April 16th, 2014
02:54 PM ET
Opinion by Joshua Rood, special to CNN
(CNN) - The word “heathen” is a very old one that once meant “heath dweller” or a person who lives out in the wild.
Eventually, when Christianity came into Northern Europe, it came to mean “one who still worships the old gods.” It still means that in some parts of the world, like Iceland, where it also goes by the name Ásatrú (“belief in the Aesir”).
Aesir is just a very old word for the traditional gods of Scandinavia. You’ve probably heard of some of these gods: Odin, Thor, Freyr and Freyja.
What you might not know is that many traditions, stories and celebrations have never gone away.
These can be as simple as the Scandinavian belief in vaettir (nature spirits) or as complex as the poems and songs about the Aesi that were written and are still sung and performed in Iceland.
Most of the stories were preserved in Icelandic poems and sagas, written in the 13th and 14th centuries. Others have been preserved in regional folk stories and folk customs.
Today, Ásatrú, which can go by many names, is the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland and is officially recognized in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Thanks to multiculturalism, it exists in many countries around the world, including the United States, Canada and most European countries.
There are many organizations, private groups and individuals who adhere to Ásatrú. Although terminology, festivals and customs can vary depending on local lore and tradition, at its heart, Ásatrú is a celebration of the gods, stories and customs that have been passed down from Northern Europe into the modern world.
Unfortunately, there are people in this world who try to use these beautiful stories and traditions for selfish and hateful reasons.
April 14th, 2014
06:06 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor [twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']
(CNN) - Frazier Glenn Cross is a white supremacist, an avowed anti-Semite and an accused killer. But he is not, as many think, a Christian.
Cross, who also goes by the name Glenn Miller, is accused of killing three people - all Christians - on Sunday at Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kansas.
Authorities are weighing whether to file hate-crime charges against Cross, who is suspected of targeting Jews.
The 73-year-old has espoused anti-Semitism for decades. He also founded racist groups like a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Both groups have deep ties to Christian white supremacists.
But according to Cross' 1999 biography, he is an adherent of Odinism, a neo-pagan religion that experts say has emerged as one the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.
"The faith’s obsession with genetic purity, racial supremacy and conquering supposedly lesser peoples is a recipe for violence," said Josh Glasstetter, campaign director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
October 30th, 2013
03:32 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - Like lots of people, when October 31 rolls around, Trey Capnerhurst dons a pointy hat and doles out candy to children who darken the door of her cottage in Alberta.
But she’s not celebrating Halloween. In fact, she kind of hates it.
Capnerhurst says she’s a real, flesh-and-blood witch, and Halloween stereotypes of witches as broom-riding hags drive her a bit batty.
“Witches are not fictional creatures,” the 45-year-old wrote in a recent article on WitchVox.com.
“We are not werewolves or Frankenstein monsters. We do not have green skin, and only some of us have warts.”
Warts or not, many witches say they have mixed feelings about Halloween.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.