Rise From the Deep

“Beneath the modern, industrial world and all of its rationality, the world of intuition, dream, and madness is alive. And it is returning. As this world crumbles, the old world will burst forth and the gods will walk again. I will dream your ruin.”

From Ramon Elani

tree2

“Thus Odin graved ere the world began;

Then he rose from the deep, and came again.”

–Havamal, the Words of the High One

We do not choose the forms in which the gods appears to us. It is carved into the hidden heart of the dream inside of us. It was written there in the dreaming world, before this world began. Turn your back on it at your peril, for it is madness in either direction. We are striated and sedimented things. We walk this dead and rotten world, while we dance at the gates of dawn. I am a contingent thing, a breath upon the wind. But I am too the flames of distant stars, I am a torch in the night. I was there when the earth was born, I was there when the first dream was dreamed.

I am now, I am again, I am always.

The gods, like the trees, don’t care for a one-sided conversation. In the end, if they have spoken to us for too long without receiving a response, they will cease trying. To follow the gods is to speak to them, not to speak to humans of them, nor to listen to humans speak of them. To follow the gods is to follow the signs they give, not the instructions of any man or woman who claims to know them.

The gods are the land, it is said. They are in the land and of the land. It is said that if you are not of the land then you are not of the gods of that land. Fools! The fen and moor, fjord and glacier exist within us as memories. They are memories from the time before. My memories are not only my own. My memories are yours as well. My memories are the land itself. My memories, my dreams are the home of the slumbering gods.

If the gods are tied to those places, then I must only seek for them in my dream. For where is the land but within ourselves? What is our blood but the water of the earth? What is our soul but the spirit of the heavens? Inside and outside. The land penetrates us and we penetrate the land. Where do I end and the land begin? We think the ground beneath us is solid. We think we know what we stand upon. And yet, the world we know is fragile as an eggshell. We drift through currents of time and place. Beneath the modern, industrial world and all of its rationality, the world of intuition, dream, and madness is alive. And it is returning. As this world crumbles, the old world will burst forth and the gods will walk again. I will dream your ruin.

We go in to go out.

We go up to go down.

The gods sleep within us.

There is only one way to find them, only one path to wake them.

Dive down, dive down. Deep into the sunless indigo sea. The gods lie there beneath the gentle waves. In the dimness, among strange and antique shapes. Structures forgotten. Memories left to gather sediment. Suddenly, a one-eyed face emerges from the murky water. Grim and mad, blazing with poetry, dark with blood. I know him. I too have sacrificed myself. I have made a gruesome offering of myself. And whatever gifts I received, I received them shrieking. I too picked up the knuckle bones and I saw the world that will come, in fire and wolf blood. There is only one sacrifice that means anything. The self to the self! What else have you to offer? Who else is deserving? Hang yourself and rise again. Pierce your side with the spear and the soul shines bright.

The whisper is what he brought back from the gallows. A secret. That is his gift. Words. A magic unlike any other. Not the changing of shapes or things. You may change a shape but not the thing itself. For you cannot change what you do not know. What is a whisper but a thing known? What is a secret but a kept word? Thus the whispers are the knowing of things put together, of things in their way, and in their place.

He bade write on the shield before the shining goddess,

On Arvak’s ear, and on Alsvith’s hoof,

On the wheel of the car of Hrungnir’s killer,

On Sleipnir’s teeth, and the straps of the sledge.

On the paws of the bear, and on Bragi’s tongue,

On the wolf’s claws bared, and the eagle’s beak,

On bloody wings, and bridge’s end,

On freeing hands and helping foot-prints.

On glass and on gold, and on goodly charms,

In wine and in beer, and on well-loved seats,

On Gungnir’s point, and on Grani’s breast,

On the nails of Norns, and the night-owl’s beak.

What will I not write upon? What is it that is written on beak of the owl? The word vibrates that upon which it is carved. The whisper is a way of knowing. Nothing controls like knowing, naming, speaking, writing. In this is comprised his evil, his woe-working, his swift deceit. I name a thing, and thus I rule over it. My dominion is the word. What I write upon is my kingdom. With my words, I bind it to me. Whisper, whisper. And I will write upon the wolf’s tooth and upon the raven’s wing. And I will know them, and they will know my sovereignty. Deed follows word. Therein lies its power. The word is a movement upon the tapestry. A storm that is felt throughout the worlds.

Of what do the whispers speak?

They speak of triumph. To bless the sword, speak and write the name of the Sword God, who gave his wolf’s joint.

