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Rainbow Heathenry: Is a Left-Wing, Multicultural Asatru Possible?

For those who raise the bowl in offering and veneration of the Old Gods, there is a glimmer of their connection to the past. Much of the Yule Celebration is based around this key concept for those who identify with Asatru, the revival of the traditional Norse pagan religion. It is the attendance to and memory of ancestors, the veneration of them just as the Gods, both of which can be traced back in a familial lineage. As Thor, Freya, and Odin are mentioned, faces around the table can envision what those names meant to their family deep in the past. The power of thunder. The perseverance in battle. The strength of conviction.

Yet it is not those elements that most of those with quick glances see when they notice a small silver Mojinir around a believer’s neck. Today Asatru is one of the most divided areas of the new pagan groundswell that is happening world wide. This is not simply because of its origins, or the warrior ethic present in its primary source materials, the Eddas and Sagas. It is the clear association between Heathenry and an openly racialist subculture, one that has taken on Norse myth and symbols as a primary form of identification. Hundreds of neo-Nazi and white nationalist bands and magazines take their names from the Northern Tradition. Some of the most militant racist prison gangs, skinheads, and open fascists venerate the same Gods of the Aesir. Across the far-right spectrum you will see the stories of Vikings and their pantheon represented as Gods of a purely white constituency, bound by blood and soil. Even amongst the more moderate view the “folkish” ideal–that says this tradition is unique only to those of Northern European ancestry–attempts to soften the blow of racial separatism.

But what is it about Asatru that creates a trajectory towards the folkish interpretation? Is Asatru today possible of having distinctly left-wing and multiracial interpretations?

The Roots of Modern Heathenry

The history of Heathenry in the modern context comes out of a certain impetus that drove its reconstruction. During the beginning of a truly industrial society of the mid 18th century, there developed a strong consciousness about the encroaching modernity and what might be lost from a direct connection with the natural world. This drove a broad interest in the traditional paganism implicit in pre-Christian Europe, but it had a unique perspective in the Germanic context.

Here, a strong sense of ethnic nationalism developed out of German Idealism and Romanticism, one that drew to find something unique and powerful inside of the Germanic peoples. This developed the strong Aryan mythology that led into the 20th century, where we see mysticism like the Thule Society developing a pseudo-spiritual base for the rise of the Third Reich. The notion was that there was a spirituality that was not just to be acquired and universalized (as Christian missions behaved), but one that you simply were by birth. The German Volkish movements needed a long-standing mythology to justify “blood and soil” and show why not only were Aryans owed control of Europe, but why they held Godlike qualities.

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Else Christensen (right)

The direction of this tradition in the post-WWII European tradition was the development of Odinism by early Gothi like Else Christensen. Here Odinism explicitly took the Nordicist concept, which saw the Nordic people as a subspecies superior in a pseudoscientific understanding of early race theory and its further breakdown of “Caucasian” as a category. The Odinic Fellowship, and later the Odinic Rite, took a decentralized Volkish communal idea, which mixed the racial mysticism that came from pre-Nazi Germanic theory and the anarchist labor ideas of her earlier anarcho-syndicalism. Many of these ideas are represented in the Third Positionist National Anarchist milieu today, which attempts to take many left-wing revolutionary elements and match them with openly fascist ideas about race, gender, and hierarchy. (1)

While Odinism was traditionally an openly racialist position, Asatru was intended to be the more moderate approach. Inspired mainly from the Scandinavian and Norse countries who were reconstructing both the traditional religious and folklore ideas of the ancestors, the term Asatru meant “those who follow the Aesir,” the main pantheon of Heathenry. While Asatru was not an explicitly racialist concept, it was not opposed to it necessarily either.

The first spark of the Asatru tradition in the United States came with the formation of the Asatru Free Assembly, coming from the earlier Viking Brotherhood. It is here we get many of the most relatable interpretations of the Lore and traditions, as well as a starting point for the organizations today. The racial interpretation was present from the start, but instead of outright allying with white nationalist and fascist convictions on race they preferred a softer “folkish” interpretation. This says that the Gods are literally the ancestors of the Northern Europeans, and that their archetypal image and presence is unique to those with that ancestry. This allowed for the Asatru Free Assembly to attract neo-Nazi and organized racist converts, which eventually forced the AFA to split into a number of organizations. Today the founders of the original AFA founded the new Asatru Folk Assembly, while others created the folkish Asatru Alliance and the universalist(non-folkish) Troth. (2)

The Politics of Asatru

The story of Asatru in America has really been centered on its most proselytizing and missionary member: Stephen McNallen. Founder of both incarnations of the AFA, McNallen is known for popular books and articles as well as speaking on radio and television programs wherever a microphone seems to be available. In his seminal work, Asatru: A Native European Religion, he offers up the idea of “meta-genetics,” which is to say that white Europeans have a unique characteristic amongst themselves. Avoiding rhetoric of racial superiority, he prefers a line of “racial distinction,” where he uses antiquated studies to try and push the notion that there are key fundamental racial differences. What this draws on in terms of spirituality comes from Carl Jung’s theories of archetypes in the collective unconscious.

hitler-reich-party-dayDuring the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, Jung wrote one of his most infamous essays titled “Wotan” where he said that this brutal militaristic spirit was the rise of Odin in the collective unconscious of the Germanic peoples. The notion here, which is much different than the actual evolutionary psychology in which Jung wrote about archetypes, is that the Norse Gods are unique to the minds and spirits of Germanic peoples and that they have a calling towards them that comes deep from within their bodies and their past. This is to say it is a voice bringing them home, and trying to instruct them about their instinctual nature and the best way of organizing communities.

The direct inheritor of the original AFA was the Asatru Alliance initiated by Valgard Murray, a former organizer with the American Nazi Party who worked with Else Christensen in the original Odinist Fellowship. Murray took an even more accommodating view than McNallen about the inclusion of neo-Nazi and organized racist types, and has brought controversy for allegedly threatening queer-identifying Heathens and publicly criticizing universalist Asatru. (3)

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David Lane

The distinct racial elements of these archetypes are key to another, and much more violently racist interpretation of the lore often referred to as Wotanism. This comes from a branch more closely associated with Nazism, popular in prison and amongst disparate skinhead gangs. The term Wotan was focused on by former Order member David Lane, who is well known for his attempt to start a race war in the 1980s and for coining the “14 words.” (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”) Lane, who formerly was a member of the anti-Semitic and white supremacist Christian Identity church, preferred the name Wotan since it could stand for Will of the Aryan Nation. It should be made clear that all branches of regular Heathenry, including the ethnically focused folkish and racialist groups, condemn the violent racism of Wotanism. Much of the consciousness of Heathenry’s association with racism comes from the high-profile crimes of Wotanists and their calls for violent white revolution. (4)

Today, further steps have been taken into the extreme edges of Heathenry, whereby racialism is only a part of the analysis. The Wolves of Vinland uses the structure of a biker gang, with its exclusionary nature and foundations on violence. Members are expected to fight and train, where differences in body type are as disallowed as differences in skin tone. While they take a hard line on folkishness, they also unite with an Evolian view of the world as degenerate and in the “Kali Yuga,” instead rejecting modernity and arguing that members should “rewild.”

Here the term tribalism is taken even more literally, where the entire function of the Wolves is to create an “Odinic wolf cult” that is defined by an in-group and an out-group. In recent months they have gotten even more notice as they gained high profile members like neo-tribalist and anti-feminist writer Jack Donovan–as well as Youth for Western Civilization and American Enterprise Institute faculty member Kevin DeAnna–joined their ranks. Their work on runic magick and on customizing and personalizing ritual has made them incredibly popular, and shows where heathen and pagan communities often focus too heavily on reconstruction rather than keeping the spirituality alive, but it has clouded the judgement of onlookers who are not seeing their direct connections to white nationalist institutions like Counter-Currents Publishing or the National Policy Institute.

The Heart of Asatru

To really understand the true nature of Asatru you need to look at its component parts. This is especially true of all pagan faiths in that followers come to them in post-modern times, where few were raised with them and they are inherently a reconstruction or a non-fundamentalist approach.

