I've just returned from the Rune Gild Moot - four days of intense lectures, rituals, and fellowship with men and women dedicated to the esoteric side of Asatru and Germanic religion generally. It has prompted me to make some observations.
The Asatru Folk Assembly and similar organizations represent the exoteric, religious aspect of the Germanic revival. The Rune Gild, on the other hand, is the esoteric and mystical expression of our movement. Both are essential to our development and success, and the two continually interact with each other. I have been a member of the Gild for years, and have greatly benefited from association with other members and from the writings of Edred Thorsson, in particular.
In pre-Christian Germanic culture, the various tribes would regularly come together at sacred places - such as Lejre, in Denmark - to compete in games, trade, and generally interact socially. It was at these gatherings, too, that the ancient fraternity of rune magicians would meet to share lore and techniques across tribal boundaries. Thus the various versions of the rune row, as well as many other things, were transmitted from area to area in a more or less organized manner. With the passing of our native faith, the early gild of runers died out. The modern Rune Gild is that fraternity reborn. Its function is much the same as in the old days - to transmit the rune lore to all who seek the mysteries, regardless of their organizational affiliation or lack of it.
For the individual, the most important feature of the Gild is that it offers a traditional Germanic path of personal transformation. The work of the Rune Gild is solidly based in scholarship; you'll not find fantasies on "Atlantean runes" or the use of fashionable, New Age gimmicks. The official curriculum of the RG is contained in Edred Thorsson's Nine Doors of Midgard, and Learners in the gild are set to work mastering the fundamentals. Those who have not yet committed to being Learners can hold Associate status with minimal obligation.
I have known Edred since the late 1970's and have had many opportunities to observe his leadership style in person - most recently at the Gild Moot in Austin, Texas. He is modest and approachable. I have never seen him disrespect the members of the organization or abuse his position as leader. On the contrary, I know he has made immense personal and financial sacrifices for the sake of the Gild. The fact that he holds a doctorate in Germanic languages and literature makes his writing authoritative and extremely valuable for those of us seeking to revive the way of our ancestors. Anyone who paints him as some sort of sinister character does not know him.
The Rune Gild is not for everyone. Those content simply to practice Asatru require no specialized esoteric training; most men and women in Germanic society did not need to know much about the gift Odin won on the World Tree. However, if you seek not only to worship Odin but to imitate him - you will not find a better organization than the Gild.
Asatru Folk Assembly