Germanic Neopaganism, Heathenism or Heathenry is the modern revival of historical Germanic paganism. Precursor movements appeared in the early 20th century in Germany and Austria. A second wave of revival began in the early 1970s, variously under the branches of Ásatrú, Odinism, Forn Sed, and Theodism.
Attitude and focus of adherents may vary considerably, from strictly historical polytheistic reconstructionism to syncretist (eclectic), pragmatic psychologist, occult or mysticist approaches. Germanic Neopagan organizations cover a wide spectrum of belief and ideals.
Germanic Neopaganism (as opposed to Neopaganism in general) is often defined as reconstructionist. Not all adherents subscribe to the reconstructionist philosophy, but follow more new age and individualistic self-empowering concepts, rather than attempting to restore or reconstruct the ancient beliefs of the original Germanic pagans.
The Germanic Neopagan community is primarily bound together by common symbological and social concepts. Personal character and virtue is emphasized: truthfulness, self-reliance, and hospitality are important moral distinctions, underpinning an especially cherished notion of honour.
Germanic Neopaganism reveres the natural environment in principle; Germanic Neopaganism opposes neither technology nor its material rewards. More mystical currents of Heathenry may be critical of industrialization or modern society, but even such criticism will focus on decadence, lack of virtue or balance, rather than being a radical criticism of technology itself.
Theodish groups operate under specific "thau". Thau is defined as the customs and beliefs of a specific tribe, and each theodish tribe has their own thau which may or may not be mirrored in other theodish (and indeed some non-theodish) circles.
Offerings during a blót usually involve mead or other alcohol, sometimes food, sometimes song or poetry, specially written for the occasion or for a particular deity, is delivered as an offering. The blót ritual may be based on historical example, scripted for the occasion or may be spontaneous. Certain Germanic Neopagan groups, most notably the Theodish, strictly adhere to historical formulaic ritual, while other groups may use modernized variants. Usual dress for a blót is whatever suits the seasons - many blóts are outdoors, sometimes at sacred sites. Some Germanic Neopagans, most notably the Theodish, wear clothing modeled on those of the Anglo-Saxon or Norse 'Viking' during ritual, while others eschew this practice.
In a 1997 article in Pagan Dawn, the authors list as more or less synonymous the terms Northern Tradition, Norse Tradition, Ásatrú, Odinism, Germanic Paganism, Teutonic Religion, The Elder Troth (as the name of a specific organization and at the same time an attempt to replace trú with an English equivalent) and Heathenry. Forn Siðr and its equivalents has become a popular self-designation in Scandinavian Neopaganism. The terms Odalism and Wotanism designate currents of white supremacism outside of mainstream Germanic Neopaganism.
Use of Ásatrú for Germanic paganism preceding 19th century revivalist movements is an anachronism. Likewise, the use of Ásatrú as a synonym for Germanic Neopaganism, while widespread in the USA, can be misleading.
The term Vanatru is coined after Ásatrú, implying a focus on the Vanir (a second tribe of gods in Germanic paganism) rather than the Æsir.
Forn Siðr is also the name of the largest Danish pagan society, which since 2003 is recognized by the Danish government (meaning they have the right to conduct weddings, etc.)
In the Sagas, the terms heiðni and kristni (Heathenry and Christianity) are used as polar terms to describe the older and newer faiths. Historically, the term was influenced by the Gothic term *haiþi, appearing as haiþno in Ulfilas' bible for translating gunē Hellēnis, "Greek (i.e. gentile) woman" of Mark 7:26, probably with an original meaning "dwelling on the heath", but it was also suggested that it was chosen because of its similarity to Greek ethne "gentile" or even that it is not related to "heath" at all, but rather a loan from Armenian hethanos, itself loaned from Greek ethnos.
The Miercinga Rice Theod and several other groups, narrow the sense of the word to Germanic Neopaganism in particular, and prefer it over Neopagan as a self-designation.
Heathenry is used for strictly polytheistic reconstructionist approaches, as opposed to syncretic, occult or mysticist approaches. While some practitioners use the term Heathenry as an equivalent to Paganism, others use it much more specifically. It is used by those who are re-creating the old religion and world view from the literary and archaeological sources. They describe themselves as "Heathen" in part to distinguish themselves from other pagans whose rituals come from more modern sources.
Heathenry is now the most widespread term for Germanic Paganism in the UK and is promoted by UK groups such as Heathens For Progress. Many prefer Heathenry over the older term Odinism as the latter strongly implies a personal dedication to the god Odin and is therefore unsuitable for individuals who work with other gods and goddesses.
The last traditional pagan sacrifices in Scandinavia, at Trollkyrka, appear to date to about this time.
Organized Germanic pagan or occult groups such as the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft emerged in Germany in the early 20th century. The connections of this movement to historical Germanic paganism are tenuous at best, with emphasis lying on the esoteric as taught by the likes of Julius Evola, Guido von List and Karl Maria Wiligut.