What this means is that there are few “pagan literalists,” those who take the word of myths to be literally true. Instead, the reconstruction or eclecticism itself needs to have a sort of “logical” part where people reason why these ideas and traditions are valuable and real to them. Pagans rarely take myths themselves solely as their instruction for spiritual ideas, but instead they apply already existing or developing ideas to the Myths and Gods that speak to them.

Their faith then, in this context, has a few component parts: The Myths and the Gods, The Theology, and The Philosophy.

HEIMDALLEDDAThe Theology is largely at the core of the ideas inside of a pagan worldview, and this can academically read as concepts such as pantheism, panentheism, or even “hard polytheism.” This says how you actually see the Gods and the stories told about them. Do they represent parts of nature and the cosmos? Are they both archetypal and real? Do they literally exist, but do we shift between them by culture? These ideas can be stripped away from the Myths and traditions in a certain sense, even if they are deepened and developed in relation to spiritual practice and study.

The Philosophy looks at what types of social tropes and concepts are important to find in the faith, such as courage, caring, egalitarianism, tribalism, heroism, etc. These can, again, feed from your experience of the religion, but they can also exist outside it and can be explained in secular terms as well.

This then makes the Myth and the Gods super-structural: they color, specify, and invoke the Theology and the Philosophy. This idea has been controversial amongst many pagans, especially in Germanic Neopaganism since there is such a strong Theodinist sphere that attempts to not only reconstruct stories and ritual, but to literally inhabit the minds of the ancestors and their relationship to the Gods. The religion itself, the source materials and the literature of the Gods are the cultural lens through while the complex and mystical ideas of Theology and Philosophy can be seen. This is to say, the divine itself is so complex that we need these vessels in which to place a human context. This does not make the Myths or Gods any less true to pagans, but instead represents the way that they reveal themselves to the people.

Within this idea, Asatru holds a lot of things in many of these interpretations that are clearly not in its Myths and Gods as displayed in the Eddas and Sagas. The key concept that is proposed in these ethnic Asatru conceptions is that the Gods are specific to genetic groups of people. Second, it is that those Gods actually exist in the bodies and spirits of those peoples, yet not others. When Stephen McNallen is asked to describe Asatru he often says that the best way to describe it is that “It is a Native European Religion.” This statement actually says nothing about the religion if by the religion you mean the Myths, Gods, and traditions, since nowhere in the Eddas and Sagas do they make any racial or genetic distinctions. What this does show, however, is a distinct worldview of his Philosophy that is key to his total concept of what Asatru is as a religion.

The Myths and Gods are then colored within this frame of reference, where things like the Innangardh and Utangardh (Tribal in and out groups), the warrior heroism displayed by Gods like Odin, and the hierarchy found in Viking tribal orders are focused on heavily. There are equally problematic elements in other areas of European reconstructionist paganism, including gender and power differentials in Celtic and Druid traditions, but what we see in things like Wicca (especially Dianic Wicca), Druidry broadly, Reclaiming, Feri Tradition, and a whole host of other paths that draw on the past are the use of these Myths to focus on things like ecology, feminism, queer liberation, and anti-capitalism.

This is to say that with similar mythological structure, history, and God descriptions, these traditions today still vary very seriously in term of Philosophy. The Norse myths can be transferred to these left-leaning ideas just as easily as those traditions, with gender parity more prevalent in Norse traditional cultures, transgender aspects of the Gods, as well as a certain kind of anarchist individualism.

At the same time, the rest of the mentioned pagan traditions could be forced to the political and social right, but they don’t. For example, ancestor veneration is key in most of these pagan traditions, but it is only through Heathenry that adherents focus on the “blood and soil” interpretation of that concept.

The point here is that the Philosophical and Theological work that has been done for Heathenry, its extensive writing and development, was started–and has been continued–by a nationalist, right-wing current.

The Theological underpinnings that create folkish interpretations, the academic writing that celebrates that racial distinction, and the mysticism that has created false mythologies about people with Northern European ancestry has developed a cult of Heathenry that is uniquely its own, and is uniquely right-wing while the source material is without contemporary political or racial content. The understanding that there is an entire tradition of racial Asatru and Odinism is not an attempt to uproot a “logical understanding” of the faith, because there isn’t one. Even through contradictions you will find that the main joining point in the Heathen philosophical circles is the racial and socially rightist concepts over the Myths and traditions.

An example of this has been in the publishing world that has developed around Heathenry. The editor of the Heathen journal Runa, which publishes open white nationalists like Colin Cleary, is also an editor of the aptly named Tyr journal. This journal notes itself as ascribing to the Radical Traditionalism of people like the proto-fascists Julius Evola and Renee Guenon. Here editors like Michael Moynihan brings over people like Cleary to write again about Odinism, while the traditionalism itself denies paganism outright as it lacks a “chain of initiation.” (5)

Likewise, Moynihan has been closely associated with the Church of Satan, Social Darwinist organizations, and with cultish groups around Charles Manson, all of which are mythological and Theologically conflicting with Norse paganism. You will see this crossover with people like The Troth’s Stephen Flowers and the left-hand path Temple of Set, and a lot of dabbling in Satanist, Crowleyian, and other dark esoteric traditions. (6) None of these follow any of the key precepts outlined in any traditional material on Lore, but that isn’t the point in the first place. The point for these adherents is to find a true mythological and religious justification for right-wing ideas about strength, social hierarchy, race and gender. The fidelity is not to Heathenry; it is to racism.

Historiography and genetics are twisted to create a discourse mirroring academic explanation, but it fails to live up to those field’s academic standards. The genetic argument, specifically, is emphasized so heavily among folkish journals and authors, yet the understanding that there are no significant genetic markers inside racial groups as there are between racial groups is mistaken. The idea that, on a historical time frame, there are no purely Asatru peoples of the North, nor is there a historic justification for the idea that Heathenry cannot be taken by people of different origin is always forgotten. Instead of following the academic rigor that is established in academic research, preference is given for concepts that have nothing to do with the fields they reference.

As Mattias Gardell outlines in his study on various ethnic and racial forms of paganism in Gods of the Blood, if the ethnic Asatruar’s claims that the folkish basis is not founded in racism, then you would find a welcoming atmosphere for multi-ethnic pagans with some Northern European ancestry. But here those questions faltered even further, with many members saying that it was too complicated. Valgard Murray went as far as saying that they needed to “look like a white man,” and that they would question AA members about their ethnic background and if they can “act white.”

Whiteness here is associated with mental and behavioral qualities such as trustworthiness, honesty, industriousness, nobility, honor, courage, and self-reliance—that is, exactly the virtues believed by white racists to be inherent in whiteness. If this were to think and act white, then to think and act “red,” “brown,” “black,” or “yellow” would, at least implicitly, be characterized by a lack of these same virtues. (7)

The Future of Asatru

Because of the influence of the racialist interpretations of Heathenry we have seen the most vocal parts of the Asatru tradition shift to the right, while the rest of contemporary paganism shifts (for the most part) to the left.

Right from the start the the idea of Asatru as an ethnic religion made many pagans who were Northernly inclined revolt. Gamlinginn, a long-time pagan antifascist organizer stated bluntly that the tradition out of Asgard could simply could not be exclusive to one group of people. “Every culture that has ever existed in the world has inherently esteemed the virtues esteemed by Asatru,” he said. “Asatru is a multi-ethnic religion—not because that might be ‘politically correct’ at this point in time, but because multi-ethnicity is fundamental to the theology of Asatru. Asgard, home of the Gods is multi-ethnic. For example, Magni and Modi, the sons of Thor, are also the sons of their mother, Jarnsaxa, who is Jotunn. [referring to one of the other races listed in the Eddas] Who will tell Thor that his sons should not participate in something because they are not of ‘pure descent.?” (8)

While groups like the AFA, AA, and numerous other Asatru and Odinist organizations loudly proclaim folkish values, a large current of explicitly universalist and anti-racist Heathens have emerged and are espousing a line that is more closely associated with other types of contemporary pagan thought and spirituality.

