Asatru is a pagan tradition that dates back to the earliest inhabitants of certain regions in Europe. Translated from Old Norse, the word “Asatru” literally means “belief in the Gods.” Though paganism fell out of practice for hundreds of years, it has recently experienced a revival across Europe and North America through new belief structures like Asatru.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is Asatru?
- What Does Asatru Say About Death?
- What Happens in the Asatru Afterlife?
- Does Asatru Teach Anything About Burial or Remembering the Dead?
Today, those who believe in Asatru don’t adhere to a specific dogma or belief system. Though they worship Norse deities and believe in old mythologies, Asatru is a flexible, tolerant religion. While there is a lot to be learned about a religion based on how people live, there is also much to learn from beliefs about what happens when you die.
What is the afterlife or death like in Asatru? How does it compare to other well-known religions or other forms of paganism? Most importantly, what can we learn about this religion to better our understanding of death and dying?
What Is Asatru?
Because this is a relatively new religion, many people don’t understand what Asatru is or the belief system behind it. Asatru is a modern religion that reimagines and revives the polytheism of Northern Europe. Dating back to 1972, when 12 Icelanders decided to bring back public worship of Norse gods and land spirits, this religion quickly spread in popularity.
A reported 40,000 people followed Asatru in 2013, and the number is rapidly growing. Those who practice this faith self-identify as Heathens, and you might hear Asatru also referred to as Heathenry.
Though this religion believes in the gods and goddesses from ancient Norse mythology, there is no central authority or dogma. People are free to believe and practice in their own way. Today, many see the gods and goddesses as metaphorical constructs, while others see them as historical beings.
Recent far-right controversies in Asatru
There have been some recent controversies associated with Asatru. Far-right conservative groups have recently utilized the Asatru symbolism and Norse mythology to spread hatred.
Because this is an ancient Norse tradition, a minority of people have used it as a symbol of racism and European “purity.” It’s important to recognize that Asatru clergy and leaders actively speak out against the use of these symbols in this way. Above all, Asatru is a religion based on open-mindedness, inclusivity, and equality.
Leaders in this space continue to discuss ways to improve while educating the public about the practice’s true ideals.
What Does Asatru Say About Death?
Asatru has unique views about death and life. Like other pagans, they believe in the saying, “We are our deeds.” This means that it’s not the afterlife that matters, but what you do with the time you have now.
Because Asatru has no strict text or dogma, believers are free to draw their own conclusions about what happens after death. Most pay close attention to Old Norse beliefs about death and the human soul. The soul was said to be made up of 4 different aspects:
- Hamr: This is the physical appearance that is subject to change after death.
- Hugr: Someone’s personality which continues after death.
- Fylgja: A supernatural being, spirit, or animal that is connected to a person’s fate.
- Hamingja: One’s success in life which can be passed down through families.
Many believe that most of these parts of one’s soul continue to the next life. When someone dies, they’re reincarnated into the body of a newborn within the same family line. There is little god intervention during death, and the gods do not determine where a reincarnated soul ends up.
What Happens in the Asatru Afterlife?
In the Asatru afterlife, there is both a belief in reincarnation as well as the afterlife. Though some are reincarnated into their next life within a family line, others might be welcomed into what was known as a Hall after death.
What’s a Hall? These are destinations where a soul can go after death, but only if they’ve captured the attention of a particular god or goddess. Unlike the Christian belief of Heaven or Hell, these are not dependent on one’s “good” or “evil” actions during their lifetime.
What are the 4 Norse halls?
There are five unique Norse halls that Asatru practitioners believe exist in the afterlife. These are based on ancient mythology, and you might recognize some from popular movies and TV.
- Valhalla: This is the famous hall of heroes. Half of Viking warriors who died in battle were believed to go to Valhalla. Here they’d met old friends, talk, and prepare for the final battle of the gods.
- Hel: Though the name might sound similar to the Christian term, these are very different concepts. Hel is a land under the earth ruled by the goddess Hel, and it’s where most souls are believed to go. It is not a punishment, just a place to live eternally.
- The Realm of Ran: Ran was a giantess who married the Lord of the Sea. Her realm includes all the treasures she’s stolen from sailors, and it is believed that this is where anyone who drowns at sea goes.
- Folkvangr: This is a land led by the goddess of fertility, Freyja. This is where the other half of the warriors are thought to go. This is described as an uplifting hall.
- Burial Mound: Lastly, it is believed that the soul could also remain where it’s buried as a ghost, not going to a hall at all.
None of the Halls are considered better than the next. The only thing that determines where you end up in the afterlife is whether or not you attracted the attention of a specific god or goddess and how you died (e.g., drowning).
Modern Asatru beliefs about the afterlife
Though many modern Asatru believers are interested in past ideas about death and the afterlife, most take a contemporary approach. For most, there is no belief that any single thing happens when you die. These Halls are considered a metaphor for your grave.
Though your soul is at rest when it dies, perhaps a part of your being exists in one of the Halls with all of those who came before. There are endless books about life after death, but nobody knows for sure what comes next. In Asatru, it’s essential to draw your own conclusions and focus on living your life to the fullest.
Does Asatru Teach Anything About Burial or Remembering the Dead?
Asatru believers have a lot of flexibility when it comes to burial customs. Most have simple burials, honoring their beliefs with simple readings and symbolism. Death is seen as a natural part of life, and it’s not something to be sad about.
Family and friends are welcome to express their feelings openly during these mournful events. They share stories, laugh, and cry as they honor someone’s memory. Many choose to honor the dead by giving offerings of food, water, alcohol, or other things the deceased enjoyed in life.
Like other aspects of the religion, followers are encouraged to create their own rituals around remembrance. Whether they choose to visit the grave, say a prayer, or honor their loved one with their actions, these are all welcome and encouraged. Respecting the dead means honoring their memory every day.
Death and Asatru: A Mix of Paganism and Modernism
Though it might sound like something from an ancient mythology book, Asatru is a strikingly modern religion. This belief system blends the old with the new, urging followers to create their own meaning in both life and death. Though there are no strict guidelines for what comes after life, it’s important to live each day with courage and kindness.
The media often portrays Asatru beliefs in a poor light, especially with many fringe groups manipulating these beliefs into something they’re not. In reality, this is a welcoming, open religion for those who wish to connect with the past while also paving a way forward for the future.
- “Ásatrú Religion in Chicago.” Thor’s Oak Kindred. ThorsOak.info.
- Mark, Joshua J. “Norse Ghosts & the Afterlife.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 10 December 2018. AncientHistory.eu.
- Samuel, Sigal. “What To Do When Racists Try To Hijack Your Religion.” The Atlantic. 2 November 2017. TheAtlantic.com.