Archives For Asatru

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What is the point of mythology today? What purpose do tales of gods and monsters of the long ago time play in our post-postmodern world?

Any given myth within any given mythology can be read at multiple levels by multiple audiences. The Norse myths are no exception.

Children (and the young at heart) enjoy the d’Aulaires retellings of the myths with a sense of innocent wonder at the exciting strangeness of it all. Teenagers (and other bloodthirsty types) revel in the violence and gore of distant derivations such as the Vikings TV show. Heathens (and related religionists) mine the surviving Icelandic versions of the myths for keys to their reconstruction and re-imagining of belief and ritual, although some practitioners actively deny that these materials have anything to do with religion at all.

Like all myths, the Icelandic tales of Thor and the World Serpent can amaze, entertain, and inspire. In the wider picture, for the wider society, what can be made of these stories that will really make a difference in the lives of those who read them? What meaning can we find in myths of a hammer-wielding god who fights a giant snake that lies deep in the sea and encircles all lands?

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Thor fights the World Serpent at the Doom of the Gods by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

Stories of Thor and the World Serpent

The most general understanding of any specific myth is as a story of wondrous adventure. This type of reading focuses on elements of plot (who fought whom), attributes of characters (what weapons were used), and connection to the wider mythology (what effect the fight had).

Here are the basic details of the myths, briefly told.

Adventure 1: The god Thor walks to the World of the Giants with his companion Loki and his two servant children Thialfi and Roskva. After some time, they come to the enormous stronghold of the giant known as Loki of the Outer World.

This second Loki has powerful magic of illusion and plays several visual tricks on Thor and his comrades over the course of a series of tests of their abilities. One of Thor’s challenges is to lift the second Loki’s giant cat into the air. The god grabs the feline under his belly, but no matter how high he lifts the cat, it arches its back enough that only one of its paws leaves the ground.

When the giant wizard reveals all the tricks he played on his visitors, he tells Thor:

That cat was not what it appeared to you. It was the World Serpent which lies encircling all lands, and its length was hardly enough for both its head and its tail to touch the ground. And so far did you reach up that you were not far from the sky.

Thor departs in great anger at having been fooled.

Adventure 2: Thor goes fishing with a giant named Hymir. The god uses the head of an ox as bait and manages to hook the World Serpent. He furiously struggles to pull up the snake, and (in a Paul Bunyanesque moment) he pushes his feet through the bottom of the boat and braces them on the bottom of the sea as he hauls on the line.

The struggle between the god and the serpent is so fiercely fought that “all the ancient earth was collapsing.” Just as Thor lifts his hammer and readies to kill his prey, Hymir panics and cuts his fishing line. Thor throws his hammer after the sea monster, but “the World Serpent lives still and lies in the encircling sea.”

Adventure 3: At the end of mythic time, during the cosmic battle known as the Doom of the Powers, Thor has his final encounter with the World Serpent. The god is victorious, but he only stumbles nine paces away before “he will fall to the ground, dead from the poison which the serpent will spit at him.”

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Thor ready to strike the World Serpent by Jenny Nyström [Public Domain]

Meaning within the Mythology

Adventure 1 sets up Thor’s great strength and his position as dedicated adversary to the giants. Before he reveals his illusions to the god, Loki of the Outer World tells him:

Now you shall be told the truth, now you have come outside the castle, which is that if I live and can have my way, you shall never again come into it. And I swear by my faith that you never would have come into it, if I had known before that you had such great strength in you, and that you were going to bring us so close to disaster.

There were several tests set up for Thor besides the trial with the disguised World Serpent. In each one of them, only the deceptive magic of the giant prevented Thor from achieving total victory.

As in the poem “Graybeard’s Song,” in which Thor and Odin debate and insult each other, Thor is presented in direct opposition to magic users. He faces any challenge head-on, using his raw strength and hitting it with his hammer. From his perspective, magic and illusion are dishonest and used as the recurrent refuge of those who refuse to engage openly with their opponents.

Adventure 2 expands on these ideas, positing a situation where Thor is able to face his opponent directly and engage in an open trial of strength and will, yet is still frustrated. Three main ideas are forwarded in this episode.

1. Thor is portrayed as protector and defender. In the late 10th century, the Icelandic poet Úlf Uggason told the story of Thor’s fishing trip, writing:

Fiercely flashed the brow-moons [eyes]
of the friend of gods and mankind [Thor],
deadly glances darting
down upon the serpent.

Similar language appears in the parallel spot in the Eddic “Hymir’s Poem”:

The protector of humans, the serpent’s sole slayer,
baited his hook with the ox’s head.
The one whom the gods hate, the All-Lands-Girdler [the World Serpent]
from below gaped wide over the hook.

The major attribute of the god is not thunder, but protection of the community. He fights to defend the worlds of gods and humans from the threatening forces outside of them.

This story clarifies the conflict between Thor and Loki of the Outer World, providing a motivation for Thor’s journey to the World of the Giants – he wishes to challenges those outside that threaten the world within. It also suggests that the image of Thor traveling with a human boy and girl is to underscore his protective role.

2. Thor is so dedicated to destroying his great enemy that he is completely oblivious to the consequences. He puts his feet through the bottom of the boat and the world collapses around him, yet he never loses focus on his fight to defeat his foe. This concept will be clarified in the next adventure.

3. As in the adventure with Loki of the Outer World, Thor can only be defeated by dishonesty and cheating. Here, Thor is seconds away from finally smashing the World Serpent with this hammer when the giant Hymir cuts his fishing line and allows the sea monster to escape. Without the intervention of the giant, Thor is fully capable of destroying the threat to the worlds he protects.

In typical fashion, Thor’s response is to throw the meddling giant overboard.

Adventure 3 takes two of these strands and follows them to their logical and emotional conclusion in the last battle of Norse mythology. In the “Prophecy of the Seeress,” Thor’s final fight with the serpent is described in cosmic, religious, and moral terms:

Then comes the glorious child of Earth [Thor],
Odin’s son strides to fight the serpent.
He smites in fury, shrine-guarder of the world;
all warriors must abandon their homesteads.
He steps nine paces, Earth’s child,
exhausted, leaving slain the snake which fears no shame.

Thor’s role as protector of the world is emphasized by twice identifying him as the son of the earth goddess. He guards the world itself, but he also defends the culture of men as represented by their shrines. The religious concept of reciprocal gifting between gods and humans is suggested by the juxtaposition of the god guarding the shrines and the warriors leaving their homesteads to join him in battle.

Or do they leave their homes because the battle between Thor and the World Serpent – as in the tale of the fishing trip – tears the world itself apart? In either reading, any wall between the god and his worshipers has now broken down as they are equally affected by the destruction of the last days.

Finally, Thor is able to do battle with his great enemy without illusion or interference. As suggested by both of the preceding myths, his might is enough to destroy the serpent in open combat.

However, both of the other tales suggest that there is a near-equality of strength on both sides, that the protective force is barely stronger than the threatening force. Here, Thor does manage to slay the serpent, but he only lives long enough to take nine steps before he is overwhelmed by the poison spewed by the snake.

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Thor fights the World Serpent by Lorenz Frølich [Public Domain]

What the World Needs Now

In 1916, pragmatist philosopher John Dewey wrote, “a theory apart from an experience cannot be definitely grasped even as theory. It tends to become a mere verbal formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine theorizing, unnecessary and impossible.”

In 2016, I suggest a new version of his statement: “a myth apart from an action cannot be definitely grasped even as myth. It tends to become a mere written formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine reading, unnecessary and impossible.”

So, how do we read the myths of Thor and the World Serpent in a way that leads to action today? If Heathenry (both ancient and modern) is truly a world-affirming religion, if we truly are our deeds, how do these myths lead to action in the world?

From the above reading of the myths, here are five concepts that can be applied in our daily lives.

1. Be an adversary. Thor is willing to travel to the World of the Giants and take on any trial. Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and openly challenge those whose actions you oppose? Will you simply signal virtue with a safety pin, or will you stand on the front lines at Standing Rock? We can’t all travel to the front lines, but we can each find some path that leads us beyond our front doors and off of Facebook.

2. Fool me once. After his trusting nature is taken advantage of by the second Loki, Thor heads straight to the sea to pull the serpent from the depths. Once you realize you’ve been played, will you head straight for the core of the corruption and call it out? Americans all along the political spectrum are furious that media and politicians of every stripe have promoted lies and misrepresentations. At what point will you brush illusion aside and focus on reality?

3. Throw the bums out. As soon as the giant Hymir thwarts his victory by cutting his fishing line, Thor throws the giant off the boat. If some supposed ally actively subverts your work, will you keep on smiling or call them out? In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of just such fellow travelers:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

How will you respond to those who claim to have your best interests at heart yet constantly work to undermine them? Will you throw them out or repeatedly reelect them

4. Defend the world. Thor fights for the Earth and all who live on it. His most consistent portrayal is as the defender of the world community. We are all children of the Earth, and we are all part of what was once called – in a more hopeful (albeit patriarchal) time – the brotherhood of man. What can you do to fight for the planet as our common home? What can you do to fight for human rights? As the very ideas of protecting the Earth and the universality of human rights are openly attacked, what will you do to push back?

5. Accept the risks. Thor is willing to destroy the World Serpent even at the cost of his own life. Without taking this literally, without reading the myth as a call for suicide bombing, will you accept the repercussions of standing up for your values? From microaggressions in the classroom to retaliation in the workplace, to hate speech in the online world, will you accept that the trollish elements will rise up to oppose your positive acts – yet still perform those acts? Will you stand strong in the face of ugly opposition?

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Hymir cuts Thor’s fishing line by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

The Strength of the Gods

During the fishing trip, when Thor can finally engage in open battle with the World Serpent, he summons his ásmegin, his god-power. It is this power that enables him to grow to enormous size, to push his fight through the bottom of the boat, and to stand on the floor of the ocean as he fights above the waves.