They speak of birth. To bring new life from the womb of the mother, speak and write the names of the Three Sisters upon the palm of the hand.

They speak of the waves and the terrible sea. To come safe across the whale road, burn and speak to oar and stern.

They speak of the nine twigs of glory. To overcome the worm, to bring forth the apple and the poison both.

They speak of the dire thorn. To bring evil, severity. Blood icicle. It is to be shunned and never written. It is a cliff dwelling thing and abhorred.

They speak of the branches that bind flesh and blood together. Blood to blood and bone to bone, speak and write upon the branch and tree that faces east.

They speak law and judgement. With word and thought, he weaves those sundered together.

And the last whispers of all, the ones that shall outlive the gods themselves. For one day, the god will come upon a man hanging from a tree. And he will know him. He will paint his whispers upon the dead man’s flesh and sing soft secrets to him. And the man will descend. He will go down. And he will speak the whispers back.


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He lives with his family among mountains and rivers in Western New England. He walks with the moon.

More of his writing can be found hereYou can also support him on Patreon.

The Songs I Know

“The Spirit of the Depths had shown me how to awaken the dead,

How to bring forth the lost memories of the dream world,

How to touch the primordial power

That I thought I had banished from the world,

When I filled the womb of the gods with blood.

For the well beneath the tree is the well of dreams.”

From Ramon Elani

Odin-Norse-mythology-Wanderer

“The wheel of time cannot be turned back. Things can, however, be destroyed and renewed. This is extremely dangerous, but the signs of our times are dangerous too. If there was ever a truly apocalyptic era, it is ours. God has put the means for a universal holocaust into the hands of men.”

“The shadow is nonsense. It lacks force and has no continued existence through itself. But nonsense is the inseparable and undying brother of the supreme meaning.”

—C.G. Jung

I am a man of extraordinary violence.

I am the one who roars in the heart of battle.

I am the At-Rider, who drives down my foe.

I am the Evil Worker, the Man of the Spear.

I ride forth.

I am the one of Gaping Frenzy.

I drive men to madness.

I am the Resounder.

I am the Master of Slaughter.

I am the One Who is Merry in War.

I am the Hanging God.

I am the bringer of Runes.

I am the War Father.

 

I slew my father,

He Who Existed Before Time,

The First Being,

The undifferentiated consciousness,

The Slumbering God,

Substance and spirit of the cosmos.

He was beyond good and evil,

Though he was grim and terrible.

How he howled in the abyss of night.

What memories drifted and floated through his mind?

In a somnolent universe, what did he dream?

Will, Thought, and Spirit arose in fierce arms.

With my brothers I sundered him and split him.

And his blood drowned the world,

It spilled over from the Yawning Gap,

It drenched the stars.

And a shining fragment of ice,

The Primal Cosmic Egg,

The heart of ice,

The pattern of all things,

The bridge between the seen and unseen,

Burned through the fabric of the world.

And the ice poured into the Realm of Mist,

And there his kin grew strong and proud.

And upon those frozen plateaus

A lost kernel was buried in ice

And its power dripped between the worlds

And formed a well beneath the Tree.

For god is in the egg.

Far_away_and_long_ago_by_Willy_Pogany

I have Nine Twigs,

I see beyond the nine worlds,

And into the endless cycles of time.

I have seen the devastation that will come,

I have seen the vision of the Wolf that will come for me.

The Wolf is always there in the darkened forests of my mind.

I know that he is my ruin and doom.

I know that he will bring blood and fire upon the world.

And I know that I will see the world born again in water.

The Gods are not immune to fate.

I follow my destiny.

I am the Son and the Father,

I am the Cold Sky,

I am the Wanderer and Deceiver.

Those who wander do not remember.

I seek my shadow.

He is the damp and the moist,

The One beneath the dirt,

He is the sacrifice and I am the blade.

In the hollow beneath the tree,

He remembers everything

For he sits by the pool

That is fed from waters that flow

From that savage realm.

I have forgotten,

The world lives through forgetting.

But he who dwells among the mosses and dripping roots,

He alone carries the memories of what I destroyed.

My hoary uncle,

Lost in an infinity of dreams.

 

And I went down to him,

From my golden palaces and joyful battles.

I went down beneath the tree.

And I found him there lost in his endless wisdom.

I went down

To become whole,

To repair the gaping wound,

To atone for rending the world.

