Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon Heathen Terms and Concepts


The following definitions are some of the more important and commonly-encountered terms and concepts within Norse and “Germanic” Heathenry. This is not a complete list, and shall be continually updated and amended.



Alsherjargodhi – High Priest, more commonly referred to as an elder. Historically, only someone in the Heathen community who had attained the greatest of respects could occupy this esteemed office of religious and public service.

Althing — The national parliament or “general assembly” of Iceland. Founded in 930 CE, it is the oldest parliamentary system in the world.

Some Modern Heathen groups have appropriated this term to refer to any large inter-regional, national, or international religious convention of Heathens.

Ancestor Veneration— A practice of importance to most Heathen religions and individual practitioners. Practitioners pray and offer to their deceased loved ones for various forms of intercession. It is based on the belief that the dead maintain a continued existence in a “next life,” and have the ability to give counsel to the living and influence the luck of their families.

Ancestors are not necessarily blood-related. Biological ancestors are not the only dead a person may venerate. Adopted persons, and those who have been disowned or have otherwise renounced their biological families, tend to revere the ancestors of their adopted family.

Ásatrú — A term comprised of the Old Norse words Ása, referring to the Norse gods, and trú, “troth” or “faith”. Thus, Ásatrú means “religion of the Æsir.” The term was coined by Edvard Grieg in his 1870 opera Olaf Tryggvason, in the context of 19th century romantic nationalism.

It is a term that describes one of many revival Heathen religious movements.

Ásatrú, the Modern attempt to revive the old Norse faith, was founded by the Icelandic farmer Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson (1924–1993). Beinteinsson was a sheep farmer and a priest in the religion, who published a book of rímur (Icelandic rhymed epic poetry) in 1945. In 1972, he petitioned the Icelandic government to recognize the Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið,or Icelandic fellowship of Æsir faith, as a religious body. It did so in 1973, and Denmark and Norway have since followed.

Barrow — A traditional tumulus, or burial mound. Historically, barrows were the preferred method of Viking burial, despite popular Modern belief. From the barrow, interred ancestors were believed to remain to offer spiritual guidance to their descendents. Not all dead were benevolent, though, and some dead became haugbui, or malevolent undead living on in their tombs. For more information on Norse ghosts and undead, please consult  The Viking Answer Lady.

Blót — Ritual slaughter of a livestock animal. Blót for all intents and purposes translates to “blood,” which in Heathen religions is one of the most sacred of fluids. A blót  is usually performed outdoors, in nature, and is a formal, communal occasion. Food and drink may be offered at a blót, during a special feast called a husel, where the sacrificial animal is consumed by the participants. Some of the drink will be poured out onto the soil as a libation for the Gods, etc. A blót is often performed in honor of the Gods, or a prominent guest, or during very special occasions, such as a wedding.

The blood from the sacrificial animal is collected in a bowl, called a hlautbolli. This blood is referred to as hlaut. Boughs, branches, short brooms, or brushes, referred to as hlautstaves, are dipped in this blood. Altars and temple walls, both outside and inside, are sprinkled over with the sacral blood using hlautstaves. Practitioners can also be anointed with this blood.

Faining — From Old English fægen, akin to Old Norse feginn, meaning “glad,” or “joyful.” To fain means to celebrate. It is an alternative term for blót.  Faining can also refer to the act (sóa)of sinking, burning, or breaking votive offerings to the Gods or other spirits.

Folkish — Any form or sect of strictly Conservative Heathenry that maintains the necessity of European (“White”) ancestry in order to worship European (“White”) Gods. Many Folkish groups are either overtly racist, or maintain constituencies that are largely comprised of racist individuals.

In direct contrast to their actions and beliefs, they publicly deny allegations of racism, however. They claim that they are merely suggesting that all races return to their respective “cultural wells.” They believe people of African ancestry should practice African religions and not pursue Northern European religion, while those of European descent should worship European Gods, and so on.

“Non-Whites” are usually not allowed to, or are treated poorly at, Folkish Heathen events.

Frith — Certainly one of the more complicated terms within Modern Heathenry.  It holds varying meaning for historical Northern European cultures, but all portray a sense of “peace” and “sanctuary.” It is not about “being nice,” by shying away from controversy and having dissidents keep their heads down and mouths shut. Disagreements are not a violation of Frith. Rather, Frith is about maintaining equitable order within a community, and providing equal protection and equal voice to all who belong to that kindred/community in a lawful manner.

