Category Archives: Other faiths

Are we missing something?

Ásatrú

Pronounced “OW-sa-troo.” The modern iteration of pre-Christian Germanic religion; the Icelandic term for “Æsir faith” refers to belief in the Old Norse gods.

Ásatrú has a 4,000-year history; its gods, symbols and rituals have roots dating to approximately 2000 B.C. in Northern Europe. From Bronze Age beginnings through the Viking Age, local variants developed throughout continental Europe, the Nordic countries and the British Isles. While large-scale practice ended with Christian conversion, private worship is documented for several subsequent centuries. Some beliefs and rituals survived into the 20th century as elements of folk religion throughout the Northern European diaspora (including North America).

The contemporary revival began in 1972, with the founding of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”). Since then, practice has spread worldwide through a mixture of national organizations, regional gatherings, local worship groups and lone practitioners. In Iceland the Ásatrúarfélagið is now the largest non-Christian religion.

In 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs responded to a petition by Ásatrúar in the United States and approved Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) as an available emblem of belief for government grave markers.

Beliefs and practices vary greatly and span a range from humanism to reconstructionism, from viewing the gods as metaphorical constructs to approaching them as distinct beings. Deities venerated in Ásatrú include Freya, Odin and Thor, but respect is paid to a large number of gods, goddesses and other figures (including elves and land spirits).

The common ritual is the blót, in which offerings are made to gods and goddesses. Major holidays include Midsummer and Midwinter (Yule). Practitioners tend to incorporate local elements into their praxis and are often quite studied in traditions dating to the pre-Christian era.

Ásatrú is also known by adherents as heathenry or the Old Way. Followers should be referred to as Ásatrúar (singular and plural) or heathens.

Although Ásatrú clergy are referred to as goðar (singular goði), the term is not placed in front of their proper names as an honorific.

Filed in Other faiths

astrology

A tradition or system dating back to ancient times in which the apparent position of celestial bodies is used to understand, interpret and organize knowledge about reality and predict the future.

Filed in Other faiths, Religion and culture

Æsir

Pronounced “AY-seer.” A collective term for the principal gods of Ásatrú, including Odin and Thor. Since at least the 13th century, the term has been used to designate all the Norse gods — even those (such as Frey and Freya) who are considered part of the Vanir, a second group of deities.

Filed in Other faiths

blót

Pronounced “blote.” The central ritual of Ásatrú. The Old Norse word for “sacrifice” is used for a ritual in which offerings are made to gods, goddesses and other figures (including elves and land spirits). Blót is often performed outside, and the most common offering is some form of alcohol (beer, mead).

Filed in Other faiths

Church of Scientology

Also referred to as simply Scientology. A religious group founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and based on his book Dianetics, published in 1950. Scientologists believe that the individual is first and foremost a spirit, or thetan, and that thetans can be cleared of negative energy through a process called auditing. The spiritual counselors who provide this service are called auditors. In part because members are charged fees to receive auditing, Scientology’s tenets have been challenged and its practices investigated by governmental agencies around the world. The Church of Scientology’s nonprofit status in the U.S. was the subject of legal wrangling for many years, but currently, the Internal Revenue Service accepts the church’s tax-exempt status.

Filed in Christianity, Scientology

cult

A term that has come to be associated with religious groups far outside the mainstream that have overly controlling leadership or dangerous practices. For that reason, journalists should use it with the greatest care and only when they are certain it fits. On rare occasions, cult is an appropriate description. Two groups whose members committed mass suicide are examples: the Peoples Temple (Jonestown in Guyana, South America, 1978) and Heaven’s Gate (1997, California). Another example is the Branch Davidians, whose founder, David Koresh, died along with 75 followers in a 1993 standoff with government officials.

Filed in Other faiths, Religion and culture

Eddas

Foundational texts of Ásatrú. The Prose Edda, compiled by Snorri Sturluson circa 1220, contains the major surviving myths of the Norse gods and goddesses and preserves pre-Christian poems not attested elsewhere. The Poetic Edda, an anonymous manuscript from circa 1270, is the most important source of Old Norse mythological and heroic poetry; the poems it contains were composed in the centuries preceding the formal conversion of Iceland to Christianity in 1000.

Unlike holy books of other traditions, the Eddas were transcribed by writers who were not part of the religion and are notable for Christian interpolations.

Filed in Other faiths

Freya

Pronounced “FRAY-uh.” The major goddess of Ásatrú. She is a deity of death, fertility, love and magic. Although not married to the god Odin, she shares many characteristics with him; medieval literary sources state that she taught him to practice magic. Do not refer to her as “goddess of love,” a common misunderstanding that equates her with Venus.

Filed in Other faiths

goði

Pronounced “GO-thee.” Title for Ásatrú clergy (plural: goðar). Use when referring to the role of the individual, but do not place in front of a proper name as an honorific.

Filed in Other faiths

Mjölnir

Pronounced “MYUL-neer.” The universal sign of Ásatrú; the Old Norse name for Thor’s hammer. In a tradition originating in the pre-Christian era, Ásatrúar wear small neck pendants representing the hammer of Thor. Dating back to Bronze Age carvings in Scandinavia, the hammer has a 4,000-year history as a symbol of protection, blessing and community.

Filed in Other faiths

neo-paganism

A term used to describe contemporary paganism, as opposed to ancient paganism. Some groups or individuals describe themselves as “pagan” because they trace their belief and practices back to ancient times and the emphasis on the natural world and goddess worship. Others prefer “neo-pagan” because their faith blends the old and the new.