Aside from his famous hammer, Thor also owns a magic belt and a pair of iron gloves. The belt is called megingjörð, the belt of power, and wearing it doubles his god-power. The iron gloves enable him to grasp the lightning-hammer that he uses to crush those who threaten the community of gods and humans.

If we again step out of a literal reading of the myths, we can find a contemporary meaning in this god-power that Thor summons within himself and that his mystic belt doubles. The myths themselves can inspire us and fill us with a unique power that drives us to action, and girding ourselves with their inspiration can make our commitment to act even stronger.

This is not gamma radiation that turns us into superheroes, but an internal inspiration that rises within us to strengthen our resolve to perform the acts that the world needs now. Odin may bring the Mead of Poetry that brings creativity in the arts, but Thor brings the god-power that leads to action in the world.

Why the need for iron gloves? Because the hammer that would smash the trolls burns hotly, and grasping it with bare hands would destroy the wielder. If you are ready to take up the task, be prepared to hold on.

Note: The quotes from Icelandic texts in this column have been adapted from published translations of the Edda (Anthony Faulkes), Poetic Edda (Urusla Dronke, Carolyne Larrington, Andy Orchard), and Húsdrápa (Lee M. Hollander).

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

The interaction of religion and politics in Ásatrú and Heathenry has long been a contentious one, as we have recently been reminded during the many heated reactions to a divisive public statement by the new Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Heathens are not usually shy about sharing their views. There have been some very intense online discussions of current politics by Heathens in the United States. Since worldview is so often stressed as greatly important to Heathen practice, I asked several practitioners the following question:

How does your Heathen worldview affect your view of the presidential election as it now stands?

The goal in asking was to present a diversity of opinion from as many Heathens around the nation as possible. Some were unable to answer by publication, and some – due to the divisive nature of this election in particular – declined to speak out publicly.

Here are responses from seventeen Heathens in sixteen different states. While there are some common threads between their comments, there is also a great diversity of opinion. Even such a small sampling shows the wide range of worldviews within the United States Heathen community. Thank you to all who agreed to spend their time providing a response!

Lagaria Farmer (Coopertown, Tennessee)
I try to live an honorable life and help those around me. I believe our gods and ancestors appreciate that. I strongly hold to the value of hospitality, and I believe it’s a two-way street. I look for these characteristics in the candidates for public office and vote accordingly. There are a few (counting the third-party candidates) who have some of these qualities. There is at least one who doesn’t, and that person will not have my vote.

Matt Walker (Trenton, Missouri)
My worldview is one that places significant importance on community, on loyalty, gifting, and the reciprocity of those things. On relationships and duty. Honor. Obligation. In line with that, my view of a proper president – or any leader – is that they should be a person who is honorable and does right by their people, a person who holds their responsibilities above their own personal concerns. An intellectual, knowledgeable, articulate soul bound by loyalty to the Republic and reverence for the rule of law (especially the Constitution); a person who understands what justice is, as well as diplomacy; and who is known for regular, genuine displays of generosity, compassion and integrity.

Where does that leave me in this election? It leaves me without a candidate, while the world watches my countrymen fight bitterly over whether we should elect a corrupt establishment politician beholden to corporate interests or a trust-fund troglodyte fomenting violence amongst an army of quasi-literate scum.

Thad N. Horrell (Denver, Colorado)
Heathenry motivates me to keep up the struggle for justice and truth, even when so many people close to me are taken in by the demagoguery of angry words and hateful speech. The Hávamál [“Sayings of the High One”] teaches us to welcome the stranger and be hospitable to guests, especially those who are in need of shelter and assistance. We should be strong against our enemies, but we should know who our enemies are first. Declaring all people who do not look like us or who do not practice our religion are our enemies is cowardly and despicable. I do not practice Donald Trump’s religion, and I stand in solidarity with all those worthy people he would deport or ban from entering our country.

Kari Tauring [Courtesy Photo]

Kari Tauring (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
My Heathen root, like my Christian root, is primarily Norwegian. I come from the school of free farmers and not church or royal landholders. We believe in democratic governance. My grandma and grandpa – who arrived in the U.S. at age thirteen – proudly voted. People walked or rode in wagons miles to their polling places. If I can’t vote for something, I write in my answer. I do this on the census and “race check” boxes. I believe that the people who most value the water and land should be in charge of keeping it clean for everyone. This is the worldview of my Nordic folkway, and I think it is folkways that will save this world.

Thomas de Mayo (Tidewater, Virginia)
I support Clinton, because she is the most likely candidate to defeat Trump and move the country in a progressive direction. Many of my friends are considering voting for a third-party candidate, because they do not consider Clinton sufficiently liberal or have concerns about her character. I sympathize, but I believe they are mistaken.

In Heathen terms, I view modern elections as being like a medieval Icelandic Thing. The Thing was a sacred assembly, a court of law, and a place for vicious politicking. A disputant who wanted to assure a good outcome for their case needed to assemble a coalition of allies; that meant making compromises, returning favors, and pragmatically accepting settlements short of total victory. So too our modern democratic process (although sacred in its own way) requires tempering heartfelt conviction with strategic thinking.

I am totally appalled by Trump’s bigotry toward Muslims and other minorities. I don’t trust him to administer the laws of our country domestically, and I don’t trust him to make military decisions abroad. In the contest of the Thing, it is best to ally with the strongest friendly chieftain able to obtain victory.

Drew Johnston (Los Angeles, California)
This election cycle has been very hard to deal with. Honor is so important to us, and none of our candidates seem to have any, nor do many of our elected representatives. Truth is also one of our core virtues, and I’ve seen very little of that myself. Perseverance demands that I stay my course and vote for the candidate I have chosen, but it gets harder every time I turn on the news. As a Heathen, I would say that I am very disappointed with this state of affairs – both the election and where our country is today.

Vicki Burns [Courtesy Photo]

Vicki Burns (Bronx, New York)
My worldview is best described as neo-tribal. While we can’t return to tribal ways of our ancestors, I still think we can look to them for guidance here in the present and for future generations. Of the two remaining candidates for the upcoming election, I feel that Hilary Clinton, despite some strong reservations I still have about corporate ties that she may have, is still the best choice for me. I have been struck by her commitment to the health of children and of families – which I think is fundamental to our future as a nation – with a focus on higher wages, childcare, insurance, and affordable education. Additionally, she echoes Obama’s original pledge to develop renewable energy and create new jobs. For our sake and for Mother Earth, I hope she follows through.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is nothing but a neo-feudal opportunist who is exploiting the working class, who are understandably upset at the lack of opportunity in the country as it stands. His lack of experience and empathy and his overblown ego and unbridled narcissism will eventually destroy him and, if he is elected, will destroy us all, as well. May the old gods prevent that, and may we all exercise our right to vote on Election Day.

Heidi Shewchuk (Oak Grove, Oregon)
[My worldview] doesn’t really [affect my view]. But what does affect my view is being a history nerd, and for me this means our current presidential election is no different than any of the electioneering that has gone on before. In particular I am reminded of the late Roman Republic. This was a period when politics were rife with bribery, slander, slippery deals, accusations of slippery deals, and all manner of electoral abuses – including vote tampering and election fraud. There were riots in the streets, with the political supporters of rival candidates forming gangs, behaving badly, and engaging in open – sometimes bloody – conflict with one another. Our current election in the U.S. has had all of this, but unlike Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus, Hillary, Trump, and Bernie have yet to form a triumvirate. However, we do have two more months, and anything is possible.

Jennifer Snook (Grinnell, Iowa)
Heathenry sacralizes my commitment to social justice and the urgency and centrality of truth-telling and honor. In that regard, the current election troubles me, as neither candidate has shown a commitment to honesty. However, if I wanted to quantify the “truthiness,” integrity, or honor-in-action of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Trump would most certainly lose. His commitment to divisive politics; childish name calling and bullying of politicians, protesters, and journalists; his consistent and perpetual refusal to honor his debts, his word, his commitments; his pandering to white supremacist ideology and sympathizers; his openly racist, misogynistic, classist and ableist rhetoric; his consistent inconsistency of position; and his inability to formulate a coherent argument are all in conflict with my values and expectations of what kind of person qualifies as “presidential.”

I was a Sanders supporter, and although I’m not a die-hard fan of Clinton and do have some concerns as to her commitment to institutional and structural changes that will alleviate the human suffering caused by the inequalities of income, health access, education, and the lack of political agency of disenfranchised groups – she’s certainly a less terrifying option.

Victor Booker

Victor Booker [Courtesy Photo]

Victor Booker (Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin)
The current major party candidates, just as many before them, tend to push ideals that appeal to Christianity. This is especially true for the Right. As Heathens, we have not only an immunity to this, but perhaps even a tendency to be more scrutinizing when a candidate starts throwing around old political Christian catchphrases. Heathens don’t care about that. Many of us look for progressive ideas, solutions to issues plaguing our communities, and global policies that will help unite America with other countries. Instead we often get roundabout answers that aren’t really answers at all, with a nice thick covering of religious rhetoric that has been successful in buying voters since Americans started voting. All in all, being a Heathen that cares about politics in America is frustrating. A Heathen worldview is just that, a worldview. And American politics is rarely such.

David Carron (New Bedford, Massachusetts)
Religion and politics make poor bedfellows, and this election is poorer than most. Our ancestors were well familiar with the difficulties and faults in leadership. With Mr. Trump, I am reminded of Sigvaldi from the Jómsvíkinga saga. He swore to conquer Norway or die trying – spoiler alert; neither happens. His men, clearly knowing the character of their leader, swore to fight until he turned tail and ran, which he did. With Ms. Clinton, I have to think more of Loki from Lokasenna for a comparison of her credibility, likability, and truthfulness. I may just move after this election.

Douglas Helvie (New Bern, North Carolina)
I am a practitioner of Urglaawe, and my viewpoint is simple. Hillary is crooked, pure and simple. As an avowed political independent, I originally was going to vote for Bernie Sanders – until the world found out that our political system is corrupt, and – more specifically – the DNC has this nasty habit of rigging primaries. So, in true Heathen spirit and in the sense of revolt and revenge, I am voting for Trump.

