The trinity of Heathenism, the two distinct sides of Asatru and the part of Heathenism that differs from Asatru
Most people nowadays, when they thinking about what Asatru is, (for this post I am using the word Asatru to mean that side of Heathenism that focuses on the Aesir and their values as distinct from the more broad aspects of Heathenism that encompasses both the Aesir and Vanir and other beings) they think in terms what is considered the values that are represented by Odin, more the stereotypical Viking warrior related values. But this approach to what Asatru and the Aesir represent, the Odinic one, is really only one of two differing forms of Asatru, or the ways of the Aesir.
In truth in the Viking age Thor was the most popular god, not Odin. Thor was more popular with farmers and common people. Odin was more popular with the wealthy and those who held power. Only a very small percentage of the Norse were actually Vikings, most were farmers that mostly lived peaceful lives.
What we in modern times have more knowledge of is the perspective of more of the Odin followers since more of them were the Vikings and thus the ones that more so lived heroic lives that were more interesting to craft stories about. The wealthy had the money to get poets to immortalize their exploits. Talking about milking cows certainly does not make for interesting poetry or the type of stories people tend to remember.
The most famous Norse temple was the temple in Uppsala. Accounts of this temple say that it had statues of three gods, Odin, Thor, and Freyr. Really the values of Heathenism can be divided into three to reflect each of these three deities. There are two very different sides of the Aesir, and the third side to Heathenism is the distinct ways of the Vanir (1, 2, 3 – disclaimer: I don’t agree with everything those last two links state).
The ways of Odin revolve around power and the quest to hold onto power. Odin is a god who quests after knowledge, but his seeking of knowledge has an agenda; that agenda is to increase his ability to hold onto power and authority. Those that tended to follow him in the Viking age were those who held power and thus they too held similar values to Odin. Odin is a god that enjoys stirring up strife and war for the sake of it. Though his reasons for doing this are not madness or some mean streak, he does this for the purpose of trying to hold onto power. Odin receives half of all warriors fallen in battle and thus the more war and strife, the more warriors he gains. He collects these warriors in an attempt to hold onto as much power as possible for to continue his order of things after the time of Ragnarok. The warriors he collects shall fight for him at Ragnarok. Because Odin is a collector of warriors, Odin often is known for arranging to even have his own followers killed in battle so that he may more quickly gather them to him. This is something all followers of Odin must be careful about since Odin operates with an agenda that tends not to take into consideration most people’s wish to not die young or soon. It is Odin’s wife, Frigga, that tends to be the only one that can talk some sense into Odin in regard to this; it is smart for any who have Odin as their personal patron to also have Frigga as their patron if they value the idea of having a long life at all. As you can see, Odin is a god of power and authority who tends to take extremes to achieve his goals. Odin as a warrior is more the professional military side of things, the type of warrior that lives for the sake of doing battle and enjoying the adventure of conquest and even seeks to continue to live this same way in the afterlife. Vikings as raiders and military adventure seekers are this exact sort of warrior. Odin is also a god of death and the need to accept the inevitability of eventual death. Killing is often the most powerful way to hold onto and gain power. Odin values the concept that you shall eventually die, so why not die doing something important like fighting in battle.
