Q. Anthony: I’m curious about the literal extents that modern Asatru follow their beliefs with. What I mean to say is, growing up in this age of information and science, are most modern Asatru followers of the faith on a truly faith-based level, do they only respect and live by the ‘good qualities’ of what a person should live by according to the Eddas, perhaps they follow it even on a purely scientific level, seeing parallels between Ginnungagap and the Universe before there was space, or possibly a mix of all three? Seeing the flak that many Christians get for their faith as an obvious example and informational precedent, would you say you believe openly Odin is watching from the sky literally at all times, even knowing the scorn you could receive from secular individuals?
I’m just in a state of constant questioning right now. I’ve never been sound in my beliefs, bouncing from Catholicism to Atheism to Agnosticism to Buddhism and finally looking back to pagan beliefs, which came right about the time I found my way in life you might say. However, as cheesy as it sounds I feel almost called to gods like Tyr and Odin. I’m not one for blind faith, but I’m also not one to brush silly notions off right away because they seem silly on the surface. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. I study and learn about the feats and triumphs of the gods and something just seems to click, something right. I really don’t know quite yet, to be honest…
A. Andrew: They encompass a great deal from a philosophical perspective, which I like. However, they also ask me to speak for others which I am less inclined to do, since I don’t know everyone or even a majority of Asatruars. I can, however, speak for our Kindred and how we approach the issues you are inquiring about. I hope that will at least be representative enough to make you feel comfortable about knowing at least a group of Odinists who you may agree (or disagree) with.
My opinion about “faith based” Odinists is that we are not comparable to a Christian version, because Christians begin with faith, hope and love. Then they filter what they “believe” is “true” through their faith, through their hope, through what they love before they “believe” it or have “faith” in it. We begin with truth and reason that our senses and faculties provide us. Truth and reason are the foundations of our faith, hope and love. We then progress to faith, hope and love based on what truth and reason would support as “wise” faith, “wise” hope, and “wise” love (following the Aesir perspective), but we would also follow what truth and reason would support as “natural” faith, “natural” hope, and “natural” love (following the Vanir perspective). It is an entirely different approach. We understand that the myths of our religion, such as those recorded in the Eddas, are “symbolic truth”, not literal descriptions of an unseen reality like the Christians do.
For instance, depending on how well they read the Bible or just listen to their pastors, Christians “believe” there is a literal place called heaven in the sky with streets of gold and gates of pearl. Christians literally believe a creator Father is there who sits on a throne with his son Jesus who sits beside him accompanied by a Holy Spirit bird, which has a “bodily form as of a dove” (Luke 3:22). These three watch all people’s behavior at every moment. This father and son will judge people as worthy to be with them for eternity or be cast into a literal flaming hell to punished for eternity, if they do not pass the requirements of their judgment.
Now that summary is only representative and will be argued ad nauseam by Christians for its accuracy and true representation of their faith, but I am merely trying to record what I have heard from them over 20 years and read in their literature. Regardless of the specifics, they believe these three beings exist metaphysically somewhere in the sky in a place called heaven, etc. Their “God the Father” is not a symbol, neither is the “Son”, neither is their “Holy Spirit” bird (tho admittedly they may equivocate and disagree on the “bodily form of a dove” thing. It is hard to find anything they all agree on.)
Odinists, however, understand that the two birds that accompany the god Odin, Hugin and Munin, are symbols of “thoughts” and “memories” (which is what their names mean). Odin, the “god of wisdom,” is himself a symbol of the “good of wisdom” within us. “Asgard” as visualized in the sky or on a high mountain top is also a symbol of “the highest ideas” our minds can conceive. Search the sky and you will not find Asgard in reality. Search every mountain top and Asgard will not be found there in reality. The gods and goddesses of Asgard dwell within us. Miss them there and you will miss them completely. That is not to say we do not see their presence outside us. We can see them in others, manifesting as “wisdom” in others as we watch people’s “thoughts” and “memories” be used to conceive of “good” ideas, or god ideas and behavior. That is, from an Aesir perspective. You can become a living manifestation of our gods, such as the wise Odin or the self-disciplined Tyr. From a Vanir perspective, you can also see “good” in nature, in the beauty of forests, mountains, valleys, oceans, lakes, in feathery snow, or in colorful flowers. Or it can be in the “good” of natural experiences of good food, good people, or even good sex.
In other words, the gods are the symbols or metaphors we use to discuss the “good” in us (from an Aesir perspective) and the “good” in nature (from a Vanir perspective). Our ancestors wanted to describe the character of Wisdom. They described it as Odin. They wanted to describe the character of will-power. So they described it as Thor, and so on for love with Frigga, natural pleasure and beauty with Freya, fertile prosperity and abundance with Frey, and so on. I had a philosophy professor challenge me with the question, “So, if the gods and myths are metaphors, then, are you saying they are not real?” I responded with the question, “Are your feelings not real? and if your feelings are real, how do we discuss them? If we use metaphors to discuss the love you feel for your wife and children, does using a metaphor mean that love is not real?” The gods are real, the way we discuss them is just not literal. It is mythic. That is, symbolically real so to speak.
I suggest you log in to KindredKreators.org and go to the blog I wrote in the category of “religion” called “Natural Divine Nature”, (click on it) to get the core idea of what I am trying to say. It is too much to repeat here, but I think it addresses the broader distinction you are asking about between what I term “Prophetic” religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism with “Natural” religions like Native Americans, Africans, and Northern Europeans.
In other words, to the Odinist, truth is to the soul what reality is to the body. We can discuss the landscape of the body in scientific terms, but we can only discuss the landscape of the soul in mythic terms. Both exist in our experience of life and have real meaning and value, real import. We just cannot put them on the same level of existence, as if the landscape of the soul is limited by the boundaries of the landscape of the body or the landscape of the body is as unlimited as the landscape of the soul. Neither of which is true.
Spirituality is a personal experience, such as feeling “called” to the gods. It is private. Religion is a shared experience of that spiritual experience, such as the fact I feel “called” to the gods just like you do. It is social. So what do we do about that? We have shared a common experience that could have just been and remained “personal.” But it isn’t. I feel it too, Anthony! So we have to develop a language to discuss it intelligibly and that mythic language is Asatru, the Northern Way, Odinism, as we have come to know them. This language of the soul in mythic image resonates with our minds and feelings as “true”. It fits. And produces real results. It is by that shared “truth” we can then live them out in “reality” and experience the “good” life.
That is not “silly” imagery, no more than saying a man is “bull headed” or a girl is a “peach,” but it is a wise method to captivate, celebrate, and communicate the “good” life we feel within our souls and desire to experience without in nature.
Sincerely, Gothi Andrew Webb