Pronounced “OW-sa-troo.” The modern iteration of pre-Christian Germanic religion; the Icelandic term for “Æsir faith” refers to belief in the Old Norse gods.
Ásatrú has a 4,000-year history; its gods, symbols and rituals have roots dating to approximately 2000 B.C. in Northern Europe. From Bronze Age beginnings through the Viking Age, local variants developed throughout continental Europe, the Nordic countries and the British Isles. While large-scale practice ended with Christian conversion, private worship is documented for several subsequent centuries. Some beliefs and rituals survived into the 20th century as elements of folk religion throughout the Northern European diaspora (including North America).
The contemporary revival began in 1972, with the founding of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”). Since then, practice has spread worldwide through a mixture of national organizations, regional gatherings, local worship groups and lone practitioners. In Iceland the Ásatrúarfélagið is now the largest non-Christian religion.
In 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs responded to a petition by Ásatrúar in the United States and approved Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) as an available emblem of belief for government grave markers.
Beliefs and practices vary greatly and span a range from humanism to reconstructionism, from viewing the gods as metaphorical constructs to approaching them as distinct beings. Deities venerated in Ásatrú include Freya, Odin and Thor, but respect is paid to a large number of gods, goddesses and other figures (including elves and land spirits).
The common ritual is the blót, in which offerings are made to gods and goddesses. Major holidays include Midsummer and Midwinter (Yule). Practitioners tend to incorporate local elements into their praxis and are often quite studied in traditions dating to the pre-Christian era.
Ásatrú is also known by adherents as heathenry or the Old Way. Followers should be referred to as Ásatrúar (singular and plural) or heathens.
Although Ásatrú clergy are referred to as goðar (singular goði), the term is not placed in front of their proper names as an honorific.
A tradition or system dating back to ancient times in which the apparent position of celestial bodies is used to understand, interpret and organize knowledge about reality and predict the future.
Pronounced “AY-seer.” A collective term for the principal gods of Ásatrú, including Odin and Thor. Since at least the 13th century, the term has been used to designate all the Norse gods — even those (such as Frey and Freya) who are considered part of the Vanir, a second group of deities.
Pronounced “blote.” The central ritual of Ásatrú. The Old Norse word for “sacrifice” is used for a ritual in which offerings are made to gods, goddesses and other figures (including elves and land spirits). Blót is often performed outside, and the most common offering is some form of alcohol (beer, mead).
A New Age practice by which an individual serves as a “channel” through which others may communicate with nonhuman spirits or other forms of consciousness. Often used to ask for advice or guidance, as opposed to communicating with the dead.
Save Our Selves, or Secular Organizations for Sobriety, was founded in North Hollywood, Calif., in 1985 as an alternative to AA. The largest secular sobriety group in the world, it has 100,000 members, including believers who want to keep religion separate from recovery as well as atheists, secular humanists and non-Christians. It respects diversity, welcomes skepticism and encourages rational thinking and emotions. It makes sobriety a separate issue from religion and does not oppose 12-step programs.
LifeRing Secular Recovery International in Oakland, Calif., was founded in 1999 as a secular alternative to AA. LifeRing does not subscribe to any particular theory of alcoholism/addiction but is held together by a common commitment to abstinence.
Women for Sobriety in Quakertown, Pa., describes itself as the first national self-help program for women alcoholics. It was founded by the late Jean Kirkpatrick in 1975 with the belief that women with addictions had different psychological needs in recovery than men. This notion stemmed from the fact that at that time, men had better recovery success rates. It has 13 affirmations, called the “new life program.”
Rational Recovery in Lotus, Calif., is a program of independent recovery based on abstinence and banishing of self-doubt. It uses the Addictive Voice Recognition Technique, which is taught on the program’s web site in eight 90-minute sessions. RR has no groups, meetings or treatment centers and maintains that its technique is incompatible with AA and other 12-step programs because they foster dependence and discourage self-discovery. RR maintains that it fits well with any religion except 12-step programs.