Thor is the god of the every-man. He is friendly and outgoing and has a big appetite to enjoy food, drink, and parties. He tends to love to travel and go on adventures, not for the sake of planned military conquest like Odin, but just to enjoy all the various things the Nine Worlds have to offer. He is clever when he needs to be, but not in a pretentious or showy way. Thor is basically very down to Earth, extremely so for a god and he tends to just accept others at face value and not judge anyone until or unless those beings prove by their actions they have hostile intentions. At that time, Thor very suddenly and without feeling the need to be constrained by any red-tape, takes action to defend against and destroy the transgressors. Thor is a powerful and intensely strong warrior, but more in the sense of a militia solider. Militia tend to be everyday citizens with common jobs in society that when the need is there for military defense, answer the call to arms. Most the time Thor is in peace mode, except when his warrior role is needed to do away with beings that threaten the peace and prosperity of the gods and humans. Thor’s normal day to day occupation is that of farmer. His sacred weapon, the Thor’s Hammer, is also a peace time magickal tool used to bless and used to plow the soil so the might and strength of Thor’s abundant vitality can bless the fields. His wife is considered a goddess related to the grain. Thor is a protector and called upon for this purpose. He tends to be a god that is liked by all. Thor’s Hammer has the power to heal and to restore things to a state of wholeness, and to bestow blessings. He is a defender of the rights of all beings that are living in peace and harmony with the cycles of nature to maintain their peaceful lifestyle. Thor only shows malice toward those who threaten the natural order of things. At the end of winter, he helps to stave off the forces of cold so that the spring may come. In some places Thor is associated with thunder and lightning, lightning being an agent needed to make some of the chemicals needed for early forms of life to form. The rains that come with lighting are needed for the crops to grow. As all this shows the values that Thor represents are life, the enjoyment of life, living life to the fullest, healing life, blessing life, and the defense and protection of life. Thor’s great strength comes from his strong life energies. Thor is the son of the Earth goddess, and the Earth is the very cradle of life.
That Odin and Thor would hold very differing values is just obvious considering one is a god of death and the other a god of life. We must be careful not to look at this in a black and white sense, as that is very contrary to Heathen values. Without death you can have no life. Without life you can have no death, and thus no spiritual growth. Through the cycle of birth and then eventual death and again birth once more in a new form, all of life grows and evolves and improves itself. Without death, life would stagnate and not grow in awareness and spiritual evolution would not be possible. Heathenism is a form of Paganism and Paganism sees the sacredness of the constant cycles within nature of life and death every single year. It is interesting that Thor is the son of Odin; life is born from death. This conflict of differing values between Odin and Thor is seen in the Hárbarðsljóð (1, 2, 3), in which Odin in disguise makes fun of Thor.
The third set of values contained in Heathenism is that of the Vanir. Their values, as we saw by the statues of the gods at the temple of Uppsala are represented by Freyr. It has already been mentioned about the yearly cycle of the seasons, how this is a needed force for everything to grow and evolve. Without the seasons, nature could not exist. All life needs a time to wither and withdraw and to pull inward, the winter time. When it is time, life moves outward again and we enjoy the summer aspect of life. Winter is a time to plan, learn, study, ponder, attend to small details, increase psychic and spiritual strength. Summer is a time to do, act, fight any needed battles, increase wealth and resources, connect with new people, exchange ideas, conduct trade, explore, increase physical strength. That which one connects to with the inner mind is all that is connected to that murky realm of death. While living we connect to the realm of the spiritual through the inner mind, through our awareness of death. That which one connects to outwardly through ones senses is all that which is connected to life. A healthy person finds a balance of both inner and outer; honors both life and death in equal measure. When someone becomes too fixed on only the spiritual they become unhealthy. When someone becomes too fixed on only life they become unhealthy. The Vanic way, and that which Freyr and all the Vanic deities hold as values is the honor of the proper balance of both life and death. This is done in Heathenism in the most outward sense in the honoring of the yearly cycle and in the practicing of the seasonal rituals. The Vanir love sex. Sex the single most powerful act any beings can do to unite these two forces of both life and death together as one. It is through sex that it is possible to pull a being from the world of death into the world of the living; something that is a true miracle of nature. Harvest time is the time when plants that have been grown for food must be struck down, harvested. Through this harvest we humans receive the food abundance we need to continue to live. This in itself shows how life is dependent upon death and how life and death support each other as one whole. Freyr is god of the harvest and abundance. Freyr is also god of sexual potency as his cock is always hard and ready for sex. The Vanic deities are deities that live within this middle ground between life and death. They are both life and death at once, but in the proper seasonal cycle. Freyr is god of frith. Frith means peace and harmony and abundance and the joys that abundance bring to a community. Frith can only happen when people honor and respect the Earth and the cycles of the seasons. When there is a lack of resources this is when war and strife happen. A lack of food and resources happen when people live out of harmony with nature and the natural cycles. A lack of material resources happen when people live out of harmony for the need for a balance between a material and spiritual focus. To be healthy, a society and its people need a spiritual life that holds deep respect for nature. When people embrace either atheism or types of religion that encourage people to conquer the Earth then people start to hoard resources and destroy the resources we all should be freely sharing with each other. When people live in harmony with nature and embrace their spiritual nature there is plenty of resources for everyone and then it is natural for there to be peace and harmony, frith. The Vanic way is the way of living in harmony with the cycles and honoring both the forces of life and death at their proper moments. The Vanic way is about spirituality being focused both on giving thanks for what nature and the gods/goddesses give us, and on the journey of personal spiritual growth, since spiritual growth is a natural part of the cycle of birth and death. Death is that which is hidden. Life is that which is seen. The Vanir as a group of beings have both sides to them. There is the Vanir we know of from the lore, Freyja, Freyr, Njord, and a few others. Then there is also the Vanir which are hidden. The lore does not tell us the names of these hidden Vanir, but they are there too and they are as much a part of the Vanir as the known ones. Not only is there the gods and goddesses of the Vanir, but Freyr is king of the Alfar and so we could also consider many of elves to be part of the Vanir as well.
