The God/esses of the Troth
The Elder Troth gives worship to a great many gods and goddesses. The ways in which we do this, and the ways in which we see them, are very different from the ways of the Abrahamic religions. To us, the god/esses are our eldest kinfolk, to whom we give the greatest love and respect, but before whom we do not kneel or bow. Our aim is to come to know them better and better and to live together with them - to become one again with the clan from which we have been long sundered. As we are descended, both in soul and body, from them, their might also shows itself forth in us.
The god/esses themselves stem from two great kins: the Ases (Æsir) and the Wans (Vanir). The differences between them have often been simplified by attributing war and thought to the Ases, peace, nature, and fruitfulness to the Wans. As a close look at the god/esses themselves will show, this is not strictly true: Fro Ing and the Frowe both have strong battle-aspects, for instance, while Thonar is, among other things, very much a nature-god, and most of the god/esses have some ties to earthly fruitfulness. The difference between the Ases and the Wans seems to be more one of character and element: the Wans are firstly deities of earth and water, the Ases of fire and air - though even here there is a great deal of overlap. The best-known of the Ases are Wodan, Frija, Thonar, Sif, and Tiw; the only Wans who we know by name are Njördhr, Nerthus, Fro Ing (Freyr) and the Frowe (Freyja). At one time, the Ases and the Wans made war, but neither side could overcome the other in battle. A truce was settled and hostages exchanged: the etin Mímir and Wodan's brother Hoenir went to dwell among the Wans, and Njördhr and Fro Ing came to live with the Ases, where, according to Snorri Sturluson's Ynglinga saga, they held a special position as priests, and the Frowe as a priestess.
Some folk of the Troth also set great store by Georges Dumézil's theory of an Indo-European tripartite hierarchy reflected both in the god/esses and the society of Germanic folk. According to this theory, there are three "functions": Ruler (magician, priest, judge), Warrior, and Provider. Wodan and Tiw are the gods of rulership as magician-king and judge-king respectively; Thonar is the god of warriors, and the Wans are the deities of peasant-farmers; Edred Thorsson explains that the hierarchy "must be arranged in just this way: sovereignty must rule over force, and generation must serve the interests of the whole again under the direction of sovereignty. The king commands the warrior, and the farmer, or worker, provides for all" (A Book of Troth, p. 72). It is undoubtedly true that the three great things, consciousness, strength, and fruitfulness are needful to everyone; and that the Northerners, like all folks who speak the Indo-European languages (and many who don't), use threefold divisions for the mightiest things of religion and magic. Many folk feel that this tripartite structure is particularly good for designing rituals, as well, especially since we know that Óðinn, Þórr, and Freyr were the three gods most favoured in the Viking Age: a well-formed general rite (as opposed to one for a specific deity or purpose) should probably at least name all three (and the corresponding goddesses), and bring in the three functions in some way.
However, among the Germanic folk, a ruler was expected to bring fruitfulness to the land, every free person was supposed to be able to be a warrior at need, and the sovereign gifts of magic and skaldcraft cropped up as often among the ordinary folk (especially the free farmers of Iceland, who were well known to be the best poets of the Viking Age) as among the kin of kings. Nor, as we see by looking at the being of the god/esses themselves, can any of them be limited to a single primary function. The Wanic Fro Ing, for instance, is equal to Wodan as a god of kingship (first function) and appears, together with his father Njörðr, most often of all the gods in the priestly role (first function); while Thonar, though himself a mighty warder who often does battle, was almost never called on as a battle-god. As far as the practising of the Elder Troth is concerned, we have many more references to Thonar as a god of hallowing (the priestly first function) than as a patron of warriors. Wodan himself was the chief battle-god (second function) of the Germanic peoples at least from the Iron Age onward; and his original function, as discussed later, was probably that of death-god - a role which, though enfolding aspects of all three Dumézilian functions, has no clear place anywhere in the tripartite system. Although Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda places a great deal of emphasis on Óðinn as the ruler of the pantheon, the sources we have describing Viking Age religion show that the god who was seen as highest varied from place to place and tribe to tribe, (as Freyr was particularly worshipped among the Swedes, for example) while Þórr was most generally the chief god in the Norse hofs. There is no evidence in any source older than Snorri, who was writing two hundred years after the conversion of Iceland, that any one Germanic deity was ever seen as having authority over any of the others. In short, for the Dumézilian system to stand up within Germanic religion, one must pass over all descriptions of the practise and history of the elder troth in favour of the latest and most literary descriptions of it.
