Heathenry, also termed Heathenism or Germanic Neopaganism, is a modern
Pagan religion. Scholars of religious studies classify Heathenry as a
new religious movement. Its practitioners model their faith on the
pre-Christian belief systems adhered to by the
Germanic peoples of
Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe. To reconstruct these past belief
systems, Heathenry uses surviving historical, archaeological, and
folkloric evidence as a basis, although approaches to this material
Heathenry does not have a unified theology and is typically
polytheistic, centering on a pantheon of deities from pre-Christian
Germanic Europe. It adopts cosmological views from these religions,
including an animistic view of the cosmos in which the natural world
is imbued with spirits. The faith's deities and these spirits are
honored in sacrificial rites known as blóts in which food and
libations are offered to them. These are often accompanied by symbel,
the act of ceremonially toasting the gods with an alcoholic beverage.
Some practitioners also engage in rituals designed to induce an
altered state of consciousness and visions, most notably seiðr and
galdr, with the intent of gaining wisdom and advice from the deities.
Although many solitary practitioners follow the religion by
themselves, members of the Heathen community often assemble in small
groups, usually known as kindreds or hearths, to perform their rites
outdoors or in specially constructed buildings. Heathen ethical
systems emphasize honor, personal integrity, and loyalty, while
beliefs about an afterlife vary and are rarely emphasized.
A central division within the Heathen movement concerns the issue of
race. Some groups adopt a "universalist" perspective which holds that
the religion is open to all, irrespective of ethnic or racial
identity, while conversely, others adopt a racialist attitude—termed
"folkish" within the community—by viewing Heathenry as a religion
with inherent links to a Germanic race that should be reserved
explicitly for people of Northern European descent. Some folkish
Heathens further combine the religion with explicitly racist, white
supremacist, and extreme right-wing perspectives, although these
approaches are repudiated by most Heathens. Although the term
"Heathenry" is used widely to describe the religion as a whole, many
groups prefer different forms of designation, influenced by their
regional focus and their ideological preferences. Heathens focusing on
Scandinavian sources sometimes use Ásatrú, Vanatrú, or Forn Sed;
practitioners focusing on Anglo-Saxon traditions use Fyrnsidu or
Theodism; those emphasising German traditions use Irminism; and those
Heathens who espouse folkish and extreme-right perspectives tend to
favor the terms Odinism, Wotanism, Wodenism, or Odalism.
The religion's origins lie in the 19th- and early 20th-century
Romanticist movement which glorified the pre-Christian beliefs of
Germanic societies. In this period organised groups venerating the
Germanic gods developed in Germany and Austria; these were part of the
Völkisch movement and typically exhibited a racialist interpretation
of the religion, resulting in the movement largely dissolving
following the defeat of
Nazi Germany in World War II. In the 1970s,
new Heathen groups emerged in Europe and North America, developing
into formalized organizations in order to promote their faith. In
recent decades, the Heathen movement has been the subject of academic
study by scholars active in the field of Pagan studies. Scholarly
estimates put the number of Heathens at no more than 20,000 worldwide,
with communities of practitioners active in Europe, the Americas, and
2.1 Gods and spirits
Cosmology and afterlife
2.3 Morality and ethics
3 Rites and practices
Blót and sumbel
Seiðr and galdr
4 Racial issues
5.1 Romanticist and Völkisch predecessors
5.2 Modern development
6.1 North America
7 See also
9 Further reading
9.1 Academic studies
9.2 Primary sources
10 External links
Outdoor altar to mark
Yule 2010, set up by the Swedish Forn Sed
Assembly in Gothenburg, Västergötland
Scholars of religious studies classify Heathenry as a new religious
movement, and more specifically as a reconstructionist form of
modern Paganism. Heathenry has been defined as "a broad
contemporary Pagan new religious movement (NRM) that is consciously
inspired by the linguistically, culturally, and (in some definitions)
ethnically 'Germanic' societies of Iron Age and early medieval Europe
as they existed prior to Christianization", and as a "movement to
revive and/or reinterpret for the present day the practices and
worldviews of the pre-Christian cultures of northern Europe (or, more
particularly, the Germanic speaking cultures)".
Practitioners seek to revive these past belief systems by using
surviving historical source materials. Among the historical sources
Old Norse texts from Scandinavia and Iceland such as the
Prose Edda and Poetic Edda,
Old English texts such as Beowulf, and
Middle High German
Middle High German texts such as the Nibelungenlied. Some Heathens
also adopt ideas from the archaeological evidence of pre-Christian
Northern Europe and from recorded folk tales and folklore from later
periods in European history. The textual sources nevertheless
remain problematic as a means of "reconstructing" pre-Christian belief
systems, because they were written by Christians and only discuss
pre-Christian religion in a fragmentary and biased manner. The
anthropologist Jenny Blain characterises Heathenry as "a religion
constructed from partial material", while the religious studies
scholar Michael Strmiska describes its beliefs as being "riddled with
uncertainty and historical confusion", thereby characterising it as a
The ways in which Heathens use this historical and archaeological
material differ; some seek to reconstruct past beliefs and practices
as accurately as possible, while others openly experiment with this
material and embrace new innovations. Some, for instance, adapt
their practices according to "unverified personal gnosis" (UPG) that
they have gained through spiritual experiences. Others adopt
concepts from the world's surviving ethnic religions as well as modern
polytheistic faiths such as
Hinduism and Afro-American religions,
believing that doing so helps to construct spiritual world-views that
are akin to those that existed in Europe prior to
Christianization. Some practitioners who emphasize an approach
that relies exclusively on historical and archaeological sources
criticize such attitudes, denigrating those who practice them using
the pejorative term Neo-Heathen.
A 2009 rite performed on the Icelandic hill of Öskjuhlíð,
Some Heathens seek out common elements that were found throughout
Germanic Europe during the Iron Age and Early Medieval periods, using
those as the basis for their contemporary beliefs and practices.