I make this post as an offering to Saga, goddess of expressed and shared knowledge.
The Norse Viking concept of bad wasn’t so black and white as many people nowadays tend to think. It is more the idea of someone either being in frith with their family/tribe/group, vs going too far and being too wild in their actions and being outlawed and considered dangerous basically. Loki is a good example of this. He isn’t evil really, just sort of one who was all about testing the limits of social order and bringing in new ideas. For a long time he was a mix of both positive and negative in regard to his value to the Aesir, until he eventually went too far and also by this taunted his wyrd to go down a darker path that threw him out of being in frith with the Aesir. Norse concepts of right and wrong and righting wrong are more about balance and restoring balance, than about moral judgment or condemnation, which is a Christian cultural influence and way of thinking. Sadly many Heathens are still far too tainted by Christian thinking and this creates a environment of discord and a general lack of frith in the Heathen scene in general. Generally speaking proper Heathen way of thinking is very open minded and accepting that others outside ones family/tribe/group will have different ways of thinking. The greatest value for historical heathens when it came to actions was to take actions that upheld the frith within their family/tribe/group. Even frith between groups was important as addressed by the codified system of weirguild, and addressing actions with similar counter actions when actions throw out of balance frith. A good example of how what is considered proper differs between each family/tribe/group is that for the Vanir it is considered proper and normal for sisters and brothers to have sex with each other, and even the Aesir do not judge the Vanir for doing so within their own group as they see that as what is proper Vanir behavior, but the Aesir would not allow that kind of behavior by members of the Aesir as that is not proper Aesir behavior. This concept of differences of what is considered proper behavior I feel also applies with regards to those who follow different gods or goddesses as their patron. Like what is proper behavior for an Odin follower, I feel is not the same as what is proper behavior for a Tyr follower, or a Freyja follower. I feel that this concept of proper behavior for each depending on whom they connect with spiritually applies not only in regards to types of actions not allowed or considered taboo, but also in regards to types of behaviors that should be done. For example Odin followers should be into runes and should study magick, and a male follower of Odin having sex with women outside of his marriage (so long as his wife is ok with him doing so) is also acceptable as that is part of honoring the ways of Odin. One who follows a god or goddess that has a more strict code of conduct has to be more strict about their actions and behaviors as this reflects the values of the god/goddess they follow. Acting in ways that respects the value of the god/goddess you follow is the act of staying in frith with your patron and respecting the concepts they stand for. Of course I feel that when you are part of a group you should honor the rules the group has for actions when dealing with the group, it’s members, or doing any activities which represent the group; this is staying in frith with the group. Staying in frith with your group as well as with your patron god/goddess is very important I feel. Actually it would be considered more worse in the Norse concept of morality to harshly judge others as this is harmful to frith. Unless the other person is directly living within your family/tribe/group it would be considered wrong to judge someone else unless that person takes some action which causes harm to your family/tribe/group/friends/allies/gods/goddesses. judging others without cause is actually harmful to the frith of your own family/tribe/group/friends/allies as that invites conflict that often times will have a negative impact on all those you hold troth with. The most important thing for proper actions in all cases is to act in ways that uphold frith, honors your troth connections with others, and upholds any oaths you have made. If you keep in mind these three things then you should be making the best possible actions for all situations.
