Asatru and the Afterlife

Five thousand years ago our ancestors (Indo-Europeans) surged across land and sea in a wave of conquest, trade, and exploration that has come down in story and in legend to stir our imagination even today. Asatru is essentially their cultural legacy, now worldwide, wherever their descendants roamed. Scandinavia is simply the last place this culture existed in it’s purest form, untouched by the influx of Semitic and Oriental religion and culture. The Norsemen took part in this drama, as did the related Germanic tribes on the European continent. We, their descendents – whether Scandinavian, English, German, Dutch, Frankish, or related peoples – can draw upon these mighty forefathers for our inspiration today.
Asatru places the highest value of human freedom and individuality. This is true in both secular and religious matters, and is so strong that while we honor our gods and goddesses, we will never grovel before them. The Shining Gods and Goddesses (the Aesir and the Vanir of Scandinavian tradition) are models and inspirations: self-aware personifications of the forces of nature and of life. They are our friends, but never will they be our masters, and we will never be their slaves. We do not bow our heads before them, we do not bend the knee or surrender our judgment or our sovereignty.

The family is the pillar of Asatru. By tradition, people have been devoted to family, and rightly so, for the family is the basis of all enduring social achievements. Where families are strong, freedom is guaranteed. Where they are weak, tyranny flowers, and freedom dies.

Beyond the family is the community, not just other Asafolks, but the communities in which we live and work. Asatru has no concept of doing good for the community merely for the sake of doing good for the community. We believe that our deeds reflect our souls: to the extent that those deeds build our family and our community we are spiritually healthy.

At it core, Asatru believes in human action. No waiting for the afterlife to be happy: you must seize your happiness in the here and now! By heroic action you can take your life in your own hands. You are indeed the “Captain of Your Fate” and the “Master of Your Soul”.

A belief in an afterlife is also an important part of Ásatrú and the obligation to remember both ancestors and one’s responsibility to future generations are also important concepts in Ásatrú ethics and spirituality.

We believe that there is an afterlife, and that those who have lived virtuous lives will go on to experience greater fulfillment, pleasure, and challenge. Those who have led lives characterized more by vice than by virtue will be separated from kin, doomed to an existence of dullness and gloom. The precise nature of the afterlife – what it will look like and feel like – is beyond our understanding and is dealt with symbolically in the myths.

There is also a tradition in Asatru of rebirth within the family line. Perhaps the individual is able to choose whether or not he or she is re-manifested in this world, or there may be natural laws which govern this. In a sense, of course, we all live on in our descendants quite apart from an afterlife as such.

Ásatrúers believe that your fate in the afterlife is based on how you lived, how you died, and the disposition of your remains. Those who are worthy dwell in the hall of one of the gods in Asgard. Some go to Hel, a pleasant if somewhat dull place, to await reincarnation or the end of this world cycle. Evildoers and oathbreakers are sent to Nifelhel, a realm of cold and fog. Some continue to inhabit this world as guardian spirits for the land or for their families.

Our concepts of an afterlife are fully consistent with our other beliefs. There is also a persistent belief in reincarnation, usually, but not always, within the family line. Thus do our ancestors live again through us.

The ancient Norse appeared to have believed in two forms of reincarnation. The first was thought to occur with everyone, and involved the inheritance parts of an ancestor’s soul. The hamingja was thought to be passed from an ancestor to a child named after them. This can be seen in the Finnboga Saga when a man begs his son to name a son after him so that his hamingja would follow, and Glumr in Viga Glum Saga claims to have the hamingja of his grandfather. This belief also appears in Svarfdæla saga, where ?órólfr says he will give all his hamingja to a child that bears his name.

The ørlög of an ancestor was also thought to be passed to a descendant. This is most clearly seen in the Helgi lays, even though the three Helgis were not all related to each other. The soul then was reborn in part, but only those aspects that did not clearly define one as an individual. That is the ørlög, hamingja, and perhaps even the fetch may have been passed on, but not the mind, and mood of the individual. The hugr (Old English hyge) and munr (Old English mynd) would exist on in the afterlife with the soul that had possessed them in life.

There is evidence though for another form of reincarnation, and this may be what is referred to in the Helgi lays and certainly in regard to Óláfr Geirsta and his descendant King Óláf (sometimes called Saint Olaf) as told in the Flateyjarbók. Throughout the tale there are indications Óláfr Geirstaaálfr is King Óláf reborn. When King Óláf’s mother is giving birth, she had great difficulty until the belt from the earlier Óláf ‘s mound is brought to her. As a grown man Odin (Woden) comes to King Óláf , and tells him that he is Óláfr Geirsta, and not long after one of the king’s followers inquires as to whether the king had been buried in Óláfr Geirsta mound. This could be reincarnation of the soul as a whole, and not just rebirth of parts of the soul.

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