While this may surprise some people, the old Norse gods are having a resurgence of popularity these days — both inside and outside the United States. That means that funeral homes need to be prepared to handle some unique funerary customs for this growing segment of the population. Here's what you should know if you are in charge of organizing a funeral for someone of the Asatru faith.
How common is the religion?
The Asatru religion, which is loosely based on the ancient Norse traditions surrounding the worship of deities like Odin, Thor, and Freya, is rising in record numbers. Iceland has recently rededicated an Asatru temple. The religion, which has an emphasis on personal power and protection, has gained a great deal of traction among U.S. prisoners as well. Among the general population, it's hard to tell exactly how many practitioners there are.
How do they view death?
Asatru's followers do not generally have any great fear of death — even a tragic death is considered a blessing because the afterlife is considered a joyful place to be. Cremation is common, and has been considered an honorable and customary way to dispose of the dead since ancient times. It isn't uncommon for death ceremonies to include:
- Jokes and humorous stories about the deceased's actions in this life
- Stories about times where the deceased showed particular bravery — even if the story would be considered "improper" for the setting by some other religions
- Items left with the deceased for cremation. This could include paper or coin money, jewelry, weapons, crystals, and food
- The symbol known as a "Thor's Hammer," which is supposed to be burned or buried at funerals
- Toasting the dead with ale or mead is often considered appropriate — so if the funeral home doesn't allow alcohol on the premises, it's important to make that clear to the guests and family in advance.
In anticipation of the offerings often left with the deceased, if you are arranging the funeral services and cremation of someone of the Asatru faith, consider asking relatives and friends to only offer items "in effigy" or paper versions of things that will easily burn. Coins have to be removed before cremation, as would weaponry, stones or crystals, and jewelry. Alternatively, you can ask if those things should be disposed of with the ashes of the deceased. It may be wise to set up an offering bowl so that people don't slip anything into the casket that could be missed when the cremation is done and end up damaging the crematorium.