In terms of Anglo-Saxon and post-Anglo-Saxon culture, the term has a considerably broader scope and meaning. Frith has a great deal to do not only with the state of peace, but also with the nature of social relationships, and the laws which protect and enforce the desired state of order.

The word friþgeard, meaning “asylum, sanctuary,” was used for sacred areas — specifically any consecrated area given over to the worship of the Gods.

The friþgild literally, “peacekeepers” — was a group of men within an Anglo-Saxon community charged with the task of maintaining order and enforcing the law. They were the antecedents of the Medieval watch, and Modern policemen.

Frith is historically used within the context of fealty and vassalage, as an expression of the”feudal” relationship between a lord and his people.

For additional insight on the meaning of Frith, please visit http://www.englatheod.org/frith.htm

Fulltrúi— An Icelandic word meaning “attorney, dean, delegate, deputy, lawyer, lieutenant, representative.”

In a Heathen context, it refers to devotee-to-deity relationships. Heathenism, generally speaking, does not entertain the notion of “Patron/Matron deities” in the sense that some other Modern Pagan and Polytheist religions do.

Not all deity relationships go “both ways.” There is not always a guarantee that the God an individual pays closest attention to chose that individual in the first place. To say that a particular God is one’s fulltrúi is to explain that one is devoted to a particular God, but that particular God may not be responding to that devotee in a “Patronly/Matronly” fashion.

Galdr —  An Old Norse term meaning  “incantation.” The ON verb “gala” means “to crow.” It later came to mean magic in general. Runegaldr is a form of verbally-based magic (galdr) incorporating the articulation of the runes.

Godspouse — Godspousery is a highly convoluted, controversial topic, particularly within Heathen religions. Strict Reconstructionist forms of Heathenry tend to reject its practice wholesale.

Not quite the same as Catholic nuns who are “married to Christ,” or highest-of-the-high of the priestesses of Amun who bore the title “God’s Wife of Amun,” Modern Heathen Godspouses are persons who share very deep, personal, intimate relationships with their deity, outside of an ordered, orthodox ecclesiastical setting of any kind. Some Godspouses act in a priestly capacity, but not all do. These relationships vary greatly from individual to individual.

Being a Godspouse does not always mean that said Godspouse is celibate, in regard to romantic or sexual interaction with other people.

Hallow — To make sacred; to consecrate; to purify for ritual use.

Hammersettnung – To hallow a place of special important/need. Commonly seen in ON as “Hamarr, helga ve thetta ok hindra alla illska,” meaning “Hammer, hallow this sacred place and hinder the entry of all evil things.”

Hóf — A temple. Temples may or may not be erected within a  vé (ON) or wēoh (AS/OE) — that is, a sacred enclosure, or sanctified land.

Innangarth Literally, “inner-yard.” This is a Tribalist Heathen term which refers to a kindred’s, or conglomeration of local kindreds’, membership and established rules.

Irminsul— Not much is known about the history of the Irminsul. We do know, however, that it was a symbol sacred to Continental European tribes native to the coastal parts of the Netherlands and Germany, and the North German Plain. Namely, the Frisians and Saxons, respectively. It is thought to represent a sacred pillar or tree, and to be the Continental version of Yggdrasil, and thus is sometimes associated with Wotan (similar to ON Odin). Irmin is thought to be an alternative name for the Continental European God Tîwaz (similar to ON Tyr), and so the Irminsul is popularly held to be a symbol of Tîwaz.

Kin — Blood relatives.

Kindred — An individual group of Heathens, similar to a community church. More than one kindred may exist in any given area. Not all kindreds belong to the same Heathen religions, or practice together, or attend things or moots (assemblies/”get-togethers”). A kindred may consist of one’s own family and friends within the faith, or it may have more open membership. The members of a kindred perform rituals together, study together, socialize, and often act as extended family toward one-another.

Kith – Those related by oath, or by marriage, not blood.

Lore— The small, incomplete textual corpus mostly dating from the (Christian) Medieval Period, the sum of which makes up the bulk of Norse myth and Modern understandings of Heathen religious belief. Modern academic works concerning pre-Christian Continental European and Scandinavian religion and society are also considered part of this textual corpus.

“Lore” is not a term exclusive to Heathenry, however. “Lore” can refer to any body of works that make up the basis of belief and practice for any religion.