As I had climbed the tree,

As I had hung myself from the branch,

As I had pierced myself with spear,

As I had gone up

To gain the power of the Runes,

To gain the power to bind,

To control,

To create order,

The fire of the sea and the path of the snake,

The horror of the clouds,

The ruin of the harvest,

The Cliff-Dwelling horror,

The Home of Mortification,

The grain that brings famine,

The Grief of the humanity,

The rivers of ice,

And the destroying Sun,

The One Handed God of Temples,

The adornment of ships,

The iron that bends.

As I went up for these things,

So I knew I must go down to complete myself.

For chaos must join order.

 

My ancient uncle made me look into the murky waters of the well.

And in the well,

I saw rage unconquerable,

I saw power ungovernable,

I saw a consciousness unreasonable,

I saw a force unstoppable.

And I knew that I was blind,

I could not see myself,

Could not see the way.

I knew what I had rejected,

The spirit of the womb.

Among the clouds and winds, the lord of the sky,

I had lost the earth,

The body of my father, who was also my mother,

In the landscape I had carved in his bones,

This truth was written.

The truth was etched into the mountains,

Into the fjords,

Into the forests,

Into the rivers,

Into the glaciers.

But I could not read it,

For I could only read the runes,

The language of artifice and doom.

I could not longer read the words of the world below.

And therein dwelt my weakness.

I had made myself strong

Only with the power of heaven.

I knew that I was spirit without body,

And the spirit is nothing on its own,

But my destiny is to walk both paths,

To walk in two worlds,

To walk in all the worlds at once.

 

And so I begged my uncle to drink from his well.

And I learned the Nine Songs,

And what my uncle requested,

I gave him.

And I took my hand and raised it to my face,

And my fingers dug into my skull,

And I ripped my eye from my face,

And the world became all blood,

And the tree shuddered above me,

And the gods wept,

And tears of blood dripped into my beard.

My grim uncle took the quivering eye in his hand

And he cast it deep into the well.

And I fell upon my knees

And I plunged my fingers into the rich, wet dirt

And I screamed

As the cosmos became one

Within my shattered mind.

And I saw stars exploding,

Galaxies being born,

I saw the dragon stirring.

I saw everything that had ever been and would be.

I felt fate burning me.

I saw that all my knowledge,

Was nothing more than an attempt

To impose something knowable

Onto a universe that defied me.

Or had defied me.

 

Then I understood,

That all my wandering had led me back to myself,

Back to this madness.

How far must a star travel through space

Before it finds the part of itself

That it once thought lost?

As my soul came together,

The child came forward:

The knowledge that transcends knowledge.

The meaning that surpasses meaning.

That which can only be achieved through

The cosmic union.

The Spirit of the Depths had arisen within me.

And for all my rune might

I could not teach it,

I could not share it,

It was mine to bear alone.

The Spirit of the Depths had shown me how to awaken the dead,

How to bring forth the lost memories of the dream world,

How to touch the primordial power

That I thought I had banished from the world,

When I filled the womb of the gods with blood.

For the well beneath the tree is the well of dreams.

And in my dreams was the only path of truth.

And a thousand voices spoke to me,

And I heard the destiny of time,

That will outlast the longest night.

And my Sun became darkened

And my Moon rose on the horizon of my consciousness.

And as I had once lost everything

Upon that gallows tree,

So I lost everything again,

Beside the well of dreams.

For I am the God that is to come,

I am the God that is becoming.

 

And my uncle smiled gently,

For he knew as well as I,

That his destiny was to die for me,

Though his kin would survive the great destruction of the world.

He smiled patiently, lovingly,

And he showed me the horn from which he drank,

The horn that signaled the end of things,

The end of my power,

The time when the wolf within me

Would step out of the shadows and engulf me utterly.

And my uncle touched my arm,

For long before the time of the wolf

He would be cut down

And his head severed from his body

And I would use my charms and herbs

Upon it and keep it with me always.

The_twilight_of_the_gods_by_Willy_Pogany

It’s coming now, it’s coming soon.

The world of dreams will swallow up this rotten thing.

Our lives and struggles

Occur as so much flotsam

Upon a sea of unfathomable depth.

Sometimes gracefully, sometime fully of woe,

We float, dreamless, through a galaxy of powers.

Countless pasts and futures, overlaid upon each other.

The world we walk through is part ruin and part verdant growth.

Cycles, which, though we may long to escape, shall never end.

The world drives itself to its doom, unrelenting.

I have given up separating dreams from wakefulness.

I have abandoned the task of assigning truth to one,

And illusion to the other.