Conversely, others draw inspiration from the beliefs and practices of
a specific geographical area and chronological period within Germanic
Europe, such as
Anglo-Saxon England or
Viking Age Iceland. Some
adherents are deeply knowledgeable as to the specifics of Northern
European society in the Iron Age and Early Medieval periods,
although most practitioners primarily gain their information about the
pre-Christian past from fictional literature and popular accounts of
Norse mythology. Some sectors of the Heathen movement have
perpetuated misconceptions about the past. Many express a
romanticized view of Nordic culture, with the sociologist of
religion Jennifer Snook noting that many practitioners "hearken back
to a more epic, anachronistic, and pure age of ancestors and
The anthropologist Murphy Pizza suggests that Heathenry can be
understood as an example of what the historian
Eric Hobsbawm termed an
"invented tradition". As the religious studies scholar Fredrik
Gregorius states, despite the fact that "no real continuity" exists
between Heathenry and the pre-Christian belief systems of Germanic
Europe, Heathen practitioners often dislike being considered adherents
of a "new religion" and "modern invention" and thus prefer to depict
theirs as a "traditional faith". Many practitioners avoid using
the scholarly, etic term "reconstructionism" to describe their
practices, preferring to characterize it as an "indigenous
religion" with parallels to the traditional belief systems of the
world's indigenous peoples. In claiming a sense of indigeneity,
many Heathens—particularly in the United States—attempt to frame
themselves as the victims of Medieval Christian colonialism and
imperialism. Snook, Thad Horrell, and Kirsten Horton argued that in
doing so, these Heathens ignore the fact that most of them are white,
and thus members of the same ethnic community which has perpetrated
and benefitted from colonial and imperial policies against indigenous
communities in the Americas and elsewhere. A 2015 survey of the
Heathen community found equal numbers of practitioners (36%) regarding
their religion as a reconstruction as those who regarded it as a
direct continuation of ancient belief systems; only 22% acknowledged
it to be modern but historically inspired, although this was the
dominant interpretation among practitioners in Nordic countries.
No central religious authority exists to impose a particular
terminological designation on all practitioners. Hence, different
Heathen groups have used different words to describe both their
religion and themselves, with these terms often conveying meaning
about their socio-political beliefs as well as the particular Germanic
region of pre-Christian Europe from which they draw inspiration.
Academics studying the religion have typically favoured the terms
Heathenry and Heathenism to describe it, for the reason that these
words are inclusive of all varieties of the movement. This term is
the most commonly used option by practitioners in the United
Kingdom, with growing usage in North America and elsewhere.
These terms are based on the word heathen, which was used by Early
Medieval Christian writers to describe non-Christians in Germanic
Europe; by using it, practitioners seek to reappropriate it from the
Christians as a form of self-designation. Many practitioners favor
the term Heathen over Pagan because the former term originated among
Germanic languages, whereas Pagan has its origins in Latin.
Heathen ritual space marked out by an engraved wooden pillar, located
The Wrekin in Shropshire, England
Further terms used in some academic contexts are contemporary Germanic
Paganism and Germanic Neopaganism, although the latter is an
"artificial term" developed by scholars with little use within the
Heathen community. Alternately, Blain suggested the use of North
European Paganism as an overarching scholarly term for the
movement, although Strmiska noted that this would also encompass
those practitioners inspired by the belief systems of Northeastern
Europe's linguistically Finnic and Slavic societies. He favored
Modern Nordic Paganism, although accepted that this term excluded
those Heathens who are particularly inspired by the pre-Christian
belief systems of non-Nordic Germanic societies, such as the
Anglo-Saxons and the Goths.
Another name for the faith is the Icelandic Ásatrú, which translates
as "allegiance to the Æsir" – the
Æsir being a sub-set of deities
in Norse mythology. This is more commonly rendered as Asatru in North
America, with practitioners being known as Asatruer. This term is
favored by practitioners who focus on the Nordic deities of
Scandinavia, although is problematic as many self-identified
Asatruer worship deities and entities other than the Æsir, such as
the Vanir, valkyries, elves, and dwarves. Although initially a
popular term of designation among practitioners and academics, usage
of Ásatrú has declined as the religion has aged.
Other practitioners term their religion Vanatrú, meaning "those who
honor the Vanir", or Dísitrú, meaning "those who honor the
goddesses", depending on their particular theological emphasis.
Although restricted especially to Scandinavia, since the mid-2000s a
term that has grown in popularity is Forn Siðr or Forn Sed ("the old
way"); this is also a term reappropriated from Christian usage, having
previously been used in a derogatory sense to describe pre-Christian
religion in the
Old Norse Heimskringla. Other terms used within
the community to describe their religion are the Northern Tradition,
Norse Paganism, and Saxon Paganism, while in the first third of
the 20th century, commonly used terms were German, Nordic, or Germanic
Faith. Within the United States, groups emphasising a
German-orientation have used Irminism, while those focusing on an
Anglo-Saxon approach have used Fyrnsidu or Theodism.
Many racialist-oriented Heathens prefer the terms Odinism or Wotanism
to describe their religion. The England-based racialist group
Woden's Folk favored Wodenism and Woden Folk-Religion, while
another racialist group, the Heathen Front, favored the term Odalism,
coined by Varg Vikernes, in reference to the odal rune. There is
thus a general view that all those who use Odinism adopt an explicitly
political, right-wing and racialist interpretation of the religion,
while Asatru is used by more moderate Heathen groups, but no such
clear division of these terms' usage exists in practice. Gregorius
noted that Odinism was "highly problematic" because it implies that
the god Odin—who is adopted from Norse mythology—is central to
these groups' theology, which is often not the case. Moreover, the
term is also used by at least one non-racialist group, the British
Odinshof, who utilise it in reference to their particular dedication
Gods and spirits
A detail from
Gotland runestone G 181, in the Swedish Museum of
National Antiquities in Stockholm. The three figures are interpreted
as Odin, Thor, and Freyr, deities which have seen their veneration
revived among modern Heathens.
The historian of religion
Mattias Gardell noted that there is "no
unanimously accepted theology" within the Heathen movement.
Several early Heathens like
Guido von List
Guido von List found the polytheistic
nature of pre-Christian religion embarrassing, and argued that in
reality it had been monotheistic. Since the 1970s, such negative
attitudes towards polytheism have changed. Today Heathenry is
usually characterised as being polytheistic, exhibiting a theological
structure which includes a pantheon of gods and goddesses, with
adherents offering their allegiance and worship to some or all of
them. Most practitioners are polytheistic realists, believing in
the literal existence of the deities as individual entities.
Others express a psychological interpretation of the divinities,
viewing them for instance as symbols,
Jungian archetypes or racial
archetypes, with some who adopt this position deeming themselves
to be atheists.
Heathenry's deities are adopted from the pre-Christian belief systems
found in the various societies of Germanic Europe; they include
divinities like Týr, Odin, Thor,
Freyja from Scandinavian
sources, Wōden, Thunor and
Ēostre from Anglo-Saxon sources, and
figures such as
Nehalennia from continental sources. Some
practitioners adopt the belief, taken from Norse mythology, that there
are two sets of deities, the
Æsir and the Vanir. Certain
practitioners blend the different regions and times together, for
instance using a mix of
Old English and
Old Norse names for the
deities, while others keep them separate and only venerate deities
from a particular region. Some groups focus their veneration on a
particular deity; for instance, the Brotherhood of Wolves, a Czech
Heathen group, center their worship on the deity Fenrir.
Similarly, many practitioners in the U.S. adopt a particular patron
deity for themselves, and describe themselves as that entity's devotee
using terms such as Thorsman or Odinsman.
Heathen deities are not seen as perfect, omnipotent, and omnipresent,
and are instead viewed as having their own strengths and
weaknesses. Many practitioners believe that these deities will one
day die, as did, for instance, the god
Baldr in Norse mythology.
