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If the only thing you know about the Asatru religion is that a convicted killer lost his legal bid for a plastic sword so he could practice it at the South Dakota State Penitentiary, then Harold Chant has an invitation for you.

Chant, of Rapid City, is hosting an organizational meeting for people interested in the teaching and practice of the ancient pre-Christian religion that dominated much of Europe thousands of years ago.

Asatru is the modern revival of historical Germanic and Norse paganism and covers a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices. Chant prefers the term “heathenism” to “paganism” as a description of a belief system that is centered on the natural world and whose ceremonies follow the season, such as the upcoming spring equinox.

“It’s native European spiritual beliefs from before Christianity. Heathenism is a little better word for it,” he said. “We have both gods and goddesses. We don’t technically worship them, but we honor them.”

Asatru drew media attention in South Dakota in 2007 when Darrell Hoadley, who is serving a life sentence at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls for the torture death of Chester Poage, sued prison officials, charging they violated his religious rights by refusing to provide some items – including a plastic sword --  he needed to practice Asatru. A judge threw out Hoadley’s lawsuit.

“I don’t know him personally,” Chant said of his fellow Asatru believer. Hoadley began practicing the religion, which some people associate with the Viking warrior culture, after his conviction.

Chant, 35, has been an Asatru follower for about a year and said two or three other people he knows are, too.

“I was Christian for most of my life, but I always felt like that was fitting a rectangle into a round hole,” he said. He said he struggles to explain the appeal of Asatru for him in a few words. His ancestry is northern European, and he was drawn to the ancient literature about it that survived in a few Old Norse and Icelandic texts.

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“Once I started reading about it and researching it, it was like the spiritual dam I had inside myself started to break, and it all just started to flow in me,” he said.

Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or


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