Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Asatru FAQ: Bad Ancestors

FAQ: I want to be a good heathen and honor ancestors but my ancestors were bad people. Who can I honor?

Related FAQ: I'm going to be attending a sumbel in which there will be a round toasted to the ancestors, but I was adopted and don't know my ancestors' names. Who can I honor?

My answer: One can honor Askr and Embla, the first man and woman according to heathen mythology (made by Odin and his brothers.) One could also honor any gods that appear in one's family tree. According to heathen mythology, everyone is descended from Rig, whom most Asatruars consider to be an aspect of Heimdall, thus, anyone could honor Heimdall. There might also be other gods one could include among ancestors, depending on one's family line. I have honored Lollus as an ancestor.

You don't have to honor your literal biological ancestors to be a good heathen. When the sumbel horn is passed in the ancestor round, you can honor the mighty dead whom you admire whether you are lineally related to them or not. You can honor your personal heroes, the elders of your path, a writer who influenced you-- that's my personal hope of ever being remembered, since I have no children. You can honor the founders of your nation, city, profession, or art. Honor your spouse's ancestors. Toast your favorite childhood teacher, the composer of your favorite song, or anyone with whom you have an emotional connection.

Also, any time you are at a sumbel or other toasting ceremony, when the horn is passed to you, you don't have to toast and drink if you have nothing to say. You can just kiss the horn and pass it on.

Image: drinking horn on hardanger embroidery cloth, photo by Erin Lale

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


  • Victoria
    Victoria Wednesday, 14 August 2019

    Victoria Wednesday, 14 August 2019 ·

    I honour the mothers and fathers of my ancestral lineage. Heathens get too wrapped up in individual ancestors when it seems that collective ancestors were honoured; examples being the Germanic Matronae, the Norse Disir and the Anglo-Saxon Mothers'. I don't believe you need to know or even like individual ancestors to raise a glass to your deceased kin as a group, they are after all your blood.

    Eventhough Rigr is sited in Rígsþula as progenitor of the social classes there is no evidence of a cult dedicated to Rigr as an ancestor of any of the three social classes. With the exception of the lineage lists of kings gods don't appear in family trees.

    Totally agree with honouring heroes but not as ancestors, I pesonally honour Penda as a hero but would not be comfortable raising a glass to him as an ancestor.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Tuesday, 27 August 2019

    Nods. The Disir have a named holiday, Disablot, so they were definitely honored in ancient times. One honor them, or the alfar perhaps, even though we tend to think of them as a different class of being. The categories were fuzzier back then than we like today.

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