The KKK and Odin

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 3, 2006 — 7 Comments

Writing for the Independent, David V Barrett does an admirable job in ripping apart the hackish thesis of Richard Rudgley’s new book “Pagan Resurrection”. Rudgley, a popular anthropologist (and television host) claims that Odin has had far more influence on Western civilization than Christ, and that most American ultra-right-wing groups spring from the “Odinic archetype”.

“After briefly looking at the myth of Odin and the development of the runes, he discusses the interest of various proto-Nazis in this mythology, and the Nazis’ co-option of some runic symbolism. Nothing too controversial so far. But then the author starts examining ultra-right-wing groups in America, from the Ku Klux Klan onwards, and claiming that they too spring from Odin’s archetypal loins.”

Barrett rightly corrects this baffling assertion by pointing out that the majority of ultra-right racist groups are “good” Protestant Christians, not subconscious Pagans enacting some kind of a bizarre Jungian archetype.

“Today’s American far right are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Such racist groups as Christian Identity are characterised as having a gun in one hand and a Bible, not the Eddas, in the other. Is the killing of 168 people by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma in 1995 really one of the “horrors” generated by “the unconscious manifestation of the Odinic archetype”? Of course not. But it’s here, along with several other American right-wing incidents.”

Rudgley ends up committing the worst sins any social scientist can commit.

“…he is committing the ultimate sin of any anthropologist or historian, back-projecting from highly selective examples of unpleasantness today and photo-fitting them to a distorted image from the mythological past…a catalogue of racist individuals and organisations whose only connection with Odin, through very dubious links, is by assertion rather than argument.”

According to the review, after laying out his “pagan racist” argument for the whole book, he spends the last 45 pages trying to look at the “positive” side of modern Paganism. But it seems too little and too late. Rudgley has created and released a work that is sure to be avidly read by Christian apologists looking to erase the taint of racism from their own faith, and by pundits and public intellectuals looking to discredit the wider modern Paganism movement. A book to be avoided, or at best, read to better discredit its arguments.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Jenn93

    Unfortunatly, many people who are white supremecists, are in fact Pagan. If you were to visit any nationalist site, you would find quite a few of them. It’s coming to the point where many people associate the Celtic cross with racism. I feel like my culture is bring stolen by someone else. I can’t stop someone from using it, or associating themselves with Paganism, but I can make it known that religion dosn’t make a racist. If the religion one belongs to makes one a racist, than all the members would share the attitude. Some Christian people believe in racial segregation, should I assume that’s the universal Chritian stance? We have our share of assholes just like anyone else.

  • Yvonne

    I suppose there are racists in all sections of society, but I think Richard Rudgley has gone waaay too far in his back-projection of all racism onto Odin.Just because some Odinists are racist, doesn’t make Odin a racist. It’s like saying that just because the Inquisition claimed to be followers of Jesus, that makes Jesus a torturer.I like Odin a great deal (he is one of my personal deities) and I resent the suggestion that he is a racist archetype, since I am definitely not a racist.I do think it is very disturbing that some right-wing groups are trying to use Paganism as a cloak of respectability for their pernicious attitudes and activities, though.

  • Erik

    I do think it is very disturbing that some right-wing groups are trying to use Paganism as a cloak of respectability for their pernicious attitudes and activities, though.Unfortunately, it is possible to be both pagan and racist by deeply held conviction, as would be true of any other faith (and any other opinion or belief one might disagree with). The presumption that the two are incompatible is, in the end, no more accurate than this book’s reported contention that they are substantially identical.If you want to defend Odinism or Asatru from such charges (and I think you should, with all your strength), then IMO the more successful method would be to point out the many ways in which racism, hate speech, etc. are incompatible with the highest ideals of your faith. Who knows, you might even be able to convince some of your co-religionists who are involved in such activities to change their minds!