Heathens view their connection with their deities not as being that of
a master and servant but rather as an interdependent relationship akin
to that of a family. For them, these deities serve as both
examples and role models whose behavior is to be imitated. Many
practitioners believe that they can communicate with these
deities, as well as negotiate, bargain, and argue with them,
and hope that through venerating them, practitioners will gain wisdom,
understanding, power, or visionary insights.
Many practitioners combine their polytheistic world-view with a
pantheistic conception of the natural world as being sacred and imbued
with a divine energy force permeating all life. Heathenry is
animistic, with practitioners believing in nonhuman spirit persons
commonly known as "wights" (vættir) that inhabit the world, each
of whom is believed to have its own personality. Some of these are
known as "land spirits" (landvættir) and inhabit different aspects of
the landscape, living alongside humans, whom they can both help and
hinder. Others are deemed to be household deities and live within
the home, where they can be propitiated with offerings of food.
Some Heathens interact with these entities and provide offerings to
them more often than they do with the gods and goddesses. Wights
are often identified with various creatures from Northwestern European
folklore such as elves, dwarves, gnomes, and trolls. Some of these
entities—such as the
Jötunn of Norse mythology—are deemed to be
baleful spirits; within the community it is often deemed taboo to
provide offerings to them, although some practitioners still do
so. Many Heathens also believe in and respect ancestral
Cosmology and afterlife
Heathens commonly adopt a cosmology based on that found in Norse
mythology. As part of this framework, humanity's world—known as
Midgard—is regarded as just one of nine realms, all of which are
part of a cosmological world tree called Yggdrasil. Different types of
being are believed to inhabit these different realms; for instance,
humans live on Midgard, while dwarves live on another realm, elves on
another, giants on another, and the divinities on two further
realms. Most practitioners believe that this is a poetic or
symbolic description of the cosmos, with the different levels
representing higher realms beyond the material plane of existence.
The world tree is also interpreted by some in the community as an icon
for ecological and social engagement. Some Heathens, such as the
psychologist Brian Bates, have adopted an approach to this cosmology
rooted in analytical psychology, thereby interpreting the nine worlds
and their inhabitants as maps of the human mind.
Heathen cemetery in Gufuneskirkjugarður, Reykjavík, which was
established in 1999
According to a common Heathen belief based on references in Old Norse
sources, three sisters known as the
Norns sit at the end of the world
tree's root. These figures spin wyrd, which refers to the actions and
interrelationships of all beings throughout the cosmos. In the
community, these three figures are sometimes termed "Past, Present and
Future", "Being, Becoming, and Obligation" or "Initiation, Becoming,
Unfolding". It is believed that an individual can navigate through
the wyrd, and thus, the Heathen worldview oscillates between concepts
of free will and fatalism. Heathens also believe in a personal
form of wyrd known as örlög. This is connected to an emphasis on
luck, with Heathens in the U.S. often believing that luck can be
earned, passed down through the generations, or lost.
Various Heathen groups adopt the Norse apocalyptic myth of Ragnarök;
few view it as a literal prophecy of future events. Instead, it is
often treated as a symbolic warning of the danger that humanity faces
if it acts unwisely in relation to both itself and the natural
world. The death of the gods at
Ragnarök is often viewed as a
reminder of the inevitability of death and the importance of living
honorably and with integrity until one dies. Alternately,
ethno-nationalist Heathens have interpreted
Ragnarök as a prophecy of
a coming apocalypse in which the white race will overthrow who these
Heathens perceive as their oppressors and establish a future society
based on Heathen religion. The political scientist Jeffrey Kaplan
believed that it was the "strongly millenarian and chialistic
Ragnarök which helped convert white American racialists
to the right wing of the Heathen movement.
Some practitioners do not emphasize belief in an afterlife, instead
stressing the importance of behaviour and reputation in this
world. In Icelandic Heathenry, there is no singular dogmatic
belief about the afterlife. A common Heathen belief is that a
human being has multiple souls, which are separate yet linked
together. It is common to find a belief in four or five souls, two
of which survive bodily death: one of these, the hugr, travels to the
realm of the ancestors, while the other, the fetch, undergoes a
process of reincarnation into a new body. In Heathen belief, there
are various realms that the hugr can enter, based in part on the worth
of the individual's earthly life; these include the hall of Valhalla,
ruled over by Odin, or Sessrúmnir, the hall of Freyja. Beliefs
regarding reincarnation vary widely among Heathens, although one
common belief is that individuals are reborn within their family or
Morality and ethics
A 2011 Heathen blót in Humlamaden near
Veberöd in Lund, Sweden
In Heathenry, moral and ethical views are based on the perceived
ethics of Iron Age and Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, in
particular the actions of heroic figures who appear in Old Norse
sagas. Evoking a life-affirming ethos, Heathen ethics focus on
the ideals of honor, courage, integrity, hospitality, and hard work,
and strongly emphasize loyalty to family. It is common for
practitioners to be expected to keep their word, particularly sworn
oaths. There is thus a strong individualist ethos focused around
personal responsibility, and a common motto within the Heathen
community is that "We are our deeds". Most Heathens reject the
concept of sin and believe that guilt is a destructive rather than
Some Heathen communities have formalized such values into an ethical
Nine Noble Virtues (NNV), which is based largely on the
Hávamál from the Poetic Edda. This was first developed by the
founders of the UK-based
Odinic Rite in the 1970s, although has
spread internationally, with 77% of respondents to a 2015 survey of
Heathens reporting the use of it in some form. There are
different forms of the NNV, with the number nine having symbolic
associations in Norse mythology. Opinion is divided on the NNV;
some practitioners deem them too dogmatic, while others eschew
them for not having authentic roots in historical Germanic
culture, negatively viewing them as an attempt to imitate the
Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. Their use is particularly
unpopular in Nordic countries.
Within the Heathen community of the United States, gender roles are
based upon perceived ideals and norms found in Early Medieval
Northwestern Europe, in particular as they are presented in Old Norse
sources. Among male American Heathens there is a trend toward
hypermasculinized behaviour, while a gendered division of
labor—in which men are viewed as providers and women seen as being
responsible for home and children—is also widespread among Heathens
in the U.S. Due to its focus on traditional attitudes to sex and
gender—values perceived as socially conservative in Western
nations—it has been argued that American Heathenry's ethical system
is far closer to traditional Christian morals than the ethical systems
espoused in many other Western Pagan religions such as Wicca. A
2015 survey of the Heathen community nevertheless found that a greater
percentage of Heathens were opposed to traditional gender rules than
in favour of them, with this being particularly the case in Northern
A 2010 outdoor altar at the Springblót at Gamla Uppsala, Uppland,
The sociologist Jennifer Snook noted that as with all religions,
Heathenry is "intimately connected" to politics, with practitioners'
political and religious beliefs influencing one another. As a
result of the religion's emphasis on honoring the land and its wights,
many Heathens take an interest in ecological issues, with many
considering their faith to be a nature religion. Heathen groups
have participated in tree planting, raising money to purchase
woodland, and campaigning against the construction of a railway
between London and the
Channel Tunnel in Southeastern England.
