Asatru Added to Religion Stylebook and Why Journalist Engagement Matters

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 4, 2013 — 16 Comments

Back in July, PRI’s The World did a story on the U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs approving the Thor’s Hammer emblem for veteran’s grave markers and headstones (here’s The Wild Hunt’s reporting on that story). The story didn’t interview any Heathens, was somewhat flippant towards the faith, and included a picture of someone dressed like the comic book/movie version of Thor. This led Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog to lodge a (entirely justified) complaint campaign, and it ultimately pushed PRI to do a somewhat more respectful follow-up to their original piece. Now, this incident has led to what might be an even bigger win for practitioners of Asatru, inclusion in the Religion Newswriters Association’s official Religion Stylebook. At the Norse Mythology Blog Dr. Seigfried, who wrote the stylebook entires, explains how this came about.

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[Religion Newswriters Association President] Ann Rogers. After reading about my interactions with Public Radio international over its poorly researched and disrespectful coverage of Ásatrú (“Æsir Faith,” the modern iteration of Old Germanic religion), Ms. Rodgers asked me to pick ten terms important to Ásatrú and write definitions for the online guide. Before my submissions, the guide contained no entries related to Ásatrú. The Religion Stylebook is an important resource for journalists in the United States. […] It’s not every day that the head of a major journalists’ association asks you to literally define a religion for the nation’s mainstream media, and I took this responsibility very seriously. I modeled my definitions on those already in the Religion Stylebook and tried to match the selection of terms, lengths of definitions and writing style to entries for other religions already in the book. Of course, I could have written much more on each of the terms I selected, but I matched the amount of text to equivalent terms already included from other faiths.”

The ten terms added to the stylebook include Æsir, Ásatrú, blót, Eddas, and goði, and are live on the stylebook’s site as we speak. Dr. Seigfried worked with Heathens in Iceland, Germany, and the United States to shape the definitions he would use.

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“My second goal was to write definitions that would be general enough to be acceptable by members of the many divergent Ásatrú communities around the world. I fully understand that there is a great diversity of approaches to Ásatrú – as there is to any religious tradition. In an effort to balance out any personal bias, I asked leaders in three different Ásatrú communities to read my definitions and give their comments. Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir (Iceland), Josh Heath (USA) and Sven Scholz (Germany) were all kind enough to share their time and wisdom, and I am deeply grateful for their generosity. Their insights have made the definitions stronger; all remaining faults are my own responsibility.”

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

I was able to speak briefly with Dr. Seigfried about this achievement, and he called the inclusion a “progressive step” by the Religion Newswriters Association.

“I’ve been working for several years to help bring a positive view of this beautiful tradition to the general public. In large part, I started writing The Norse Mythology Blog so that people with no knowledge of Ásatrú could find some good information when doing a Google search on the subject. I’ve been continually disappointed by the lack of respect that Ásatrú has gotten from America’s religion journalists and interfaith organizations, and I am really glad that the Religion Newswriters Association has taken this progressive step.”

Having a neutral source of basic terms and information that journalists can access is hugely important for accurate and fair reporting. Since the Religion Stylebook is used by reporters on the religion beat, and is intended to act as an independent supplement to The Associated Press Stylebook, the chances are very good that future stories on Asatru will be better informed, or at least use the proper terminology.

This advance in better journalism for modern Pagan and Heathen faiths came about because Dr. Seigfried took the step of engaging directly with religion news-writers by becoming a member of the RNA.

“In order to help shine a light on this issue, I recently joined the Religion Newswriters Association. I hope that my membership in the organization will enable me to make contact with the more open-minded wing of the profession.”

Simply put, making professional contact with mainstream journalists results in better-informed journalism. I would go further, and state that building multiple, robust, journalistic organs of our own shapes the narratives that eventually “trickle up” into mainstream publications. The bigger, and more professional, our media institutions become, the better we’ll be able to inform and influence outside media. For religious movements like modern Paganism, a journalistic ecosystem is increasingly vital in helping to define who we are, what we do, and what our values are. It can’t just be The Wild Hunt, or The Norse Mythology Blog, or any other site, because no one resource can serve all sectors of our interconnected communities fully. We all have different parts to play, and it is vital that we collectively realize how important good journalism is, so that we can collectively support and build on the work currently being done.