The tripartite system also ignores two important classes of folk: the crafters, who are sometimes classed as "third function providers" but who, especially as smiths, were thought to have magical powers; and the marginal figures of the thrall and the outlaw. For those who like neat patterns, Dan O'Halloran suggests an alternative five-fold system: First Function = soverignty/authority; Second Function = lore and crafters; Third Function = warrior; Fourth Function = farmer/provider; Fifth Function = thrall/outlaw. O'Halloran cautions against associating any one god with any one function, however, pointing out that each of the gods shows attributes of all levels of society (Wodan even appears in the fifth function as an otherworldly outlaw). In general, it is not the way of the Germanic folk to hierarchize and separate, but rather to see the needful things of life (such as rulership/magic/spirituality, strength, and fruitfulness) in a more holistic way, as a single weave of might. Nevertheless, there are many who have found the threefold model powerful for ritual and belief, so it cannot be set aside too lightly, although careful consideration of the god/esses (and of early Germanic society) would suggest that sticking too closely to structuralist literalism may not be greatly helpful in understanding the souls and thought of our forebears and the holy ones we worship; indeed, inasmuch as a strict Dumézilian view requires ignoring large amounts of data about our ancestors' beliefs and knowledge of the god/esses, it may actually do injury to the effort to bring back the old ways.
In regards to the being of the god/esses themselves, there are also different views within the Troth. A few choose to see them as Jungian archetypes, or as ideal embodiments of various aspects of our souls. Most folk of the Troth, however, know the god/esses as real and mighty beings, as free-standing and individually aware as we are (or more so!) who work their wills upon the Middle-Garth in different ways and whose might is with us in all that we do. Likewise, most folk of the Troth are sure that the god/esses came into being before we did. They are mightier than we are (though not omnipotent), wiser than we are (though not omniscient), and probably more complex of character than we are. Although they are greater than we, however, there is no doubt that we are (or can be, if we are honourable and strong) worthy of them, in much the same way as children can be worthy of great parents and grandparents; indeed, there are many stories from the old days which tell how gods (especially Wodan and Fro Ing) fathered human dynasties, and the Jarls of Hlaðir, who warded Norway against christianity for a long time, were said in Háleygjatal to be born of Óðinn and Skaði. Thus the worship we give our god/esses is not a matter of moaning about their highness and our lowness, but literally "worth-ship": we honour them for what they are and have given us, and seek to bring forth that in ourselves which mirrors them.
There is surely much knowledge about the god/esses that has been lost to humans over time, and much more that is yet to be found. Their own beings do not change, but different sides of what they are tend to come out at different times. Tiw, for instance, was best known as the great Sky-Father in earliest days, but in the Iron Age, he seems to have been called on most as a god of battle, and in the Viking Age he was known as "ruler at the Thing (judicial assembly)" (Old Icelandic Rune-Poem). They also take note of changes in the world: lately, guns have been brought forth at rites for the blessings of Tiw, and the computer on which this book was edited has been hallowed to Wodan many times, with a little mead spilled to Loki to keep his glitches out of it.
As to what the god/esses are and where they came from: the Eddic poems Völuspá and Vafþrúðnismál, and Snorri's Prose Edda tell of the birth of Óðinn and his brothers, and of the making of the worlds. We also know from the Norse sources that some of the gods, such as Thonar and Balder, are Wodan's children; while other deities, such as Skaði, Gerðr, and Loki, are etins who were adopted into the ætt (clan) of the Ases by the rites of marriage (the two goddesses) and blood-brotherhood (Loki). But there are many of the god/esses about whose kin and roots the lore of our forebears tells us little or nothing: for instance, there is no tale of the birth of the Wanic kind; Snorri clearly says that nothing is known of Sif's kin; and Frija's ætt is known only by the name of her father Fjörgynn. Those who know these deities well, and think on them often, may find their own answers in the course of time; but most folk are content to accept and love them as they are.