Many Germanic Neopagans are also concerned with the preservation of
heritage sites, and some practitioners have expressed concern
regarding archaeological excavation of prehistoric and Early Medieval
burials, believing that it is disrespectful to the individuals
interred, whom Heathens widely see as their ancestors.
Ethical debates within the community also arise when some
practitioners believe that the religious practices of certain
co-religionists conflict with the religion's "conservative ideas of
proper decorum". For instance, while many Heathens eschew worship
of the Norse god Loki, deeming him a baleful wight, his gender-bending
nature has made him attractive to many
LGBT Heathens. Those who adopt
the former perspective have thus criticized Lokeans as effeminate and
sexually deviant. Views on homosexuality and
LGBT rights remain a
source of tension within the community. Some right-wing Heathen
groups view homosexuality as being incompatible with a family-oriented
ethos and thus censure same-sex sexual activity. Other groups
legitimize openness toward
LGBT practitioners by reference to the
gender-bending actions of
Odin in Norse mythology. There
are, for instance, homosexual and transgender members of The Troth, a
prominent U.S. Heathen organisation. Many Scandinavian Heathen
groups perform same-sex marriages, and a group of self-described
"Homo-Heathens" marched in the 2008
Stockholm Pride carrying a statue
of the god Freyr.
Rites and practices
In Anglophone countries, Heathen groups are typically called kindreds
or hearths, or alternately sometimes as fellowships, tribes, or
garths. These are small groups, often family units, and
usually consist of between five and fifteen members. They are
often bound together by oaths of loyalty, with strict screening
procedures regulating the admittance of new members. Prospective
members may undergo a probationary period before they are fully
accepted and welcomed into the group, while other groups remain
closed to all new members. Heathen groups are largely independent
and autonomous, although they typically network with other Heathen
groups, particularly in their region. There are other followers
of the religion who are not affiliated with such groups, operating as
solitary practitioners, with these individuals often remaining in
contact with other practitioners through social media. A 2015
survey found that the majority of Heathens identified as solitary
Northern Europe constituting an exception to this;
here, the majority of Heathens reported involvement in groups.
A Heathen altar for the
Yule feast in Gothenburg, Sweden. The painted
tablet at the back depicts Sunna, the two larger wooden idols Odin
(left) and Frey (right). In front of them there are the three Norns,
and in the front row a red
Thor and other idols. In front of the cult
images are two ritual hammers.
Priests are often termed godhi, while priestesses are gydhja, adopting
Old Norse terms meaning "god-man" and "god-woman" respectively, with
the plural term being gothar. These individuals are rarely seen
as intermediaries between practitioners and deities, instead having
the role of facilitating and leading group ceremonies and being
learned in the lore and traditions of the religion. Many kindreds
believe that anyone can take on the position of priest, with members
sharing organisational duties and taking turns in leading the
rites. In other groups, it is considered necessary for the
individual to gain formal credentials from an accredited Heathen
organisation in order to be recognised as a priest. In a few
groups—particularly those of the early 20th century which operated
as secret societies—the priesthood is modelled on an initiatory
system of ascending degrees akin to Freemasonry.
Heathen rites often take place in non-public spaces, particularly in a
practitioner's home. In other cases, Heathen places of worship
have been established on plots of land specifically purchased for the
purpose; these can represent either a hörg, which is a sanctified
place within nature like a grove of trees, or a hof, which is a wooden
temple. The Heathen community has made various attempts to
construct hofs in different parts of the world. In 2014 the
Temple was opened in Efri Ás, Skagafjörður,
Iceland, while in 2015 a British Heathen group called the Odinist
Fellowship opened a temple in a converted 16th-century chapel in
Newark, Nottinghamshire. Heathens have also adopted
archaeological sites as places of worship. For instance, British
practitioners have assembled for rituals at the
Nine Ladies stone
circle in Derbyshire, the
Rollright Stones in Warwickshire,
White Horse Stone
White Horse Stone in Kent. Swedish Heathens have done the
same at Gamla Uppsala, and Icelandic practitioners have met at
Heathen groups assemble for rituals in order to mark rites of passage,
seasonal observances, oath takings, rites devoted to a specific deity,
and for rites of need. These rites also serve as identity
practices which mark the adherents out as Heathens. Strmiska
noted that in Iceland, Ásatrú rituals had been deliberately
constructed in an attempt to recreate or pay tribute to the ritual
practices of pre-Christian Icelanders, although there was also space
in which these rituals could reflect innovation, changing in order to
suit the tastes and needs of contemporary practitioners. During
religious ceremonies, many adherents choose to wear clothing that
imitates the styles of dress worn in Iron Age and Early Medieval
Northern Europe. They also often wear symbols indicating their
religious allegiance. The most commonly used sign among Heathens is
Mjölnir, or Thor's hammer, which is worn as a pendant, featured in
Heathen art, and used as a gesture in ritual. It is sometimes used to
express a particular affinity with the god Thor, although is also
often used as a symbol of Heathenism as a whole, in particular
representing the resilience and vitality of the religion. Another
commonly used Heathen symbol is the valknut, used to represent the god
Odin or Woden.
Blót and sumbel
The most important religious rite for Heathens is called blót, which
constitutes a ritual in which offerings are provided to the gods.
Blót typically takes place outdoors, and usually consists of an
offering of mead, which is contained within a bowl. The gods are
invoked and requests expressed for their aid, as the priest uses a
sprig or branch of an evergreen tree to sprinkle mead onto both
statues of the deities and the assembled participants. This procedure
might be scripted or largely improvised. Finally, the bowl of mead is
poured onto a fire, or onto the earth, as a final libation to the
gods. Sometimes, a communal meal is held afterward; in some
groups this is incorporated as part of the ritual itself. In
other instances, the blót is simpler and less ritualized; in this
case, it can involve a practitioner setting some food aside, sometimes
without words, for either gods or wights. Some Heathens perform
such rituals on a daily basis, although for others it is a more
occasional performance. Aside from honoring deities, communal
blóts also serve as a form of group bonding.
The Swedish Asatru Society holding a 2008 blót near to
In Iron Age and Early Medieval Northern Europe, the term blót
referred to animal sacrifice performed to thank the deities and gain
their favor. Such sacrifices have generally proved impractical
for most modern practitioners, due to the fact that skills in animal
slaughter are not widely taught, while the slaughter of animals is
regulated by government in Western countries. In 2007 Strmiska
noted that a "small but growing" number of Heathen practitioners in
the U.S. had begun performing animal sacrifice as a part of
blót. Those who do so typically follow the procedure outlined in
the Heimskringla: the throat of the sacrificial animal is slashed with
a sharp knife, and the blood is collected in a bowl before being
sprinkled onto both participants of the rite and statues of the
gods. Animals used for this purpose have included poultry as well
as larger mammals like sheep and pigs, with the meat then being
consumed by those attending the rite. Some practitioners have
made alterations to this procedure: Strmiska noted two American
Heathens who decided to use a rifle shot to the head to kill the
animal swiftly, a decision made after they witnessed a blót in which
the animal's throat was cut incorrectly and it slowly died in agony;
they felt that such practices would have displeased the gods and
accordingly brought harm upon those carrying out the sacrifice.
