A Question that is often asked of me is, “Where do I start studying about Asatru?”
Asatru is the religion with homework! It’s not necessary to be a scholar and study dusty old tomes and pick up Old High German, and Icelandic along with Old Norse… but it helps!
For most people a really good place to start is reading the source material (the “sacred” texts as it were) for yourself. Of course, we have no “sacred” texts and I say that partially tongue in cheek, but we do have some source material that everything else is built around.
You will want to start your exploration of Asatru by reading the Eddas, including the Voluspa, and the Havamal. The Voluspa and the Havamal are just two of many poems that are sometimes included under the same cover, and referred to as just The Eddas. These are a collection of poems spoken in Old Norse and translated now from Icelandic to English. These poems were recited by skalds as an oral tradition for many generations before ever being put in written form. In their original form this poetry alliterated, rather than rhymed, called Alliterative Verse. The first consonants sounds were similar, rather than the ending vowels rhyming.
For a simple example:
Olaf’s sick hate heated a horn
The serpent slid down Hero’s stomach it struck
The martyr died a messy death.
Now imagine translating that verse to another language so that all poetic elements, including the alliteration are lost.
Some translators have tried to keep the poetic “feel” such as Lee M. Hollander, whereas some translators have felt the poetic feel was not as important as accurately conveying the ideas and have translated the Eddas into a prose form that is easier for some people to read. Look to Snorri Sturlson for a good Prose Edda.
Edda: Hollander Translation: http://www.amazon.com/Poetic-Edda-Saemundar/dp/0292764995
Edda: Snorri Translation: http://www.amazon.com/Edda-Everymans-Library-Snorri-Sturluson/dp/0460876163/ref=pd_sim_b_2
After reading the Eddas, you would next want to read some of the Lays and Sagas. The Lays and Sagas are stories about our ancestors that will put their lives in context for you to better understand the Eddas that you previously read! Well, that’s the theory. The sagas are “based” on history, with scholars divided as to just how historically accurate they really are.
After all of this reading, you are now ready to start reading about what other people think and what they have done with the religion during modern times. Perhaps a Book of Troth by Edred Thorsson, or Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson, or maybe The Elder Troth by Kveldulf Gundarsson. And eventually you will want to read them all. Just remember that many times these are people’s OPINIONS about what our ancestors meant and thought and how they viewed the gods and what they did to honor the gods. Sometimes we have a pretty good idea because there are historic accounts for us to refer to, but other times we are having to kind of fill-in-the-blank a bit with some educated guesswork! Make sure you know which opinion is probably pretty factually based, and which ones involve more creative thinking!
At this point you’re ready to go back and re-read all the Eddic poetry you can get a hold of, and finish reading any lays or sagas that you previously skipped.
Now, some 30+ odd poems and books later you are nominally educated on Asatru and ready to start discussions around the fire with the Elders in the kindred!
Next on your list will be to learn Icelandic so that you can read some of the original Old Norse and not have to rely on Translators for your source materials!
Welcome to Asatru.. The religion with homework!