In ancient Europe, there existed a tradition that played a part in our ancestors' appreciation of the land. It was called the "odaľ and was so sacred that one of our runes was named after it (also called “Othala"). The odal was an inherited property or estate, passed on from generation to generation. It was an institution built upon the obligations felt towards descendants and the demand for personal independence expressed in our heritage.
The idea of land ownership, when not based on greed, can be the perfect means of protecting the environment. Before the size of one's personal property, on average, shrank to less than an acre, communities spread across vast territories, which were protected because they were owned.
No need for preservations or parks, since the care taking of the earth was vital to the sustenance of one's own home. Plus, with so much of their beliefs focused on the sacredness of the world, the respect given to these surroundings was a religious experience. Even if you only own a small piece of land in a residential neighborhood you can still work to make it a valuable inheritance for your children.
We need ancestral lands, given to descendants with each passing, so that the connection to the earth and to the community can be truly valued and honored. Even if none of this is possible for you, you can still make the choice to respect local eco- systems as literally part of your home. This concept may be hard for some to conceive, since for many, property ownership represents walls built to keep others out. “This is my land, you stay out! Private property!".
To the ancients, living in a certain area did not give you the right to keep people off of it. In fact, it was your duty to extend hospitable welcomes to anyone who came on it, unless their intentions were malevolent. If they came to steal or destroy or hurt your family, by all means one would defend their home. However, if their intentions were peaceful you were obligated to show them hospitality, even if they were enemies. So, in essence, owning the land only gave you the right to live on it and defend it, nothing more. This could be a valuable lesson for us.
An enclosure which we would have dedicated to the gods and goddesses is called a Gard. These could have our sacred groves (“holts" or “lunds"), or temples (“hofs"), or both established within them.
The Gard is considered to be a large tract of land (cf. Ásgard, Midgard, etc.), usually with some sort of interesting geological feature or some legend attached to it . The actual area where rites and festivals are held is called a Vé. It is important for Ásatrúar to establish their own Gards as we reconnect to the ancient ways. In our modern era, we will need to do our best to make sure that these areas are safe and secure. However, we are still bound by the Gebo Runelaw in extending hands of friendship to whomever comes with peaceful intentions.
These holy grounds are supposed to be peace steads, no different than those in Ásgard itself, so violence and strife are strictly prohibited within them. Those who come into conflict with each other will have to take their affairs elsewhere. It is also important that the area is kept clean and that all treat it as if it were their own land. It should be given a name, for in our religion naming something is a means of sanctifying it, giving it a true place in the society of our people. It should be respected as a sacred place, with ceremony added in whatever way deemed appropriate to get this point across.
The first of all odal lands, or ancestral lands should be considered by Ásatrúar to be the holiest, most celebrated territory on earth, but recognition of this has been all but lost.
For some, Ásatrú makes them think of Norway or Iceland as the premier Scandinavian countries of our lore. Others may think that this is all a matter of fancy, that local tribes revered local lands and each would try to place mythical events within their region. Saxony would be held sacred to the Saxons, Denmark to the Danes, Frisia to the Frisians, etc. There is no doubt that, to an extent this is true. However, there is evidence that there was a land most honored among the Teutonic tribes. The histories of the East Goths, the West Goths, the Longobards, the Swiss, the Gepidae, the Burgundians, the Herulians, the Franks, the Saxons and the Alamannians are all united in their expressions of the belief that the Teutonic homeland, the greatest of odals, was called Scania, Skandia, or modern Skåne, the southernmost tip of Sweden. In the ancient lore it was called the Aurvangaland.
Some sources point to the probability that our ancestors believed that this is where the first Teutonic pair, Ask and Embla, were created by the gods Odin, Hoenir, and Lódur. They walked along the coast the northern edge of Skåne until they found a tree growing, which they used as the substance to make the two people. It may not be a coincidence that an ancient city lies along this coast by the name of Lund, which means “The Grove.” It is also interesting to note that the most ancient Scandinavian settlement, some 12,000 years old, was found at Mölleröd by Finja Lake in Skåne. Later, the god Heimdall came to Midgard to bring culture. The story, as it is pieced together, tells us that he came as a child in a self-propelled boat filled with implements and a sheaf of grain, which he would use in his teachings.
The land he visited was called Svithjód, which is still the name used for Sweden by Icelanders today (Icelandic is the closest remnant of the Old Norse tongue). In some sources it is stated that Svithjód was named after Odin himself, who is also called Svidur. Certainly there is a connection here between the area where Ask and Embla were created and where Heimdall landed, since this would have to be the place the Aesir had left the humans to develop. This is even more likely when we consider that all of the earliest sources outside of Scandinavia point to genealogical origins in Skåne for every Teutonic tribe. Heimdall here founds the first royal dynasty, known as the Skjöldungs or Scyldings, through his descendants of human birth, Skjöld-Jarl (also called Borgar) and Halfdan-Kon. Interestingly enough, this was the first noble line of Denmark, and the city of Lund is especially known to have been a capital of the kings of Denmark in the early Middle Ages. In fact, Skåne was originally a Danish territory and remained so until the 17th century when it came under Swedish rule, though the entire realm was still known as Svithjód in the most ancient times.