HUAROnline, Heathens United Against Racism celebrates a fully diverse group of Heathens, often hearing from people of color in the Global South who follow the Norse tradition. The spiritual Theology here is that the Gods and Goddesses can call a person directly, and that a person feels that this particular cultural tradition best represents their connection to the divine. This does help elevate the archetypal distinction that the Gods are, while real, also symbolic and uniquely represented and interpreted through human metaphor. They have utilized campaigns to confront what they identify as racist Asatru currents, including a campaign where Heathens of all different backgrounds declare their ancestry and take photos holding a sign reading “Stephen McNallen does not speak for me.” (9)

circleOne of the most radical divergences from the folkish interpretations of Germanic Neo-Paganism came from the Circle Ansuz collective from the U.S. West Coast. The group identifies with the label of “Heathen anarchist” or “Germanic anarchist,” which is to say that they stand with “red and black” anarchism of the broad revolutionary left tradition as well as following a Heathen path. Their organization, which hosted both kindreds and individuals, made political organizing and explicit anti-fascism a key part of participation. Here they refuted any racial or ethnic origins to the faith and called on heathens to participate in both confronting fascist organizing, right-wing influences in musical culture, and the problems in other Heathen organizations. Circle Ansuz’s praxis for spirituality comes from the same texts and history as the Asatru Folk Assembly, yet here they emphasize the equality of genders, the independence and free-association of individuals, and the cyclical nature of the Voluspol.

In Heathen anarchism this process is proof that free will, free choice, and autonomy are inherent elements of all life. The gods do not give humans freedom or constrain their freedom because they acknowledge that humans, by the simple virtue of living, already possess these qualities. If even the gods that created us have no right to place any constraints on our autonomy then no human institution has any right to limit our inherent autonomy by force, fraud, or coercion. Just as the gods created the universe through discussion, council, and consensus it follows all human systems should be founded on similar principles. (10)

There is no effort here to simply re-write the tradition to fit a political agenda, nor to ignore the reality of history as they acknowledge perfectly that the Viking past was far from a revolutionary utopia. The difference is that they find the tools within Heathenry to have a spiritual component to their lives that are also framed through the political commitment. Their confrontation of the broader Heathen community has been profound, where they even have a full four-part expose of Stephen McNallen focusing on his association with racialist groups internationally.

the_troth_emblem_logoCurrently The Troth, formerly The Ring of Troth, is one of the largest Heathen organizations in the world. It represents the “universalist” wing of Heathenry, and states openly that it will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression. Though many of the folkish organizations often state that they are opposed to racism, The Troth takes a clear stance that anyone, regardless of ancestry, can practice Heathenry. (11) There are also many middle-ground positions that reject folkishness as a purely genetic option. The “tribalist” position is universal in who can practice Heathenry, but restrictive about whether or not it can be eclectic. The “moderate” position does support a certain understanding of folkishness, but also makes exceptions for those raised in or profoundly inspired by Germanic and Norse culture.

The notion of ancestry and culture may also simply play as a more complex series of inspirations for the faithful, which the author of Essential Asatru, Diana L. Paxson, sees as being a source of cultural inspiration since it is not possible to cleanly identify who is of what “genetic origin.” Here, the culture of ancient Europe defines much in our world and it may simply be the route to the Gods and the Earth that someone prefers. (12) Ancestry may very well be the inspiration for some, while the uniqueness of it could be the driving force for another, and for many modern Heathens all of these are acceptable as long as they are not exclusionary.

IcelantOutside of the United States, and in countries from which the Germanic traditions were originally found, the traditions are notably different. The Ásatrúarfélagið, the Icelandic Asatru organization, recently spoke publicly about the backlash from right-wing, American Heathens to their universalist and queer affirming practices. Notable for their left-leaning stance on religious and social issues, they officiate gender-neutral marriage, support progressive causes, and invite anyone in who feels draw to the religion. In many post-Nazi countries, like Germany, they are even more reluctant to allow right-wing sentiment in because of the way that the Third Reich appropriated Runic symbols. At the same time, the more violently neo-Nazi versions of Norse paganism still present a growing problem in Germany and much of Scandinavia, which they want to draw distinction away from even further.

For pagans drawn to the Aesir and Vanir, the avenues are available for building a Heathen foundation that is friendly to a multi-ethnic and progressive community.

If people from the polytheist traditions want to challenge racialized interpretation of the Asatru faith, there has to be a conscious Theology and Philosophy that can undermine the folkish traditionalism that has dominated much of the ideas inside of the “cult of Odin.” Many pagans see that this could come in the form of eclecticism that allows for openness and integration of other traditions. Many folkish Asatru oppose eclecticism and prefer a stricter form of reconstructionist fidelity, which often comes from the fact that the traditions they see as bound to their blood. Instead, pagans may find that moving past a strict adherence to traditions may leave them open to a more diverse understanding of Myth and the Gods. Likewise, it could simply mean drawing on many of the different Philosophies and Theologies that are prevalent in other traditions (though there are really every type of Philosophy and Theology at play in every pagan path).

An example of this: many of the ideas that have fueled Starhawk’s Reclaiming movement, which takes a uniquely panentheist understanding of the Gods and specifically sees an importance in the progressive values inside of Myth and practice. These ideas were never God/Myth specific, yet a strong sense of syncretism could allow a new synthesis that builds an emerging tradition that is both coherent and Philosophically strong.

The pagan traditions, both old and new, often evolve based on what parishioners bring to it. The ideas that evolve both inside and outside of spiritual practice, where it is the broad experience of life, relationships, and the earth that guide some of the most profound insights that are brought into practice. With Asatru, pagans can again bring those experiences in and make it more of an exchange between the living world and that of tradition, between the follower and the Gods. Only here can the old strictures be challenged, and followers can build up the Asatru that they have already be drawn to in the way they see it from the power of the Myth.


 

Notes

  • 1. Goodrick-Clark, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press. New York: 2002. Pp. 257-277.
  • 2. Gardell, Mattias. Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Nationalism. Duke University Press. Durham: 2003. Pp. 258-282.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Gardell, Mattias. Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Nationalism. Duke University Press. Durham: 2003. Pp. 191-256.
  • 5. “About The Journal.” Tyr-Journal Website. Last retrieved September 14, 2015. http://tyrjournal.tripod.com/about_the_journal.htm.
  • 6. Goodrick-Clark, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press. New York: 2002. Pp. 213-230.
  • 7. Goodrick-Clark, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press. New York: 2002. Pp. 257-277.
  • 8. Gamlinginn. 1997. “We Are Not Racists.” Widdershins, issue 6 (Yule) http://www.widdershins.org/vo13iss6/index.html (18 October 2000)
  • 9. “Heathens United Against Racism.” Facebook.com.
  • 10. “The general theory of Heathen anarchism.” Circle Ansuz. July 4, 2013. https://circleansuz.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/the-general-theory-of-heathen-anarchism/.
  • 11. “About the Troth.” The Troth. December 27, 2013. http://www.thetroth.org/index.php?page=about&title=About%Us%20|%20The%20Troth&css=style2&pagestyle=mid.
  • 12. Paxson, Diana L. Essential Asatru: Walking the Path of Norse Paganism. Citadel Press books, Kensington Publishing Group. New York: 2006. Pp. 153-156.


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Shane Burley

Shane Burley is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer based in Portland, Oregon. His work as appeared in places such as In These Times, Truth-Out, Labor Notes, Waging Nonviolence, CounterPunch, and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He contributed a chapter on housing justice movements to the recent AK Press release The End of the World As We Know It?, and has work in upcoming volumes on social movements. His most recent documentary Expect Resistance chronicles the intersection of the housing justice and Occupy Wallstreet movement. His work can be found at ShaneBurley.net, or reach him on Twitter at @shane_burley1.

 

41 Comments »

  1. There are basically three approaches to the lore in modern paganism – ignore it, interpret it while pretending to take it literally, or interpret it consciously and deliberately. Folkish and racist currents take the second option – they pretend to simply take the lore literally, while actually using it to further a value system they don’t publicly admit to having. Many of the best groups you discuss here take the third option.

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    • I put it in quotes since a lot of non-pagan people had never heard of it, and it actually has a meaning in flux. It means different things to different people, and in this context a slight difference changes what I am talking about dramatically. So the quotes generally indicate that it is not exactly the best word for it, but it will have to do.