Give me deep and muddy waters.

 

“Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die.”—Hermann Hesse


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England

More of his writing can be found here. You can also support him on Patreon.

Revolution, Not Absolution

We Are Our Deeds…

Heathenry boiled down to one sentence comes out as “We are our deeds.” Throughout our lives, we co-create the web of life with all that is and all that has come before. This is the meaning of wyrd- it is the way our individual actions weave into the actions of others both past and present, to create a reality that is based upon what came before, but is moving in the direction we believe is right.

We all live within the web of wyrd, and we cannot step outside of it. Every one of us is completely free to make our own choices, yet our view of which choices are honorable is deeply influenced by where we came from. We are our deeds, because our deeds shape who we effect in our lives, and who affects us, and what those effects are. Over a long enough time, our choices change culture and wyrd, because we have made more or less likely the forming of connections between people. Our lives are defined by how we influence the world around us- we are our deeds.

I think that this has political meaning for heathens. We are not bound by a fixed fate- we can change and influence our world and how we relate to others. We are also not without a past. Who we are is shaped by our familial past, our upbringing, and our culture. So I think that a heathen perspective on identity politics is necessary right now.

We are our deeds, and our deeds are the result of our choices. Our identities are not the creation of our circumstances they are the creation of our deeds within the framework of our lives. No matter what my deeds (barring suicide, of course), I would be right now a 25-year-old white biological female. There is nothing I can or could ever do to change that. So how can that be my identity? I am my deeds, not what I was born.

absolution-pullMy choice is to be a radical. My choice is to fight for a better world. My choice is to stand by the oppressed. My choices define me. And I am sick of identity politics proponents trying to take away and diminish my choices. I am not a racist because of my skin color. I am my deeds, and my deeds include fighting for social justice. I want to ask you to think about the people who know. Think about whether they fit into a demographic box. Think about how they have lived, what they were born with, and what they earned. Do you know people from different backgrounds? Do you think the experience of a black man from the susburbs is the same as a black woman from rural Alabama? Do you think the experience of a white person from rural Maine is the same as the experience of a white person from a ritzy suburb?

What I find interesting is the way each of us starts out in life with certain things. This is how I interpret the idea of privilege. A part of our wyrd is laid out before we are born. Some of us will have advantages that others do not, whether those advantages are money, skin color, gender, intelligence, excellent or poor parents, or any other thing. We are definitely woven into the web of wyrd from a starting place.

And I think it is worth broadening our scope here and looking at the whole world, not just America, and not just this time period. There are those who claim that white people are woven into the web as oppressors, and that we can’t change that. So I would like to look at the families represented among those I know, at their histories (as best as I know or can imagine based on the history I know). Are we truly woven into the web as oppressed and oppressors? Or are we woven into the web in a muddle, oppressors over here, liberators over there, oppressed in that corner, all of us tangled together in the tangled weave of oppression we call capitalism?

Strands of the Web…

First I want to look at this time period. Each and every one of us is an oppressor. America is not the world, and all of us bought our food from stores that sell produce picked by migrant farm labor- un-unionized, oppressed, and often kept in slave-like conditions. Our clothes are made from cotton grown by poor farmers who might have been driven to suicide by companies we hold stock in. Those clothes were assembled by people making next to nothing. We are all of us oppressors, and all of us benefit in a way from the oppression of people (mostly of color) worldwide.

There is no pass on this oppression for your skin color, your gender, your religion, anything. If you are American, you are an oppressor. Your tax dollars are at work right now killing some Syrian’s children. The military you pay for is currently terrorizing people in third-world countries to keep them from unionizing, or electing a better government. Even those “off the grid” homesteaders and permaculturalists generally use solar panels requiring mined materials. And those mines are not nice places to work.

This is not to say that we can’t be oppressors and also fight oppression- that is a false argument. We all have to eat to live, and to eat we have to work, and to work we have to reproduce our labor. Which means using and buying things which are the products of oppression. We must use the tools oppression gives us to fight the system of oppression.

absolution-pullIn this time period, we are also, all humans, and all other life, the oppressed. The same factories that oppress thousands also put out greenhouse gasses that threaten the future of life on this planet. The ships which bring the goods to America use an enormous amount of fossil fuels. The monoculture required to produce the tons and tons of cotton, soybeans, and corn that turns the wheels of industry is degrading our soil and water supplies at an insane rate. No one who must face the fact that their children or grand-children may see the last generation of life and can do nothing is unoppressed. The enormity of the destruction of life is so often ignored in our political conversations. We talk about oppression, yet we don’t talk about history’s largest genocide the wiping out of all life, of every culture, of every tribe, of every animal, of every plant, of every fungus, or every amoeba, and of most bacteria (some of those crazy bacteria might make it).

