The religion now called Odinism is the indigenous tradition of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European peoples. Pre-Christian in origin, it shows Paleolithic characteristics (the Shamanistic tendencies of Odin and the “trickster” aspects of Loki) as well as Neolithic traits (the ‘honor and shame” nature of its warlike ethical system, which is common among pastoral nomads).
The successful spread of Christianity largely displaced Odinism in Europe in the medieval period. Lithuania, officially converted in 1386, was the last pagan stronghold in Europe, and pagan elements only lingered in underground movements, such as the Odin Brotherhood. Elsewhere, the Indo-European gods continued to be honored, but many in their Vedic form, within Hinduism. (Odin, as Priscilla Kershaw pointed out in The One-Eyed God, was honored as Rudra/Shiva , for example, and Thor was honored as Indra.)
Odinism experienced a revival in nineteenth-century Europe, through the work of individuals such as, Rasmus Andersson and Guido von List. Von List visited the crypt of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in 1862 (the site was a former pagan shrine), and swore an oath to build a temple to Wotan (the Germanic Odin).
Organized Germanic groups such as the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft emerged in Germany in the early 20th century. Although several early members of the Nazi Party were part of the Thule Society, a study group for German antiquity, after his rise to power, Adolf Hitler discouraged such pursuits, and Neopagan societies were even exposed to some amount of persecution, with at least one member of List's Armanenschaft killed in a concentration camp.
A second revival began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ásatrú was recognized as an official religion by the Icelandic government in 1973, largely due to the efforts of Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson.
At about the same time, Else Christensen began publishing "The Odinist" newsletter in Canada. In the United States, Stephen McNallen, a former U.S. Army officer, began publishing a newsletter titled "The Runestone". He also formed an organization called the Asatru Free Assembly, later renamed the Asatru Folk Assembly, which holds annual "Althing" meetings. These early societies went through a series of reformations and splits in 1987/88, resulting in the Asatru Alliance, an offshoot of the AFA headed by Valgard Murray, publisher of the "Vor Tru" newsletter and the Ring of Troth. In the United States, the most prevalent form of Odinist organization is in small groups called Kindreds, sometimes also known as a Hearths, Garths or Steads.
The Odinic Rite, organized by John Yeowell, was established in England in 1972, and in the 1990s expanded to include chapters in Germany (1995) , Australia (1995)  and North America (1997) . In the 1990's the Odinist Fellowship emerged as a separate group in the United Kingdom, led by Ralph Harrison.
In Canada, the work of E. Max Hyatt, the force behind Wodanesdag, has been significant.
In Italy, the Odinist Community (Comunità Odinista) was established in 1994.
In the 1990s and 2000s, a variety of Scandinavian associations and networks have formed. Swedish Asatrosamfund (since 1994), Norwegian Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost in Norway (1996) and Foreningen Forn Sed (1999), recognized by the Norwegian government as a religious society, allowing them to perform "legally binding civil ceremonies" (i. e. marriages), Danish Forn Siðr (1999) and Swedish Nätverket Gimle (2001), an informal community for individual Odinists, primarily living in Sweden with no connection to any formal organisation, and Nätverket Forn Sed (2004), a network consisting of local groups (blotlag) from all over the country. It was recently founded by members from other Forn Sed societies.
Since 1973 the governments of Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have officially recognized Odinism/Asatru.
A Brief Chronology
The History of Odinism and Asatru
1386 CE: Lithuania, the last pagan stronghold in Europe, is officially converted, but pagans linger.
1611 CE: Johannes Bureus of Sweden, advisor to King Gustavus Adolphus, begins drawing and interpreting Sweden’s runestones. Many have been lost and are only known to us through his drawings.
1622 CE: Ole Worm of Denmark collects reports on runestones and other antique monuments of Denmark and the Northern countries. Bureus and Worm may be thought of as the founders of modern runic studies.
1642 CE: Bishop Brynjólfur gifts the “Codex Regius” to King Frederick III. Afterwards, the Eddic poems began to be published and more widely known.
1790 CE: The Romantic movement inspired Germans and Scandinavians seeking their national identity in their own origins and resulted in much of the early literature being translated.
1818 CE: The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, publish their collection of fairy tales.
1844 CE: Jacob Grimm publishes Teutonic Mythology , a study of medieval Norse literature’s relation to Germanic folklore.
1845 CE: Charles W. Heckethorn describes an Odinist mystery cult, in his Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries
1862 CE:P Guido von List visited the crypt of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (the location of a former pagan shrine) and swore an oath to build a temple to Wotan.
1874 CE: The King of Denmark grants the people of Iceland freedom of religion.
1875 CE: The cathedral of Reykjavik, Iceland is the site of the first public Ásatrú Blót since 1000 CE.
1907 CE: German painter and writer Ludwig Fahrenkrog founds the Germanic Glaubens -Gemeinschaft (GGG), a German pagan group.
1933-1945 CE: During the NatSoc era, pagans face persecution by both the Axis and the Allies. Their groups are forbidden to meet, and some leaders are jailed.