Stevie Miller

Stevie Miller [Courtesy Photo]

Stevie Miller (Greensburg, Pennsylvania)|
As a Heathen, I’m appalled by the behavior of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president – and their parties – this election cycle. Their lying, mudslinging, and scheming are completely contrary to virtues like truth, honor, and generosity. Polarizing our population and excluding and vilifying certain groups of people flies in the face of the Urglaawe goal to fight rootlessness, that force that undermines both our communities and the World Tree. The designations of “liberal” and “conservative” are completely useless, serving only to create an us-them mentality that hurts people while doing nothing to solve our actual problems.

In the lore, we see again and again that our gods are strongest when they work together, combining a variety of voices and talents to achieve the goals of their community. In action, this translates for me to supporting third parties, speaking up for diversity and inclusiveness, and making a particular effort to listen to and understand opinions I disagree with. I feel that this election – with two candidates who are so widely known to be corrupt and power-hungry, and two out-of-touch parties that are oblivious to the problems in our country – has reached a new low for American politics that I have not seen before as a voter.

As a Heathen, I believe the solutions mean including new voices and perspectives, building strong communities, and working hard at hands-on problem-solving at the local level (not substituting social media for action!) to create the kinds of changes we want to see at the national level.

Ren Anderson (Exeter Township, Pennsylvania)
Being Heathen in this country during any election is disheartening. With the presence of the electoral college and the fact we live in a corporate oligarchy, I fully understand and recognize that our elections do not determine how we choose to be governed but rather serve as a distraction from our crumbling economic infrastructure. In Heathenry, with the emphasis on self-reliance and sustainability, I find our community better prepared than the surrounding culture of consumerism by embracing our agricultural heritage. Although I am active on Facebook, I still encourage people to find actual physical copies of books and to focus on improving personal skills that would do well in a local barter economy as hobbies.

I personally see the U.S. elections as a distraction at best, and a corruption at worst. Instead, to focus on the local community and to personally bring visibility to personal hot button issues that affect our lives is a better use of our resources than arguing over which stuffed-suit sociopath gets to be the “face” of our country for the next four-to-eight years as the bourgeois find ever more terrible and ingenious ways to accumulate more wealth at the expense of the well-being of the common man.

In Heathenry, I feel that we should educate ourselves as well as we are able (even though our media is now void of unbiased journalism) but to focus primarily on personal survival and accumulating contacts of others with useful skills while trying to avoid becoming entwined with the questionable and possibly violent extremists that also exist in great numbers among U.S. Odinists who have drawn similar conclusions about the facade of democracy.

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Vincent Enlund [Courtesy Photo]

Vincent Enlund (Mesa, Arizona)
When it comes to the presidency, I think my worldview affects how I rate a lot of things. First off, I have to look at all the candidates, and how they sling mud at each other. We look at the two primary parties that will always debate over the Left or Right, conservative or liberal. And now this year, for the first time in many decades, there’s a legitimate third-party option – the Libertarian Party and what they have to offer for the future, as well.

Really, if you’re looking at this from a Heathen worldview, for me, I need to think about what my ancestors looked for in a leader. They didn’t look for politicians. They looked to the people who had success and glory in their life – people who made accomplishments and showed what they were capable of under stress to benefit their people and their tribe. I think today, as Heathens with a Heathen worldview, we need to be looking for leaders to do the same thing. We need to be looking for leaders who have shown us that they’re capable of leading a country, of managing the kind of decisions that are required to do what is best for the people of this nation and the Constitution that it was built on – leaders that demonstrate courage, honesty, intelligence, and the ability to lead the community both economically and socially.

For me, the hard part about this is that I haven’t seen a leader like that for this country in my life. I hope that this third-party – the Libertarian Party – may provide a leader for today that could accomplish at least some of those things. But until I reach a point where I see a leader that I think my ancestors would look up to, these are only hopes.

William Thor Conner

William Thor Conner [Courtesy Photo]

William Thor Connor (Villa Park, Illinois)
I take seriously the pillars of troth, key virtues that are sorely needed in our society. Many in our current political arena have no problem straight-up lying and breaking their word, using lies in base ways to bolster their own privilege. The whole current legal progression towards a corporate oligarchy is based on selective control of (dis)information. We have a set of candidates that couldn’t win on the strength of their ideas alone.

Hillary Clinton will be a competent administrator of the current system, and – to be honest – I will vote for her in November. There is not really another choice. Trump originally ran as a lark or a saboteur and had unexpected success. I still think he doesn’t want to win but is acting as crowd control for the less educated aspect of the same outrage at the system that enabled Bernie’s rise. I proudly call myself a progressive democratic socialist and have been following the words and ideas of Bernie Sanders for more than a decade.

Without trying, Sanders embodies the troth. His struggle to bring the U.S. into a more egalitarian, less rent-seeking model that our Scandinavian cousins successfully practice is an effort worth emulating and being part of. And he didn’t lose. We are more aware of the egalitarian dream being possible than we have been since Lyndon Johnson. I hold hope that the progressive takeover of the Democratic Party could be a viable answer for real change in America.

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard (Miami, Oklahoma)
My understanding is that the known tenets and values of Heathen spirituality require its adherents to be consciously present and world-affirming. The current presidential race is a seriously contentious one, which is highlighted by the extremist speech and behaviors it has incited. Guided by my Heathen worldview, I am driven to actively speak up and participate in bringing about political advancement and reform for the benefit of all people.

As such, I must reject the agendas and policy platforms of leading presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both further the advancement of political systems that include cronyism, environmental destruction, cross-sectional oppression, and warmongering. As a Heathen, I am therefore morally compelled not to be a passive participant in political concerns. These have a measurable impact on the well-being of my family, my community, and my country – truly, on the earth itself, which I strive to honor and protect through my daily actions and spiritual votive works. The only way I see forward is through a commitment to political activism that will disrupt and replace these systems towards ones that provide healthful stability for all human beings, so we might reach our best scientific and spiritual potential.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

MICHIGAN — Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists living in Michigan’s 9th Congressional District have a candidate they may want to take a closer look at. Matt Orlando is an Ásatrúar running for Congress as the endorsed candidate of the Libertarian Party of Michigan. And one of his campaign stops is at the All Hands Together Harvest Festival hosted by Ancient Faiths Alliance.

Orlando is facing off against incumbent Sander Levin (D) and Christopher Morse (R) in the general election November 8, 2016. Orlando said his platform is focused on jobs, gun rights, freedom, privacy, and federal taxes and expenditures.

12670050_1735882656644681_5004245005220285737_nOrlando is currently employed as a compliance analyst and is married with four children. He has followed the Ásatrú religion for 20 years and has been an active member of the local Pagan community. He’s a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc. and serves as president of the newly formed Ancient Faiths Alliance.

Orlando is bringing his campaign to the event hosted by the Alliance as a way to connect with other Pagans and Heathens, and to let them know, “…there are candidates out there who aren’t Christian, who are from our community” Orlando hopes to spread the idea that liberty folks have a deep respect for liberties and rights as a whole.

Kenya Coviak, an organizer for the All Hands Together Harvest Festival, said that she likes the prospect of someone running who isn’t your average candidate and someone who is active in the Pagan community. Coviak said, “Though he is Ásatrúar, he has not fallen into the rutted roads that so many have when it comes to grouping Heathens and Pagans as mutually exclusive communities. This is evidenced by his involvement as a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc.”

Coviak admitted that she paused when finding out that he was running as a Libertarian. “As far as his political party affiliation, at first I had to give it a major look because of the unfortunate infestation of authoritarian right-wing hard liner factions, but have found that he is not a part of that.”

“[Matt’s] values and my values are similar,” Coviak added. “He is a fine person, and takes no stance he does not believe in wholeheartedly. I have no concern about him standing in a Hall at the end of his life trying to make excuses, for he stands in his truth. I believe he will be that kind of candidate, and that kind of elected official if he makes it. His party has some things that don’t ring my bell or stir my cauldron, but what is good has endured to make me believe that if he can be endorsed by them, then they are worth the time to look into as a viable choice.”

Orlando explained that he has found a philosophical home in the Libertarian Party. “One day a friend showed me some information on the Libertarian Party and I met with some Libertarians. I wanted to know if it was all just talk or if it was real. They explained it wasn’t about trying to control others, and having respect for people as individuals.” He also noted that when he had a different viewpoint, his fellow Libertarians didn’t browbeat him over the differences.

For Orlando, Libertarianism and Heathenry are very compatible. He said, “Both libertarian ideals and the 9 Noble Virtues are about being part of community and caring for each other while still being able to excel as an individual.”

He added that about half of the Libertarian Party of Michigan know of his religion but it is something the party has never asked about. “It’s not been an issue, I’ve never been pressed about it, and I love that about the Libertarian Party.” He believes that is how it should be, that a candidate’s religion is not part of a campaign or party politics.

Additionally, local voters haven’t seemed to focus on Orlando’s religion. “They’ve only care if I can get things going in the right direction and they come away believing I can,” he said.

Orlando is hoping more Pagans and Heathens run for elected office. And, for those thinking about it, he had this advice: “Do your research into parties and what they stand for. Not just at the national level, but at your state level.”

He also encourages candidates to stand on their principles and be confident so their words match their deeds. “You are your deeds,” he said, adding “I’d rather have people hate me for who I am than love me for who I’m not.”

Although Ballotpedia is calling this race a safe win for the Democratic incumbent, Orlando is optimistic. “If I can get out there and my ideas are seen and heard, my chances are very good. When people from all over the political spectrum hear my ideas, they are very positive about them,” said Orlando.

The challenge is getting his name out there. Currently, Orlando has run his campaign with no fundraising and no attention from the press. The incumbent has raised over $600,000 and garners press. Orlando said that overcoming the deficit in money and media coverage is very difficult, but he has enthusiastic volunteers ready to help him go door-to-door and speak directly to voters.

The Wild Hunt will follow Orlando’s campaign and update readers as the election cycle progresses.