On an earthly level, as the chapters on our folk's history suggest, it is possible to trace some of the roots of our forebears' understanding of some of the god/esses, and to see how we came to know them as we do. To some degree, it is sure that the Troth is, and always has been a nature-religion: Thonar's name simply means "Thunder", and his mother is the living Earth; we hear Wodan's voice in the storm-wind and see Sif's hair in the ripe fields, the brightness of Wulþur's (Ullr's) arrows in the Northern Lights. This should not be taken as meaning that the god/esses are mere personifications of natural forces, as was often suggested in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: rather, this world shows forth their great soul-might in everything about its shaping, and should therefore be treated with the worship and love that we give to our elder kin. Other things have also played a part in the growth of our understanding of our god/esses, however. The love and worship of our ancestors has been one of the strongest elements in the religions of the North from the Stone Age onward, and several of our deities (especially Wodan, Fro Ing, and the Frowe) have very close ties to those of our forebears who still watch and care for their living kin. As our ancestors learned new skills and new lore, these also widened their awareness of the god/esses and their works: for instance, Wodan was surely known long before the spread of the runes to the North, and the first artistic models for the Gotlandic picture-stones with their horse-and-rider motif also came from other lands, but these things gave our forebears yet another a means to show forth what they already knew of our god/esses. For this reason, the question of anachronism is not a matter to be thought of in the workings of the Troth. If we were a group dedicated to pure historical re-creation, you would not be able to scratch an inscription in runes from the Elder Futhark (ca. 0-700 C.E.) on a reproduction of a tenth-century Þórr's Hammer; but to us, the god/esses are one from their eldest roots to this very day, so that we may yet see Bronze Age lurhorns blown before a Troth hof built after the model of those twelfth-century Norwegian stave-churches which were probably based on heathen holy architecture.
The god/esses themselves appear in many shapes to us, which are not bound by time as we see it. Unlike some Pagan religions, which have different deities (or major deity-aspects) for different times of life, such as the Maiden, Mother, and Crone of Wicca, we see our god/esses as coming forth simply according to need and how they are called. Thus, all of them have youthful aspects and old aspects. The same goddess can, like Skaði, be the Warrior Maiden and the mother of a dynasty; the same god can, like Wodan, be the brave young adventurer and World-maker and the wise and sorrowful old father. Some folk find their favoured deities shifting with changes in their own lives, as an unmarried maid might pass from Gefjon's patronage to Frija's at marriage; others see their own changes and growth in newly found sides of their beloved god/esses. It is not that the god/esses themselves change: it is rather that their being is and has always been a single wholeness, but humans find them easier to know by looking at their various aspects and the ways in which they come forth in different situations.
Usually Troth folk give some worship to all the god/esses, though how strongly and how often varies widely. It is not uncommon to find those whose interest is divided by godly ætts, so that together with the usual term "Ásatrú" (trust in the Ases), we often now see folk who call themselves followers of the "Vanatrú" (trust in the Wans). Generally, it is not good to seek out one godly kindred and never give the other a thought; however, there are many who think that (so long as all the god/esses are duly respected), one may be able to learn more by concentrating on the kindred that is closest to one. And it is surely true that, just as in the elder days, most folk find in time that there is a single god or goddess who calls strongly to their own souls. The Old Norse word for this was fulltrúi (manly) or fulltrúa (womanly) - the one in whom you put your full trust/belief. In Eyrbyggja saga, Þórólfr Mosturskeggi is called a "great friend of Þórr" (ch. 3), and the god himself is called Þórólfr's ástvínr, 'beloved friend' (ch. 4): this, together with the understanding of the god/esses as our elder kin, shows more clearly than anything the Germanic view of the holy folk. From what the sagas show us of the relationship of the "beloved friends" to humans, we can see why each of the god/esses must be able in all ways: you may call upon other deities for blessing in many things, but for the chief things of life - whether they be fruitfulness and riches, wisdom, strength, love, or success in struggles - it is the god/dess who has chosen you who is likeliest to give at your need. Each of them does this in their own way, which not only matches the god/ess' being, but is best fitted to the soul of the chosen one. For instance, Thonar might help in a battle by strengthening your arm, Wodan by casting terror and war-fetter on your foe, Frija by warding you against all blows, and Fro Ing or the Frowe by giving you the fierce might of the battle-boar.