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  2. Great article, thank you. I have been Heathen for 6 years or so and have experienced some of the left right divide in Heathenry first hand. I will say though, that much of the way I have experienced these things are more conversational and less polemic than this article suggests. Things are ever-evolving within Heathenry and many contradictions exist, but this is only natural given the early stages of this cultural phenomenon. The group I am part of explicitly denounces racism, homophobia, and sexism and yet I see these systems of oppression live and well in the greater Heathen community my group exists within. I have always identified as Folkish because I believe that veneration of ones’ ancestors is a hallmark of most all Indigenous religions and I think for the Earth and our future descendants we need to focus on our literal ancestors. Who are these people who made us, what were their decisions that helped to shape our reality, the way our families relate, traditions we carry, and where do we need to diverge from these paths or acknowledge wrong doing? Just as in psychotherapy when a person is encouraged to address the feelings of tension that they feel around an issue or past event in order to process and move on, I think we can all benefit from focusing on our ancestors even when there is discomfort. Many white folks choose to seek Native American traditions for example because appropriation of another culture distances them from the crimes of their own ancestors. I personally don’t find this acceptable, not because of any sentiment against Native traditions; on the contrary those of us with settler privilege need to stand up to forms of cultural theft. I agree with the support of a multicultural Heathenry because many of us are of mixed ancestry and it does everyone harm to set or define a false standard of ethnic purity. I would never tell another person they cannot worship the Germanic gods, but if the topic came up, I would strongly encourage anyone to look into the traditions of their own Indigenous forbears be they Yoruba, Slavic, Choctaw, or Manchu. In most Heathen groups and for most of my Heathen practice ancestor veneration comes in the form of ritual acknowledgement of ancestors for their positive deeds, but there have been many instances when people have acknowledged over the horn in symbel (group ritual drinking to ancestors, gods, and setting of intentions) that their ancestors actions were not always worthy of honoring. For some Heathens, this can be uncomfortable for their ancestors may have committed atrocities such as sexual abuse, participation in systems of slavery, policies of extermination, etc. Heathenry can gel people to love and appreciate their ancestors but also push people to do personal work so that we address the way ones’ Örlög has frayed or become tangled. At times we will need to mend this tapestry and undo the strands so that our families and communities can be whole again and step back on the path in sync with the Earth’s energy. This is the work of decolonization in activist circles but there are those working quietly within the Heathen community addressing this issue. You may not have heard of this work because these wyrd workers (mostly womyn) do not rely on the cult of the ego as McNallen and many of the heroic Viking-inspired lot do. Remember that we give power to those we scorn publicly especially when they are looking for cause for separation. In some instances we need to publicly address issues so that they can be called out and stopped,. but let’s see the full spectrum of Heathenry as it exists and this includes the powerful work of many others not mentioned in this thought provoking article. This is my orientation and am 100% comfortable with a pluralistic future with many Heathen groups and individuals defining for themselves what it means to be Heathen. Indeed I’m counting on it.

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  3. “If people from the polytheist traditions want to challenge racialized interpretation of the Asatru faith, there has to be a conscious Theology and Philosophy that can undermine the folkish traditionalism that has dominated much of the ideas inside of the “cult of Odin.” Many pagans see that this could come in the form of eclecticism that allows for openness and integration of other traditions.”

    So, if you want to worship the Germanic/Scandinavian gods in a manner roughly equivalent to the way they were once worshipped (which wasn’t inherently racist, and need not be today), you must embrace eclecticism and incorporate outside traditions? Just because some schmucks have gone around loudly proclaiming that race is important to heathenry and we have to make sure everyone can tell we’re distancing ourselves from them? So we’re going to let racist assholes dictate the structure of our traditions by forcing us to change them just to appear more welcoming? That makes no sense. And once again, it makes religion more about people than about the gods. Religion doesn’t need to be a political statement. It’s about our relationship with the divine powers. Doing right by Them is far more important than placating other humans’ perceptions of us. I find it ridiculous to suggest that it’s not enough to not be racist, now one must actively change one’s religious practice just to make sure one doesn’t look anything like some other people who are racist.

    “Many folkish Asatru oppose eclecticism and prefer a stricter form of reconstructionist fidelity, which often comes from the fact that the traditions they see as bound to their blood.”

    Well that is a really tricksy way of implying that if you’re Asatru and oppose eclecticism, you’re probably a racist. Even though there are plenty of non-race-related reasons to feel that way, and it’s a stance taken by plenty of other Recon types as well.

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  4. I’ve been, probably one of the more vitriolic commenters on the ongoing issues Gods and Radicals has sought to address. But for this, I want to take a different tone, because I think it’s important to address some things with a level head. I see a few issues, here. Well, I see a terrible lot of them, but the most pressing are as follows:

    The history lesson here is, to say the least, rather dated. Yes, there’s lots of accurate history, but it essentially leaves off in the mid-’90s, save for some brief references to the Wolves of Vinland and HUAR, and the article as a whole feels more like it would be a particularly poignant piece in 1995. Not so much, in 2016, and it feels a bit (hopefully unintentional) disingenuous in how it really doesn’t address how the dynamics of heathenry have changed in the last twenty years. I mean, just for starters, “universalist” is barely even in the heathen lexicon in 2016, save for historical reference and talking about the (barely relevant) Troth. Nowadays, there’s the folkish minority (mostly connected to McNallen and his cadre of old guard) and the rest of us who have moved on.

    Beyond that, the title of the article asks if a “Multicultural Asatru” is possible, but it never actually addresses this question at all. Most of the length of the article dwells on racial issues, never really broaching the subject of culture, and it does the author and his audience a disservice to act as though race = culture. Heathenry can be, and for that matter, IS multi-ethnic. There are heathens of all colors, albeit there are more white (as though “white” meant only one thing, but that’s another matter) than not. But there are more white pagans than not in virtually every tradition, this is not by any means unique to heathenry.

    And no, it isn’t possible. Heathenry is a cultural-religious system, and the Germanic cultural subtext (the basis for foundational concepts like wyrd, innangard/utangard, frith, and others) cannot be separated from it. It is monocultural because it is a cultural tradition as much as a religion. The author would have heathens reject Germanic culture (by which, for the record, I mean pre-conversion Germanic culture, insomuch as there was one) outright because of its concepts related to hierarchy and tribalism, but doesn’t seek to understand why these concepts are important to heathenry itself. Now, it is true that this doesn’t preclude it from left-leaning politics, because iron age Europe did not exactly conform to left or right politics as we understand them today.

    I, and I think most heathens, left-leaning, right-leaning, or otherwise, think that there are ways to find agreement between our political and religious views without entirely restructuring one in service to the other. That restructuring is certainly an issue, and it’s the basis of what the author is driving at (beneath what I think is misguided rhetoric) when he talks about racists’ loyalty being to their racism, not to heathenry, but my counter-argument would be that this can go both ways. The answer to people slaving their “heathenry” to their right-wing fanaticism is not to reshape Germanic paganism in a leftist mold, but to seek a more thorough understanding of what heathenry is, why it is what it is (not how it’s politicized, but what it -is,- as a reconstruction of an ancient cultural tradition, with values particular to that culture), and to find a place where their ideologies, both political and religious, can intersect without either overriding the other. I don’t believe that politics and spirituality can be divorced from one another, by anyone who takes both seriously; they are both too strong a part of the self to compartmentalize, but neither do I believe any religion is entirely “left” or “right.”

    Now, aside from that lengthy detour, my final criticism, or at least the last of my central criticisms of the piece, is that the conclusion the author arrives at seems to place the blame on reconstructionism as a practice, with eclecticism as a solution. There are, I believe, very legitimate reasons to reconstruct a tradition without deliberate blending with others, both from an interest in spirituality and history/anthropology. I don’t believe, and I cannot accept, that reconstructionism as a methodology is innately wrong, and neither do I believe that eclecticism is such, but I don’t think that either of them are a blank-check solution to the issues at hand.

    I feel as though this article was written for another time, for an audience a decade or more in the past, even as it attempts to address issues of today. I don’t think it’s entirely without merit, but I also feel as though it’s perhaps a bit directionless, and fails to actually ever address its original question, and unfortunately, it reads all too much like far too many other laments of the lost cause of heathenry, the rightist pariah of the otherwise saintly pagan community.