TWH — This weekend and next, many modern Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, Lughnassa, and Harvest Home. Typically celebrated on Aug. 1, Lughnasadh is one of the yearly fire festivals and marks the first of three harvest celebrations. It traditionally honors Lugh, the Celtic god of light and many talents, and his foster-mother, Tailtiu.

In addition, the weekend brings the Ásatrú festival of first fruits called Freyfaxi. Both celebrations are celebrated with feasting, songs, games, thanksgiving and the reaping of the first fruits and grains of the season.

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

There are many other late summer religious and secular holidays around the world, some of which are related to the harvest and some are not. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, followers will be celebrating Choekhor Duechen Aug. 4. The day marks the time when “the Buddha Shakyamuni first taught the four noble truths in Sarnath, India, and first turned the wheel of the dharma.”  The Order of the Black Madonna, based in California, hosts a number of feast days in August, including an annual dinner in mid-August to honor the Queenship of Mary.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are readying for Imbolc, and other holidays focused on late winter and the coming potential of spring.

This year, the new moon arrives Aug. 2, and the full moon Aug. 18.

Here are a few quotes about the seasonal celebration:

“This time of year is marked by the burning rays brought down by the Dog Star Sirius, signaling the scorching heat that can come during the “dog days” of summer. The same light that provided nourishment for the green world now parches the earth. This is the last gasping breath of summer, whose days have grown steadily shorter since the solstice. The dark god of the Wildwood, leader of the Wild Hunt comes to claim his throne. The light god of the green that has ruled this half of the year is sacrificed to ensure the cycle continues. This is Lammastide.” – Coby Michael Smith, Lugh, Lucifer and the First Harvest.

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“For the vegan Pagan, Lammas presents an opportunity to celebrate the long-standing blessing of plant-based foods. And surely the Queen of these foods is bread. The Hebrew testaments canonized by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam mention the connection between women and the creation of sacred cakes. Of course in these documents, the mention is a disgruntled and disapproving one. But the pagan religions carry forth innumerable references to sacred loaves, or ‘cakes and ale.’ Liquor, incidentally, is another use for these sacred grains, and is also associated with numerous goddesses, like Cerridwen and Bridget. And most of us in Greco-Roman influenced cultures know Demeter as a goddess of the grain.” – Leslie J. Lindor, Lammas, The Ancient Heritage of Grains

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“Our life stories are not blockages or burdens we must repress, cut away or transcend; they are the very life-blood, our teachers and guides, on our journey of healing and transformation. We are meant to harvest and ingest the core lessons held within our stories, and then, and only then, will our stories be done with us …This week, in the spirit of Lammas, the pagan sabbat of the early harvest, spend some time in personal reflection, considering the parts of your life story that are ripe and ready for harvesting.” – Karen Clark, Lammas Pathwork, Harvesting Your Life Stories

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“On Lammas day in 1940 witches gathered in the New Forest to raise a ‘cone of power’ to prevent Hitler’s troops invading England. The assembly included Gerald Gardner and Old Dorothy Clutterbuck and several other renowned witches. Traditionally Lammas is celebrated by taking a spiral path to the summit of a Lammas hill such as Silbury Hill or Glastonbury Tor […] When harvesting, farmers will often leave the last stand of corn as it contains the spirit of the crop. In some parts of the country this will be cut by ritually throwing sickles. The corn would then be used to decorate the farmhouse for ‘Harvest Home,’ and be made into a corn dolly to protect the home and guarantee the crops for the next season. ” – Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Lammas Windows

[Photo Courtesy Museum of Witchcraft and Magick Lammas Windows]

Lammas Decorating Ideas [Photo Courtesy Museum of Witchcraft and Magick Lammas Windows]

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“It is turning darker sooner, slowly, little by little. The lengthening shadows are appearing as a sign that the nights will be winning once again, as the Wheel of the Year turns. As twilight appears it is rife with legends of the darker ones becoming more and more prominent […] The Witches of the past learned their magic from the fairies, meeting them in the woodlands and fairy mounds that ordinary people avoided. Given herbs, potions, and the secrets of the Craft. In the woodlands, following a path deep into the heart of the greenwood.” – Danette Wilson, Outside the Circle: Dark Spirits of Lammas.

*    *    *

“Traditionally Lammas (or Lughnasadh) is the time of the first harvest, and this is a time to celebrate the abundance in your life – friends and family, physically, creatively, or spiritually. Take time to give thanks for what you have, and consider what you can give back to the world.” – Circle Sanctuary

A very blessed first harvest to all of our friends, family and readers celebrating at this time! 

All years are full of death, just as they are full of life. This year, however, seems particularly violent. Admittedly, this dark feeling is encouraged by the mainstream media, the alternative media, and social media. Even with that caveat, the past month has seen a heartbreaking tide of killing. Between June 12 and July 22, we collectively witnessed over 150 violent deaths: the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Dallas and Baton Rouge police shootings, the Nice and Munich attacks, and the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Of course, there were many, many other killings in the United States and around the world, but these are the ones that have dominated our national discussion. During the same period, more than 80 people were murdered here in Chicago. Although repeatedly referenced in arguments and memes, the names of the Chicago dead go unspoken as they are used in politicized one-upmanship. Even as we change our Facebook profile images to show solidarity with victims of one of the tragedies obsessively covered by the mass media, mass murders in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere continue to go unmentioned. Such are the workings of our collective consciousness.

I unequivocally condemn every one of these killings. They are all acts of terror and horror, and people of conscience should be mortified by each of these awful acts of violence. Depending on our politics, we blame some victims and lionize others, allowing our prejudices to parse which victims are more deserving of being honored. It is time to move beyond such narrow perspectives and recognize that each life snuffed out is an equal tragedy.

Sigmund’s Death by Johannes Gehrts (1885) [Public Domain]

The deceased themselves are no longer able to care what ideology or mental state lead to their death. Dead is dead. The question for the rest of us is whether we can find a response better than blaming entire religions, professions, races, or movements. Can we do something more productive than increasing the level of hate?

The time has come for those of us who practice a form of Ásatrú or Heathenry to ask what positive actions we can take in such a charged climate.

For many Heathens in the United States, a cornerstone of worldview is the declaration that “we are our deeds.” If this is to be more than a slogan, we should treat the killers in each of the tragedies equally and hold them accountable for their actions. Rather than focusing on the dead who can no longer speak for themselves, we can demand that the perpetrators be put on public trial and face a lawful reckoning. We can act like the Heathens of old, and insist on bringing the killers before the modern-day equivalents of the ancient Thing, the assembly where public judgments were rendered.

If we are our deeds, let us hold the doer of the deed publicly accountable rather than declaring him innocent without indictment or giving him the martyrdom he seeks by executing him in the street. We often hear the refrain that the innocent have nothing to fear from the police. If that is so, then any officer who kills a citizen in the line of duty should have nothing to fear from a jury of citizens and should volunteer to be put on trial instead of asking his union to prevent legal proceedings. Rather than killing a mass killer on the spot or blowing up a shooter with a robot, let the professionals we employ with our tax dollars use their training to capture and bring killers to account.

Heathens often point to academic definitions that tag historical polytheism as “world-affirming” — in contrast to traditional Christianity, which is asserted to be “world-denying.” Are modern Heathens truly “world-affirming?” To be so means that we are active in the world, that we have a place in this world’s flow of events. Many of us are attracted to the history, legends, and sagas of the ancient Germanic tribes and peoples because of their wide-ranging travels and the determined spirit that led them to play major roles in the timelines of multiple world cultures and civilizations. If we consider ourselves the spiritual descendants of the ancient Heathens, how do we make our mark on the world of today? How do we involve ourselves in the great debates of the issues of our own time?

1493 world map nuremburg chronicle

World map from Nuremburg Chronicle (1493) [Public Domain]

Some Heathens insist that they are only interested in their own innangarð, focusing exclusively on the “inner yard” of their closest family and friends. As in the distant past, today the outside world forces itself into the inner one. Family members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are targeted for hate crimes by both Islamic extremists and those whose personal issues lead them to strike out in extreme acts of public violence. Our Black loved ones are disproportionately targeted by police officers who break their own rules of conduct. Right-acting police officers in our communities are gunned down, and their killers –- in both Dallas and Baton Rouge –- are damaged veterans of our nation’s military.

If we turn our backs on the world and pretend that nothing affects us or those we love, honoring the deeds of our literal and aspirational ancestors while performing blót and symbel, how are we different from Sunday Christians who only turn their thoughts to Christ while sitting in church pews?

If we truly believe that we are connected in a web of wyrd, we must acknowledge the length of the threads that bind us all. We are affected by the wyrd of the police officer shot by a sniper and by that of the unarmed Black man shot by a police officer. We are connected to the children driven down in Nice and to the club-goers massacred in Orlando. Rather than fanning the flames of division, can we agree that all who commit these acts should be held accountable in courts of law, rather than crucified in the court of public opinion or gunned down in primitive street justice?

By putting the perpetrators on trial, we can distinguish between the lone gunman and the agent, between the disturbed and the driven. Maybe this can prevent us from tarring an entire community with the deeds of one violent person. By refusing to even indict officers who shoot unarmed Black children, we encourage conspiracy theories suggesting all police departments are filled with white supremacists. By executing mass shooters in the street rather than prosecuting them, we enable the hateful to draw connections to racial, ethnic, and religious communities where there may be none.

As members of a much-misunderstood minority religion, these issues are of primary concern to us. The targeting of specific groups and the slandering of their reputation is something with which we can deeply empathize. As individual Heathens, we are often tarred with the deeds of the most extreme who claim a connection to our tradition, and even the deeds of those who are only connected to our religion by unprofessional journalists who refuse to perform due diligence.

Shortly after the shooting of the Dallas police officers, The Huffington Post accused one of the victims of being a white supremacist and connected him to Ásatrú – even while acknowledging that he was a Christian. The accusation was based solely on the “research” of “a band of international internet sleuths;” in actuality, on a meme and a blog post by “Johnny Islamabad.”