The basic relationship between god/esses and humans is one of gifts given by each to the other. They give us our lives, our awareness, and all that we need from the growing grain that feeds us to the highest wisdom of the soul; we give them love, worship, and the might of the blessings we make at the holy feasts of the year and whenever we speak their names or drink toasts to them. Grønbech says that "The worshipper went to his grove and to his god in search of strength, and he would not have to go in vain; but it was no use his constantly presenting himself as receptive, and quietly waiting to be filled with all good gifts. It was his business to make the gods human, in the old, profound sense of the word, where the emphasis lies on an identification and consequent conjunction of mind with soul". As we learn from the god/esses, they also learn from us; as they fill us with life and awareness, so do we give the same back to them. More: "(When someone) bloted - he made the gods great and strong...The gods who were much bloted were - according to Christian authors - worse to deal with than ordinary supernatural beings" (II, p. 209). The gift was always a deed of sharing, whether it happened in human life (as with the gifts of wedding or those given by drighten to thane) or between humans and god/esses. Grønbech comments that "The gift implies mingling of mind and life, communion and inspiration, and this reality is heightened in the relation to the gods. To own - eiga - implies vital connection between the owner and the thing, and the verb eigna means to transfer body and soul, as we might say, to make the conveyance real; thus gefa and eigna in a religious sense is identical with blóta" (III, p. 72). At the blessings of the Troth, both god/esses and humans are blessed!
A clear, straightforward expression of the way many (perhaps most) true folk see the god/esses of the North is put forth by Gamlinginn in his statement of troth, "Hér Stend Ek".
Here stand I - alone if necessary - for the things that I believe.
I believe that the Æsir and the Vanir are living Deities who came out of Ginnungagap before the beginning of time, and have ruled the Nine Worlds since then, and will rule them until Ragnarök - whether or not humans believe in them.
I believe that the Æsir and the Vanir are inherently good, and that they always support good and oppose evil, and that they always want all humans to do what is right.
I believe that the Æsir and the Vanir foster and value the individuality of each person, and that each person should be proud of what he or she inherently is - and that people should never look down on others, or themselves, for what they inherently are.
I believe that Faith in the Æsir and the Vanir constitutes the Religion of Ásatrú, which is separate from and not connected to any other religious faith (although it may be superficially similar in some respects), and that Ásatrú is my religion and my only religion.
I believe that, as an adherent of Ásatrú, I have a personal relationship with each and all of the Æsir and the Vanir, individually and collectively - that Frigg and Óðinn inspire me, that Týr and Zisa guide me, that Sif and Þórr protect me, and that Freyja and Freyr provide for me - and that all of the Gods and Goddesses are my friends.
I believe that every human on earth can and may have a similar personal relationship with all of the Æsir and the Vanir, individually and collectively, and has as much right as I do to be an adherent of Ásatrú, if he or she so chooses, and that Ásatrú is freely open to anyone who wants to accept it - regardless of gender, race, colour, ethnicity, national origin, language, sexual orientation, or other divisive criteria - and that no individual or group of individuals has the right to deny Ásatrú to anyone, or to try to force it onto anyone.
I believe that religious beliefs should always be of free choice, and that each person who chooses to adhere to Ásatrú should interpret it according to his or her own ideas, and that no individual or group of individuals ever has the right to try to make a person adhere to any religious ideas or beliefs against that person's will, or to try to harm those who do not agree with them, for any reason.
I believe that the Ásatrú Religion, guided by the great Gods of Ásgarð, provides the best Way of Life for all who choose to follow it, and that the Ásatrú Way of Life esteems: courage, honour, hospitality, independence (and liberty), individuality (with self-reliance and self-responsibility), industriousness (and perseverance), justice (including an innate sense of fairness and respect for others), loyalty (to family, friends, and the society of which one is a part), truthfulness, and a willingness to stand up for and do what is right.
I believe that when I die my Spirit will live on in Ásgarð, if I have earned it, in the company of all of the Æsir and the Vanir - so help me Týr and Zisa.
William Bainbridge, Elder
Dan O'Halloran, Elder-in-Training