1957 CE: In Australia, A. Rud Mills publishes a series of books on the elder religion.
1969 CE: Else Christensen establishes the Odinist Fellowship.
1972 CE: Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson founded the Ásatrúarfélagið of Iceland. In 1973, Ásatrú is accepted as one of the official religions of Iceland.
1973 CE: The Odinic Rite was also moving to gain acceptance in England.
1973 CE: Stephen McNallen founded the Ásatrú Free Assembly of America, establishing Ásatrú solidly as a re-created pagan religion.
1981 CE Ernesto García founded the Comunidad Odinista de España. Spain was the fourth country where Odinism was officially recognized as a legal religion.
1982CE: Certain members of the Odin Brotherhood decide to reveal some of the secrets of the movement.
1987CE: The Asatru Alliance is established by Michael J. Murray (Valgard Murray).
1992 CE: The Odin Brotherhood, a book by Mark Mirabello, is published.
1994 CE: The Comunità Odinista is established in Italy.
2004 CE: David Lane, a Wotanist, or extreme folkish pagan, writes KD Rebel, a novella describing radical Odinists fighting a guerrilla insurgency against a corrupt modern society.
2009 CE: Asatru and Odinist groups are now found throughout Europe, North America, South America, and Australia/New Zealand
Claims of Racism
Some associate Odinism with racist ideologies, citing some member's desire for separation of ethnic groups. Though not all Odinists espouse such beliefs, racial issues have been an underlying issue in both Odinism and Heathenry at large.
The Eddic poem Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress) reveals the mysteries of Odinist cosmology. According to the poem, between Muspelheim (The Land of Fire) and Niflheim (The Land of Ice) was an empty space called Ginnungigap. The fire and ice moved towards each other; when they collided, the universe came into being.
In order of creation, first were the giants, then the gods, and, finally, humankind.
Gods and Goddesses include:
- Odin (The most popular of the Gods, both in present time and the past, he values wisdom over all else, to the point of sacrificing his own eye for knowledge. He takes half those slain in battle to his hall to prepare for Ragnarök. Wednesday, or "Woden's Day", is named after him)
- Thor (Hot-tempered and mighty God of thunder. He is large and red-bearded, carrying a massive hammer named Mjolnir, which he throws at enemies, striking them with lightning. Thursday, or "Thor's Day" is named after him)
- Tyr (Brave God of war who risked and lost his hand so the Gods could bind the fearsome wolf Fenrir. Once was the most pularly worshiped God until he was overtaken by Odin. Tuesday, or "Tyr's Day" is named after him)
- Baldr (Also commonly known as Balder, he was Odins son and heir. He was loved by all and perfect in every way for his beautiful appearance, wisdom, and gracious matter. It was said that none could question his judgements. He was killed as a result of the treachery of Loki, but will return at the end of the world)
- Freyja (Goddess of love, fertility, sex, attraction and war. Daughter of Njord. Because of this list of attributes, she's largely considered the most popular of the goddesses of the Norse pantheon. She is also referred to as the queen of the elves and the leader of the Valkyries, and she takes one-half of those slain in battle to her hall, putting her on equal footing to Odin in this regard.)
- Vidar (Another son of Odin, he is the God of Silence and Revenge. It is his destiny to revenge his father by slaying Fenrir, either by stepping on the beast-wolf's lower jaw and tearing him by the mouth with his raw power, or by using his sword against the heart of the wolf)
- Bragi (Another son of Odin, he is The God of poetry. A large part of his history is largely unavailable in modern times, however, it is known that he was very gifted in speech and storytelling, so much so that an eloquent person would be called a bragr-man or -woman)
- Heimdall (The guardian and god of light. He is the son of nine different mothers. His keen senses allow him to hear the grass grow and to see to the end of the world. He guards bifrost, the rainbow bridge to Asgard, ready to blow in his horn when danger approaches.)
- Frigg (Goddess of marriage, motherhood and household management. According to Odin, "Only Frigg knows the future, but discloses it to no one." She is the wife of Odin, mother of Baldr and sister of Njord. Friday, or "Frigg's Day" is named for her.)
- Sif (The wife of Thor, her golden hair grows in like normal natural hair, but was actually created by Dwarves. As a prank, Loki cut her hair off, which angered Thor; he made Loki promise to replace it, which he managed to do with the help of the Dwarf Dvalin)
- Njord (God of the fertile lands on the seacoast, as well as seamanship and sailing. He is a Vanir, a different kind of god than the Asir, and is the father of Freyr and Freyja.)
- Freyr (God of Fertility, Peace and Pleasure. Son of Njord. He falls in love with a beautiful giantess, and gave his sword, which was so well-constructed that it fought by itself, in order to convince his foot-page, Skírnir, to romance the giantess for him. This decision will have dire consequences at the Battle of Ragnarök, when Freyr will be defeated by Surt)
- Idun (Goddess of Youth and wife of Bragi. She keeps the gods young by giving them magic apples that extend their lives. Without these apples, the Gods, Aesir and Vanir alike, would age, wither and die as normal humans do.)