Another common ritual in Heathenry is sumbel, also spelled symbel, a
ritual drinking ceremony in which the gods are toasted. Sumbel
often takes place following a blót. In the U.S., the sumbel
commonly involves a drinking horn being filled with mead and passed
among the assembled participants, who either drink from it directly,
or pour some into their own drinking vessels to consume. During this
process, toasts are made, as are verbal tributes to gods, heroes, and
ancestors. Then, oaths and boasts (promises of future actions) might
be made, both of which are considered binding on the speakers due to
the sacred context of the sumbel ceremony. According to Snook,
the sumbel has a strong social role, representing "a game of
politicking, of socializing, cementing bonds of peace and friendship
and forming new relationships" within the Heathen community.
During her ethnographic research, Pizza observed an example of a
sumbel that took place in
Minnesota in 2006 with the purpose of
involving Heathen children; rather than mead, the drinking horn
contained apple juice, and the toasting accompanied the children
taping pictures of apples to a poster of a tree that symbolized the
apple tree of Iðunn from Norse mythology.
Seiðr and galdr
One religious practice sometimes found in Heathenry is seiðr, which
has been described as "a particular shamanic trance ritual
complex", although the appropriateness of using "shamanism" to
describe seiðr is debatable. Contemporary seiðr developed
during the 1990s out of the wider Neo-Shamanic movement, with
some practitioners studying the use of trance-states in other faiths,
such as Umbanda, first. A prominent form is high-seat or oracular
seiðr, which is based on the account of Guðriðr in Eiríks saga.
Although such practices differ between groups, oracular seiðr
typically involves a seiðr-worker sitting on a high seat while songs
and chants are performed to invoke gods and wights. Drumming is then
performed to induce an altered state of consciousness in the
practitioner, who goes on a meditative journey in which they visualise
travelling through the world tree to the realm of Hel. The assembled
audience then provide questions for the seiðr-worker, with the latter
offering replies based on information obtained in their
trance-state. Some seiðr-practitioners make use of entheogenic
substances as part of this practice, although others explicitly
oppose the use of any such mind-altering drugs.
A 2010 Heathen rite at the Storbuckasten boulder in Sörby parish,
Not all Heathens practice seiðr; given its associations with both the
ambiguity of sexuality and gender and the gods
Loki in their
unreliable trickster forms, many on the Heathen movement's right wing
disapprove of it. Although there are heterosexual male
practitioners, seiðr is largely associated with women and gay
men, and a 2015 survey of Heathens found that women were more
likely to have engaged in it than men. One member of the Troth,
Edred Thorsson, developed forms of seiðr which involved sex magic
utilizing sado-masochistic techniques, something which generated
controversy in the community. Part of the discomfort that some
Heathens feel toward seiðr surrounds the lack of any criteria by
which the community can determine whether the seiðr-worker has
genuinely received divine communication, and the fear that it will be
used by some practitioners merely to bolster their own prestige.
Galdr is another Germanic Neopagan practice involving chanting or
singing. As part of a galdr ceremony, runes or rune poems are
also sometimes chanted, in order to create a communal mood and allow
participants to enter into altered states of consciousness and request
communication with deities. Some contemporary galdr chants and
songs are influenced by Anglo-Saxon folk magical charms, such as
Æcerbot and the Nine Herbs Charm. These poems were originally written
in a Christian context, although practitioners believe that they
reflect themes present in pre-Christian, shamanistic religion, and
thus re-appropriate and "Heathanise" them for contemporary usage.
Some Heathens practice forms of divination using runes; as part of
this, items with runic markings on them might be pulled out of a bag
or bundle, and read accordingly. In some cases, different runes
are associated with different deities, one of the nine realms, or
aspects of life. It is common for Heathens to utilize the Common
Germanic Futhark as a runic alphabet, although some practitioners
instead adopt the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc or the Younger Futhark.
Some non-Heathens also use runes for divinatory purposes, with books
on the subject being common in
New Age bookstores. Some Heathens
practice magic, although this is not regarded as an intrinsic part of
Heathenry because it was not a common feature of pre-Christian rituals
in Iron Age and Early Medieval Germanic Europe.
Main article: Heathen holidays
Members of the
Ásatrúarfélagið preparing for a Þingblót at
Different Germanic Neopagan groups celebrate different festivals
according to their cultural and religious focus. The most widely
observed Heathen festivals are
Winter Nights, Yule, and Sigrblót, all
of which were listed in his
Heimskringla and are thus of ancient
origin. The first of these marks the start of winter in Northern
Europe, while the second marks Midwinter, and the last marks the
beginning of summer. Additional festivals are also marked by
Heathen practice throughout the year. These often include days
which commemorate individuals who fought against the Christianization
of Northern Europe, or who led armies and settlers into new
lands. Some Heathen groups hold festivals dedicated to a specific
Some Heathens celebrate the eight festivals found in the Wheel of the
Year, a tradition that they share with Wiccans and other contemporary
Pagan groups. Others celebrate only six of these festivals, as
represented by a six-spoked Wheel of the Year. The use of such
festivals is criticized by other practitioners, who highlight that
this system is of modern, mid-20th century origin and does not link
with the original religious celebrations of the pre-Christian Germanic
Heathen festivals can be held on the same day each year, although they
are often celebrated by Heathen communities on the nearest available
weekend, so that those practitioners who work during the week can
attend. During these ceremonies, Heathens often recite poetry to
honor the deities, which typically draw upon or imitate the Early
Medieval poems written in
Old Norse or Old English.
Mead or ale
is also typically drunk, with offerings being given to deities,
while fires, torches, or candles are often lit. There are also
regional meetings of Heathens known as Things. At these, religious
rites are performed, while workshops, stalls, feasts, and competitive
games are also present. In the U.S., there are two national
gatherings, Althing and Trothmoot.
"Far from being a monolithic entity, [Heathenry] in the United States
is extremely diverse, with many distinct ideological variations and
organizations with profoundly different opinions concerning what
Asatrú/Odinism is all about. The key divisive issues are centered on
race and for whom the Nordic path is intended."
