This summer a prisoner in Virginia, Michael Lenz, was executed for murdering a fellow inmate in the name of Asatru, his adopted religion. Though most adherents of the pre-Christian, earth- and heritage-based faith are honorable, law-abiding citizens who don't advocate random violence, a small (about five percent) but media-magnetic group of them are white supremacists, many of them prisoners. Asatruar worship a pantheon of Norse gods like Odin and Thor and goddesses like Freya and Idun.
The warrior archetype is honored, but in no way defines the religion, says Stephen McNallen, 57, founder of the Asatru Folk Assembly, a leading Asatru group. McNallen recently set the Asatru record straight, speaking to Beliefnet from his California home about respecting our ancestors, balancing the warrior with the Mother, and how he starts everyday with a pot of tea and a well-fed cat in his lap.
What does "Asatru" mean?
I usually say that Asatru means, "Those true to the gods" or "The belief in the gods."
How would you sum up the core beliefs of Asatru?
Well, people are going to give you different answers on that. I believe that the core of Asatru comes down to about three or four main points. First, we are related to the holy powers [gods and goddesses], and our task is to evolve to become more like them. Second, we are specially connected to our ancestors, to our living kin, and to our descendants yet to come—the family line is a continuity that transcends time and space, and even mortality. Third, by leading lives of power and wisdom, we evolve to a higher level and this evolution gives us more choices in regards to an afterlife. And finally, the way of our ancestors is the best way for us, because we are the representatives of those ancestors in this little slice of space and time. Full Story