Quoting the same old quotes from the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center that are trotted out every time a Thor’s hammer is mentioned by the press, The Huffington Post states that “Asatrú” symbols are not “inherently racist” while still insisting that “Asatrú beliefs appeal to white supremacists.” No parallel assertion is made for the appeal of the officer’s Baptist beliefs to violent racists.

Thor’s hammer pendant from Sweden, c. 1000 [Public Domain]

When practitioners of Ásatrú or Heathenry complain to writers and editors about this sort of meme-based and poorly sourced journalism, their concerns are laughed off or ignored. For Heathens who neither deny their religious beliefs publicly nor cover them with assumed Icelandic-styled pseudonyms, articles like this have serious consequences: no matter how derivative or poorly written they are. In our private and professional lives, we are faced with people who only know of our religion through this sort of journalism. They assume that we share views of the most extreme fringe, or they are at least suspicious that we harbor unsavory notions.

We can pretend that this doesn’t matter, or that we are “tough guys” who care little for the opinions of others. However, these types of media-driven assumptions can have serious repercussions that affect our ability to earn a living or make us targets for various stripes of bigot.

In such a climate, how can we not support others who are suffering the same slanders? We can say that we do not stand up for Black lives, because we are not Black. But when they come for us, who will be left to speak for us? If we don’t want our own rights taken away, we must stand up for the rights of others.

We often speak of the ancient Heathens who faced violent conversion from overbearing rulers in Scandinavia and continental Europe. We puff out our chests and fantasize about how we would have acted if we lived then. We place great emphasis on the keeping of oaths. Shouldn’t we stand today against the oath-breakers among the police who abuse their power to terrorize, torture, and kill our fellow citizens? Shouldn’t we stand with the honorable members of the police departments, the Muslim community, the Black community, and the LGBTQ+ community against those in every community -– including our own -– who would harm us all?

There is much that we can do. Heathens of positive intent can push back against horrifying acts of violence, engage with the larger world, take part in the dialogue of our times, and help Heathens themselves overcome the slander of our own tradition. This is a question of individual conscience and local community initiative, but there are many actions that we all can take.

Volunteer and vote for candidates who stand against hate aimed at any community. Openly challenge friends and family (online and in real life) who promote prejudice. Contact the media and push back against biased reporting. Call your representatives and tell them you want them to fight against hate. Get to know your local police officers and support the ones who publicly speak out. Support minority communities in your area and take part in their protests. Join interfaith organizations. Work to make your own Heathen group welcoming to practitioners from all generations, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual identities.

Or, you can welcome the current climate of hate, deny the world, draw lines of separation between people, and retreat into a monochrome practice that excludes anyone who isn’t exactly like you. But then you must ask what your deeds make you.

Wyrd is a concept at the theological heart of Ásatrú and Heathenry. For many of those who practice one of the modern forms of the Old Way, wyrd is a core element of worldview. It stands behind, runs through, and supports our words and deeds. It connects each individual’s present moment to her past actions and to the actions of those around her. It forms a constantly shifting matrix that connects us all as we move through our intersecting lives.

The word wyrd itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon. In the main volume of An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller, the first translation given for wyrd is “what happens,” followed by “fate, fortune, chance.” In the dictionary’s supplement, additional translations are presented: “what is done, a deed, an action.”

"The Norns" by Charles E. Brock [Public Domain]

“The Norns” by Charles E. Brock [Public Domain]

The Old Norse cognate for the term is urðr, which An [Old] Icelandic-English Dictionary by Richard Cleasby and Guðbrandur Vigfússon translates as “a weird, fate.” The same word is used in medieval Icelandic literary sources as the name for one of the three Norns who sit at the well under a root of the World Tree and “shape men’s lives.”

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for weird gives a wide range of definitions, including “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined,” “that which is destined or fated to happen to a particular person,” “what one will do or suffer,” and “a happening, event, occurrence.”

Taking the Old English, Old Icelandic and Modern English translations and definitions together, there is a curious combination of action and fate. These two concepts seem quite different on the surface level, as those of us raised in a modern western worldview tend to make a distinction between (1) the actions we take of our own free will and (2) the futures that are fated to occur by some deity or supernatural force.

However, for Heathens who believe that “we are our deeds,” the two ideas are inextricably linked. What actions you have taken in the past determine what fate awaits you in the future. This is not mystical predetermination at the whim of an omniscient and omnipotent deity but rather a system of cause and effect determined by actions here on Midgard, the world we inhabit.

This is also not an ideology of rugged individualism in which each Romantic hero singlehandedly determines his own destiny in a triumph of the will. Although your actions add color, weight and strength to the thread of your life, that thread continues to tie you back to your beginnings at birth. As you move through time, your thread is woven together with those of many others to form the tapestry of wyrd. Together, these two basic concepts underscore the connectedness that is at the heart of a Heathen worldview.

Before the first mooring of your thread occurs, it is important to choose your parents wisely. In the United States, we embrace the myth of the American Dream and pretend that every individual has an equal chance of success in worldly things. Wyrd tells us something else entirely, and it is more honest about the realities of this nation.

The actions of your parents shaped your wyrd long before you were born, as the actions of your parents’ parents shaped theirs. A child born to a crack-addicted and HIV+ mother in a poverty-stricken neighborhood has a much different wyrd than does one born to an automobile executive or a real estate developer with a deep portfolio of profitable investments. No matter how hard the first child struggles to take control of her own destiny, she will have to trudge a long and difficult uphill road filled with obstacles before she reaches even the starting point of the second.

American_progress

“American Progress” by John Gast [Public Domain]

Much of what we tell ourselves about level playing fields and the benefits of a traditional work ethic is designed to obscure this basic truth of the functioning of wyrd. We seek to deny that past actions have future consequences as we embrace fictions of forgiveness that forward the idea that our deeds can be erased from existence.

Whatever we want the world to be, whatever we will ourselves to be, the past continues to exert its influence on the present. It is this power that is expressed in the idea that wyrd represents “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined.”

This predetermination is not predestination. As you live your life and make constant large and small decisions about what actions to take, those actions slip into the past and affect your present. The thread of your wyrd does not snap and separate from what has been spun in the past, but – with enough effort on your part – it can take twists and turns that change its orientation in the tapestry.

The weaving of the tapestry occurs when the deeds of others intertwine with your own. Your wyrd crosses that of everyone with whom you come into contact – family, friends, classmates, and colleagues. Your deeds affect their wyrd, and theirs affect yours. The more contact you have, the more actions you have taken together, the more closely intertwined your threads in the fabric.

"Woman Weaving" by Oszkar Glatz [Public Domain]

“Woman Weaving” by Oszkar Glatz [Public Domain]

This is not necessarily a matter of choice. If a student in your class who has never spoken to you has been abused by a family member to the point where he snaps, brings a rifle to class, and puts a bullet in your brain, his wyrd has profoundly affected yours – regardless of your own will and desire.

Truthfully, his abuser’s wyrd has affected yours, and the wyrd of those who drove the abuser to abuse have affected yours. At any moment in time, webs of wyrd spread out from that moment into countless strands tied to past deeds. The farther you move from this moment into the past, the greater the number of individuals that have influenced the present reality.

Taking this thought to its logical conclusion, it is clear that we are all connected. Every day, your wyrd is affected by people you will never meet. An IRS agent in Washington flags your tax returns for auditing because your name reminds him of a college admissions officer who treated him unfairly when he applied for financial aid. A FedEx driver loses the CV you overnighted for a job you really need because she didn’t sleep the night before due to a fight with her father over end-of-life care. A factory owner in China produces a plastic bowl that leaks toxins into your child’s oatmeal because the governor pressures him to ignore safety rules in order to remain competitive in the American market.

In each case, you are deeply affected by an action that is taken by someone with whom you have no personal connection, and their acts are connected to the actions of still others behind them. We cannot pretend that our free will is the sole determiner of our individual fate. We are all connected by the workings of wyrd, even if we staunchly deny its power.

Yet you are not the passive recipient of the wyrd of others. You are not the victim of powers beyond your control. As the deeds of those around you affect your wyrd, your own actions affect their wyrd. The closer your relationship to a person, the more impact you have on her life. Your deeds also spiral out from you, intersecting and interweaving with the actions of others, affecting innumerable individuals whom you will never meet face-to-face.

Despite the Romantic impulse to see ourselves as sovereign individuals and the nationalist impulse to divide ourselves into separate tribes, we are all connected. Together, our individual threads make up one great human tapestry, and each of us has a responsibility to always strive for right action. Wyrd will weave us together.

[Courtesy John T. Mainer]

[Courtesy John T. Mainer]

Since the beginnings of the modern Heathen era in the early 1970s, the revival, reconstruction, and reimagining of a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices rooted in northern Europe have spread across much of the globe. The Worldwide Heathen Census 2013 received responses from ninety-eight countries, ranging from a single practitioner in Algeria to nearly eight thousand in the United States. That’s an amazing spread of a new religious movement in a relatively short period.

As spring finally arrived here in Chicago, I began to wonder how Heathens around the world welcomed the change of seasons. I contacted Heathens in Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Scotland, and the USA and asked them a few simple questions: How do you celebrate the arrival of spring? Do you have a specific ritual? Do you use specific texts? Do you honor specific deities, wights, or ancestors?

In order to avoid any sense of preference, I present their responses in alphabetical order by country. I have not listed any organizational affiliations, since I asked each person to write about what he or she thinks is important as an individual, not necessarily about what any organization they belong to says or does officially. These nine people do not serve as representatives or spokespeople for their national, regional, or local communities. They are simply Heathens offering personal perspectives on the coming of spring.

The diversity of Heathen worldviews and practices shines strongly through in this small sampling. From the philosophical to the spiritual, from family tradition to sacrificial ritual, these answers show how much individual difference exists within Heathenry today. On the other hand, there are commonalities both subtle and overt that weave through the tapestry of these thoughtful reflections. Whether or not you believe that there is such a thing as a larger Heathen community, there are certainly common touchstones that are shared across wide distances.

