Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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AH-sa-tru or OW-sa-tru?


Ásatrú is much in the news these days. So how do you pronounce it?

Well, let me give you the pagan answer: it depends.

Ásatrú = ása, “of the æsir” + trú, “trust, faith, belief.” (Trust, true, and the archaic verb trow—as in I trow, meaning “I trust”—are English cognates of the second element.)

That Ásatrú is both an Old Norse and a Modern Icelandic word tells you a lot about Iceland. The language has changed so little that these days kids in elementary school can still read sagas written 1000 years ago with just a few footnotes per page.

Old Norse Ásatrú: AH-sa-tru. (That's AH as in “Open your mouth and say—.”)

Modern Icelandic Ásatrú: OW-sa-tru. (OW as in “How now, brown cow?”)

So you can take your pick. Me, I learned my Icelandic from the redoubtable Anatoly Lieberman, whose informed opinion was that, Icelandic being a living language, we might as well pronounce it as current speakers do.

For me, it's also a matter of the kind of pagans/heathens that we want to be. Are we a museum exhibit, the ancestors fossilized, or are we the living heathens/pagans of our own day?

Oh, I should also mention that, like all other Germanic languages, Old Norse and Modern Icelandic are both strongly stress-initial, which is to say that stress tends to fall on the first syllable of a word.

So: if you want to sound like Eric the Red (Éirikr inn Rauði), say AH-sa-tru.

If you want to sound like a contemporary Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagiðsmann (or -kóna), say OW-sa-tru.

And if you want to sound like an illiterate American, say: uh-SAH-tru.


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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