This is what Wikipedia has to say about frith:
Frith is an Old English word meaning “peace; freedom from molestation, protection; safety, security”.
In terms of Anglo-Saxon and post-Anglo-Saxon culture, the term has a considerably broader scope and meaning. Frith has a great deal to do not only with the state of peace but also with the nature of social relationships conducive to peace. Moreover, it has strong associations with stability and security.
The word friþgeard meaning “asylum, sanctuary” was used for sacrosanct areas. A friþgeard would then be any enclosed area given over to the worship of the gods.
Frith is also used in the context of fealty, as an expression of the relationship between a lord and his people.
Frith is inextricably related to the state of kinship, which is perhaps the strongest indicator of frith. In this respect, the word can be coterminous with another significant Anglo-Saxon root-word, sib (from which the word ‘sibling’ is derived) – indeed the two are frequently interchanged. In this context, frith goes further than expressing blood ties, and encompasses all the concomitant benefits and duties which kinship engenders.
Frith also has a legal significance: peace was effectively maintained in Anglo-Saxon times by the frith-guild, an early manifestation of summary justice.
Troth means loyalty to all those you hold relationships with. Loyalty means to stay by them and to maintain a tie with them and to keep any promises you make towards them.
Here is an online defination of troth:
1. Faith or loyalty when pledged in a solemn agreement or undertaking.
fidelity – faith – allegiance – faithfulness – loyalty
This concept of faithfulness does not mean sexual faithfulness _unless_ it has been specifically agreed that this is part of what it means between both parties. For example Odin is marries to Frigga, yet he has many lovers. He would never consider wishing to leave his marriage to Frigga or having a greater overall connection to other women than he does to her. His other sexual interactions are kept in the context of being not something that competes with the unique relationship he holds with Frigga. Many of the Norse gods/goddesses have sex with others outside their marriages. For some of them this is alright as that is part of the agreed or implied arrangement for those relationships. As well some of the gods/goddesses are sexually monogamous. This really depends on what is the agreed relationship.
As you see part of troth is also to keep ones word. Most important is to uphold oaths. Oath breakers are the one type of person in the concept of Viking Norse culture that are totally unforgivable; at least those who intentionally break oaths. Those who purposely break oaths with intention to cause harm are called nithlings and are considered to be worth less than dirt. What this means is that it is important you keep your word. Of course if something happens that you cannot keep your word then you need to own up to this and talk about it with the ones you made the promise to and see if another arrangement can be agreed upon. Keeping ones word does not mean being a inhuman robot, sometimes circumstances do come up that don’t allow someone to keep their word, the point is that the person does their best and communicates with the others involved when they cannot and is responsible for their actions in this way.
In modern heathenism there is something called thews, this it a codified set of principles that it is considered good (by some people) to follow. None of the existing modern thews are actually something written down as principles that one should or has to follow, from the Viking times. They are all modern creations. Many of them are good ideas (at least for some people). The most popular thew in current day Heathenism is the Nine Noble Virtues, but this is not the only one. There is others such as the Anglo-Saxon related Heathenism one called the The Twelve Æþeling Þews. There is also a very nice one associated with the Vanir, the Vanic Virtues (the one I personally follow). None of these thews are in any sense required for anyone to follow who is Heathen. Like mentioned earlier the only basic principles that must be followed by everyone is respect for frith, troth, and keeping oaths (ones word). Really as was discussed earlier, if one does or does not follow one of other more than one of these thews or some other thews of guiding principles should be determined by what agreements any groups you have troth with wish, in combination with and most important of all; what your patron gods/goddesses wish you to follow. For those not connected to any Heathen group than following what your patron gods/goddesses wish is the only factor that matters in deciding which, if any, of the lists of thews is right for you to follow.
It is important to learn about the Vikings and their culture in studying and learning Heathenism.