Heathenry is inspired by the ancient cultures of the Anglo-Saxons, the Norse and the Germanic peoples. It is a polytheistic religion; in other words, more than one god is honoured. A list of the most popular deities is included at the end of this document.
Although many Heathens will honour all the gods and goddesses, often they will have a particular patron deity they honour above all the others. The deity chosen may have a large effect on their life style and belief system, and often seems to be character related as well. Many Heathens also believe in and honour other wights, such as land spirits (often called elves or alfar) and ancestral spirits.
The Use of the Term HeathenryEdit
Heathenry is used in the UK for the modern Pagan tradition inspired by the ancient pagan traditions of Anglo-Saxon England, Germany, Holland and Scandinavia.
The word Heathenry is especially used by individuals who work most closely with the agricultural and nature deities Thor, Freya and Frey.
Much of the inspiration for modern Heathens comes from a wealth of source material, many from the early medieval period. These include place name evidence, various manuscripts, poems and sagas, records of folk customs, folk tales and fairy tales. As the religion is heavily based on nature the local landscape is often also a major inspiration for heathens. Last but not least, many Heathens take inspiration from their personal experiences of the gods, goddesses and wights.
There is no doctrine or dogma in Heathenry. Some heathens base their beliefs on examples of ancient Heathenry and others on modern practice. It would be hard to find two Heathens who honoured the same gods in the same way; Heathenry has a strong individualistic streak.
Heathens have a strong awareness of ethics. Most have a strong sense of honour and personal responsibility. Some also turn to traditional sources to derive their ethics from. Examples of this are the nine noble virtues, an essentially modern system which is based on traditional values as found in the sagas and myths. Another example of a traditional source is a thirteenth century Icelandic poem called the Havamal, a poem listing advisable behaviour.
At its most basic a Heathen ritual is an offering of food or drink to the gods and goddesses. For many heathens this gift is sufficient on its own. Other Heathens prefer more complex ceremonies with hallowing charms, formalised ritual, chanting and other elements as desired by the individuals involved. Modern heathen rituals are greatly varied. Ritual tools often include a 'blessing bowl' to hold the offerings, a cup or drinking horn for toasting the gods and a hammer, staff or ritual knife for hallowing the ceremony.
Not all heathens celebrate regular festivals, preferring to honour their gods and goddesses in their day to day life. Where festivals are celebrated they are most often based on the natural and agricultural year. In England the following ceremonies are the most common: Plough Charming, Thorsblot, Disting, Eostre, May, Litha, Lammas, Harvest/Autumn Equinox, Winter Nights, Ancestors Night, Mother's Night and Yule. There are also number of other festival systems used in Heathenry, some based on the solar or lunar year, some based on the early Anglo-Saxon or Norse month names and some of modern invention
Heathen groups are typically informal with the responsibilities of organising and running ceremonies and events being shared between the more experienced members. Some groups are established around one respected individual who will always act as a priest (known in Heathenry as a Gothi, Godman or Elder) or a priestess (known as a Gythja, Godwoman or Elder). Heathen groups are referred to as Kindreds, Harrows, Hearths or Garths, sometimes split further into smaller groups called Hearths which represent individual households. However, there are also many heathens who practice alone or with other pagan groups where Heathen numbers are sparse.
The major heathen deities are associated with an afterlife to which their devotees go after death. The most famous of these is Odin's Valhalla but there are many more including Freya's estate Folkvang which is for married couples. There is also a common belief in the land of the Ancestors where families live together after death.
Magic and RunesEdit
Not all Heathens work with magic. Heathenry is as a religious tradition and the use of magic is in no way compulsory for Heathens, although some groups may be heavily magically orientated.
Historical Norse sources give us two specific terms relating to magic: seithr and galdr. The origins of the name seithr are unclear, it seems to have been used for a variety of magical practices. Certain modern authors will use the term seithr to indicate a shamanistic style of magical practice including mediation, trance and the use of fetches, whereas others use the word seithr as indicating magic in general.
A little more is known about galdr. Galdr is a type of magic that is connected with spoken spell-working. The word galdr stems from a verb meaning 'to sing' so this magic was originally worked through verses or songs. Examples of this are the Merseburger healing spells, or the curse of Skirnir in the Skirnismal (Poetic Edda).
Certain modern authors connect galdr specifically with the runes. Runes are a set of symbols, in later times used for writing, but originally used mostly in working magic. The magic of runes is connected to both the carving and colouring of the symbols, and to the singing/chanting of the rune names. The latter is probably why some people nowadays connect galdr magic with the runes. Other people refer to the chanting of runes as 'rune-galdr', to distinguish between this and the less used poetic or sung galdr.
A group of runes is known as a ‘futhark’ (after the first six letters), and there are several known futharks, whose differences probably relate to the evolution of languages. The interpretation of the magical meanings of the runes comes largely from the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian rune poems. Modern rune workers have expanded on these
Links to other traditionsEdit
Many Heathens draw inspiration from other pagan traditions or world religions while other heathens take their inspiration solely from Heathen sources. In the UK the most common religions combined with heathenry are Druidry (Celtic paganism) and Witchcraft or Wicca.