Some Germanic mysticists were even victimized by the Nazis: Friedrich Bernhard Marby spent 99 months in KZ Dachau, and Siegfried Adolf Kummer's fate is unknown. The founder of the original pre-Nazi Deutsches Ahnerbe, Herman Wirth was exiled and prohibited from writing or lecturing because his views of traditional Germanic religion were perceived as incompatible with the goals of the state. Another pioneer of the revival, Ludwig Fahrenkrog, founder of the Germanic Glaubens-Gemeinschaft was prohibited from public speaking or holding religious rituals because he refused to end his public lectures and personal correspondences with the obligatory "Heil Hitler". Ernst Wachler who built the Harzer Bergtheater specifically for Germanic plays and operas was sent to KZ Auschwitz where he perished (which however might have been due to the fact that he was of Jewish origin.)
Several books published by the Nazi party including Die Gestaltung der Feste im Jahres- und Lebenslauf in der SS-Familie (The Celebrations in the Life of the SS Family) by Fritz Weitzel, as well as the SS Tante Friede illustrate how the National Socialists thought traditional Germanic Heathenry was primitive superstition which needed reworking to better serve the state. Celebrating the traditional festivals like Jul and Sommersonnenwende were encouraged and recast into veneration of the Nazi state and Führer.
The appropriation of "Germanic antiquity" by the Nazis was at first regarded with skepticism and sarcasm by British Scandophiles. W. H. Auden in his Letters from Iceland (1936) makes fun of the idea of Iceland as an "Aryan vestige". but with the outbreak of World War II, Nordic romanticism in Britain became too much associated with the enemy's ideology to remain palatable, to the point that J. R. R. Tolkien, an ardent Septentrionalist, in 1941 found himself moved to state that he had a "burning private grudge ... against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler" for
"Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.After the War, the strong association with Nazi Germany virtually eclipsed interest in Germanic history for two decades. The racialist Artgemeinschaft Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft (AG GGG), founded in 1951, did little to dispel the popular equation of Germanic faiths and Neo-Nazism.
In Australia, led by the Odinist pioneer Alexander Rud Mills and his eventual wife, Evelyn, were Australian Odinists in the 1930s. The couple held regular ceremonies in the Dandenong Ranges, near Melbourne, until Mills himself was arrested and sent to an Australian concentration camp (Loveday, SA) early in World War II.
In 1972 the spiritual descendants of Mills' Odinist movement in Australia obtained from the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia a written undertaking that open profession of Odinism in Australia would not be persecuted. The Odinic Rite of Australia subsequently obtained tax deductible status from the Australian Tax Office. The ATO accepts this as the definition of Odinism: "the continuation of ... the organic spiritual beliefs and religion of the indigenous peoples of northern Europe as embodied in the Edda and as they have found expression in the wisdom and in the historical experience of these peoples".
In 1976 Garman Lord formed the Witan Theod, the first Theodish group. Shortly thereafter, Ealdoraed Lord founded the Moody Hill Theod in Watertown, New York. The Angelseaxisce Ealdriht formed in 1996 and was founded by Swain and Winifred Hodge. Theodism now encompasses groups practicing tribal beliefs from Scandinavia and the Continent, in addition to following in the model set forth by the early Anglo Saxon peoples.
The Odinic Rite was established in England in 1972, and in the 1990s expanded to include chapters in Germany (1995), Australia (1995) and North American (1997) . A Dutsch section was added in (2006).
In Germany, the Heidnische Gemeinschaft (HG) founded by Géza von Neményi in 1985. In 1991 the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft (GGG),led by von Neményi, split off from the HG. In 1997 the Nornirs Ætt was founded as part of the Rabenclan and in 2000 the Eldaring was founded. The Eldaring is affiliated with the US based Troth.
In Scandinavia, the Swedish Asatru Society formed in 1994, and in Norway the Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost formed in 1996 and Foreningen Forn Sed formed in 1999. They have been recognized by the Norwegian government as a religious society, allowing them to perform "legally binding civil ceremonies" (i. e. marriages). In Denmark Forn Siðr also formed in 1999 (and recognized by the state in 2003 and in Sweden Nätverket Gimle formed in 2001, as an informal community for individual heathens. Nätverket Forn Sed formed in 2004, and has a network consisting of local groups (blotlag) from all over the Sweden.
In the UK, state recognition of Neopaganism occurred as a coincidence of the legal case Royal Mail group PLC versus Donald Holden in 2006. Holden, a member of the Odinist Fellowship, sued his former employer for unfair dismissal.
Germanic mysticism was mostly eclipsed by the more reconstructionist Neopagan revival in the 1970s, but there are some contemporary proponents, notably Stephen Flowers advocating "Odianism", an occultist school involving "runosophy". Historical schools of Germanic mysticism became closely linked with Nazi occultism, while contemporary currents have close ties to Alain de Benoist's Nouvelle Droite' and neo-fascist schools of thought such as "Integral Traditionalism" based on the writings of Julius Evola and others.
The exact number of adherents worldwide is unknown, partly because of the lack of a clear definition separating Asatru (or Odinism) from other similar religions. There are perhaps a few thousand practitioners in North America (10.000 to 20.000 according to McNallen), about 700 in Iceland, a thousand or so in Australia, and a few hundred in both Scandinavia and Germany, with smaller groups scattered world wide, adding to a total of around 3-6 thousand. In Denmark, Forn Siðr is a legally recognized faith society (meaning they have rights to conduct weddings etc.), and have about 600 members.