    There may be no room for fascists in heathenry, in paganism. There certainly is no room for them at my table, in my home, or among my folk (which is not to say “whites,” or “heathens,” or “Germanic peoples,” or any other broad-scope racialisms, but to say “My friends and family, those people who are tangibly close enough to be -my- folk, because that is the essence of tribalism at heart: community). But that does not reduce all of paganism to a simple dichotomy of “left good, right bad.” There is room enough for people who lean to the right, or lean to the left, or who sit squarely in the center. The true evil is disorder for disorder’s sake, tearing down walls just to see them tumble down, rather than to build something new, and that is a sin of both extremes.

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  5. What does “opposing eclecticism” actually mean? It’s one thing to say incorporating non-Germanic material into a blot or symbel is not proper Asatru- that doesn’t mean opposing other Pagans being eclectic, or Heathens practicing more than one tradition. Polytheistic religions often have particular taboos and rules to follow so you need to be careful about mixing them. Another group I’ve found to be very friendly and inclusive, but not overly political is Distelfink Sippschaft, and Urglaawe more generally. http://site.distelfink.org/ They focus on Deitsch (Pennsylvania German) traditions, but it’s based on interest in the culture, not ancestry. Also wondering what is meant by the comment about Celtic & Druid traditions having issues with gender & power- most are quite gender egalitarian and while there are different religious roles they are open to anyone who seeks the knowledge and training necessary to fill said roles.

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  6. Heathenry is not eclectic because it wouldn’t be Heathenry if it was. That doesn’t mean that Heathens can’t practice another tradition in addition to Heathenry, but shoehorning Greek gods into a Heathen ritual is disrespectful to the Heathen tradition, the Goda, and the Olympian gods.

    I don’t pretend that ancient Heathen cultures (and there were plural) did not adopt other traditions to some extent. My own, Frankish Heathenry, incorporates certain aspects of Roman cultus as well. But it’s not eclecticism to prove a point – it’s a part of the ongoing reconstruction of Frankish Heathenry.

    “If people from the polytheist traditions want to challenge racialized interpretation of the Asatru faith, there has to be a conscious Theology and Philosophy that can undermine the folkish traditionalism that has dominated much of the ideas inside of the “cult of Odin.” Many pagans see that this could come in the form of eclecticism that allows for openness and integration of other traditions. Many folkish Asatru oppose eclecticism and prefer a stricter form of reconstructionist fidelity, which often comes from the fact that the traditions they see as bound to their blood. Instead, pagans may find that moving past a strict adherence to traditions may leave them open to a more diverse understanding of Myth and the Gods. Likewise, it could simply mean drawing on many of the different Philosophies and Theologies that are prevalent in other traditions (though there are really every type of Philosophy and Theology at play in every pagan path).”

    We don’t care what “many pagans” think. We care what Heathens think, and what our gods think. I have no problem with someone practicing Heathenry and also partaking in Hellenisimos, or maintaining a cult to, say, Sekhmet. But we should not pretend that they are the same traditions, or that it would be appropriate to sacrifice to Sekhmet in a Heathen ve, just as it would be a slap in the face of both my gods and the Christian god if I were to venerate Donar in a Christian church. Eclecticism for the sake of itself is not respectful to either Heathenry or to the traditions from which you suggest it should borrow.

    I agree that Heathenry needs to grow and that it will, but we will never and should never grow into something like the Reclaiming tradition. That would destroy Heathenry; it is something that our cult simply is not. I have attended Wiccan ritual before; while it was enjoyable and the people were hospitable, it could never be confused with a Heathen ceremony. Its priorities, ways of thinking, customs, assumptions, metaphysics, and focus are all profoundly different from what is expressed in faining, blot or symbel. Nor should a Wiccan ritual be like a Heathen one. We are very different traditions, and that’s alright. The growth that Heathenry must undertake must come from within Heathenry, through the growth of our traditions and customs, through the deepening of our still very new relationship to the Goda and Wihta.

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    • I’m not very eclectic myself in practice (there are only Celtic deities on my altar for instance) but I can think of plenty of examples of blatant eclecticism from ancient times – including altars from the Rhineland that mention Celtic, Germanic and Roman deities virtually in the same breath. I’m not aware of any actual evidence that the average person in ancient times saw this as an issue. Are you?

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      • Certainly not. Again, I understand fully that ancient cultures, including Germanic cultures (again, plural) practiced syncretic cults. As I wrote,

        “I don’t pretend that ancient Heathen cultures (and there were plural) did not adopt other traditions to some extent. My own, Frankish Heathenry, incorporates certain aspects of Roman cultus as well. But it’s not eclecticism to prove a point – it’s a part of the ongoing reconstruction of Frankish Heathenry.”

        My problem with an “eclectic” approach to Heathenism, and the problem that a lot of Heathens have, is when people pretend that “syncretic” means the same thing as “having no integrity of tradition at all.” When the Franks adopted aspects of Roman cult, they did so as Franks. When they served in Roman legions, as vast numbers of Germans did, they took some of their own gods with them, venerated the local deities of wherever they were garrisoned, and carried the aspects they found useful back to their own peoples. There they made it theirs.

        I really do think that Heathry is growing and will continue to grow, and should continue to do so. It doesn’t serve us or our gods to treat the Goda, Wihta and ancestors as a museum, or to act as though the ancients lived in total isolation from other cultures. However, for people outside of our tradition to suggest that we should be more like the Reclaiming tradition, whose ethos is not the same as the ethos of any Heathen kindred or tradition I am aware of now or in the distant past, suggests to us that what you really want is for Heathenry to not exist at all. As we change it should be as an outgrowth of our traditions, not those of groups with whom we share little in common.

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      • Personally, I don’t really have an opinion on what heathenry ought to be, other than the fact that I’m totally opposed to all forms of racist or fascist ideology so I wouldn’t be okay with seeing that in heathenry any more than I would in Christianity. But I do get the impression sometimes that a lot of “apolitical polytheists” aren’t really apolitical at all – they just hate the Left, and they don’t want any leftist form of polytheism to exist.

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    • There is, to me, a pretty wide difference between worshipping gods from several different polytheistic traditions simultaneously (which can sometimes be done properly, and definitely was done in some places in antiquity), and trying to combine a polytheistic tradition with an entirely different worldview as present in, say, Reclaiming. The ancient polytheistic traditions could intermingle, sometimes nearly seamlessly, because they all acknowledged the real existence of all the gods… so if you went to another land where they had different gods, it made sense to get to know those gods, it was still about honoring gods, ancestors, land spirits, etc., in whatever ways They wished to be honored. Whereas some of the modern neo-pagan paths would have us see the gods as merely archetypes, or thought-forms, or all facets of one larger godhead, which is a major difference in theology that makes those paths incompatible with traditional polytheisms. They should have no more influence on the development of polytheistic traditions than should monotheism, atheism, or any other separate, distinct and often oppositional theological position.

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      • Is non-eclectic polytheism even possible? And aren’t we as products of the present already bringing a fully alien worldview into a reconstructed past?
        Also, to correct an error–most of the Reclaiming folk I know are polytheist.

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      • Rhyd, I can’t reply directly to your comment for some reason so I’ll do it here. I think it’s all a spectrum. But if you worship only the gods of a single pantheon, using only the practices from a particular time and place, I would say you are not eclectic in any meaningful way. But, most of us do not do things that way when it comes down to it. So yes, there is some eclecticism built into a lot of polytheism, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it does matter what one is trying to mesh with one’s tradition, and if those things actually go together at all, or if the outside thing entirely contradicts the worldview of the tradition.

        However, I do think it’s a cop out to say “well, we have a totally alien worldview as moderns anyway” as if that makes it meaningless to try to preserve an ancient tradition. We are capable, with effort, of learning to see things from a different perspective and embrace a different worldview. (Gods, I sure hope so! Because this worldview of modern Western thinking has not led us anywhere good.) It takes work (believe me, I’m still trying to explain to newer Hellenics the difference between miasma and sin, for instance). But if it wasn’t possible and we were stuck with the worldview we grew up with, many of us would just have to throw in the towel and be monotheists (and, I might add, capitalists). No, we can choose how we see things. We can choose to, for instance, believe in the real independent existence of multiple gods even though our modern worldview says that’s ridiculous at best. And we can learn how to approach our relationship with the gods, spirits and land the way our ancestors did when things worked better between all parties involved.