John T. Mainer (Canada)
The celebration of spring for me has always been not a single action or event. Like our ancestors, I mark the turning of the seasons less by the liturgical calendar and more by the state of the land.

The mudding of the fields is the beginning of spring, the point at which you can break the ground with the plow. It is at this time that we gather to do a few things in group ritual. We prepare the tools that we will use in the harvest, sanctifying them at Dísirblót [Old Norse dísablót, “sacrifice to the female deities”] that what we gather be gathered with full awareness of the price paid. We reach out to our dísir [“female deities”], call to those dísir who are closest to us, and ask their guidance for the year to come. Dísirblót is a powerful but somber ceremony, about turning away from the dark, counting the cost of the season past, and making sure we face the season to come with due reverence for what we are given.

Easter is less somber. When the rabbits dance, Easter is come. Quite literally, when the rabbits hit mating season and begin dancing – it’s not a metaphor, they really do it – then Easter is come. We celebrate the way the secular society does, as they stole it from us, and such things as chocolate that have snuck in we gleefully vike back. Easter is for the children. It is the bright face of spring; the renewal, rebirth, the rising of hope; and the giving of thanks for the promise of life that explodes around you.

On May Day or Walpurgisnacht, the last act of spring is the eternal dance at the maypole. Symbolic of the phallic male renewing power of Freyr, the maypole is the rising potency of the earth that we seek to bind to the needs of the folk. The dance at the maypole, the crowning of the May Queen to echo bright Freyja is to give thanks, to celebrate the wild love and passion of renewal.

There is a soul-deep connection between humanity and the land. The turning of the world, the cycles of life are not alien to us. They are a part of us, and in springtime, for our own mental and spiritual health, we need to renew those ties and ground ourselves in the earth that sustains us, that we may better hear the gods, wights, and ancestors.

Esteban Sevilla (Costa Rica)

Estban Sevilla Quiros, Blót to Óðinn in the Pagan Alliance Festival in October [Courtesy Photo]

Estban Sevilla Quiros [Courtesy Photo]

One of the main problems is that in my country the weather is extremely tropical. We don’t have spring or winter. So I celebrate it around the time the rains should start, some time around mid-April. I don’t celebrate Ostara, since I am mostly centered on the Norse gods.

What we do is a mix of Sigurblót and Várblót; an offering to the agricultural deities such as Thor, Freyr, and some other fertility gods like Freyja; and for victory we honor Odin. Also, we honor some vættir [“wights”], since we consider them important during this time of change. The spirits will nurture with the rains, and nature will flourish again after the dry season.

We try to read some poems from the Poetic Edda, but this is a thing we are still trying to define, since we still haven’t found a specific reading that matches with the blót’s theme.

Mathias Valentin Nordvig (Denmark)
I used to celebrate the arrival of spring by going to the well of the largest river in Denmark. It is called Gudenå, which means “River of the Gods,” and it most certainly was an important holy river to our ancestors. Along its course, there are several important historical sites such as the city of Viborg, its name meaning “Holy Citadel” or possibly “Holy Mountain.”

Giving offerings to the well of the Gudenå in late April or early May, my celebration of spring is not just a celebration of the cycle of nature, but the health and wealth of the land and nation of Denmark. There are several ancient burial mounds there, and the old Iron Age highway that cuts through the Jutland peninsula runs close by there. This is a site of immense historical, religious, and national power in Denmark where nature, our ancestors, and our land become one.

I have typically given offerings to Freyja, Frigg, and Sága. In this context, they represent a kind of trinity of fertility comparable to the Matronae of the early Germanic cult in the Rhineland. They also represent a trinity of time comparable to the Nornir.

Sága represents history and the iteration of the past. She drinks with Odin every day in her court at Sökkvabekkr [“sunken bank”], and I see this as a variation on the theme of Odin drinking from Mimir’s well to gain knowledge. It is also a variation on the theme of Odin retrieving the Mead of Poetry from Gunnlöð inside the mountain. Mead is therefore shared with the well of the Gudenå.

Freyja is known as the goddess of our land. For two hundred years, our national anthem has repeated this idea. We sing, “There is a wonderful land; growing with broad beech trees; and it is the Hall of Freyja.” Freyja, to me, represents my country with its lush green growth, fertile rolling hills, and imposing wetlands. The physical, the concrete, is that which is present now, not something that exists in the past or the future.

Frigg is associated with the future. This is because she has foresight, and, in my opinion, a hand in the creation of fate. It is her purpose to secure the future and our fate, and I give her offerings for that.

I typically use a combination of Grímnismál [“Sayings of the Masked One”] and Hávamál [“Sayings of the High One”] for my rituals, as I find the idea of using Skírnismál [“Sayings of Shining One”] out of the question. Many would like to see Skírnismál as a romantic love story about the marriage of Freyr and Gerðr, but the fact is that the story is not about marriage and love, but rather coercion and sexual dominance.

Úlfdis Haraldsdóttir (France)
Usually I do a simple blót to celebrate spring, with some food and drink to offer. For this occasion, I usually invoke the landvaettir [“land spirits”] to celebrate the return to life of the earth. I adapt the ceremony each time depending on the current situation of me and my relatives. I have no specific ritual outside from the opening and closing of the ceremony.

The opening is made by invoking different deities at each cardinal point. I usually have at least Odin and Freyja, and I adapt the others depending on the ceremony – Freyr in addition to Freyja, of course, and usually elves, too. I invoke them and offer to each of them some mead. For the closing I just redo a circle around the place, thank them all for their presence, and declare the ceremony is closed. Quite simple. I don’t use any specific text but do it fully on improvisation, depending on my mood at this moment.

[Courtesy of Úlfdis Haraldsdóttir]

[Courtesy of Úlfdis Haraldsdóttir]

Ulrike Pohl (Germany)
I do not celebrate the arrival of spring in a ritual manner at home. Around the twenty-first of March, what I do is to bring some forsythia twigs and decorate them with painted eggs – empty ones – and place them on the altar. I save eggs, and we dye them. In some years, I get up very early on the twenty-first and collect Osterwasser [“Easter water”], which is supposed to be collected in silence and at dawn. We wash our faces with it, and the rest is sprinkled in the garden. Other spring traditions around here are usually placed around the Easter holidays, for example the Osterfeuer [“Easter fire”].

My community meets around the equinox date to celebrate Ostara. We have a big blót and three very full days. Apart from the blót being in the morning and that we sometimes incorporate a blessing with freshly cut twigs like hazel, it isn’t overly spring-related. Some of us feel like Ostara/Ēostre is a goddess, or at least a goddess name, like a byname of Freyja. I’m not sure.

For me and my family, the arrival of spring is marked by transitions in nature, not necessarily a date like spring equinox. So we enjoy seeing “firsts,” more light and warmth, but we mark it by traditional actions like egg dyeing and bringing twigs inside to force blooms – not so much actions with religious meaning.

Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir (Iceland)
We have a very special ritual in spring. It is called Sigurblót, blót of victory. We call upon Freyr and Freyja and Mother Earth and celebrate that summer has won over the winter. Our celebrations are especially for the children and for the young growth of spring.

There are always the same actions to beginnings of all blóts and ceremonies: light the fire, have something in the horn. I always use the oath ring for the ceremony’s start. I hold it up, sometimes I move it over my head – first left, then right, and at last just straight upwards.

After reciting from Sigurdrífumál [“Sayings of the Victory-Inciter”], I talk about sigur [“victory”]. Not always the same text; it depends on what is on my mind; usually the coming of spring, children, the beginning of the Ásatrúarfélagið [“Ásatrú Fellowship”]. Poems, stories and that sort of thing are absolutely something that I always use, but that is just the spur of the moment. We are living people, and we must do things our way and follow the moment.

We end by having a feast where we eat, drink, talk, sing, and are happy. Otherwise, we are acting upon what is going on in society, with our people, in nature, and so on.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano (Mexico)
We celebrate the arrival of spring on the spring equinox within the Ostara celebration. We offer blót to the gods and goddesses like Freyr, Freyja, Jörð, Sunna, Ostara, Eir and Óðr to have fertility, health, prosperity, and much work.

Our blót includes some mead, our blood, and blood from a sacrifice -– in this case a rabbit -– offered to the gods and goddesses, irrigating the ground. The meat of this sacrifice is eaten, and the skin used to make bags for our runes, hats, or shoes. We also burn a representation of a sun-wheel.

We use the Sigurdrífumál, and sometimes we read some text from the Edda talking about the gods and goddesses included in the celebration.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Páll Thormod Morrisson (Scotland)
Spring in Scotland is humorously expected to be heralded in with a snow flurry, but whenever the sun does show itself, natives like myself are possibly inclined to grump a little less, but acknowledge any seasonal change with a hearty drink.

I don’t really do much ritually beyond a libation to gods and relatives on the other side, and readings from Celtic or Norse myth and legend, being more philosophically minded than religious. As someone who has studied both Celtic and Nordic tradition in a country that had people following either of these paths –- and sometimes a combination of the two -– the deities I honor are reflective of this mixture of traditions.

Jennifer Snook (USA)
Spring is very exciting for us in Iowa. The snow has melted -– finally! –- and we can see the earth again. Our trees start to leaf out. We can get the garden tilled and compost mixed and begin to plant our vegetable seeds indoors. The ice on the pond has melted, we can see the fish again, and be outside without our faces freezing.

Our family ritual this year, and for years to come, centers around our garden and working outside, during which I think deeply about the land spirits on our property. I do sometimes speak to them when I’m working in the yard, or walking by the garden, or sitting by the pond. We just moved here, so everything is very new, and we are all still getting acquainted.

My experience of Heathenry is outside of texts and deity. For me, it is much more about teaching my girls to think of nature as alive and to celebrate the changing seasons by being mindful and deliberate about how we interact with the natural spaces around us.