Religious studies scholar Mattias Gardell
The question of race represents a major source of division among
Heathens, particularly in the United States. Within the Heathen
community, one viewpoint holds that race is entirely a matter of
biological heredity, while the opposing position is that race is a
social construct rooted in cultural heritage. In U.S. Heathen
discourse, these viewpoints are described as the folkish and the
universalist positions, respectively. These two factions—which
Kaplan termed the "racialist" and "nonracialist" camps—often clash,
with Kaplan claiming that a "virtual civil war" existed between them
within the American Heathen community. The universalist and
folkish division has also spread to other countries; in contrast
to North America and much of Northern Europe, discussions of race
rarely arise among the Icelandic Heathen community as a result of the
nation-state's predominantly ethnically homogeneous composition.
A 2015 survey revealed a greater number of Heathens subscribed to
universalist ideas than folkish ones.
Contrasting with this binary division, Gardell divides Heathenry in
the United States into three groups according to their stances on the
issue of race: the "anti-racist" group which denounces any association
between the religion and racial identity, the "radical racist" faction
which sees it as the natural religion of the
Aryan race that cannot
rightly be followed by members of any other racial group, and the
"ethnic" faction which seeks a middle-path by acknowledging the
religion's roots in
Northern Europe and its connection with those of
Northern European heritage. The religious studies scholar Egil
Asprem deemed Gardell's threefold typology "indispensable in order to
make sense of the diverging positions within the broader discourse" of
Heathenry. The religious studies scholar Stefanie von Schnurbein
also adopted this tripartite division, although she referred to the
groups as the "racial-religious", "a-racist", and "ethnicist" factions
respectively. The scholar of religion Ethan Doyle White instead
returned to the dual division between the "universalist" and "folkish"
groups, arguing that the latter could be subdivided among the
"ethnicist" and "racial-religious" factions, both of whom "deem
Heathenry to be a religion geared for a particular racial or
ethno-cultural group (whether conceptualised as 'Nordic,' 'white,' or
Altar for Haustblót in Bohus-Björkö, Västergötland, Sweden. The
big wooden idol represents the god Frey, the smaller one next to it
represents Freyja, the picture in front of it Sunna, and the small red
Exponents of the universalist, anti-racist approach believe that the
Northern Europe can call anyone to their worship,
regardless of ethnic background. This group rejects the folkish
emphasis on race, believing that even if unintended, it can lead to
the adoption of racist attitudes toward those of non-Northern European
ancestry. Anti-racist practitioners such as
Stephan Grundy have
emphasized the fact that ancient Northern Europeans were known to
marry and have children with members of other ethnic groups, and that
Norse mythology the
Æsir also did the same with Vanir, Jötun, and
humans, thus using such points to critique the racialist view.
Universalists welcome practitioners of Heathenry who are not of
Northern European ancestry; for instance, there are Jewish and African
American members of the U.S.-based Troth, while many of its white
members are married to spouses from different racial groups.
While sometimes retaining the idea of Heathenry as an indigenous
religion, proponents of this view have sometimes argued that Heathenry
is indigenous to the land of Northern Europe, rather than indigenous
to any specific race.
The folkish sector of the movement deems Heathenry to be the
indigenous religion of a biologically distinct Nordic race. Some
practitioners explain this by asserting that the religion is
intrinsically connected to the collective unconscious of this
race, with prominent American Heathen
Stephen McNallen developing
this into a concept which he termed "metagenetics". McNallen and
many others in the "ethnic" faction of Heathenry explicitly deny that
they are racist, although Gardell noted that their views would be
deemed racist under certain definitions of the word. Gardell
considered many "ethnic" Heathens to be ethnic nationalists, and
many folkish practitioners express disapproval of multiculturalism and
the mixture of different races in modern Europe, advocating a position
of racial separatism. In this group's discourse, there is much
talk of "ancestors" and "homelands", although these concepts may be
very vaguely defined. Those adopting the "ethnic" folkish
position have been criticized by both anti-racist and radical racist
factions, the former deeming "ethnic" Heathenry a front for racism and
the latter deeming its adherents race traitors for their failure to
fully embrace the white supremacist cause.
Some folkish Heathens are white supremacists and explicit
racists, representing a "radical racist" faction that favours the
terms "Odinism", "Wotanism", and "Wodenism". Kaplan stated that
the "borderline separating racialist Odinism and National Socialism is
exceedingly thin", adding that this racialist wing inhabited "the
most distant reaches" of the modern Pagan movement. The historian
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke similarly stated that Odinism "represents the
battlefront of racist paganism in support of a white Aryan
revolutionary path". Practitioners in this sector of the religion
have paid tribute to
Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, claimed that
the white race is facing extinction at the hands of a Jewish world
conspiracy, and rejected Christianity as a creation of the
Jews. Many in the inner circle of The Order, a white supremacist
militant group active in the U.S. during the 1980s, described
themselves as Odinists, and various racist Heathens have espoused
Fourteen Words slogan developed by the Heathen and Order member
David Lane. Some racist organisations, such as the Order of Nine
Angles and the Black Order, combine elements of Heathenism with
Satanism, although other racist Heathens, such as Wotansvolk's
Ron McVan, have denounced the integration of these differing religious
Racist Heathens are heavily critical of their anti-racist
counterparts, often declaring that the latter have been misled by New
Age literature and political correctness. Snook stated that both
mainstream media and early academic studies of American Heathenry had
focused primarily on the racist elements within the movement, thus
neglecting the religion's anti-racist wing. Many anti-racist
practitioners have expressed frustration that Heathenry is
misrepresented by some journalists and academics as a racist
movement, using their online presence to stress their opposition
to extreme-right politics.
Romanticist and Völkisch predecessors
Germanic mysticism and Viking revival
Guido von List, who promoted an early form of Heathenry
During the late 18th and 19th centuries, German
increasing attention on the pre-Christian belief systems of Germanic
Europe, with various Romanticist intellectuals expressing the opinion
that these ancient religions were "more natural, organic and positive"
than Christianity. Such an attitude was promoted by the
scholarship of Romanticist intellectuals like Johann Gottfried Herder,
Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm. This development went in tandem
with a growth in nationalism and the idea of the volk, contributing to
the establishment of the
Völkisch movement in German-speaking
Europe. Criticising the Jewish roots of Christianity, in 1900 the
Ernst Wachler published a pamphlet calling for the revival
of a racialized ancient German religion. Other writers such as
Ludwig Fahrenkrog supported his claims, resulting in the formation of
both the Bund fur Persönlichkeitskultur (League for the
the Personality) and the Deutscher Orden in 1911 and then the
Germanische-Deutsche Religionsgemeinschaft (Germanic-German Religious
Community) in 1912.
Another development of Heathenry emerged within the occult völkisch
movement known as Ariosophy. One of these völkisch Ariosophists
was the Austrian occultist Guido von List, who established a religion
that he termed "Wotanism", with an inner core that he referred to as
"Armanism". List's Wotanism was based heavily on the Eddas,
although over time it came to be increasingly influenced by the occult
teachings of the Theosophical Society. List's ideas were
transmitted in Germany by prominent right-wingers, and adherents to
his ideas were among the founders of the
Reichshammerbund in Leipzig
in 1912, and they included individuals who held key positions in the
Thule Society founded by Rudolf von
Sebottendorf developed from the Germanenorden, and it displayed a
Theosophically-influenced interpretation of Norse mythology.
Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, leader of the
German Faith Movement in the 1930s
In 1933, the eclectic
German Faith Movement (Deutsche
Glaubensbewegung) was founded by the religious studies scholar Jakob
Wilhelm Hauer, who wanted to unite these disparate Heathen groups.
Although active throughout the Nazi era, his hopes that his "German
Faith" would be declared the official faith of
Nazi Germany were
thwarted. Although the Heathen movement probably never had more
than a few thousand followers during its 1920s heyday, it held the
allegiance of many middle-class intellectuals, including journalists,
artists, illustrators, scholars, and teachers, and thus exerted a
wider influence on German society.
The völkisch occultists—among them Pagans like List and Christians
like Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels—"contributed importantly to the mood
of the Nazi era". Few had a direct influence on the Nazi Party
leadership, with one prominent exception:
Karl Maria Wiligut was both
a friend and a key influence on the
Schutzstaffel (SS) leader Heinrich
Himmler. Wiligut professed ancestral-clairvoyant memories of
ancient German society, proclaiming that "Wotanism" was in conflict
with another ancient religion, "Irminenschaft", which was devoted to a
messianic Germanic figure known as Krist, who was later wrongly
transformed into the figure of Jesus. Many Heathen groups
disbanded during the Nazi period, and they were only able to
re-establish themselves after World War II, in West Germany, where
freedom of religion had been re-established. After the defeat of
Nazi Germany, there was a social stigma surrounding völkisch ideas
and groups, along with a common perception that the mythologies
of the pre-Christian Germanic societies had been tainted through their
usage by the Nazi administration, an attitude that to some extent
persisted into the 21st century.
The völkisch movement also manifested itself in 1930s
the milieu surrounding such groups as the Ragnarok Circle and Hans S.
Jacobsen's Tidsskriftet Ragnarok journal. Prominent figures involved
in this milieu were the writer
Per Imerslund and the composer Geirr
Tveitt, although it left no successors in post-war Norway. A
variant of "Odinism" was developed by the Australian Alexander Rud
Mills, who published The Odinist Religion (1930) and established the
Anglecyn Church of Odin. Politically racialist, Mills viewed Odinism
as a religion for what he considered to be the "British race", and he
deemed it to be in a cosmic battle with the Judeo-Christian
religion. Having formulated "his own unique blend" of
Ariosophy, Mills was heavily influenced by von List's
writings. Some of Heathenry's roots have also been traced back to
the "back to nature" movement of the early 20th century, among them
Kibbo Kift and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry.
Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, leader of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið,
at a blót in 1991
In the early 1970s, Heathen organisations emerged in the United
Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Iceland, largely
independently from each other. This has been partly attributed to
the wider growth of the modern Pagan movement during the 1960s and
1970s, as well as the development of the
New Age milieu, both of which
encouraged the establishment of new religious movements intent on
reviving pre-Christian belief systems. Further Heathen groups
then emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, many of which distanced
themselves from overtly political agendas and placed a stronger
emphasis on historical authenticity than their 1960s and 1970s
Heathenry emerged in the United States during the 1960s. In 1969
the Danish Heathen
Else Christensen established the Odinist Fellowship
at her home in the U.S. state of Florida. Heavily influenced by
Mills' writings, she began publishing a magazine, The
Odinist, which placed greater emphasis on right-wing and
racialist ideas than theological ones.
Stephen McNallen first
founded the Viking Brotherhood in the early 1970s, before creating the
Asatru Free Assembly in 1976, which broke up in 1986 amid widespread
political disagreements after McNallen's repudiation of neo-Nazis
within the group. In the 1990s, McNallen founded the Asatru Folk
Assembly (AFA), an ethnically-oriented Heathen group headquartered in
California. Meanwhile, Valgard Murray and his kindred in Arizona
Ásatrú Alliance (AA) in the late 1980s, which shared the
AFA's perspectives on race and which published the Vor Tru
newsletter. In 1987,
Stephen Flowers and James Chisholm founded
The Troth, which was incorporated in Texas. Taking an inclusive,
non-racialist view, it soon grew into an international
In Iceland, the influence of pre-Christian belief systems still
pervaded the country's cultural heritage into the 20th century.
Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson founded the Heathen group
Ásatrúarfélagið in 1972, which initially had 12 members.
Beinteinsson served as Allsherjargodi (chief priest) until his death
in 1993, when he was succeeded by Jormundur Ingi Hansen. As the
group expanded in size, Hansen's leadership caused schisms, and to
retain the unity of the movement, he stepped down and was replaced by
Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson
Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson in 2003, by which time
accumulated 777 members and played a visible role in Icelandic
society. In England, the British Committee for the Restoration of
Odinic Rite was established by John Yeowell in 1972. In 1992,
Mark Mirabello published
Odin Brotherhood, which claimed the existence
of a secret society of Odinists; most British Heathens doubt its
Prominent American Heathens
Stephen McNallen (left) and Michael
"Valgard" Murray (center), with Eric "Hnikar" Wood (right) at the 2000
In Sweden, the first Heathen groups developed in the 1970s; early
examples included the Breidablikk-Gildet (Guild of Breidablikk)
founded in 1975 and the Telge Fylking founded in 1987, the latter of
which diverged from the former by emphasising a non-racialist
interpretation of the religion. In 1994, the Sveriges
Asatrosamfund (Swedish Asatru Assembly) was founded, growing to become
the largest Heathen organisation in the country. The first
Norwegian Heathen group, Blindern Åsatrulag, was established as a
student group at the
University of Oslo
University of Oslo in the mid-1980s, while
Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost was established in 1996; after
a schism in that group, the
Foreningen Forn Sed
Foreningen Forn Sed was formed in
1999. In Denmark, a small group was founded near to
1986, although as a wider movement Heathenry would not be established
until the 1990s, when a group calling itself Forn Siðr
In Germany, various groups were established that explicitly rejected
their religion's völkisch and right-wing past, most notably Rabenclan
(Raven's Clan) in 1994 and Nornirs Ætt (Kin of the Norns) in
2005. Several foreign Heathen organisations also established a
presence in the German Heathen scene; in 1994 the Odinic Rite
Odinic Rite Germany) was founded, although it later
declared its independence and became the Verein für germanisches
Heidentum VfgH (Society for Germanic Paganism), while the Troth also
created a German group, Eldaring, which declared its independence in
2000. The first organised Heathen groups in the Czech Republic
emerged in the late 1990s. From 2000 to 2008, a Czech Heathen
group that adopted a Pan-Germanic approach to the religion was active
under the name of Heathen Hearts from Biohaemum.