        As for Reclaiming, I don’t know anything about that tradition, I was just basing it on what the author said – panentheism is not IMO polytheism, at least not how it’s put into practice, in my experience.

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      • It’s a weird wordpress problem, sorry about that. Have considered using Disqus for that reason, but…ugh. 🙂

        However, I do think it’s a cop out to say “well, we have a totally alien worldview as moderns anyway” as if that makes it meaningless to try to preserve an ancient tradition. We are capable, with effort, of learning to see things from a different perspective and embrace a different worldview. (Gods, I sure hope so! Because this worldview of modern Western thinking has not led us anywhere good.)

        I totally agree that we shouldn’t -not try-. Starting from the fact that we -are- alienated from other worldviews (which you are one of the few I read who acknowledges that in your writing) and being clear that we’re attempting to decolonize ourselves by embracing other paradigms is the very place where Paganism becomes eclectic. That is, rejecting the modern (as I think we should) and creating a new paradigm from fragments of the past (again, something I think we should be doing) requires a lot of cobbling-together of things that our ancestors would never have recognised.

        I think the difference in our views might come from the fact that I really don’t think it’s possible to escape our modern worldview while still living in modern, Capitalist/Western countries. That’s why I focus so much on attacking Capitalism and the State, since both require and enforce our alienation from the land and spirits and older forms of relating.

        There’s much in Reclaiming I think that would resonate with you, particularly the ecstatic relationality with the gods. Because it’s highly decentralised, though, you’ll find a thousand different views on the Other in a gathering of ten Reclaiming witches. I think you see even more talk about gods from them now then when it started, and at least part of this is because of the influence of Devotional Polytheism. That’s something I think you and other folks who have been writing for a long time can be proud of, by the way. 🙂

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      • “That is, rejecting the modern (as I think we should) and creating a new paradigm from fragments of the past (again, something I think we should be doing) requires a lot of cobbling-together of things that our ancestors would never have recognised.”

        That is probably true. I think, again, it’s a spectrum, and there’s a point where it begins to degrade a tradition to let in too many foreign things, but where that point is, everyone’s going to disagree on. I do not think, for instance, that Heathenry needs to open itself up to vastly different paradigms just to fight the racism that exists in some Heathen groups -because Heathenry isn’t inherently racist, it’s not “broken” and in need of fixing – those racist groups are the broken things. They are mistaken in their attribution of their political views to their religious tradition.

        “I think the difference in our views might come from the fact that I really don’t think it’s possible to escape our modern worldview while still living in modern, Capitalist/Western countries.”

        Perhaps it is just a sign of how disconnected I am from our culture at large, due to being so extremely anti-social, but I don’t think it’s impossible, just difficult. Actually, I think it is MORE possible that an individual can re-order their worldview while still living in this culture, than that we’re going to be able to convince the culture at large to totally change. Though of course I agree with you that it is a major problem we face.

        “I think you see even more talk about gods from them now then when it started, and at least part of this is because of the influence of Devotional Polytheism. That’s something I think you and other folks who have been writing for a long time can be proud of, by the way.”

        That’s good to hear.

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  7. Gilbride:

    “Personally, I don’t really have an opinion on what heathenry ought to be, other than the fact that I’m totally opposed to all forms of racist or fascist ideology so I wouldn’t be okay with seeing that in heathenry any more than I would in Christianity. But I do get the impression sometimes that a lot of “apolitical polytheists” aren’t really apolitical at all – they just hate the Left, and they don’t want any leftist form of polytheism to exist.”

    Fair enough. I lean pretty hard to the left in most respects (not all). I have a vested interest in seeing the success of leftist forms of polytheism and I despise racists. It isn’t an ideology that I see to be in any way compatible with the reconstruction of Heathen religion and cultus – after all, it’s absurd to suppose that the racial essentialism of the ninetheenth century onwards had any relevance at all to the way in which our pre-modern forbears practiced.

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    • To tag on, since I would remark on the same quoted section:

      I don’t identify as an “apolitical polytheist,” by any means, but I do identify more with the political “right,” at least in enough areas to think it’s appropriate to call myself “right-leaning.” I am, generally speaking, not a fan of the modern left, which I will also willingly admit.

      But I think that your statement that these people “just don’t want any leftist form of polytheism to exist” is a bit disingenuous, and seeks to distract from the actual conversation. Many leftist forms of polytheism already exist, many (perhaps most, among contemporary pagans) polytheists are moderately to heavily left-leaning. That is fine. It’s no skin off my nose if other people disagree.

      But with so much attention being paid to publications such as this one, it’s difficult to not feel as though for many leftist pagans, it is precisely the other way around. Recent articles on this site are (unsurprisingly, because of its stated positions) not careful with their language. Even if the focus is on fascism, there are still remarks about the ills of the right wing entirely, whether moderate or extreme, with clear implications that right wing paganism is a problem.

      The biggest issue is that the narrative on both sides of the metaphorical aisle is too often one of “There is no room in paganism for any politics but my own.” It’s not an issue unique to the right, and it’s an issue that is very much at play on this website.

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      • Are you the same Andrew Nelson who called me ‘garbage’ on Patheos?
        Glad to see you’re a bit more measured this time around, and thanks for being much more civil on our site. 🙂

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      • I’m not referring directly to the controversy over the “New Right” article on this site, but to the string of highly personalized attacks on the whole idea of politically radical polytheism. Those attacks preceded the New Right article and still continue along with other more thoughtful critiques of our positions here. Some of the most personal attacks have come from people who identify openly as having right-wing ideas. Thus, I conclude that their real issue is not the article but our existence. I don’t have any quarrel with people critiquing the article, that’s legitimate discussion. But when people engage in vicious ad hominem attacks, I think their agenda cannot be described as apolitical. They are simply trying to defeat the politics they don’t personally agree with.

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  8. To reply to Andrew, I don’t normally feel inclined to comment on things, but there seem to be a couple of things happening here.

    First, about the information there, this is giving an incredibly brief summary of Heathenry in about 200 words, so most of everything has been left out. The kind of changes and disagreements that you note happening over most of the 90s and early 2000s is simply ones that are very important to a small handful of people, and nothing stood out to me too dramatically when compiling a narrative. There is certainly a push away from strict folksiness in this period, but, in a sense, that is besides the point. Meta-genetics and the notion of Heathenry as non-universalist was already cemented.

    One thing I can agree with you about is the use of the term Universalist being out of use, but that is mostly because Universalist Heathenry has been so roundly rejected by most kindreds. The term is, however, still in use when discussing the views on inclusivity. Before I wrote this, I decided to just check a few folkish/non-folkish popular discussions to check things like language. In eight podcasts, they used Universalist in every one, it was used in five books published since 2000, and I found it in twelve of the sixteen websites I looked at. Now, what I think you are getting at is that these divisions are not of regular importance in Heathenry, and you are right, they rarely get discussion inside most kindreds. That is, however, the problem, and one that has allowed very moderate versions of what, in any other context, would be racial nationalism, to pass.

    The issue you raise with the term “multicultural” is fine, the term is used in the West to describe cosmopolitan multiracialism. I could have used multiracial, but the phrasing is awkward and uncommon.

    I think I actually outline what I think politically and about strict cultural theodinism pretty clearly here, so I’m not going to rehash it. I do want to reiterate, however, that if your entire purpose for reconstructing Heathenry is that it you believe it has something bound to you genetically then I think there is already a problematic racial politic in play. I am perfectly fine if people want to resurrect the religions of their ancestors, but if they believe in pseudo spiritual notions about the essential role of their biology in the creation of those traditions, then that says more about their Philosophy than it does about the traditions themselves.