We never really talk about the truth and the horror of what we are doing. Think about what this really means. Jesus isn’t coming to rescue us. We’re not moving to outer space. We are all co-committing mass homicide and suicide and ecocide (us First World people more than others). I hate to gloss over what I just spoke of, to move on to other things, like other things could have any importance in light of the end of the world. But that is what we must do. It is the oath I took (and as a heathen, nothing could be higher law) that “I will not surrender in the presence of doom.”*

So I’m going to return to the narrative I promised you: the real or likely story of some ordinary people into the web of wyrd. The first step back in history is here.

Wyrd Through Time…

I know a family that originated in the south. They likely had some ancestors who were white sharecroppers, some who were over-seers, and likely some slave owners, too. The branch of the family I know moved north at some point, trying to escape the low wages caused by being forced to compete with slave or free black labor. Like thousands of Southerners, black and white, they fled north seeking work, higher wages, and a bit of freedom. Up until the current generation, they retained an attitude of superiority to blacks, even while they faced the same struggles and felt that black individuals they knew or heard about were getting a raw deal. This is a family that has supported a racist, sexist, and homophobic system and jealously guarded their privilege. Yet the potential for future generations to condemn racism and embrace solidarity has been realized, in some cases.

I know black family whose ancestors comes from Florida. I don’t know if any of their ancestors were part of the Seminole tribe and the resistance to colonial oppressors represented by the alliances of people of color in Florida, but I can easily imagine such strong personalities, backed by keen intelligence and a strong work ethic, being more than capable of building an alternative society and resisting the incursions of colonizers for centuries.

Growing up in New England, I knew several people descended from shipping families. They were not part of the slave trade, but were part of the merchant group aginst whom the Boxer Rebellion was organized. Let’s not forget the very real colonization of Asia and the South Pacific in our quest to understand how white people have been linked to other people throughout history.

I happen to be descended a long line of lighthouse keepers. My ancestors were not involved in the slave trade (only working the Maine coast). Given that the older generation always tried to use the “correct” words for people of people of color (“colored” in the 1940s, black or African-American today) and supported civil rights, I’m going to guess the family historically were quiet abolitionists who did nothing about their opinions. They could be considered guilty of a crime of omission, but sought to treat others with due respect within the culture of their time periods. I fault them a little for not being revolutionaries, but I can’t fault them any more than I fault myself for being a tax-payer.

Some of my ancestors are Irish. I know many others of Irish descent. I have no way of knowing whether the ancestors of the Irish I know fled the Potato Famine on ships where one out of every three passengers died, or whether they were brought over the work the mills or build the railroads. What I do know is that they likely at some point worked processing the cotton grown by slaves into cloth. Those workers were generally women, who faced twelve-hour days, sexual harassment, religious oppression, and highly dangerous working conditions. Other ancestors are likely buried in the mass graves used for railroad builders worked to death. If this is benefiting from the oppression of other races, I’m at a loss as to how. What I do know is that the labor wars of the late 1800s and early 1900s were led by immigrant workers and women like these ancestors. I- and every working class person in America- owe those who were brave enough to fight for the rights of labor a deep debt.

Taking a further step back in history, I can guess that the black people I know are descended primarily from people in Africa who were taken from their homes, chained into the coffin ships, and shipped across the Atlantic to be sold at auction like a horse or a dog. They faced whipping and mutilation at the whims of their “owners”. They were told that their enslavement was a good thing because it brought them Christianity.

The English and Irish people were likely driven out of their homes by those who claimed that their ancestral lands were now private property. Harsh vagrancy laws forced them to seek work in factories where they died by the thousands. Those “unfortunates” who failed to find work in factories were rounded up and sold as “indentured servants”. Again, this was justified because it took away their slothful habits and made good Christians out of them. Similar programs in other countries left much of Europe’s peasantry homeless and in search of a better life. Remember that at the same time America’s sharecroppers were struggling to survive, Russia’s serfs were still considered part of real estate and were bought and sold along with pieces of land.

