The term Asatru (literally, being true to the Æsir or Germanic deities) is the most used term for the modern reconstructed forms of the magical polytheistic religions of the German and Scandinavian people that have appeared in Europe and North America since the 1960s. In North America, the first such group, and for many years the most prominent, was the Asatru Free Assembly. The assembly was founded in 1972 as the Viking Brotherhood by Stephen A. McNallen. Shortly after founding the new organization to give public expression to the belief that McNallen had slowly appropriated, he went into the army. The brotherhood became largely moribund, though he continued to publish the quarterly periodical, The Runestone.
Returning to civilian life in 1976, McNallen worked on refining the idea of the brotherhood and soon changed its name to Asatru Free Assembly. The assembly rejected collective ideologies (especially fascism) and emphasized individualism, courage, integrity, and independence. A wide variety of belief and practice was allowed within the general framework of acknowledgment of the deities. The Asatru people also saw themselves as over against the Odinists, who emphasize a single deity rather than the whole of the deities. Celebrations were held to recognize the deities, such as Yule (December 22) and the summer solstice. Other holidays included March 28, Ragnar's Day, when the assembly remembered the sacking of Paris in 845 by the Viking Ragnar Lobrok. Local groups called Skeppslags, or ship's crews, consisted of 3 to 15 members. Also, interest groups were formed as guilds to develop skills in activities from sewing to brewing.
The assembly reached a crisis in 1987, when McNallen felt unable to continue as the primary leader and disbanded the organization. In the meantime, a number of mostly small local Norse groups had arisen, some falling victim to racial ideologies that alienated them from the larger body of Neo-Pagans. Among his last productions was the publication of a book of Norse rituals. The fall of the Asatru Free Assembly also left a vacuum just as Norse Paganism appeared to be in a growth phase. Former members began to form new associations such as the Asatru Alliance and the Ring of Thoth. In 1992 McNallen returned to active leadership as an Asatru, founding the Asatru Folk Assembly and reissuing The Runestone.
Hundingbani, Heigi. The Religion of Odin-A Handbook. Red Wing, Minn.: Viking House, 1978.
McNallen, Stephen A. Rituals of Asatru. Breckenridge, Tex.: Asatru Free Assembly, 1985.