Oft times used as an insult by Christians against people who don’t worship their god. They tend to confuse Atheism, Paganism and Heathenism. Atheism is of course a lack of belief in any gods. Paganism is an umbrella term for many polytheistic non-Abrahamic religions. Whereas a heathen is one who practices the pre-Christian religion of the ancient Germanic people. They worship the Germanic and Norse gods and goddess’.
Heathens are hard polytheists, meaning they believe each god and goddess is a real and distinct individual not an aspect or archetype of a greater being. Besides the major gods spoken of in the lore, there are also local gods, ancestral spirits, and various sorts of wights. To a heathen reading and understanding one’s heritage is very important, this is why there is such a heavy emphasis placed on reading the sagas. Heathens take their religion very seriously.
Heathens have a very complex idea of the soul and of the afterlife (even though not much emphasis is placed on the here after as is in Christianity). In Norse Mythology humans were created from living and organic matter, not dead earth. The soul is made up of many parts, some that are passed down through the generations, all of which come together in a certain place and time to form a unique person. Some parts of the soul pre-exist this life, some parts continue to live on, and some perish upon death. There are nine worlds in Norse Mythology, Midgard which is Earth, Asgard which is were the Aesir dwell, Hel which is the realm of the dead (not to be confused with the Christian notion of fiery Hell), Ljossalheim (Means Light Elf Home), which is where the demigods and divinized ancestral spirits dwell (these would be the home of elves), Svartalfheim (meaning Dark Elf Home), similar in that ancestral spirits and demigods dwell here as well but has to do more with emotional than intellectual spirits (this would be the home of dwarves), Vanaheim which is where the Vanir dwell, Jotunheim this is where the giants live, and Muspellsheim and Nifelheim are the worlds of fire and ice respectively.
Another concept which makes Heathen’s unique is that of the Wyrd. Basically that you weave your own fate by the actions you take in life. Every action that you take or don’t take effects your wyrd. There is no forgiveness (or sin for that matter), if you wrong someone you must take action to make amends and set what is wrong right.
Many Heathens go by the Nine Noble Virtues which are Hospitality, Courage, Truth, Loyalty, Honor, Self Reliance, Perseverance, and Discipline.
Wicca is a Pagan religion whereas Asatru is Heathen.