Rökkatru is a very new path, and there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what it is. Let’s take a step back and look some context for understanding what Rökkatru is and what it means: the term arose in a culture where Heathenry had been an established pagan path since the Romanticist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Heathenry itself is a broad term which encompasses the revival of Germanic and Scandinavian pre-Christian religious traditions. As neo-paganism broadly and Heathenry specifically evolved through the years, traditions which focused more particularly on specific groupings of deities in the Norse pantheon began to develop.
Within the Norse pantheon, we see several clear delineations of beings or entities which occupy the pre-Christian Norse cosmos: the Æsir (including but not limited to Frigg and Odin), the Vanir (Freyja, Freyr, Njordr), Álfr or elves, Svartálfar or Myrkálfar, more commonly known as dwarves, and the Jötnar (Ymir, Mimir, Gerdr, etc.). It was around the 1970s that a distinct tradition focusing on the Æsir was defined as Asatru (literally “Loyal to the Æsir”) and sometime later Vanatru (“Loyal to the Vanir”) developed as its own Heathen denomination.
Rökkatru is a word that was coined to describe the particular subset of people within Heathenry who followed the Norse deities traditionally regarded as “dark” gods. This does not mean that they don’t or haven’t worked with the Æsir or Vanir as well—many of them do—but they do not shy away from those other gods that are often shunned (particularly in America, though less so in Europe) in rituals and at blots.
These are the gods that are often described as “the enemies” of the Æsir—Fenrir who devours Odin at Ragnarok, Jormungandr whose venom will kill Thor after Thor has already slain the serpent, Hel of the Dead whose legions will sweep out of the Underworld to fight alongside the jötnar against the Æsir, their mother Angrboda and her consort Loki. There are others of course, but these are frequently seen as the primary rökkr or dark gods around which Rökkatru centers.
It’s by no coincidence that Rökkatru bears a resemblance to the word Ragnarok: traditionally meaning “Twilight of the Gods,” Ragnarok is a compound word made up of the words ragna (to conjure) and rök. Here rök means fate or destiny, but in the poem Lokasenna as well as in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, the word has been rendered as ragnarøkr or ragnarøkkr, and comes with a different connotation. Here, røkr or røkkr means “twilight.”
There has been debate among various scholars about the relationship between the two renderings of these words. Ragnarök can be seen to mean “The Conjuring of Fate” or something along those lines, whereas Ragnarøkr might be “The Conjuring of Twilight.” It is from this latter interpretation that the widely accepted translation of Ragnarok as “The Twilight of the Gods” has come from, and it is from this that the term Rökkatru was born.
Rökk in this word is taken to mean twilight, as in the Lokasenna rendition of the word Ragnarok. The Rökkr, then, are described and seen as the gods of twilight—those that do not dwell solely within the safety of the sunlight, but which come with the night. Much as Asatru and Vanatru have adopted tru as a form of suffix to indicate loyalty to the particular class of gods indicated in the name, Rökkatru has done the same. Thus, Rökkatru literally means “Loyal to the Gods of the Twilight.”
Though artist and writer Abby Helasdottir has been widely attributed with the coining of the term Rökkatru, she herself denies this. In a 2015 interview with Danica Swanson for Heathen Harvest, Helasdottir said:
“[The term Rökkatru] was something that evolved organically on an email list many years ago as a way to identify people of a particular, how shall we say, metaphysical leaning. The term Rökkr, meaning shadow or twilight, came into use in the mid-to-late-90s as a way to refer to those beings from Germanic cosmology who exist on the boundaries, in the margins, in what is described in myth as Útgarðar, the outlands. I first used it in the Rökkrbok, which considered the septet of Hela, Fenrir, Loki, the World Serpent, Angrboda, Surtr, and Níðhöggr; and whose content would eventually be the basis of the Shadowlight website. These beings are often referred to as giants, jötnar, thurs, and a whole range of other names that still keep scholars writing dissertations to this day, so Rökkr was used as a broad way to describe all these beings without worrying about etymological interpretations, as well as the limitations imposed on these beings by folktale readings.”1
Rökkatru then is the term coined for Heathen practitioners who more closely align with, worship, or honor the “dark gods” of the Norse pantheon, including but not limited to Angrboda and her consort Loki as well as their children Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hel (or Hela). The term itself was developed based on the etymology of the word Ragnarok, using the precedent of adding the suffix -tru that had been established by Asatru and Vanatru.
It is a new religious movement, being only roughly two and a half decades defined at the time of this writing. Being so new, Rökkatru remains somewhat poorly defined as compared to Heathenry generally as well as its more specific counterparts such as Asatru (though it bears remembering that Heathenry and all of its derivatives constitute “new religious movements,” especially as compared to religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism). It is a spiritual path in its infancy, still developing and defining itself.
Everything that will follow from here will be based on the state of development Rökkatru is in at the time of writing. It should be assumed that Rökkatru will be constantly evolving and better defining itself as the years roll on.
1Swanson, D. (2015, April 22). Twilight Magick; an Interview with Abby Helasdottir of Gydja. Retrieved from https://heathenharvest.org/2015/04/22/twilight-magick-an-interview-with-abby-helasdottir-of-gydja/
©Tahni J. Nikitins