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Growing up Astaru




SPRING IS LATE
By Ásatrúarfélagið Ásatrúhttps://asatru.is/category/asatru/

Astaru, also commonly known as Heathenry or Odinism, is one of the most popular pagan religions in the world today. "Astaru is a modern religion that revives, reconstructs, and reimagines the ancient polytheism of Northern Europe. The new religious movement began in 1972, when Sveinbjörn Beinteinssonand eleven other Icelanders decided to bring back public worship of the Norse gods, goddesses, and land spirits. New iterations of the Old Way quickly spread around the world, and by 2013 there were nearly 40,000 followers of related practices in ninety-eight countries." - Thor's Oak Kindred. It is Iceland's largest non - Christian religion, as well as being recognised by a religion in 2017 by the United States. It is a polytheistic religion, meaning it worships multiple Scandinavian and Germanic deities, e.g Odin, Thor, Freyja, ect.


So, I’ve been going my entire life. Some of my earliest memories are going to these campsites with them all. It’s like an usual campsite, you can go to where you pitch your tents, but there’ll be about 20 or 30 of us, and we’ll all be sat around a fire. We stay there for a few days, and one of the days we’ll do what we call a ‘Blot’, where we all go out to a quarry, or the middle of the woods somewhere, and we do a ritual. It sounds bad but it’s really not. Basically, what the rituals are about are; respecting the land, respecting your ancestors, and respecting your friends and family. All aspects of that come under the gods of the pagan religion. We don’t believe they exist – that’s, obviously, not real, but what we do believe is that they represent real things. So, for example; Thor is a paragon of hardworking, Loki is charisma, Tir is justice, that sort of thing. So taking aspects of these gods can help you be a better person.  


So, they all represent something positive that you can manifest into your own life?  


Yes, and some of them also represent bad things. So, for example; Loki is seen quite badly, and in the stories of Norse mythology, he is the main person who brings about Ragnarok. But all these stories of the Norse gods, it’s like stories in the bible – they all have meaning. You’re not supposed to take everything too literally. You’re supposed to take the message from what’s going on. That’s what we try and do. We also have lots of rituals where we respect the land, for example; we will all bring dirt from where we live in the UK, and we will all put it together an put it in the fire, and it’s things like that, wishing for a good harvest.  

And does that mean you follow the 8 main pagan festivals?  


We do the Summer Solstice every year, we definitely do Yuletide on the 21st December, Ostara (which became Easter). We follow all of them as well, because you’re supposed to do one of these rituals every month, and each month it has a specific meaning. We sort of have a big book about it, but I’ve not got that on me.  


Because you’ve grown up with it because of your parents, how did you interpret it as a kid compared to how you do now. I’m guessing as a kid it’s more about the stories and is more fantastical. 


Well, yeah. Defintiely. There’s lots of things we do for the children in the group to help them understand better. For example, with the stories of Norse mythology, we got given this comic book, that told the stories in a little kid’s comic book that you could read. Obviously, as a kid, I thought they were real. Everything. And I couldn’t understand a lot of the meanings, but they were there deep down. It was a fun holiday, to be honest, most of the time. As a kid, we got to hang around, go camping, see friends that I’ve not seen in months.  

Was it something you were very open about at school, as a lot of the pagan religions, specifically are quite demonised, even today. How open are you and your parents about it – is it easier now its become more popular?  


The reason I started actually, is because – so my parents didn’t want to put it in me at a young age. They wanted me to make my own decision. But, the primary school I went to, even though it wasn’t a Catholic school, it was driving Christianity into us at a young age. Every morning we would sing, we would have the vicar in, and sing songs about it. My parents didn’t want to bring me into it early, but they felt like they had to, because they were trying to make everyone Christian, even though that is not what school is about. That’s why they started getting me into it at a young age. So, I was very open about it to everyone that I knew. Even in high school. I tried to make it the cool thing about me sometimes. None of you are like me, ha. Eventually, I mellowed out a bit towards the end of school. We don’t have a problem with other religions at all. Every religion has its meanings and every religion has people that look too far, even in paganism. But it’s all about understanding the messages and making yourself a better person for it. And I think that’s the point of any religion really, including paganism.  


Did it often get misinterpreted with the rise of Marvel?  


I got annoyed about that one. Even though I read Marvel comics, I was getting annoyed at how popular it was getting. Especially with Thor Ragnarok, because everyone had a different opinion as to what Ragnarok was. To me, I knew the story of Ragnarok, and sometimes it would stress me out, but nowadays I don’t mind.  


Did you feel like it was oversaturating the groups with people that didn’t understand?  

Well, it did bring a couple of new people in, especially a lot of younger people. Some of them did stay and some of them turned out to be very nice. It didn’t actually bring any problems, to me at least. It definitely did bring in an influx of people, especially with the whole Viking theme. Some shows like Vikings, and things like that.  


Do you think you would have still gotten into it if it wasn’t for the family influence? 


…I don’t know. It’s because it’s all I’ve ever really known. I do agree with a lot of it. I think I might’ve found it, because that’s how my dad got into it when he was younger. It was mostly coming from his mother, who was heavy Christian, and back in the 80s, he was getting into metal. Stuff that his mum would consider extremely satanic, to the point where she would burnt the clothes that he bought, she would cover his room in crosses, try and seal away the devil. I think that just lead to a resentment of Christianity for him. And that lead to him – what’s the obvious step if you’re calling me a pagan? Go and be a pagan, you know. But then he found out that it wasn’t about anti-christianity and that it was about being a good person. Even Satanism. If you look at the core beliefs of Satanism, it’s just about being free and being a good person. It’s not about worshiping Satan. A lot of them are very similar, especially a lot of the pagan groups. There’s a lot of arguing between the groups as well. 

