As the calendar year came to a close, a new French Ásatrú group, Les Enfant d’Yggdrasil, was just getting its start. On Nov. 11 the group founders met near Aix-en-Provence to launch the organization. They held a blot, voted the statutes and elected board members. They ended the evening in celebration at a local Mexican restaurant. Then on Jan. 1, 2014, Les Enfant d’Yggdrasil became an officially registered French Heathen organization.
Les Enfants d’Yggdrasil, also known as Yggdrasilsbörn, grew out of unique spiritual need within a growing Pagan and Heathen community.* Mariane, coordinator of the Pagan Federation International in France and one of Yggdrasilsbörn’s founders, explains that the Board wanted to build a reconstructionist group with the singular goal of “concentrating on religious matters.”
To further illustrate, Mariane offers a basic history of Ásatrú groups and practice in France. She says, “The very first [Ásatrú groups] were organized, or not so organized, around simple Yahoo mailing lists. This was before forums became popular and way before Facebook even existed.” There were limited opportunities for interaction with other Ásatrúar or French Heathens in general. Traditionally most people practiced alone.
The few groups that have formed operate mostly in secret or, at the very least, in private. According to Mariane, there is the Strasbourg-based L’Église d’Ásatrú that has successfully operated for more than 10 years. Next to nothing is shared outside the borders of its tight community. Mariane says that there are many similar “small groups, not so keen on publicity, including one whose participants all live together on a farm dedicated to Freyja in Normandy.”
Despite this longtime focus on privacy, several larger associations have formed in the past 10 years. These are Félag Ásatrú Francophone and Les Fils d’Odin. Both have developed public web presences with very different philosophies.
Félag Ásatrú Francophone was founded in 2011 by Úlfdís Haraldsdóttir. She describes the group as eclectic explaining, “We are completely non-political and open to everyone.” As stated on the website, Félag Ásatrú Francophone prides itself on its community founded on “tolerance, respect and [positive] personal exchange.” In an interview at Equinox.net, Úlfdís speaks about her personal journey and how it led to the birth of Félag Ásatrú Francophone.
Les Fils d’Odin was founded in 2006 to support the Norse and Germanic Heathen communities. Members included both “païens universalistes” and “païens identitaires.” The association’s website clarifies the differences. Païens identitaires are those who reconstruct and follow the Nordic practices of their ancestors. They are largely considered Odinists and described as Folkish. Païens universalistes also follow and reconstruct the Nordic traditions but have no ancestral connections. These “paiens” are usually called Ásatrúar.
Up until last year, Les Fils d’Odin had both Odinistes and Ásatrúar members. However in the fall of 2013, the organizers of Les Fils d’Odin decided to lead the association down a new path. In a press release, Gimli, president of Les Fils d’Odin, wrote:
Après 7 ans d’existence et de sincérité envers la religion de nos Ancêtres, l’association va prendre un nouveau tournant. En effet nous souhaitons nous rapprocher le plus possible de nos valeurs et de notre héritage Ces années d’existences nous ont appris beaucoup de bonnes et de mauvaises choses … Nous n’oublierons rien de tout cela … Nous avons besoin de restructurer l’association pour devenir encore plus soudé, souligner notre appartenance à un sol et réussir à atteindre nos objectifs qui sont entre autre la reconnaissance de notre foi autochtone. Les Fils d’Odin, va ainsi devenir une Association Odiniste Identitaire (Pour la défense de ses Valeurs, ses Croyances, la mémoire de ses Ancêtres et de son Sol. (En évitant les langues de bois).
[Translation: After seven years of existence and dedication to the religion of our ancestors, the association will be taking a new turn. In effect, we want to move as close as possible to our values and heritage. We have learned much, good and bad… We will forget nothing. [But] we need to restructure the association to become stronger, to emphasize our belonging to the land and successfully attain our objectives which are to reconnect with our native faith. The Children of Odin will therefore become an identity-based Odinist Association. (In the defense of our values, our beliefs, the remembrance of our ancestors and our land)]
When Les Fils d’Odin made this shift in practice, those “paien universalistes” were left with no organizational affiliation. Unfortunately the eclectic nature of Félag Ásatrú Francophone made that association a poor fit. So out of the need for community, these Ásatrúar decided to create their own group – one specifically for universalistes. Mariane says:
[We] decided it would be good to create a reconstructionist group, meaning by this that we seriously try to reconstruct our religion. [But] We are … convinced that anyone can honor their ancestors the ásatrú way. You don’t need to have ásatrú ancestors to do that.
Mariane calls Les Enfants d’Yggdrasil a “gathering of clans.” Since November, members have already held moots and blots. She has expressed great hope for the future of the group and for Ásatrú in France. Mariane says the biggest uphill struggle stems from the connections made between Ásatrú and white supremacist organizations. These hate-based groups have long incorporated Germanic and Nordic mythological symbols into their own imagery.
The problem is so pervasive that public associations openly disavow a connection in order to be absolutely clear. On its site, Félag Ásatrú Francophone states, “This community is apolitical and will fight to take Ásatrú back from the extreme right or Neo-Nazis. Nordic Paganism has nothing to do with… the ideas of these groups.” Les Fils d’Odin states, “We chose to use the term Odiniste because our association was created in an area with German heritage (Flanders) free from politics. Our association is apolitical… We fight to [take back] some of symbols that have been hijacked by the Nazi regime.” Les Enfants d’Yggdrasil does not have a live website at this point. However Mariane has specifically stated that this group was built to be completely non-political
While the appropriation of these ancient Nordic religious symbols has typically spelled trouble for French Heathens, there may now be a new and completely reverse affect. The secular use of the symbols is drawing attention to Norse mythology, history and lore. Mariane explains:
Thanks to the movie Thor most people now have at least heard about [Ásatrú], though many still don’t know it is still practiced today. Metal music has also contributed to people hearing about Ásatrú. Some wear Thor’s hammers pendants without really knowing what they are, because they have become fashionable among people who like that kind of music.
It is nearly impossible to know for sure if these popular images are contributing to the growing interest in Ásatrú or other Pagan and Heathen faiths. However the secular images do contribute to a positive awareness of the faith’s presence within the greater community of France. As such, the Heathen population may increasingly find safe environments to teach, worship, seek community and, in doing so, find their public voice.
* NOTE: Word usage varies from country to country due to cultural nuance and/or semantics. For example, the French term paien is commonly used in reference to Asatru and Odinism in France. It commonly translates as Pagan. However it also means Heathen and can refer to polytheists. In addition, the capitalization of certain proper terms, such as Pagan or Asatru, differs in French than in English. While I mostly kept within English language structure, I did attempt to add a bit of French nuance to reflect the cultural and linquistic origins of the story.