Congratulations to Dr. Seigfried on this accomplishment!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Nicely done! Congratulations and thanks to Dr. Seigfried.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I’ve gone through the style book and what he has done is great (certainly far better than what Pagan and Neo-paganism have at the moment), but there is one rather major omission.

    There is still no entry for “Heathen”. It is an umbrella term these days. Not all Heathens are Odinists or Ásatrúar, after all.

    • Dscarron

      It’s still tons better then we have had to date…

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Oh, I am not disputing that one in the slightest.

    • TadhgMor

      Hey, at least you don’t get lumped in with Wiccans all the time.

      I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Samhain or Lughnasadh called a “Wiccan holiday”, or been asked if I do Wiccan things even if I identify as a Gaelic polytheist from the get go.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I’m seeing Celtic polytheism getting linking to Heathenry more often, these days.

        • TadhgMor

          Makes a bit more sense to me honestly. The practices and deities are different, but I think the underlying view of the world is more similar, at least since my understanding is that more Heathens and Asatruars are hard polytheists than in other pagan paths.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Makes sense for me, also. Mind you, I live in Ƿessex, Albion, where the two cultures are ingrained into the very land. (Much moreso than any other religious cultures.)

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I asked Dr. Siegfried about this and he answered promptly.

      He was given the opportunity to write ten definitions, and he gave a lot of thought to what to include. The various forms of Heathenry are given mention within the Ásatrú piece.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    This shows that going beyond complaining and becoming part of the solution to a problem is necessary. More and more people will need to follow much the same course if we are ever going to educate the medias, as much as we can educate the media. Dr. Seigfried, and those leaders that he checked with, are to be commended for advancing understanding though action.

  • TadhgMor

    I look forward to the day when the rest of the various paths under the pagan umbrella can have similar success.

    Also, I had no idea such a style book exists but I think it’s a wonderful tool to use, especially in that it implicitly is designed to help remove some of the misinformation around minority faiths, which is a big part of how majority faiths can “keep us in our place” so to speak.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Agreed.

      Maybe people/organisations should get in contact with the people who run the stylebook and offer to write up references for other paths?

      • TadhgMor

        I thought about that, I’ve been trying to think who I should bounce that up to. It sort of feels above my pay grade, and I’m already knee deep in other research for university.

        Though I think I can count the number of times I’ve seen any sort of Celtic Reconstructionism/Polytheism referenced in the news on one hand. Neo-Druids and Wiccans get all the attention.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          It is why I frequently bemoan a single paragraph definition of Paganism. That is all many will want to read. A dissertation on the subject is not suitable for quick references for the majority of the (non Pagan) population.

          I think that large groups would make sense to be the ones to contact the Stylebook guys. (CoG, for example, would be a logical choice for the writing of a definition for Wicca.)

          • TadhgMor

            Yeah I actually just tossed it up to a Gaelic Polytheism group on Facebook. I know a number of fairly prominent CR people take part there so I’ll see what the community thinks.

            Honestly, as much as I care about correct definitions, I also wonder if in Gaelic polytheists are simply too small to be relevant. It’s a very odd feeling, but I can’t help but feeling like I’m being a bit selfish demanding a definition (Asatruars and Heathens are more common in my experience, though that might be sampling bias). There’s a weird “minority conditioning” aspect to this feeling that I can recognize academically, but can’t really shake it even knowing that.

          • Kathryn NicDhàna

            Well, here’s our Gaol Naofa Gaelic Polytheism FAQ, if anyone finds that helpful. http://www.gaolnaofa.com/about/faq/

            It’s a more recent and more specific take than the broader-based Celtic Reconstructionist FAQ. http://www.paganachd.com/faq/intro.html

            While the former speaks for a specific Gaelic Polytheist organization, and I prefer it as it’s closer to my views and we were able to go more in-depth, the latter is a consensus document that covered a variety of viewpoints and a broader cultural base.