MEXICO CITY — Nestled between Central America and the United States and extending from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans lies the country of Mexico, known for its rich culture, traditional foods and ancient history. Mexico is also known for supporting a deeply religious culture with the majority practicing Catholicism. In the most recent reports, 82.7% of its 128,109,966 residents identify as Catholic. But thriving within that dominant religious culture are a growing number of minority religions, which are now shifting a religious landscape that has held strong for centuries. One of these emerging religions is Asatru.

2015-09-10 23.51.41

[Courtesy Photo Allthing Asatru Mexico]

In a paper for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Dr. Alberto Patiño Reyes, a professor at Iberoamericana University, wrote :

Religiosity among Mexicans is not a fad or a recent invention; it is a constitutive dimension of the personal and historical identity of the Mexican people. Religiosity not only means the set of expressions and external activities that we conventionally associate with “religion”; it is a reference to the anthropological dimension that undertakes the search for the ultimate meaning of existence. One of the expressions of this religiosity – though not the only one- entails a steady decline in the percentage of the Catholic population in the country.

In his report, Dr. Patiño notes that, according to the “General Population Census of 2000,” 96.48 percent of Mexicans identify as being religious. But only 87.99 percent said that they were Catholic, which is down from 99.5 percent in the 1900 census. And today, that number is still lower, at only 82.7 percent. Despite the decrease in the Catholic population, there is very little decrease in religiosity, which supports Dr. Patiño’s observation on the importance of religion within Mexican society. It also points to the growth of minority religions.

“Heathenry in México is largely unknown and misunderstood for fashion or even a form of cosplay. The average Mexican barely knows Marvel’s Thor, let alone the old Norse religion,” explained Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano, the Góði of Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk Sed.

Founded in 2007, Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk is the largest known kindred in Mexico. Salazar, who has been practicing Asatru for 14 years, was unanimously voted its Góði in 2008 and has been ever since. Outside of religious work, Arellano is a computer engineer and brewmaster at Brewery Brauerwolves and lives in the country’s capital, Mexico City. As Dr. Patiño noted in his report, “Religious diversity is not homogeneous across the country. It reaches different percentages at a regional, state and local level.” Most Heathens do live around Mexico City but not exclusively, and Salazar said that he makes an effort to travel around the country to meet other Asatru practitioners and kindreds.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Like most emerging religions, the exact date of origination is difficult to pin down. However, the new collective Mexican Heathen organization, called Allthing Ásatrú México, puts that year roughly at 1997 with the birth of the Kindred Asatru based in Camecuaro in Michoacan. On its website, Allthing recounts the history and politics of various kindreds from that year to its own founding in the fall of 2014.

Salazar, who is also the Góði of Allthing Ásatrú México, said that its difficult to know exactly how many people are “serious Ásatrúar,” because there is a popular “viking metal crowd who wear the Mjölnir on their necks and think of the [Norse] tradition only like a fashion.” Despite the lack of clear data, he does see that their numbers are growing. Currently, Allthing has five member clans, including Clan SvarturDrekar, Clan del Oso, Clan Hijas de Gullveig, Clan Úlfar and Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk Sed.

Speaking more specifically about the individuals, Salazar said, “Most of our members are Mexicans. Although there are few cases where they come from Europe or the U.S. As for religious background, most of our members come either from a Catholic background […] or from New Age religions.” He added that some members have “European ancestry, either German or Scandinavian.” In those cases, relatives, typically grandparents, “taught [them] the myths and legends and the lore.” Speaking generally about Allthing members, Arellano said, “We have some history and anthropology enthusiasts, medieval recreationists and practitioners of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) and HMB (Historical Medieval Battle),and others [found us] through music (mostly folk metal).”

When asked about their relationship to Mexico’s own heritage and ancient traditions, Salazar explained that the groups generally try to keep true to Norse mythology and lore, rather than creating an eclectic religious practice. He said, “We don’t mix rituals and elements of other traditions.” However, he did later say that the Aztec and Mayan cultures “were great and leave much cultural and traditional folklore,” adding: “We do give some offering to the local Gods in our Blotar, as they do allow us to work our ways in this Land.”

AllthingNeither Allthing Ásatrú México nor the individual clans are currently members of any international Heathen organization. They generally keep to themselves. However, Salazar said that they “do have relations with some local groups such as those with “Mexican roots (aztec dancers or concheros, Mayan’s sorcerers and sorceresses)” and those practicing “Afro-Cuban witchcraft like Palo Mayombe.” He described such relationships as being based on friendly hospitality and not religious practice. Allthing Ásatrú México also maintains similar friendly relations with a few Heathen kindreds around the world.

Despite the heavy influence of Catholicism on Mexican culture, Salazar said that Asatruar rarely run into any problems. Their numbers are too small to be on the “radar” of the Catholic Church, or anyone else for that matter. Salazar said that the biggest problem facing Mexico’s kindreds is one of public image and not of religious freedom. He explained, “Here in Mexico many Nazi groups use Heathen symbolism with ignorance. You can see them with Mjölnir or Runes on their necks.” He said that Allthing is trying to “clean the Ásatrú and Odinist Image” and that, while all the member clans are autonomous and independent, they all must agree to stand against racism and white supremacy to be a member.

12321669_1532502773717318_5585939726037500073_nAllthing’s latest outreach project is the launch of a monthly digital magazine called El Skalðr. This new magazine’s mission will be to “help spread and promote Ásatrú among all those Spanish speakers interested in it, in a clear and concise way.” Salazar described the scope as going as including, “culture and tradition from both Germanic and Scandinavian Heathenry, practice both in the past and in the present all over the world, archeology, anthropology and history, and news and events from the Heathen world.”

The first issue of El Skalðr will be out in two weeks around the equinox and will feature articles “about the Ásatrú and Odinist History on Mexico, the difference between Odinism, Ásatrú and Wotanism.” It will also contain music recommendations, articles on Ostara and more.

When asked why the clans wanted to take on this project, Salazar said, “There are a number of websites and Facebook groups belonging to the Allthing Ásatrú México, some clans and some moderated by individual members dedicated to spreading the culture and tradition, and informing all those who want to learn about Ásatrú. We wanted to integrate these sources in one publication to make this more efficient.” He also said that there are issues and stories that are very specific to Spanish-speaking Heathenry that would be inappropriate for general forums and needed a dedicated place to “be addressed.”

And the larger Spanish-speaking Heathen community is the target audience. The magazine will be published only in Spanish with contributors, at this point, predominantly from Mexico. While, at first, the magazine will focus mainly on Mexican Heathenry, Salazar did say that they do hope to later “include issues concerning other Spanish speaking countries.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Although Mexico’s Heathen community is small, it is one of the minority religious movements that is shifting the bigger religious picture in the country. Salazar is enthusiastic about this development and future of his religious community. He noted that, in recent years, more and more talented Heathen artisans and artists are available locally to support their religious practice and their study. He said that they now have a store project called “Heathen Drinks and Arts.” And the new magazine will continue in that vein.

As the members of Allthing are now preparing to launch their publishing venture, Salazar welcomes the growth and expansion. Reflecting on his own personal spiritual journey, he said that being a Góði is “hard work,” but he considers it a duty and a way to “honour [his] ancestors, [his] Gods and [his] family.” He added, “Í want to thank my grandfather Luciano Arellano to teach me this wonderful Tradition, to my brother and Clan co-founder Jorge Ballesteros, to all the Clan Úlfey members and the Allthing Ásatrú México Clans by their Support and at last þó my brother and Master Isaac Vázquez at the H.O.S.F.”

The magazine will be available on the Equinox in a downloadable, free PDF format. Look for it on Allthing’s website and Facebook page.

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[Editor’s Note:This article is currently being translated into Spanish and will be made available in PDF form in the coming days. We will provide a link here and announce its availability in social media.]

[Karl E. H. Seigfried is the author of The Norse Mythology Blog, named the world’s Best Religion Weblog in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He wrote all Ásatrú definitions in the Religion Newswriters Association’s Religion Stylebook and has written on myth and religion for the BBC, Herdfeuer, Iceland Magazine, Interfaith Ramadan, MythNow, On Religion, Religion and Ethics, and Reykjavík Grapevine. He currently teaches courses for the Newberry Library’s Continuing Education Program while working on his fourth degree, an MA in Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.]

In the online world of Ásatrú and Heathenry, the reprimand “stop mixing religion and politics” is a regular refrain. On Facebook and Twitter, on blogs and websites, in discussion groups and comment sections, accusations are often made that a given individual or group is polluting the religion with personal political bias. This phenomenon is not specific to a particular position; invective is hurled from both ends of the political spectrum.

From one side come cries of “SJW.” Given the ideologies of many who favor its usage, I long thought this stood for “Single Jewish Woman,” but it is actually used to accuse an opponent of being a “Social Justice Warrior.” Logically, this implies that the accuser is a “Social Injustice Defender,” but logic is not often strong in online confrontations. “Cultural Marxist” is another term popular with the same social set. I assumed it was used for people who demand free streaming music as a basic human right, but it refers to those who supposedly aim to destroy “Western culture” by promoting democracy, intellectualism and protection of minority rights – despite the fact that many would consider these to be bedrock ideals of “the West.” Ironically, those Heathens who decry multiculturalism are arguing for a society in which members of marginalized minority faiths like Ásatrú are denied their rights by members of majority faiths whose prejudices are pandered to by corporate candidates and corporate media.

From the other side comes the No True Heathen fallacy, which asserts that no Heathen would subscribe to extremist philosophies such as “white nationalism” or conspiracy theories such as “white genocide.” When Heathens repeatedly pop up who promote these concepts, the boundaries of the assertion are reset to state that no true Heathen would hold these beliefs. This is parallel to the meme stating that members of ISIS are not true Muslims and that members of the KKK are not true Christians, despite the fact that ISIS clearly declares itself to be thoroughly Muslim and the KKK has long been rooted in Protestantism. Likewise, the intersection of Heathenry with extremist ideology has a lengthy and continuing history that has been well documented by academics. Declaring that agreement with liberal politics is the litmus test to be considered a “true believer” strangely puts progressives in the position of arguing for a reactionary notion of religious purity and identity policing.