Myne – A toast of remembrance.

Reconstruction(-ism, -ist)— Forms of Heathenry which maintain strict adherence to historical ritual form and dogmatic interpretations of “the lore.” Reconstructionists desire the most historically-accurate practice of pre-Christian religion humanly possible in the Modern Age. Generally, “Recons” show varying degrees of contempt for other practitioners’ UPG. If they have any UPG of their own, they typically keep it to themselves.

Among Norse and Continental European Reconstructionists, there is a general trend of over-reliance upon “secondary source” High Medieval chroniclers — namely the 13th century Icelandic Christian lawyer, inventor of false etymologies, and self-appointed ethnographer, Snorri Sturluson.

Regin – The Powers, in reference to the Gods and Goddesses.

Spae – Magick used to divine the future.

Stalli— An indoor altar.

Sumbel (ON), Symbel (AS/OE) –Terms for “feast, banquet,” and “social gathering”, occasionally used to refer to a special type of solemn drinking ritual. It involves a formulaic ritual conducted by a kindred, which is more solemn and serious than mere drinking or celebration. The primary elements of symbel are drinking sacral mead (fermented honey) from a horn, speech making — which often includes the hailing of Gods and formulaic boasting and oaths (see also yelp/geilp) and the exchange of gifts.

Thing – An assembly.

Thew— Anglo-Saxon law.

Thewbok – A law book.

Tribal ( -ism, -ist)— A form of Heathenry that theoretically does not discriminate against potential members based upon ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, but restricts its membership on the basis of an individual’s personal record and reputation. Membership trial periods and criteria vary from Tribalist kindred to kindred. They are largely decentralized, unlike organizations such as the Troth, operating on a local level, rather than on a national or international level.

The Troth (formerly the Ring of Troth) — An American-based Ásatrú organization, which has more Universalist leanings. The Troth was founded on December 20, 1987, by former Ásatrú Free Assembly (now the highly Conservative Folkish organization known as the Ásatrú Folk Assembly) members Edred Thorsson/Stephen Flowers and James Chisholm. Neither individual belongs to the Troth any longer. The current Steerswoman is Victoria Clare, who took office at Trothmoot 2010.

Tyrstemn – Guided meditation.

Thyle – Advice from the Gods.

Universal (-ist, -ism) — Describes any forms or sects of Heathenism which maintain the belief that anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, are free to worship European Gods. Universalist Heathen organizations tend to be the most open regarding their membership.

UPG— Unverified Personal Gnosis. Personal experiences with Gods or other spirits that aren’t necessarily substantiated by “the lore” or any other form of historical or scientific precedent. Some UPG is commonly experienced among a number of practitioners (i.e., what appearance a God takes when He or She appears in dreams or visions), while some UPG is entirely individual and nor peer corroborated.

Utanngarth— Literally, “outer-yard.” This is a Tribalist Heathen term which refers to the people and the doings outside of a kindred or local conglomeration of kindreds. People of the Utanngarth are not immediately nor openly welcome in the activities of a kindred. A trial period is observed, if an outsider wishes to join.

The term Utanngarth is often abused by many Heathens, being thrown around as a justification for treating perceived “outsiders” poorly. “I can talk to and treat you any way I want, because you are not part of my innangarth (inner-yard)!

A certain level of decorum and civility is expected of Tribalist kindred members toward prospective members and non-members. If the prospective member or non-member is ostensibly disrespectful or insulting toward kindred members, or intrudes upon the kindred with intent to cause harm and disruption, the kindred is not obligated to show hospitality toward such individuals.

Vanatru— A Norse revival religion which does not focus on the worship of the Gods of Asgard (Odin, Tyr, Frigga, et alii). Rather, this religion is devoted to the worship of the Vanir, the Gods of Vanaheim — Freyr, Freyja, and Njord, among others.

Völva (spákona, spækona) — A shamanic seeress. In Early Medieval Scandinavian society, a völva was an elderly woman who had released herself from the strong family bonds that normally tethered women. She travelled the land, usually followed by a retinue of young people, and she was consulted in times of crisis. She had immense authority, and charged well for her services.

Yelp (Geilp) – To boast, to brag about ones deeds. Boasting in Heathen religions is considered something of a virtue, a recounting of, and taking pride in, one’s accomplishments.

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Son of Hel

I walk a Helish road, the only road that I have ever known.

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