As of 2001, the City University of New York estimated that some 140,000 people in the USA self-identify as "Pagan" (excluding Wiccan (134,000), New Age (68,000), Druid (33,000), Spiritualist (116,000) and aboriginal religions (4,000)). The total number of Neopagans worldwide has been estimated at roughly one million and according to these findings, a third each are located in the UK, the USA, and over the rest of the world.
Solitary practice, or practice in small circles of friends or family is common. These are often called kindreds or hearths, although often they are not formal. Germanic Neopagan organizations have been active since the 1970s, but most of these larger groups are loose federations and do not require committed membership comparable to a church. Consequently, there is no central authority, and associations remain in a state of fluidity as factions form and break up.
There are several possibilities to analyse Germanic Neopaganism into individual currents or subgroupings.
One common approach is the classification by notions of ethnicity ("folk"). This may range from ethnic nationalist (völkisch) attitudes with far right tendencies on one hand (the Nouvelle Droite of Alain de Benoist notably has ties to such currents of Neopaganism) to moderate "tribalist" notions of ethnicity as based in tradition and culture, and to "universalist" approaches which de-emphasize differences between ethnic traditions (e.g. Seax Wicca).
Another classification is by approach to historicity and historical accuracy. On one hand, there are reconstructionists who aim to understand the pre-Christian Germanic religion based on academic research and implement these reconstructed . Contrasting with this is the "traditionalist" or "folklorist", in Scandinavia known as Folketro or Funtrad (short for Fundamentalistisk Traditionalisme) approach which emphasizes living local tradition as central.
Traditionalists will not reconstruct, but base their rituals on intimate knowledge of regional folklore. Proponents of traditionalism include the Norwegian Foreningen Forn Sed and the Swedish Samfälligheten för Nordisk Sed. Both ethnic religions reject the ideas of Romanticist or New Age currents as reflected in Asatru.
At the other end of this scale are syncretist or eclectic approaches which merge innovation or "personal gnosis" into historical or folkloristic tradition.
Note that this scale is largely independent of the approaches to "ethnicity" outlined above. Both ethnocentric and universalist Neopagans may de-emphasize historical tradition in favour of "personal gnosis", albeit for different reasons. "Folkish" currents may rely on postulated racial memory ("metagenetics") as rendering historical tradition superfluous, while universalists may welcome ahistorical input as ultimately of the same universal validity as historical tradition.
Mattias Gardell, reader for religious history at the University of Stockholm, categorizes Germanic Neopaganism into "militant racist", "ethnic" and "nonracist" particularly in North America. In the militant racist position, Asatru is an expression of the "Aryan racial soul". The ethnic position is that of "tribalism", ethnocentric but opposed to the militant racist position. According to Gardell, the militant racist faction has grown significantly in North America during the early 2000s estimating that, as of 2005, it accounts for 40-50% of North American Odinists or Asatruar with the other two factions at close to 30% each.
Germanic Neopagan groups are generally organized into democratic and republican forms of church government, as inspired by the parliamentary Things of the Viking era and subsequent parliamentary systems of Britain and the Scandinavian countries. They promote individual rights and freedom of speech reminiscent of the free jarls of Norse saga.
Currently, the three largest Germanic Neopagan groups in the USA specifically denounce racism and National Socialism. There is an antagonistic relationship between many neo-Nazis and the membership of most Ásatrú organizations in the USA, who view "national socialism as an unwanted totalitarian philosophy incompatible with freedom-loving Norse paganism".
Odalism (a philosophy of Social Darwinism) and Wotanism (a racialist / neo-Nazi position held by e.g. David Lane) are two terms primarily focused on politics rather than religion. On his homepage Varg Vikernes, one proponent of Odalism, explains his understanding of 'Paganism' with explicit racist referencing.
When the FBI identified threats towards the domestic security of the USA related to the turn of the Millennium in 2000 in the Project Megiddo report, it stated that: "Without question, this initiative [i.e. Project Megiddo itself] has revealed indicators of potential violent activity on the part of extremists in this country. Militias, adherents of racist belief systems such as Christian Identity and Odinism, and other radical domestic extremists are clearly focusing on the millennium as a time of action." [Emphasis added] Among other, the FBI lists Robert Jay Mathews as an Odinist in this report.
The US Anti-Defamation League listed numerous symbols associated with Germanic Neopaganism as "hate symbols", but following an internet-based campaign by Germanic Neopagan groups inserted a disclaimer to the effect that the symbols listed "are often used by nonracists today, especially practitioners of modern pagan religions." Additionally, the swastika may be used by some groups such as the Odinic Rite, who seek to "rehabilitate" it, based on some archaeological evidence for the symbol's use in Germanic antiquity. The Armanen runes, created by Guido von List indicate an influence deriving from the work of Von Listian Germanic mysticism rather than reconstructive forms of Germanic Neopaganism.