The Swedish Asatru Assembly
By Henrik Hallgren
This article is based on a lecture, given at the 2nd International Conference and Gathering of Elders -- "Spirituality Beyond Religions -- 2006" -- 5th to 10th February 2006 at Jaipur, India.
It is a great honour to be here together with you all and participate in this conference. My name is Henrik Hallgren and I am Chairman in a religious organisation in Sweden called The Swedish Asatru Assembly. We try to develop and recreate a religious life based in the old preChristian spiritual traditions in Scandinavia that are often called Asatru. However, the fact is that many of us do not call ourselves Asatru at all, but prefer to say that we practise the Forn Sed or simply just Sed. The designation Sed can be translated as "custom". Sed refers to the old spiritual customs, traditions and practises that our ancestors lived by for thousands of years before Christianity came. Even after Christianity became dominant, the old traditions and beliefs continued to live under the surface in folk traditions and folklore up until the present day. We have many traces of the old religion left in Sweden; in place-names, old burial areas and other ceremonial grounds, in popular public holidays that celebrate the turning of the seasons, or in feasts such as Jul (Or Christmas as most of you may know it) when we give offerings to the local spirit called Tomten. The days of the week also hold memories of our faith, every weekday has its name from the old Gods. Wednesday or Onsdag comes from the God Odin. Thursday or Torsdag from the God Tor, Friday from the Goddess Frigga, and so on. The fact that these names of the week were incorporated in the English language during the Viking age when the Vikings settled in Britain, has led to the situation that our old Scandinavian Gods are called by their names every day, all over the world, even so far away from Sweden as here in India.
about our spiritual tradition as a "custom" rather than a religious
belief is rather telling. We do not have theories or "theology" so much
in focus. Seden is an earth-bound spirituality. Its focus lies in
everyday life, in constant dialogue and co-operation with the Gods and
the spirits of nature. Seden is about the profound powers in the
universe. It is about the fruitfulness of the earth, the wheel of the
year and the flowering of all life. In the industrialised societies we
often forget about the life-giving earth. These societies have come to
believe that it is the machines or the illusion of money that creates
wealth. Seden takes us back to the profound truths that all life and all
wealth has its origin in nature and the bountiful earth.
religions the Scandinavian tradition has its sacred stories. Stories
that tell us about creation and endings, and about the powers that
animate the world and the human soul. Nowadays most people in Sweden see
these stories as nothing else than just entertainment. And indeed: The
stories and myths are often very funny! The Gods are humorously
presented as entities with all the weakness and shortcomings that are
typical of human beings. But it is a pity to just leave the stories
there: as mere entertainment.
But this is not to say that the Giants are evil. They are not. The powers of the Giants are necessary for the world to continue to exist. They are part of the balance. In the myths the world is always in a state of conflict. It is in the battles between the Gods and the Giants and in the sexual parings between the Gods and the Giantesses, that the dynamics of life can emerge. The Gods created and uphold the order of the world, but in this order even the Giants and other hostile creatures have their place. But it is important that these forces of conflict, these dangerous powers do not rampage freely, for they are just a part of a wider sacred context.
As important as it is with a balance between Gods and Giants, so it is between the male and the female Gods. They are all needed for the world to continue to exist. In the old book, Eddan, its author Snorre Sturlasson notes that the goddesses are as many and as powerful as the Gods. This is a fundamental aspect of our religion, we believe in a balance between conflicting forces of creation and destruction as well as a balance in the roles of gender, male and female.
ritual in our tradition is called Blot, which is directly related to the
English word Blessing. The word may also be connected to the same root
as the Indian word "Brahman". Other scholars believe that the word Blot
has an origin in the Indo-european word "Bhle" which meant "to increase"
or even; "to strengthen". And this is actually what a Blot is about. In
the Blot we co-operate with the Gods and the spirits in strengthening
Peace and the Good life. We participate in strengthening the balance and
harmony of the universe as well as within ourselves in a symbolic and a
spiritual way. We also strengthen our connections to each other, to our
fellow human beings, to nature and to the Gods. It is in the Blot that
we experience our deepest communion with the Gods and the spirits of
nature. We share food and an alcoholic beverage called mead together
with the Gods in a mutual act of love, respect and faith.
organisation The Swedish Asatru Assembly has only existed for eleven
years, and so there is much we have to learn and much to develop. In
many cases the traditions of our spiritual heritage are broken and we
are forced to fill in the empty spaces ourselves. This is of course a
difficult task that requires great sensitivity and care, but I think it
is also a work that generates a great deal of creativity and openness
and outward thinking. Which in itself has brought me here today.