Heathenry is a pagan faith based on the ancestral practices of Northern and Central Europe.
Heathenry (also regionally called Asatru, Urglaawe and Forn Sidr) is very different from Wicca. Instead, it resembles Hinduism, Shinto and Native American animist beliefs. We do not have covens, initiation by degrees, nor worship a binary “Lord and Lady” or a “Goddess”, but a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, heroes, ancestors and local spirits. Heathenry as a faith does not stress the use of spells and magic, but an ethic of honor, loyalty and excellence, with rituals incorporated into daily life and special occasions year-round. Individual Heathens often form close relationships with certain Gods or Goddesses, or choose to focus on venerating ancestors and nature spirits. Many people feel especially called to seek out their “roots” in this branch of paganism– and likewise respect the native practices of diverse groups of people.
It’s not a text-based religion, nor is it limited to Scandinavian sources. Our sacred stories, beliefs, magical practices and customs are recorded in the literature, archaeology, oral lore and histories of countries across the Northern Hemisphere, from Greenland to Russia (and also, surprisingly, the US!). Sources include folklore, sagas, mythic lays, poetry and song, charms, children’s games, fairy tales, local holidays and writings from ancient Roman, Byzantine, medieval Islamic and Christian chroniclers. Heathenry overlaps beliefs of the Saami people and the distinct, nearby Baltic and Slavic religions called Romuva and Rodnovery, sharing very similar (and, in my experience, often the same) Gods.
A Heathen priest/ess is typically known as a godthi or gythia (Godsperson). On our holy days, or during other cause for celebration, we give shared drink offerings known as blots. The most holy festival of Heathenry is Yule, celebrated on the Winter Solstice or during the Christmas holiday season. We call spirits and living sentient beings, including Gods, wights.
The most common group rituals are sumbel and forms of hallowing (purification and making something holy). At sumbel, a horn or cup of mead, other alcohol or a non-alcoholic juice is passed around a circle. Each participant takes a sip and hails the Gods of the occasion, the ancestors and nature spirits, and finally boasts about an achievement. Any significant oaths are usually taken before witnesses at this time.
While Heathenry has many symbols, the Thor’s Hammer, (one version pictured at right), is most commonly used.
Images courtesy of Swedish Heathen group Forn Sidr.
For information on beginning Heathen practice, see Where Do I Start?