elves, Alfheim. He was the son of Njord and Njord's sister, and the brother of Freya. His step-mother was Skadi.
Freya (aka Freyja) is the Goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, and perhaps a dozen other attributes. She leads the Valkyries who take the souls of slain soldiers to Valhalla (Odin's great hall).
Frigg is Odin's wife. Her name has been secularized to a slang term which refers to sexual intercourse. She is the patroness of the household and of married women.
Skadi is the Goddess of independence, death, hunting and skiing. Scandinavia was named after her; the English words shadow, skullduggery and shade came from her name.
Ostara is a Goddess of fertility who is celebrated at the time of the Spring equinox. She was known by the Saxons as Eostre, the Goddess of Spring, from whom we have derived the word Easter. Ostara's symbols are the hare and the egg.
Other Deities: are Aegir, Balder, Bragi, Forseti, Heimdall, Hel, Loki, Njord, Ran, Tyr, Ull and Vithar. Followers of Asatru also honor the Landvaettir (land spirits) of the forest, earth and streams.
Humanity is literally descended from the Gods. Three brothers, Odin, Vili, and Ve created people from two trees and gave them the names Ask and Embla. One deity, Rig visited the earth and established the social classes.
Those who die in battle will be carried to Valhalla by the Valkyries. There they will eat Särimner (a pig that is daily slaughtered and resurrected) with the Gods. Some, but not all, Asatruars believe that those who have lived a very evil and treacherous life go to Hifhel, (a.k.a Hiflhel). This is a place of torment. The remainder go to Hel, a place of calmness and peace, from which the name of the Christian Hell was derived. However, Hel is much closer to the Christian view of Heaven than to its concept of Hell.