Other Important Entities include:
- Loki (A mischievous entity who likes to play tricks on the gods, he is frost giant by birth. Loki was a source of constant angst for the gods. His habitual trouble making landed him in some rough spots. Conversely, Loki was also a great deal of help to the gods on numerous occasions. It was Loki after all who brought several important artifacts to Asgard (including Mjollnir and Draupnir). As a result of his treacherous acts that lead to the death of Baldr, he was bound to a rock. He will lead the armies of Jotun (giants) against the gods in Ragnarök, the Final Battle.)
- Fenrir (A monstrous wolf that is the son of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. Fenrir has two sons of his own, Hati and Skoll, who constantly chase the horses that move the sun across the sky, as well as pursuing the Moon. He is bound to a rock by Gleipnir a ribbon made of the sound of a cat's footsteps, a woman's beard, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, and a bird's spittle. The binding of Fenrir cost Tyr his hand. At the battle of Ragnarök, he will break loose and devour Odin, but will be slain by Vidar.)
- Skaði (A mountain giant who married Njord. The marriage wasn't happy, as both were completely different, so they separated.)
Ethics and Afterlife
In terms of ethics, members are taught to be "brave and generous." Modern Odinists model their life according to the Nine Noble Virtues."
- Self Reliance
- Strength is better than weakness
- Courage is better than cowardice
- Joy is better than guilt
- Honour is better than dishonour
- Freedom is better than slavery
- Kinship is better than alienation
- Realism is better than dogmatism
- Vigor is better than lifelessness
- Ancestry is better than universalism
The Odin Brotherhood teaches "strength over weakness, pride over humility, and knowledge over faith." Members honor the gods by fostering "thought, courage, honor, light, and beauty."
The Odinist afterlife has several destination, depending on how one has lived (and died). The most esteemed go to Valhalla, brought there by warrior maidens called Valkyries.
Osred, an Australian Odinist, has written an article on Odinist beliefs about Life After Death.
Some Rites of Odinism
- Blót is the term for the historical Norse sacrifice in honour of the gods. Odinist blóts are often celebrated outdoors. Food and drink may be offered, and most of this will be consumed by the participants.
- Sumbel (also spelled symbel) is a Norse drinking rite in which an intoxicating drink (usually mead or ale) is passed around an assembled table. At each passing of the drink, participants make a short speech, a toast, and an oath. Oaths made during this rite are considered binding upon the individuals making them.
- Berserkergangr is a form of religious ecstasy, associated with Odin, a god of war, magic, and poetry.
- Reading the Runes. Tacitus, in Germania, describes how the ancient Germans cut branches from a fruit-bearing tree, and marked the branches with symbols, called runes. Calling upon the gods, the practitioner casts the branches randomly on a white cloth. New-Age Asatru use the runes as a method of divination. More traditional practitioners, such as the members of the Odin Brotherhood, claim the runes are connected with magic, but only indirectly with prophecy. Members of the Odin Brotherhood use the runes not to tell the future, but to summon a dead person so that he will reveal the future. That is how Odin himself uses the runes in as in Havamal, verse 156.
Distribution of adherents
Today, Odinism is practiced primarily in Scandinavia, Germany, Britain, North America and Australia/New Zealand. Small communities are also found in many other countries, including Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Portugal, Poland, and Russia. Active groups are also found in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Venezuela.
Exact numbers are unknown, but there are several thousand followers in the modern world.
Chadwick, H. M. The Cult of Othin. Cambridge, 1899.
Coulter, James Hjuka. Germanic Heathenry. 2003. ISBN 1410765857
Gundarsson, Kvedulf. Our Troth. 2006. ISBN 1419635980
Hollander, Lee M. The Poetic Edda. Austin, 1986. ISBN 0292764995
Mirabello, Mark. The Odin Brotherhood. 5th edition. Oxford, England, 2003. ISBN 1869928717
Mortensen, Karl. A Handbook of Norse Mythology. 2003. ISBN 048643219X
Paxson, Diana L. Essential Asatru. 2006. ISBN 0806527080
Puryear, Mark. The Nature of Asatru. 2006. ISBN 0595389643
Shetler, Greg. Living Asatru. 2003. ISBN 1591099110
Storyteller, Ragnar. Odin's Return. Payson,Arizona, 1995. (pdf. file of a novella based on the Odin Brotherhood story)
Sturluson, Snorri. Ynglinga Saga.
Sturluson, Snorri. Prose Edda. Mineola, New York, 2006. ISBN 0486451518
This Is Odinism. 1974. ISBN 095046130X
Yeowell, John. Book of Blots. 1991. ISBN 0950461350
Podcasts on Odinism/Asatru
Articles of Interest
List of Some Odinist/Asatru Organizations in the World
- Eastern Europe
- Iceland / Scandinavia
- North America
- Círculo Odinista Español
- Circulo Odinista Europeo.(since 1981.)
- Gotland Forn Sed (since 1994)
- Fairneis Anafilh - Iberian Forn Sed
- Clan Falkon Galicia Alianza del Aguila Visigoda España
- Foro Clan Falkon Foro sobre Odinismo Visigoth en España
- Alianza del Aguila Visigoda en Barcelona
- Alianza del Aguila Visigoda en Asturias
- South America