 

Yes, I’ve read a lot of stuff that associates Astaru/Odinism with neo-Nazis and that causes problems with other groups. 


Yes, there is a problem with that.  


 I guess, how does that affect your group? 


Sometimes some people come in and they are looking for that. Now, most of them get taken away immediately. Anyone trying to come in we do criminal backgrounds on. Check who they are, what they’ve done, if they’re someone like that. Don’t let them in. Sometimes some of them get through, and they say stuff, and they get kicked out. We try not to bring those people in, but unfortunately, because of the reputation, sometimes they try and come along anyway. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s sort of split off from the main one, not fully. We do our own things now, but we’re not as in the group as we were before. Not in a bad way, but a lot of the group members are from the South. It’s hard for us to get there, and we do a lot of the rituals on our own now. But, I agree, that problem is still there, people try and get into it, and its ergh.  


Are there any other problems that your group faces? 


That was the main one, but a lot of it is also generation differences. There’s people from every age, that join, and some people have a lot of different opinions to someone else that’s younger. In general, it’s like a big family, so it’s the same as the arguments you have in your own family.  


When you say group, how many people?  


So, in our local group we have sort of 10, but every year we all meet together, and there can be up to 100 or 200 people there, some people come from different countries. A lot of the Southern groups they have a lot more people which can’t make the big events. Yeah, it’s quite a lot but it’s also not too big. You sort of know everyone that’s in it.  


Would you take me through an example of from when you get to the campsite, how you do the ritual and the end of the camps. Perhaps, the Summer Solstice? 


Say, for example, the Summer Solstice, and we do a big camp for it, what we’ll do is we’ll arrive at the campsite, pitch up our tents, (it’s a public campsite so there’s other people there as well), but we’ll all do it in the same area. Every night, we’ll sit around the fire, talk to each other, drink some beer or mead, eat some cheese, that’s what we usually do, pass it around. And we’ll go to a location like in the woods or something, somewhere that’s preferably old or has good connection to the land. And we’ll do a Blot for the area, so like a ritual. At the Summer Solstice we’d have a sort of wheel in the middle, and we’ll light it on fire to celebrate the Solstice as our ancestors once did. We’ll do it when it goes dark, light the wheel, the celebrate the rest of the year, things like that. We do something a little bit different for each one. It mostly involves a little campfire in the middle, we stand around it, we say some words we say every time, about our gods, about our family, who to protect, things like that.  


Do you know how your practise differs from that of other countries, or even just the South. You’ve spoke about a larger group size, so does that affect how you celebrate? 

I think every group does it a little bit differently, but the actual rituals will usually be the same. It’s things like, so we don’t have that many people in ours, so we will actually go to a local resteraunt afterwards, have a meal, talk to each other, have a drink. It’s sort of a little community. It’s all the same opinions and things, but even still in the group, not everyone has the same opinions, some people believe the gods exist. There’s a bit of everything really.  

For you personally how do you practise it in everyday life? I know people carry or wear runes, have tattoos, etcetera. 


I think most people have the rune one. My dad has one where he’s got Odin reading the norns on one of his tattoos. One of our friends got all the runes on his arms so he could remember the order they’re in when he’s chanting them in the rituals. There’s a lot of it in day to day life, especially with the stories and the messages you’re supposed to get from them. Definitely a lot of that sort of thing. Meditation comes a lot into it. Meditating on what your goals are, how you can achieve them. What’s important to you right now. It’s very much a meditation thing for me but I know for other people it’s very different.  


Do you get to often cross paths with people from other pagan religions?  


Personally, I’ve not met many. But I know my dad used to go to groups back in Blackpool. The sort of local pagan group meeting, where people from different groups met together. A lot of them are all very similar in what they do, not in a bad way, but sort of remembering your family, your ancestors, the land, things like that. And getting your messages right is the important one, because you can read into a lot of things wrong. Especially with your post 1945 opinion of paganism as well, seen as a certain group ruined a lot of the symbols for us, which didn’t help at all.  


Is there anything you want to say that you feel would be valuable in people’s perceptions of Astaru or paganism in general? Any misconceptions or things they might not understand just from reading about it? Practise is a very different experience compared to just research and knowledge. 


I think the main thing I would say is: It’s not all about being a Viking. It’s not about having a big beard and throwing an axe. It’s not about going to Valhalla. It’s not about worshiping the gods, or to be strong. It’s about listening to the world around you, listening to how the gods manifest in things. Odin is about wisdom, so meditating on Odin means you’re meditating on wisdom. And if you’re trying to be wise, that makes you more wise. It’s not a LARP group, if you know what I mean. It’s very much a religion like any other, but not taken too literally. I think some other groups can be, and that’s perfectly fine, because by taking them literally you can still get meanings from them. It’s very much a way to be a better person. And there are other ways of being a better person, but for me, it’s a good way of doing it. It feels natural. It feels nice. You can feel that it’s been in the land for thousands of years, you know. It was there before the romans; it was there after the romans. There’ll always be some form of paganism in the Northern countries, especially.  It can travel as well; we know some people from South Africa that do it as well. There’s a big group of people in Australia as well. Some of them moved from England, and they teach their families this stuff.   

  

 

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