A step farther back in history brings us to the conversion of Europe. Charlemagne’s genocidal wars against the pagan Saxons. The Crusades against the Lithuanians. And above all, the repression of women in society. The tortures used against colonized people were first turned against women in Europe. The stocks and the scold’s bridle, the public whippings and burnings, these were methods of control perfected on women before being used to subjugate other races. The dehumanization of an obviously human part of the population, and the precedent of giving one part of the population (men) a bit of privilege in exchange for their help in subjugating the others was set during the conversion years.

Religious oppression backs up all the other forms of oppression. It is no accident that fundamentalist Christianity and the alt-right are in bed together. It’s no accident that there is a flag hanging in most churches. The history of capitalism is the history of the oppression of indigenous religions, their lifeways, connections to the natural world, and gender relations. From the conversion of the Saxons to the Doctrine of Discovery, the idea that Christianity would make people work hard and go to heaven by oppressing them has been a recurring theme. The idea that the world is a perversion of the divine plan, a dead thing for our use, or a land of temptation to be rejected has led us to a profound ecological crisis.

We should be the ones fighting this…

I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m going through all this and when I’m going to get to the point. Here it is: we pagans should be the ones fighting all this. We should see the long tendrils of ideology weaving their way through the web of wyrd. We can see the mass of the past actions of our oppressors and how they have used religion, race, gender, and sexuality to divide us. We should recognize these demographic divisions as a tool of those who have historically oppressed all of us, and who threaten our future today.

absolution-pullAnd because of this, we are the most feared enemies of the rulers. For a revolution to be successful, we need an ideology and a worldview that sees the current system of oppression as wrong, and a tradition to reach back into for wisdom. This is why the Red Power and Black Power movements took steps to create or recreate a religion and culture for the oppressed- one not based on oppression.

As the holders of a religious and cultural ideology capable of giving those of European descent (and anyone else who wants it), a cultural identity as a collection of cultures and not just oppressors, we pagans are the deepest, darkest fear of the rulers. It is no accident that I know a racist who was happy to rent to a black couple because they are Christian. It is no accident the entheogens used by many non-Abrahamic religions are illegal (they tend to have the nasty side-effect of causing people to reject ecocide). It is no accident that the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) got music banned from the airwaves if it carried an “occult” message (this campaign supposedly failed, but now all the rock radio stations play the same ten songs from the seventies over and over and over and over and….)

Overall, we pagans have the knowledge of history to realize that an injury to one has been a good predictor of an injury to all. And we have the potential to realize our place in history on the side of the oppressed. Our ancestors may have been oppressors, and in some ways, we are oppressors ourselves. But our choices still matter. We can choose to reject oppression. And the choice to reject oppression matters.

Historically, pagans faced great oppression. In recent times, our oppression has lightened, so long as we hold a Christian worldview and just change the name of the god. Should we truly follow our religions, whether by using entheogens, or fighting for life (I refuse to trivialize it by calling it “the environment”), or having abortions, or celebrating the Hieros Gamos, or reading tarot, or fighting for a better life, or following gender roles accepted under (some forms of) paganism but denigrated under Christianity, we face serious consequences. We could be arrested, thrown in solitary, killed by the cops, or made “unemployable”. In other countries, the consequences for being non-Abrahamic in religion can be quite…medieval.

Our struggle is real, and the more we become involved in fighting for a better world, the harder the hand of the rulers will turn against us. And make no mistake, we white pagans are no more popular among the fundie crowd than black people- probably less popular, in fact. I know a racist landlord who was so proud of herself for renting to a Christian couple- they were black. I know someone who was kicked out of foster care for practicing Wicca. How many teenagers have no place to go because they draw the stigma (or stigmata?) of devil-worship?

The discrimination against pagans hits the most vulnerable the hardest- those teenagers who must rely on fundamentalist parents to survive, or those adults who must stay with family in order to survive due to disability, poverty, or lack of opportunity, those adults too poor to afford housing that is private enough to permit practice without raising eyebrows, those of us who work blue-collars jobs where being a beer-drinking, flag-waving Christian is important. Cultural conformity is a huge part of being in the “in-crowd”, and with networking as the primary source of jobs, being part of the “out-crowd” can have serious consequences. When religious oppression intersects with racial or gender-based oppression, it can get very nasty- and that sort of oppression is very common for the rural poor in economically depressed areas, where losing out on a job opportunity can mean poverty or a huge upheaval and move.

absolution-pullIt’s not just pagans who are going to face this. McCarthyism is starting to make a comeback. The rulers of this country have broken the left before, and they will try to do it again. What is annoying redbaiting now could turn into blacklists, lost jobs, unemployability, and even execution in the future. (Remember Sacco and Vanzetti? The Palmer Raids? Eugene Deb’s imprisonment? The shootings at Kent State?) I don’t say this to make us afraid, or to cause people to give up. I say this to help prevent the white left from absorbing the right-wing message that we are just privileged whiners.

