There are a number of spelling options for the name of this religion. We have been informed that "Asatro" is the correct Swedish spelling. -- a combination of the words 'Asa', refering to Asa-gods och Asarna ( The Asa ) -- and the word 'Tro', simply meaning 'belief'. So the meaning is along the lines of "Belief in the Asa-gods". However, Asatru is the most common spelling.
Asatru is regarded as one of the Neo-pagan family of religions. That family includes Wicca, Celtic Druidism, and re-creations of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other Pagan religions. However, we like many other Asatru prefer the terms "Heathen" or "Pagan" rather than "Neo-pagan". We see our tradition not as a branch of the "Neo-pagan" tree, but as a separate tree altogether. Unlike Wicca, whish has gradually evolved into many different traditions, the reconstruction of Asatru has been based on surviving historical record. It's followers have maintained it as closely as possible to the original religion of the Norse people.
Asatru or 'satr' is the Icelandic word which is a translation of the Danish word 'Asatro'. Asatro was first seen in 1885 in the article in the periodical "Fjallkonan". The next recorded instance was in "Hei'inn si'ur ' 'slandi" ( Heathen traditions in Iceland) by Lafur Briem ( Reykjav'k 1945 ) It means: Belief in the "Asir", the gods. Asatru is a combination of "Asa" and "Tru" which means: Belief in the Gods.
Throughout Scandinavia the religion is called Forn Si'r, which means the Ancient Way or Tradition, Forn Sed: The old Custom, Nordisk Sed: Nordic Custom, or Hedensk Sed: Pagan Custom. Other names include, Norse Heathenism, Germanic Heathenism, The Elder Troth, The Old Way, Asetro, Vor Si'r (Our Way), Forn Si'r (Ancient Way), Odinism, or Folkish 'satr'.
The origins of Asatru is lost to antiquity, yet at its peak, it covered all of Northern Europe. As countries gradually converted to Christianity, by 1000 CE, Iceland was the second to the last Norse culture to convert. Their prime motivation was economic. Sweden was ruled by a Pagan king until 1085 CE.
Icelandic poet Godi Svinbjorn Beinteinsson promoted government recognition of Asatru as a legitimate religion; this status was granted in 1972. Since the 1970's, the religion has been in a period of growth in the former Norse countries, as well as in Europe and North America.
It is not unknown for otherwise decent religions to become corrupted by incorporating racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic beliefs. For example: The Christian Identity movement is one wing of the Christian religion which has absorbed such beliefs.
During the early part of the 20th century, The National Socialist Party in germany under Adolf Hitler tried to pervert the Asatru by incorporating parts of the religion into the Nazi racist beliefs. This died out by the end of World War II, except for some neo-nazi groups that try to continue the practice.
This type of activity is in no way related to the restoration of the Asatru as a legitimate Heathen religion. There is a strong anti-racist and anti-nazi stance among the global asatru groups. This is true among the Scandinavian as well as the English speaking countries. Asatru groups typically have a clear rejection of racism written into their Constitutions. Unfortunately, some anti-racism groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the FBI (in its Megiddo report) have mistakenly accused the entire religion of racism.
Many people are exposed to the name Asatru through role playing games, such as Mage: The Ascention. Unfortunately, the Asatru in those games have little resemblance to the real religion.
We believe in an underlying, all-pervading divine energy or essence which is generally hidden from us, and which is beyond our immediate understanding. We further believe that this spiritual reality is interdependent with us - that we effect it, and it effects us. We believe that this underlying divinity expresses itself to us in the forms of the Gods and the Goddesses. Stories about these deities are like a code of sorts, the mysterious "language" through which the divine reality speaks to us. We believe in standards of behavior which are consistent with these spiritual truths and harmonious with our deepest being.
First of all, we are "Polytheistic". That is to say, we believe in several deities, Gods as well as Goddesses. We have a saying that a religion without a Goddess is halfway to atheism.
Secondly, we do not believe in "Original Sin", the notion that we are all tainted from birth, or intrinsically bad as do the Christians. Thus, we do not need "saving".
Third, we do not claim to be a universal religion, in fact we believe that a single faith for all humanity is not desirable. Every branch of humanity sees the world differently, each of which is valid for them. It is only right that they have different religions. Everyone has a right to their beliefs.