Related to this is the idea that the name “Danes,” as Sophus Bugge suggested, comes from Khthôn, "earth,” and means autochtone “indigenous people.” This would explain why Danskr tönga — “Danish Tongue” is synonymous with Norroen, the native language of ancient Scandinavia. Svithjód was thought to encompass several lands beyond Sweden itself, though this was its central and primary territory from which it received its name (meaning "Land of the Svi or Sviones,” cp. Germania by Tacitus). Even Finland was once considered to be a part of this nation. The myths placed Svithjód in direct connection to the gods or legendary heroes, such as Ívaldi-Svigdir who was considered to be one of its most ancient kings. Baldur himself, under the name Fjalerus (Falr), is said in Saxo's Historia Danica, to have been governor of “Scania.” In Ynglingasaga, both Njörd and Ódin are made into Swedish rulers. The Christian euhemerists, dismissing our gods as mortal kings, placed Valhalla in Sweden (Gylfaginning). "Skåne,” said to be named after the goddess Skadi, whom ancient kings proudly claimed their descent from, is the original territory from which Scandinavia got its name, which we can see from its alternate designations: Scania, Skandia, Skandza, etc.
All points thus lead to the likelihood that this was the most holy land to our ancestors, mentioned in the lore more than any other as the scene for various mythical and heroic exploits. Sweden itself, Svithjod, contains more runestones, and has been the site where more artifacts of our faith have been unearthed than any other nation. That Uppsala, where the most famous temple in all of our religious history once stood, is in Sweden should make us aware of its relevance. The temple was said to have been built by our god of agriculture, Frey. We should not take the existence of a sacred odal land lightly, for as higher mortals and deities serve as archetypes for us to live by, our holy primordial home can act as the model for which we can honor all lands. This could be the first place we direct our children when they begin their journey into adulthood, since nothing could be more significant than a pilgrimage to the most honored area known in our stories. It is said that for this very reason, that Skåne is our ancient home, we should always pray facing North. To visit the land we have prayed towards can be a very spiritual experience. To hear the tales of the old gods and ancient heroes can captivate the imagination, while actually looking at the scene where their adventures were thought to have taken place can indeed be a powerful event.
Of course, every Germanic tribe is important, and all have their part to play in the rich cultural history of our heritage. Any nation in Northern Europe can be validated as significant to our religion in one way or another, and many have sacred sites we can go see. Unfortunately, much of the information regarding local legends, holy steads, or pre-Christian religious geography has been lost. There are place names which correspond to names of gods, goddesses, heroes or other beings or things in our lore. Westphalia (now the western realm of Germany) was named after Phol, Falr, identical to Baldur, Frisia was named after Freyja, Odense in Denmark was named after Odin, etc.
We don't need some foreign territory to convince us that the earth is some thing we should respect. We know that no matter where we live all around us is sacred life. The reverence toward the ancient odal land provides us with a real, physical connection with our ancestral culture; it is a place where we can go to walk in the footsteps of the gods, where we can see the actual sites of ancient battles, where we can visit the graves of our earliest forefathers. Even if science places our point of origin elsewhere, this should not take away the spiritual significance of appreciating what was once believed by all Teutons to be the cradle of our folk. We should also keep in mind that scientists can and have been wrong, but that is not really the point. The point is that Skåne is sacred to us, sacred to our lore and sacred to our ancestors. This should be enough for any of us .
As followers of a nature religion it is our duty to promote the sanctity of our Mother Earth. We can teach people the importance of her cycles of life, death and rebirth, honoring all of these stages as vital parts of the natural order. Our beliefs on the “sanctity of life” do not extend towards a fear of death, which we understand as just as necessary a part of life as birth. Living is indeed important to us, but we are not going to reject death from our doctrine or label it as “evil,” or something to be afraid of. In nature we see birth and death as part of a continuous balance, part of every ecosystem that we are included in. We are not super natural beings, no matter how much we would like to be, and eventually all of us will die. Trying to escape or deny this is pointless and serves nothing, for it is an inevitable reality. We will educate people on all factors that threaten our environment, so they can take the proper actions against them.
It is not healthy for us to sit back and feel helpless about what is happening in our world, nor is it necessary. There are so many things you can do, in your home, in your community, in your country. All you need to do is make the decision to stand up and do it! Take action. Become involved. Forget about social biases regarding groups you may not approve of or do not wish to be associated with. We're talking about doing the right thing, what's right for you, for your family, for your planet. If you do not want to be associated with someone, don't associate with them, but don't let this be an excuse for not taking an active role in service of your land and community.