The arguments that white people benefit from racism and that various groups have this group-wide privilege can be useful tools for pointing out some of our own blindspots to work on. Don’t get me wrong: I had to think long and hard about my privilege and I think everyone should take the time to consider their own privilege. But these arguments about privilege can also turn into a subtle gas-lighting of the white (and/or male) left, causing us to doubt our right to stand up for ourselves as well as for more-oppressed groups. If we go around saying that we’re privileged whiners, then how can we effectively combat the narrative that we’re all a bunch of privileged children who need “tough love” to kick us out of our safe spaces into “the real world”?

These divisions along race, gender, and sexual lines among the left disturb me greatly. I don’t think that they are progressive. As a pagan, I can see the history of capitalism, and I see it beginning with the oppression of pagans, particularly women. I see that some groups (such a the Native Americans, or African-Americans) suffered far more than others. But I still see a pattern of oppression of all by the rulers. And I think we have a common enemy in the rulers. I’ve written before on the subject of tribes in politics, and the illogicality of considering an entire race a tribe. I think it’s time to apply this same logic to identity politics. (I think the same logic also applies to gender relations, also.)

We are all individuals. We come from different places and make different choices. We are our deeds, and our deeds define us. Ben Carson’s deeds define him as a racist. A man I know who fights with bikers over institutionalized racism is defined by his deeds as not a racist. To claim that any race has an overarching common interest opposed to other races, is pseudo-tribalist propaganda that allows the rulers to keep us divided. (That is not to say that all black people don’t have a common interest in gaining rights- I merely state that that common interest is not IN OPPOSITION to any other group’s rights, except the rulers “right” to oppress.)

People of different races and genders are not warring tribes, each trying to carve out a larger slice of a tiny piece of the pie of human rights. We are natural allies. When a black man is shot for carrying a sandwich, it sets the precedent in the courts that a cop can use lethal force if he feels threatened by a sandwich. That precedent can be used against a white person, since the laws are not written to have separate precedents for white and black people. When a black man loses his job for speaking out against racism, it sets the tone of a workplace that no one can organize there for fear of losing their livelihood. We need to stop fighting over the scraps of humans rights that the rulers choose to give us, and start demanding the whole pie.

absolution-pullHuman rights aren’t “privileges” to squabble over. They are RIGHTs. It is horrible when black people are denied their human rights, and it is horrible when white people are denied their human rights. Leftists shouldn’t be gleeful that Trump-supporting coal miners are losing their health care. We should be enraged. We should be engaging with those coal miners, not to say, “I told you so”, but to engage them in a productive struggle, so that they can have options for resistance to the rulers other than voting for His Orange Majesty because he says mean things about other politicians.

Reweaving the Web

We don’t know someone’s level of privilege from their appearance. It’s fine (and necessary) to say “We live in a system where white people get treated better than black people.” That is 100% true. But that does not negate the choice of white people who choose to fight that system. Nor does it negate the very real struggle of white people who don’t conform to some leftist’s idea of an average white life, complete with white picket fence. Our demographic identities shape us, often in ways we can’t even see. But they do not define us, unless we define ourselves by them. We are many things, few of which are visible to the naked eye.

No one should be told that they don’t matter. And when we tell a white pagan who lost their living situation due to their religion, a mentally ill person, a blue-collar worker whose job just went to Mexico, or a woman who has faced discrimination that their oppression “isn’t that bad” or “doesn’t compare” to the oppression faced by our pet demographic group of the day, we are erasing their struggle. Of course their struggle probably isn’t as bad as the struggle a black person faces, or the struggles that Native peoples face. That doesn’t make it unimportant.