    To the final point, which is really the only one that I thought there would be strong objection to, is about eclectic paganism. Now, that really is posed as a question, and it is. I do not have a strong answer about it. I do think that strict reconstructionists who claim to reject folksiness or cultural nationalism do need to explain why strict reconstruction is useful. Within the framework of unlocking “racial” or “genetic” wisdom, i.e. folkish archetypes, then it makes sense, yet it clearly in a racial nationalist tradition. Without that, then I am missing what coherence strict reconstruction has. What has always made more sense to me is evolving rituals and traditions, making them more applicable to daily life, and avoiding reactionary attempts to relive the past. Take, for example, many Asatru intro books(such as the one mentioned) that discuss attempting to “think like an ancient Heathen,” by doing things such as focusing more on the past mentally and avoiding thinking about the future philosophically. Colin Cleary’s last book spends three extensive chapters discussing how we need to limit our analytical and mystical mind so we can “feel” the religion as our ancestors did. Again, what would be the purpose of moving backwards like this if not to just resurrect a religion that represents some kind of racially specific wisdom. Instead, a multi-tradition paganism draws on the basic ideas of pagan worldview in a modern context that is conscious of contemporary ideas on philosophy, science, and politics. Instead of trying to inhabit the past, you would take the valued traditions, ideas, and lore of the past and use them together in a modern context, which is today cosmopolitan.

    I want to say very clearly that I am not right about this, which is why it is phrased as a question. Instead, it is just an idea, but one that is rooted deeply in what I see as the ongoing problem in Heathenry.

    I also should say that my fidelity here is, more than anything, a radical left understanding of ongoing white supremacy and the ways in which white communities attempt to foster tribal exclusions.

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    • Your question about why reconstructionism is useful (outside a racial context) is an important one. I actually addressed my complicated feelings about Recon in a post of my own if you care to read: https://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/reconstructionism/. Basically, for me it comes down to, why reinvent the wheel? You have a set of thousands upon thousands of people (the original culture) who spent hundreds or thousands of years worshipping these gods, figuring out what worked and didn’t, learning what They wanted from us, and they built traditions based on that. If you want to worship the same gods properly, why not start with what you know They have asked for already? And then build a living relationship from that. And it goes beyond just do this or do that, it’s a whole mindset, a worldview, that comes from long interaction with these deities, and steeping yourself in that will absolutely help you understand those deities better. And then you have to keep going on your own. So for me, reconstructionism is always balanced with personal experience, but it’s still a very critical tool.

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    • My issue isn’t so much with the brevity of the summary, so much as its cutoff point. While you say the changes happening in the ’90s and early ’00s (though I still take issue with this, because even if the narrative ended in 2005 rather than 1995, that’s still an issue) may not make for a compelling story, necessarily, especially to fuel an obvious political agenda. But to effectively ignore that changes have occurred is disingenuous.

      I don’t think “Universalist” has fallen out of disuse because of it being “rejected by most kindreds,” so much as that, in the wider heathen community, it’s an unnecessary distinction. “Folkish” is still in use because one has to actually distinguish that they are folkish. They’re a minority among heathens, these days. Universalism (in the old sense of ‘anyone can be heathen, regardless of ethnicity or whathaveyou) is, effectively, assumed by virtue of being heathen these days unless otherwise stated. At least, save for among a certain portion of (primarily) non-heathen pagans, who still view heathenry through the flannel-rimmed lens of the 1990s.

      I’ve not seen anyone really go out of their way to identify as “Universalist” in perhaps half a decade, though I’ll admit I don’t regularly dig through heathen websites or podcasts (because I rarely find any that I much care for). The matter of the websites, at least, doesn’t surprise me, because many of the prominent heathen sites seem to be equally stuck in stasis circa-2001.

      Even books published “since 2000” don’t necessarily mean a lot. It’s been sixteen years since then, essentially a third of modern heathenry’s total span of existence. Much has changed, even since 2010. I’ll also perhaps paint myself a bit badly here and say that, taken in its most literal meaning, “racial nationalism” isn’t necessarily an absolute evil, and is something that is even tolerated or encouraged among some “races” (problematic as the racial distinction is, I would further clarify “ethnicities,” instead).

      I would also counter-quibble that while I recognize the broader use of “multiculturalism” as a term in the West, when we’re very specifically discussing culture-centric traditions, the literal use of “culture” should take precedence over the colloquialism. Particulary because- in a discussion in which you have advocated stripping heathenry of key elements of Germanic cultural elements you regard as problematic- it absolutely bears stating that to heathenry cannot be multicultural and still be heathenry (though it can absolutely be multi-racial).

      You’ll get no argument from me about meta-genetics being, for lack of any more fitting term, stupid. It is.

      I think to answer your question, you’d have to clarify what you consider “strict” reconstructionism. I think there is more than enough room for various degrees of reconstructionism, but I don’t think that less-strict reconstructionism necessarily means eclecticism, either, which is where I think we may differ. I believe that you can be a strict reconstructionist and reject folkishness (since we have more than ample historical evidence that Germanic peoples were not opposed to interacting with or, to use the vernacular, bumping uglies with peoples other than their own), but I think that in particular, in our modern day, adhering rather closely to reconstructionism is important.

      Part of the issue that was raised- for the wrong reasons, I think- elsewhere in the comments is that the religious traditions of the past are deeply ingrained into their respective culture. Those cultures are, by and large, alien to us. While there almost certainly was syncretism in the past, perhaps the key element of syncretism is the blending of a foreign culture with an established one. I would argue that heathenry, as a reconstruction of Germanic cultural religion (and of the best attainable facsimile for that accompanying cultural mindset) is for no living heathen today their truly “native” cultural background. We are all in the process of converting, every day that we practice, with each new thing that we learn. Even aspects that we understand rather well are not entirely instinctive to us, the way our own culture we’ve been brought up in might be. The deeper aspects of this tradition, the hierarchies, frith, kin-bonds, the clan or tribe, wyrd, orlag, and so on, for all of us it is an ongoing process to not only learn what they mean, but to fully understand their proper place in a reconstructed heathen culture. All these things must be understood in their proper context before reckless blending is attempted.

      Now, I realize that falls into what you regard as the folly of “thinking like an ancient heathen,” but I’m not saying we shouldn’t look to the future, philosophically or otherwise. But the nature of any reconstructionist religion, and I would argue of paganism in its entirety, eclectic or not, looks to the past. It’s where we try to lay our roots, so that our branches can spread out into the future. Laying these roots, feeling the religion, is not inherently connected to these racial issues. You’re bridging things that are, at their core, unrelated. The fusion of white nationalism and Germanic paganism is, itself, an anachronistic eclecticism enforced upon heathenry. (And I have to observe that you’re again inappropriately conflating the terms “racial” and “cultural,” by the way.)

      Another issue is the basic assumption of some sort of linear cultural advancement from past to modern day, particularly in matters of philosophy or politic. Full disclosure: aside from being a(n Anglo-Saxon focused) heathen, I practice a narrow scope of Kemeticism on the side. I do not blend these, and it would be inappropriate to do so even just from the perspective that offering to a Kemetic deity in a heathen fashion would involve breaking one or more Kemetic taboos. These things cannot necessarily be used together, particularly in the form of practicing either or both. I also do not regard cosmopolitanism as an inherently positive thing, and I think much of this argument comes down (as many things do) to the debate of moral objectivism vs. moral relativism. Many of us find fault with some of the basic ideas you’re espousing, and find more agreement with other philosophical, cultural or religious systems, some of which are not particularly modern. It isn’t about inhabiting the past, but about bringing these things from the past into the present, rather than casting them in the mold of the present’s leading ideologies.

      But I would reiterate, it’s also about looking to, and building toward, the future. White nationalism and fascism will not be vanquished with vitriolic rebuke or intolerance, nor will it be vanquished in a matter of weeks, or months, or years. It has been, is, and will be, a process of iterative generations. Of building a heathenry that isn’t constructed on a foundation of extremism, right or left. Reconstructing a vibrant religious tradition and bringing the cultural mores of the past into the present, and showing prospective heathens that there is a place for them here, for normal people of normal persuasion, that one needn’t be a card carrying nazi or a HUAR-approved antifascist. That heathenry does not hinge on politics at all, because it does not, and cannot, fit into the present-day dichotomy of left and right, because it is a tradition with a history of both the egalitarian Thing and the hierarchical Sacral Kingship, of producers and consumers, of rich and poor, of long-established tribal lands and of great migrations. History is never more poignant than in the here and now.

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    • “I do think that strict reconstructionists who claim to reject folksiness or cultural nationalism do need to explain why strict reconstruction is useful.”