  • Anonymous

    [rant]That a racist can exist in a religious group is clear – racists can exist in any religious group. However, racial hatred is not a religious conviction, it is a political and social conviction, although plenty of people don’t seem to understand the difference. That a racist can find elements of a religion to justify their political and social perspectives is also true…some people have been using the Bible for just that purpose for nearly two thousand years, and Hitler and his goons did the same thing to the Heathen faith. Some points I’d like to put forth here:Hitler did not identify himself as Heathen, he identified himself in some places as Christian, and in others he suggested that religion itself was stupid. He also described the Romanticists of his era (the people who were trying to explore and revive their Heathen roots) as silly.Hitler also tossed some of these Romanticists into the concentration camps for their crime of silliness.To claim that Odin, father of the gods, creator of Midgard and the god who gave Ask and Embla their first breath, is an archetype for racism or racial hatred is an absurdity…someone who makes such a claim still has much to learn about Odin, and is still under the spell of the propaganda machine of Hitler and his stooges. Worse, people like the author of this book, who try to force historical examples to conform to their own agendas are taking the same tactic used by Hitler’s propaganda machine. Being someone who reveres and holds troth with Odin, I find such claims to be insulting. Another point that should be made here is that most Heathens do not regard our own gods as archetypes: we regard them as gods and honored ancestors.That modern day Heathenry has racists among its members is a sad fact – the majority of contemporary Heathens, however, are not racially prejudiced. To suggest therefore that Heathenry is racist because a minority of idiots are racist is the same as saying Christianity must be a racist religion because of the KKK…both statements are neither true nor logically sound. Also not of sound logic is the idea that we should go around and toss the racists out of Heathenry…we can’t. We can prevent them from joining some groups, or prevent them from spewing their prattle at meetings within certain groups, we can give them the same access to our beliefs and knowledge as we would anyone else; but we can no more stop them from claiming to be Heathen than we could stop them from claiming to be anything else. Our gods are not racially prejudiced, either…in fact, to be technical, our gods exist in three main ‘tribes’ or ‘races’ themselves: ?sir, Vanir and Jotunn…members of all three walk freely among family in Asgard. Our ancestors settled among and intermarried people from a variety of lands and cultures; so a historical pattern of religious-based racial hatred would be difficult to prove. Having read the Eddas and a number of other sources, I’m not familiar with any source that advocates racial hatred or prejudice in a religious sense. Even religious tolerance was practiced among the Vikings of a thousand years ago, as Christian missionaries were allowed in several cases to set up churches and convert Heathens in Heathen lands; despite the fact that Saxon Heathens were slaughtered in a brutal campaign led by Charlemagne that resulted in the forced conversion of those Saxons that were left.The source most widely regarded as comprising the ‘highest ideals’ of Heathenry would be the Nine Noble Virtues. These virtues are: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness and Perseverance. Where does race even come into play with these virtues? It doesn’t. Another list of high ideals is the 12 Atheling Thews, which is an expansion upon the Nine Noble Virtues: Boldness, Steadfastness, Troth, Givefulness, Guestliness, Sooth, Wrake, Evenhead, Friendship, Freedom, Wisdom, Workhardiness. Again, nothing promoting racial prejudice or hatred.With all of this taken into consideration, there is no way an author could effectively argue that racists of any kind spring up from Heathen gods or the Heathen religion. Authors who try to do this are only misleading people for money – as I stated in the beginning of this rant, racism cannot be a religious conviction, it can only be a political or social conviction. In situations where a racial attitude may seem to be espoused by religion, look for a religious person who has a second agenda, simply (ab)using their religion to justify that agenda. Whoever this author may be, academically or otherwise, he’s obviously not spent much time talking with Heathens…but it doesn’t seem like that would have mattered much to him, either, since it seems his agenda was to find a religious source for a social and political problem.[/rant]

  • The Pagan Temple

    Not to belabor the point, but it is a fact that one of the most popular religions among white racist prison inmates happens to be Asatru. It also seems to be a growing trend among white supremacists in general. That does not mean, of course, that all Asatru, Odinists, etc., are white supremacist, just that there is a growing sub-set who are.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that’s belaboring the point at all – you bring up an issue that should be addressed, and in a way it helps me to explain my reaction to this from a slightly different angle. Prior to the early 1970’s, when Asatru hit the world scene and was declared legally-recognized in Iceland, I doubt there would have been very many white racist prisoners who claimed it as their faith. I don’t think that Odin would have been suggested as their archetype prior to this time period. Yet there would certainly have been white racist prisoners. Prior to the Romanticist movement in 19th Century Germany, there would still have been plenty of white racists running around…it would be really tough to defend that Odin would have been the archetype for any of these people, especially since the majority of the white racists living in the southern states of the USA at the time would likely have never heard of Odin. But Asatru is a religion now, and like other religions (including Celtic reconstruction), the race-haters are trying to wedge themselves a place and find a divine justification for their social and political shortcomings. As I pointed out in my last comment, I don’t think there is anything in the corpus of Heathen lore and religion that advocates the kind of racial hatred and intolerance we are talking about here. Perhaps I don’t think there is anything of that nature to be found because I am myself not of that nature; but I believe it more likely that modern-day race-haters are digging around and trying to twist whatever they can to gain some sense of personal justification for their own fears and ignorance…in this, they would be no different than their predecessors. None of this suggests that Odin should be seen as an archetype for racial hatred…if anything, it should suggest that no god should be considered a candidate for such a thing.I do think it is worrying that mainstream Heathenry has yet to formulate a more effective way of making the race-haters feel really unwelcome. The only tactic I can think of that would work would be more intensified approaches to education, along with a higher level of engagement when confronting racists…and that is already happening, believe it or not, I think it’s just going to take more time.

  • Adam

    Sorry, but you people are wrong. I am going to cut to the chase immediately.In the Norse Mythology, Heimmdalr (The creator of Man) first created Thrall. Thrall was a black man, with long heels, wrinkly skin, and he was ugly. This would not do for Odin, and so he rejected Thrall.Heimdallr then created Karl, the Free Man, he had red skin, blue sharp eyes, and was both strong and intelligent. Yet, not even Karl was good enough for Odin.Now here’s the funny fact: When Heimdallr eventually created Jarl, who was a white intelligent man with fair hair and blue eyes, Odin was satisfied.You cannot sat that Odin isn’t a racist deity, because that’s just what he is. Do some research people, read the Edda.