Heathen influences were apparent in forms of black metal from the
1990s, where lyrics and themes often expressed a longing for a
pre-Christian Northern past; the mass media typically associated this
music genre with Satanism. The
Pagan metal genre—which emerged
from the fragmentation of the extreme metal scene in Northern Europe
during the early 1990s—came to play an important role in the
North European Pagan scene. Many musicians involved in Viking
metal were also practicing Heathens, with many metal bands
embracing the heroic masculinity embodied in Norse mythological
Odin and Thor. From the mid-1990s, the Internet
greatly aided the propagation of Heathenry in various parts of the
world. That decade also saw the strong growth of racist Heathenry
among those incarcerated within the U.S. prison system as a result of
outreach programs established by various Heathen groups, a
project begun in the 1980s. During this period, many Heathen
groups also began to interact increasingly with other ethnic-oriented
Pagan groups in Eastern Europe, such as Lithuanian Romuva, and many
joined the World Congress of Ethnic Religions upon its formation in
An Odinist wedding in Spain, 2010
Adherents of Heathenry can be found in Europe, North America, and
Australasia, with more recent communities also establishing in
Latin America. They are mostly found in those areas with a
Germanic cultural inheritance, although they are present in several
other regions. In 2007, the religious studies scholar Graham
Harvey stated that it was impossible to develop a precise figure for
the number of Heathens across the world. A self-selected census
in 2013 found 16,700 members in 98 countries, the bulk of whom lived
in the United States. In 2016, Schnurbein stated that there
were probably no more than 20,000 Heathens globally.
Schnurbein noted that, while there were some exceptions, most Heathen
groups were 60–70% male in their composition. On the basis of
his sociological research, Joshua Marcus Cragle agreed that the
religion contained a greater proportion of men than women, although
observed that there was a more even balance between the two in
Northern and Western Europe than in other regions. He also found
that the Heathen community contained a greater percentage of
transgender individuals, at 2%, than is estimated to be present in the
wider population. Similarly, Cragle's research found a greater
LGBT practitioners within Heathenry (21%) than wider
society, although noted that the percentage was lower than in other
forms of modern Paganism. Cragle also found that in every region
Latin America, the majority of Heathens were middle-aged,
and that most were of European descent.
Many individuals are inspired to join the movement after enjoying
German folk tales or Norse myths as children, or after being
interested by the depiction of Norse religion in popular culture.
Some others claim to have involved themselves in the religion after
experiencing direct revelation through dreams, which they interpret as
having been provided by the gods. As with other religions, a
sensation of "coming home" has also been reported by many Heathens who
have converted to the faith. Pizza suggested that, on the basis
of her research among the Heathen community in the American Midwest,
that many Euro-American practitioners were motivated to join the
movement both out of a desire to "find roots" within historical
European cultures and to meet "a genuine need for spiritual
connections and community".
Cragle's 2015 survey indicated that 45% of Heathens had been raised as
Christians, although 21% had previously had no religious affiliation
or been atheists or agnostics. Although practitioners typically
live within Christian majority societies, they often express the view
that Christianity has little to offer them. In referring to
Heathens in the U.S., Snook, Thad Horrell, and Kristen Horton noted
that practitioners "almost always formulate oppositional identities"
to Christianity. Through her research, Schnurbein found that
during the 1980s many Heathens had been motivated to join the religion
in part by their own anti-Christian ethos, but that this attitude had
become less prominent among the Heathen community as the significance
of the Christian churches had declined in Western nations after that
point. Many Heathens are also involved in historical reenactment,
focusing on the early medieval societies of Germanic Europe, although
others are critical of this practice, believing that it blurs the
boundary between life and fantasy. Some Heathens also practice
other Pagan religions as well, such as
Wicca or Druidry.
Heathenry in the United States and Heathenry in
Academics believe that the United States has the largest Heathen
community in the world. Although deeming it impossible to
calculate the exact size of the Heathen community in the U.S., in the
mid-1990s the sociologist Jeffrey Kaplan estimated that there were
around 500 active practitioners in the country, with a further
thousand individuals on the periphery of the movement. He noted
that the overwhelming majority of individuals in the American Heathen
community were white, male, and young. Most had at least an
undergraduate degree, and worked in a mix of white collar and blue
collar jobs. The Pagan Census project led by Helen A. Berger,
Evan A. Leach, and Leigh S. Shaffer gained 60 responses from Heathens
in the U.S. Of these respondents, 65% were male and 35% female, which
Berger, Leach, and Shaffer noted was the "opposite" of the female
majority trend within the rest of the country's Pagan community.
The majority had a college education, but were generally less well
educated than the wider Pagan community, and also had a lower median
income. From her experience within the community, Snook concurred
that the majority of American Heathens were male, adding that most
were white and middle-aged, but believed that there had been a
growth in the proportion of female Heathens in the U.S. since the
mid-1990s. Subsequent assessments have suggested a larger support
base; 10,000 to 20,000 according to McNallen in 2006, and 7,878
according to the 2014 census.
Further information: Heathenry in the United Kingdom, Neopaganism in
Scandinavia, Neopaganism in German-speaking Europe, and Neopaganism in
In the United Kingdom Census 2001, 300 people registered as Heathen in
England and Wales. Many Heathens followed the advice of the Pagan
Federation (PF) and simply described themselves as "Pagan", while
other Heathens did not specify their religious beliefs. In the
2011 census, 1,958 people self-identified as Heathen in England and
By 2003, the Icelandic Heathen organisation
777 members, by 2015, it reported 2,400 members, and by
January 2017 it claimed 3,583 members, constituting just over 1% of
the Icelandic population. In Iceland, Heathenry has an impact
larger than the number of its adherents. Based on his experience
researching Danish Heathens, Amster stated that while it was possible
to obtain membership figures of Heathen organisations, it was
"impossible to estimate" the number of unaffiliated solo
practitioners. Conversely, in 2015, Gregorius estimated that
there were at most a thousand Heathens in Sweden—both affiliated and
unaffiliated—although noted that practitioners themselves often
perceived their numbers as being several times higher than this.
Although noting that there were no clear figures available for the
gender balance within the community, he cited practitioners who claim
that there are more men active within Swedish Heathen
organisations. Schnurbein observed that most Heathens in
Scandinavia were middle-class professionals aged between thirty and
There are a small number of Heathens in Poland, where they have
established a presence on social media. The majority of these
Polish Heathens belong to the non-racist wing of the movement.
There are also a few Heathens in the Slovenian Pagan scene, where they
are outnumbered by practitioners of Slavic Native Faith.
Exponents of Heathenry are also found on websites in Serbia. In
Russia, several far-right groups merge elements from Heathenry with
aspects adopted from
Slavic Native Faith
Slavic Native Faith and Russian Orthodox
Christianity. There are also several Heathens in the Israeli
Neopaganism in Romania
Ásatrú Scouting and Guiding
Common Germanic deities
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