      Yeah so do I. As an Inclusivist Neo-Heathen who uses reconstructionism only in so far as it is useful and has not apparenly been superceded by modern knowledge of how the world actually works (eg such as that we don’t actually live on a flat disc with a literally physical underworld beneath us) I am always somewhat amused when people get antsy over the need for strict adherence to the ways of the past. I mean, how strict should we be? Were all the ways of the past truly divinely inspired and good, and if so which ones? For instance, were my own Anglian Ancestors right or wrong to keep slaves and force them to wash the idol of Nerthus in a lake and then drown them afterwards? Did Nerthus herself inspire such practices, or was it a clear example of HMUS (ie Human Made Up Shit) derived from a very human desire to reinforce a social heirarchy, most particularly the power of a priestly elite? I think I know which is the most likely answer here, and I don’t think it an “insult to my Ancestors” to say it – humans will say and believe in all sorts of questionable stuff if it favours their position or makes them feel more comfortable, and ancient people were just as capable of that sort of thing as people are now. This is why I believe we need to question everything and not assume that the Elder Heathen world view was perfect in its entirety and doesn’t need to change.

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  9. Rhyd, since (like others) I can’t reply directly to your post, yes. I am the same.

    This subject warrants a more measured approach than the other, and this author has earned it more than you.

    And gilbride, that’s a valid point, perhaps, I would merely say that it’s still certainly not an issue exclusive to one side of the fence or another. And as I said in my longer comment, I think anyone claiming to be “apolitical” is being disingenuous. If your politics and your religion are both things that genuinely matter to you, that you take seriously and that impact your life, there is no effective way to entirely segregate them.

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  10. Rhyd:

    “Is non-eclectic polytheism even possible? And aren’t we as products of the present already bringing a fully alien worldview into a reconstructed past?”

    Those are good questions, and they are questions that we’re still trying to answer in our own communities. An example: we were kindly invited by a kindred in another city to sacrifice on some local hills. While we were there it came up that a member of our kindred had also been part of Voudon ceremonies. Some in the other kindred disagreed with this and expressed the opinion that we shouldn’t mix cults. We disagreed.

    Now the point of that story is that the member was able to attend a Vodoun ceremony, but when we sacrificed on that hill it was as a Heathen. It would have been highly inappropriate to suddenly make an offering to Baron Samedi or any of the other loa in the context of a Heathen faining, because it would have ripped away the respect and customs to which those beings are accustomed.

    Are we bringing an alien worldview into a reconstructed past? Yes. Part of the toil of reconstruction is to better understand the worldview of the ancients, but only fools really claim to be them. We’re just not. I’m a 21st century Canadian Heathen, reconstructing the Old Frankish Custom. I’m not living in 5th century Salica. What we do, however, is bring forward what is past into what is now. Our religion is not a museum but a living branch growing out of the past, but it is still rooted in the past.

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  11. In case anyone is wondering how this article is being received in non-pagan radical circles, I saw it re-posted this morning on an anarchist Facebook page along with warm praise for the exemplary anti-fascist work going on within the heathen movement. So the article is not being interpreted as saying that heathenism is inherently racist – quite the opposite (at least in this case).

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  12. A note about the pingback from Antifascistnews.net:

    Good to see workerist Marxists still conflating skepticism in the techno-optimistic, globally-industrialized leviathan with fascism of whatever stripe these days.

    Not that -actual- fascism was responsible for some of the world’s most rapid industrialization and mechanization projects ever, or anything like that. No, fascism hates industry, don’t you know. Just ask the Russians.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “Is non-eclectic polytheism even possible? And aren’t we as products of the present already bringing a fully alien worldview into a reconstructed past?”

    I’m sorry to bring the news, but Humpty-Dumpty broke several centuries ago. Any reconstruction is just that: the remaining pieces brought back to lifeishness, in Frankensteinian manner. Which is no problem per se, as long as you’re not in denial about it. Religion and Magick have always progressed through making stuff up as you go along, and they still do. Nothing is non-eclectic. Nothing ever was.

    If I am to connect to my pre-Christian ancestry, I find my way blocked by I don’t know how many generations of RC BS and brainwash. I have less difficulty connecting all the way back to the fishes. Seriously.

    I stand by the old Wobbly dictum, “No Gods, No Masters”. Which I don’t take to deny the existence of gods any more than the existence of masters. If you insist on my belief in or submission to your authority, I don’t care whether you’re a human, a god, or King Kong of Mongo, you’re welcome to go fuck yourself with a rusty spanner. Give me Slack or kill me. I don’t know Wotan personally, but if he only wants blond blue-eyed followers, then fuck Wotan.

    Is a coherent rainbow Asatru possible? I have no idea. Ask the Æsir.

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    • You know Erronius, I really like how you think and put things into words – I pretty much resonate with everything you have to say here, except I do have a sort of Deistic concept of the divine which is only worth approaching from the perspective of receiving inspiration, otherwise we’re on our own and just have to grow up and evolve (ie nothing saves or favours us, no matter how much we offer in sacrifice.) I especially like this bit:

      “If you insist on my belief in or submission to your authority, I don’t care whether you’re a human, a god, or King Kong of Mongo, you’re welcome to go fuck yourself with a rusty spanner. Give me Slack or kill me. I don’t know Wotan personally, but if he only wants blond blue-eyed followers, then fuck Wotan.”

      My Woden is apparently a Rainbow Heathen actually himself, and I could just imagine him saying this very thing LOL! As for the blonde, blue-eyed “Aryan Superman” nonsense, whenever I’ve asked him about another human group and what he thinks of them, he just immediately turns himself into one of them and endeavors to show me why they are the way they are (he’s a bit of an evolutionary psychologist in my experience!). He’s certainly no racist bigot or fundie lore thumper anyway. Of course everyone’s mileage varies, and some will see my Woden as rather too cuddly and even “fluffy” for their tastes, but that’s not my experience at all. For me he’s the ultimate freedom fighter and breaker of imperfect and oppressive forms! Other people’s Woden/Odin/Wotan may be totally different though, which is only to be expected and is the reason why any “divine revelation” should just be seen as purely subjective, and to be taken with a huge grain of salt, even if it’s accepted by a collective and not just an individual. This is why I’m always a bit suspicious of priestcraft, since it seems to me to be based purely on subjective divine “revelations” which happen to have been accepted by a group in a particular time and place (and groups of people are just as prone to deluding themselves as are individuals, particularly if their leaders are deluded as well.)

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  14. Very good story, I have been involved with Asatru/Heathenry for thirty plus years, walked away from all of the organizations when we ended the Asatru Free Assembly many years ago. Glad to see such an honest story on the ails of heathenism.

    Like

  15. Well, here I was expecting a mention on the topic of queerness in an article on Rainbow Asatru. Imagine my disappointment, with it being a review of historical factions up to the present. There wasn’t even a hint as to how left-wing multiculturalism could be practiced in the future, it mostly focused on the right wing elements. So I’ll share my answer on that.

    Multiculturalism means anyone who feels called to it can practice Heathenry. Heathenry is, by definition, rooted in the ancient spirituality of Northern Europe, of which we only know fragments. Full and accurate reconstructionism isn’t possible, not to mention it would vary wildly depending on the chosen time period. Viking Age isn’t the same as Bronze Age. Though we don’t know for sure, there would likely be practices closer to Saami shamanism in earlier periods.

    The elephant in the room, which is necessary for any “left-wing multicultural rainbow” anything, is the hardly ever addressed erasure of women’s stories. The few stories we have are about the wives of major gods, and only when it’s relevant to the gods, has a good sex scene, or lets the gods save “Princess Peach.” Frigga’s twelve unmarried goddesses, the Handmaidens, are supposed to be the major goddesses of Asgard. Aside from Gefjon’s story used as a plot device in Gylfaginning, they each have a sentence or two as the sum of their lore. Thus, the Asynjur are basically ignored in Heathenry. This leads to fewer women getting into Asatru. Freya only gets more air-time because all the gods want to have sex with her. It’s kind of sad.

    So I’ve been doing devotions to the Ladies of Frigga’s Court since 2010, getting to know them, and writing stories for them on my blog. That’s my spirituality and my activism. I don’t tell people what to do what to believe, or argue they’re doing it wrong. I just write stories about women and goddesses. That, I think, is radical.

    Liked by 5 people

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