9 times out of 10, white people aren’t really trying to compare their struggle apples to apples to the struggles of oppressed groups. They are merely trying to find a common ground. They’re reaching out a hand, saying, “I see you. I’ve struggled, too. It’s wrong that we have to struggle like this just to survive. Let’s make a better world together.” And right now, the left is returning that outstretched hand with a slap. The left is saying back “Fuck you, you’ve never struggled. You can fight for the liberation of others, but remember that this is about the liberation of others, and not about yours. You’re a part of the problem”

This is not liberating. This is not radical. This is awful. How do you think it feels to be a queer person in the closet and be told that you have no idea what it’s like to be queer, and that you’re privileged? How do you think it feels to suffer from mental illness and be told that you’re privileged? How do you think it feels to be disabled and then to be told you’re privileged? How do you think it feels to be living in poverty and be told by someone who makes three times as much money that you can never understand the challenges of systematic racism and poverty because you’re white? How do you think a white woman who’s been raped feels when someone tells her that because of her race, she has no idea what it’s like to feel powerless, or helpless, or unable to seek justice because of an external factor?

absolution-pullStatistics are meaningless to the individual. We can’t take people and replace them with our idea of what someone of their demographic experiences on average. That is dehumanizing them. We can’t go around telling people “you’re not really oppressed”. We can’t judge the oppression of others without taking some serious time to step into their shoes. I have no problem with using critical thinking and debating the depth of oppression faced by certain groups, but I grow tired of off-the-cuffs answers where no white, no male, no cisperson, no straight person, can know or understand oppression because “privilege”.

I know straight white men who are dead scared of the cops- for good reason. I know black families who’ve had to fight to keep their kids from being diagnosed as retarded because they had a bad week at school. I know black men who’ve been entrapped deliberately by the cops, and I know white men who’ve been pressured by the cops to leave a town because they didn’t make enough money. I know women of all races who’ve been assaulted.

I am also disturbed by the circular logic of some proponents of identity politics. I, as a young white women, need to listen when the older black ladies I know when they talk about what it is like to be black in America. I need to treat her with respect. Some of them disagree strongly with the idea that white people are all racists benefitting from white privilege. They thinks that is a racist argument. It is absolutely not my place to tell them (even to think to myself while not listening to then): “I’m a white person half your age, but what’s really going on is that you have internalized racism. Now let me educate you.” I don’t have to agree one hundred percent with their politics, but I do need to take their views into account when I think about what it is like to be black in America.

I think that we on the left need to create a space for disagreements. The circular logic of identity politics is that if you are white and you disagree, you’re a racist. If you are of color and you disagree, you have internalized racism (a.k.a., you’re a racist). There is no space for anyone to disagree, yet still earn respect for their work. We need to treat the experiences of others with respect. We should treat the experiences of African-Americans, immigrants, Asians, men, women, other genders, whites, pagans, Christians, and everyone else with respect. We shouldn’t get so busy trying to educate others that we forget that we have much to learn ourselves, and turn into arrogant jerks who can’t take any criticism of our ideas (I’ve done that before, so if those words hit home, remember that I’m describing myself at various times in my life, not trying to attack anyone.)

Oppression may hit some communities much harder than others, but that doesn’t mean we get to set ourselves up as the judges of oppression and privilege. We also don’t get to set ourselves up as the judges of other people’s ideas. If a privileged person contributes to a movement, and shows by their deeds that they support that movement, then they should have as much right as any to a voice in that movement. We can’t change what we were born, but we can change how we relate to others.

We, as believers in freedom, should not be telling anyone to sit down and shut up. We should make sure that everyone has a voice and is heard respectfully. If we need to ask that the next few speakers be from minority groups to keep the discussion from being dominated by straight white males, then we do that. If we need to stay until 3am to make sure that all those straight white males do eventually get their chance to speak, we stay till 3am. A democratic movement should never silence anyone who is aligned with the goals of freedom and justice for all people. We should never be telling people that their voices aren’t worth hearing, that their experiences aren’t worth sharing.

I am not my demographic group. I am not Last Name, First Name, female, aged 25, straight. I am myself. In some ways I’m very privileged, in others I’m very unprivileged. But those things are not what define me. I am a heathen, and I believe my deeds define me. And my deeds are in service of my goal- to build a better world, one in which a person is who they are, not a skin color, not an age, not a gender, not a religion or a sexual orientation, but an individual. Get to know me, and my deeds, before you judge my worth. I matter, and I think you matter. Let’s talk about how to show them that we matter. Let’s work on forcing the world to accept that we do matter. Let’s work on making sure there is a world left to matter in.

*Credit where credit is due for this quote, from Darkseed’s song “King in the Sun”


Ruth Morong

I’m a Heathen and Radical. I’m a union construction worker with a useless college degree. My main concern is taking care of my family. In my spare time I listen to heavy metal and read books. My ranting is at Pursuit of Sol (https://pursuitofsol.wordpress.com/).

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)

SPLC-Extremist-Files-David-Lane-1280x720
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.