Filed in Other faiths, Religion and culture

New Age movement

A spiritual movement that developed in Western society in the late 1960s. Adherents link elements of religion with psychology and parapsychology. It remains a loose network of spiritual seekers, teachers, healers and other participants. Followers construct their own spiritual journeys, which are heavily influenced by the mystical elements of many organized religions, as well as native practices such as shamanism and neo-paganism.

Filed in Other faiths, Religion and culture

Odin

One of the major gods of Ásatrú. He is a deity of death, inspiration, language, magic, poetry, war and wisdom. The subject of many poems and stories in the Eddas, he is seen by followers of Ásatrú as leader of the Æsir. Also known as Woden and Wotan; Odin is the preferred English spelling.

Filed in Other faiths

Orisha

Pronounced “oh-REE-shah.” In the Santeria religion, it is an emissary of God who rules over human life.

Filed in Catholicism, Christianity, Santería

Santeria

The term was first coined by the Spanish to describe the way West African slaves combined Roman Catholic traditions with aboriginal religious rites. The faith focuses on trances for communicating with ancestors and often involves animal sacrifice. Santeria is practiced in the Caribbean and in some major American cities with significant Caribbean populations. It shares some characteristics with Voodoo, another syncretistic religion in the Caribbean that also traces its roots to West Africa. Santeria is known by several other names, including Lukumi. The name Santeria is actually considered a pejorative by some but has come into common usage, even among some followers, and is acceptable to use. Uppercase Santeria in all references.

Filed in Catholicism, Santería

Scientology

See Church of Scientology.

Filed in Scientology

Shinto

Japan’s indigenous religion. It has no formal doctrine and stresses nature, harmony and personal cleanliness. In 1868, it was declared Japan’s official religion after the emperor regained power from the shoguns. After World War II, the religion was separated from the state. Uppercase in all references.

Filed in Shinto

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson

Pronounced “SVAIN-byordin BAIN-tain-son.” The founder of the Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”). An Icelandic farmer-poet, he led the emergence of Ásatrú as a modern religion and served as chief goði of the heathen church from its founding in 1972 until his death in 1993. Since Icelandic second names are patronymics (not family names), refer to Sveinbjörn by first name after full initial mention.

Filed in Other faiths

Thor

One of the major gods of Ásatrú. His main role is one of protection, and he is considered the god of everyday people. Although many myths portray him fighting giants (symbols of dangerous natural forces), historical sources tie him to agriculture. His hammer, Mjölnir, is a symbol of protection, blessing and community; most followers of Ásatrú wear it as a sign of faith. Do not use imagery and quotes from Marvel comic books and films to illustrate Ásatrú belief in Thor.

Filed in Other faiths

totem

A representation of a person or likeness such as an animal or plant that is revered by a tribe or group. It is a part of many American Indian and African religious practices.

Filed in Other faiths, Religion and culture

Transcendental Meditation

A form of meditation made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced it in 1955. TM is acceptable on second reference.

Filed in Hinduism, Other faiths

Unification Church

The formal name of this organization founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon is the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, but Unification Church is acceptable in all references. Moon launched it in 1954 in South Korea, six years after the Presbyterian Church of Korea excommunicated him for beliefs it said were incompatible with traditional Christianity. Among other beliefs, followers reject the Trinity, saying instead that God is a single being with male and female aspects. Members are often called Moonies, but the term is considered derogatory; they call themselves Unificationists. Use Moonies only in direct quotes.

Filed in Christianity, Other faiths, Protestantism

Unitarian Universalist

The Unitarian Universalist Association encourages a wide spectrum of belief. Many members believe in God, but atheists also find a home in this denomination. Unitarian Universalists do not believe Jesus was divine and are not considered Christians, although they would welcome Christians — or just about anyone — in their churches. They employ a congregational form of government.

Filed in Atheism/Agnosticism, Other faiths

Vodou

A religious tradition born in West Africa that is derived from animism, ancestor worship and polytheism. Slaves brought from West Africa transplanted Vodou to the New World. As practiced in the Caribbean and areas along the U.S. Gulf Coast, Vodou merged West African traditions with Roman Catholic beliefs, adding saints to rituals. The term Vodou, which should always be capitalized, is the acceptable spelling in academic circles and the Haitian community. Other common spellings include Vodun, Voodoo and voodoo, but generic uses of “voodoo” can be offensive to those who practice the religion. Avoid using phrases such as “voodoo economics,” except in direct quotes. The Associated Press Stylebook continues to use Voodoo.

Filed in Other faiths, Vodun

Wicca

There are many forms of Wicca, but most share a worship of the divine feminine, or Goddess, and a reverence for nature and its cycles. It is traditionally believed to be based on the symbols, celebrations, beliefs and deities of ancient Celtic peoples. Many scholars consider it the largest segment of neo-paganism, saying it can be traced back to Gardnerian Witchcraft, founded in the United Kingdom during the late 1940s. See neo-paganism.

Filed in Other faiths, Paganism/Wicca

witch

A practitioner of natural magic; often a follower of a pagan religion, such as Wicca.

Filed in Other faiths, Religion and culture

Yule

An ancient name for the Northern European pre-Christian celebration also known as Midwinter (see Ásatrú). The word is etymologically related to Jólnir, a name for the Norse god Odin, who was particularly venerated at this sacrificial feast (see blót). After Northern Europe’s conversion to Christianity, the name of the heathen feast came to refer to the Christmas celebration. Nowadays, the terms Yule and Yuletide are most often associated with the season marking Jesus’ birth.


Filed in Christianity, Other faiths