The one thing both sides agree on is that the other is injecting politics into religion, while they themselves are simply expressing the true spirit of Heathenry. Each accuses the other of hijacking Heathenry to promote their political views. However, the idea that religion and politics are somehow separable goes against Heathen history, mythology and theology.

History
Before the conversions to Christianity, variations of the term goði were used in the Nordic lands. The title, dating to the fifth century or earlier, referred to an individual who held dual secular and sacred roles, who was both chieftain and priest. The goðar (plural) in pagan Iceland traveled each year to the national Althing, the island’s version of the great assemblies that were known throughout the Germanic world. Throughout the north, these meetings ranged in size and jurisdiction from local to national as they straddled the sacred and the profane.

thingvellir

1930 postcard of gathering at Thingvellir, site of the historical Althing [Public Domain]

Archaeological and written sources from the first century through the thirteenth attest to the sacred nature of the cultural institution that decided political, economic and legal matters. A third-century votive inscription on Hadrian’s Wall in England set up by Frisian auxiliaries in the Roman army refers to Mars Thingsus (Mars of the Thing), the god who presided over the assembly. The large annual assembly of the continental Saxons appears to have featured large-scale religious rituals. The ninth-century Life of Saint Lebuin, most likely written by a Saxon author, mentions that the meeting included prayer to pagan gods.

Given this history, is it so odd that modern Heathen leaders who have appropriated the ancient title of goði speak on secular issues? The allsherjargoði (very roughly translated as “high priest”) of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið (Ásatrú Fellowship) has spoken out in support of gay marriage rights in Iceland, which has drawn the ire of right-wing Heathens and the support of left-wing ones. The alsherjargothi (an Americanized spelling) of America’s Asatru Folk Assembly has publicly spoken out against Muslim immigrants in Germany, which has brought down the fury of left-wing Heathens and the cheers of right-wing ones.

In both cases, supporters insist the leader they like is expressing the deepest ideals of the religion, and opponents declare that the leader they don’t like is perverting the religion for political ends. At root, this is a basic human inability to see faults in ourselves that we observe in others. This tendency tends to terminate any attempt at decent discussion by degenerating into denunciation and name-calling.

I am not in any way suggesting a moral equivalency between the two leader’s positions or arguing that we should not speak out strongly against those who we believe promote troubling views. Instead, I am offering the idea that responses to statements such as these should move beyond what amount to accusations of heresy and demands for silencing that sometimes become what the media calls fatwas.

Historical goðar were involved in both religious and political matters, and they arguably would not have made much distinction between the two spheres. Members of the community sometimes strongly disagreed with prominent people, just as they do now. If historical Heathens could argue issues at the assembly without calling for excommunication or declaring someone anathema for holding a political view they found distasteful, maybe we can likewise respond to opposing opinions without demanding that there should be no discussion allowed.

Mythology
Referring to mythological lore to support one’s political ideas has always been popular. The poems of the Poetic Edda provide problems for both sides of the political aisle, yet both happily quote them to shore up their positions. One oft-cited verse from Hávamál (“Sayings of the High One,” i.e. Odin) has been read in radically different ways.

Away from his arms in the open field
A man should fare not a foot;
For never he knows when the need for a spear
Shall arise on the distant road.

Some Americans read the text fairly literally, arguing that it gives a Heathen stamp to the notion of gun ownership and carrying rights. Some Icelanders read it metaphorically, suggesting that it is a poetic image about being intellectually prepared for the struggles of life. The literalists argue that they are following what the text actually says, the liberals that they are finding what it really means.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

The argument between these two modes of reading religious texts is nothing new. Just ask your local rabbi. In the fourth century, the Christian bishop Gregory of Nyssa famously wrote on the difficulties of choosing between literal and allegorical readings. Interestingly, allêgoria posed a bit of a problem for early Christians, since the method was associated with the old pagan philosophy. In any case, both readings of the Hávamál verse owe more to modern cultural concepts than they do to ancient Heathen views. One side is justifying conservative American ideas of gun rights, the other is expressing liberal Icelandic ideas of intellectual life. Both use the same verse from the Old Icelandic literary heritage as a touchstone for their modern views.

The poem Rígsþula (“Lay of Ríg,” a god usually taken to be Heimdall) causes some political problems for both right and left. It tells how the wandering god fathers the social classes of slaves, free farmers and nobles before tutoring Konr ungr (“young kin,” but a word-play on konungr, “king”) in the way of a ruler. Is this a religious or a political text? For those who argue against multiculturalism, the poem presents a god with a Celtic name in a narrative that – with its religious endorsement of a caste system and a descended god who teaches royal behavior – is closer to the sacred social structures of the ancient Hindu epics than it is to the Protestant work-ethic expressed in the Nine Noble Virtues. For those who champion progressive Heathenry, the poem shows that the gods gave social inequality to you. Rígsþula is awkward for both sides, but it clearly mixes the sacred and the social. Like those in so many other religious traditions, we pick and choose which parts of the lore to emphasize and which to minimize.

Another poem that is problematic for all concerned is Hárbarðsljóð (“Song of Graybeard,” i.e. Odin), which features a verbal sparring match between Thor and a disguised Odin as they compare their accomplishments. One of the best-known moments is Graybeard’s taunt that “Odin owns the nobles who fall in battle | and Thor owns the race of thralls.” The rugged individualist crowd is faced with a poem portraying Odin himself stating that class warfare continues into the Heathen afterlife. By rallying the slaves in Þrúðheim (“Home of Power”), is Thor acting like a Social Justice Warrior? By hosting them in his hall, is he providing public assistance to the poor?

On the other hand, the progressive pagan crowd is faced with the inconvenient truth that the one thing the wise god and the protecting god agree on is that it would be fun to rape a young woman together. Somehow, this section of the poem doesn’t get publicly mentioned very often. The victim the gods discuss is a “linen-white girl,” which (if the internet was a logical place) should lead to protests and petitions against Thor and Odin by the far-right crowd that rants against Idris Elba playing Heimdall (“the whitest of the gods”) and thinks there’s an international conspiracy against white women. Even leaving an in-context interpretation of “white” aside, the fondness of the gods for rape is problematic for both sides. Should we pretend this poem never existed? Should we tell the gods to stop talking about hot-button political issues?

Theology
Contemporary Heathen theology also argues against the separation of religion and politics. To say that Heathenry is a “world-accepting” religion is to say that Heathens move in the world. Our focus is on the lived life, on the world around us as we move from the past through the present and into the future. If we disengage Heathen life from the wider world and insist that Heathen action only happens in religious contexts, then we are drawing a hard line between the sacred and secular much stronger than that in any ritual hallowing.

If “Heathening” only means participating in and discussing ritual and belief, then it also means disengaging from the world – the very antithesis of “world-accepting.” Few seem to argue for any such extreme disengagement, but it is not uncommon to come across use of the Old Icelandic term for “within the yard” to state “not my innangarð, not my problem.”

Sacrifice to Thor by J.L. Lund (1777-1867)

Sacrifice to Thor by J.L. Lund (1777-1867) [Public Domain]

The Heathen mantra that “we are our deeds” asserts that what matters is what we do. Like the Hindu concept of dharma, the Heathen idea of right action defines the making of a good life. What is important in life is how we act in the world, not just how we behave while participating in blót. If Heathen ethics only affect our behavior around other Heathens, we imitate “Sunday Christians” by becoming “Sumbel Heathens,” and we imitate the “churchy” by becoming “kindredy.”

It would be quite odd for members of a religion that seeks to reconstruct or reinvent practices of the wide-ranging wanderers of the Migration Period and the Viking Age to turn inwards to innangarð insularity. To say we have a “Heathen worldview” suggests that we see the world beyond our doorstep and take action within it.

None of the above argues against the separation of church and state, which most of us agree is good policy, despite the fact that it owes more to the Enlightenment than to the Heathen Age. Rather, this article addresses how we address the interaction between the religious and political beliefs of both ourselves and those with whom we disagree.

For Heathens, religion and politics are always already linked. By acknowledging that, maybe we can move beyond the childish name-calling and purity inquisitions to discuss the issues and challenges of living in the world today – and how we can each take action that is consistent with our own diverse Heathen worldviews.

txlclogoTexas Local Council’s (TXLC) Diversity Day was a success for the organization and people involved. In mid-November, the Dallas TX-based local council for Covenant of the Goddess sponsored a Diversity Day to confront and discuss social privilege and to bring greater awareness to “the challenges and struggles of others.”

The event, called “We Can Make a Difference,” was held at the Arlington Unitarian Universalist Church on Nov 14. Doctor Beth Fawcett, PhD, MPH led “participants through a powerful exercise known as a Privilege Walk,” followed by an extended community discussion. TXLC organizers explained, “[Dr. Fawcett specializes in race and ethnicity courses and walked the attendees through a series of questions designed to show, in a very physical way, how we go through our lives with or without ‘Privilege’ even when we are unaware of it.”

The event was also a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Black Trans Men. TXLC reports that they raised over $525.00. Representatives of this organization also toured the UU church and participated in some of the activities.

Faelind, an attendee and member of TXLC, said, “It was nice to be out of the chilly weather, and our hearts were warmed and overflowed with compassion for our fellow humans’ struggles and injustices. There were tears and laughter and much, much healing. I felt honored to witness and hear the stories, feelings, and questions posed by all.”

TXLC reports that Dr. Fawcett has volunteered to continue sharing the privilege walk concept with Covenant of the Goddess at a local and national level.

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11012909_10153704768763232_4819252007164573430_nOn Jan 8, Jason Mankey’s book, The Witch’s Athame, will be released and available for purchase. Mankey is the current Patheos Pagan Channel Manager and runs the popular blog Raise the HornsThe Witch’s Athame is Mankey’s first venture into book writing, and it is part of larger series of books, each written by a different author, exploring the tools of the Witch.

As described by publisher Llewellyn, “[The Witch’s Athame] takes a deeper look into the significance of what Gerald Gardner described as the ‘true Witch’s weapon.’ For the new Witch this book goes through all the steps in finding just the right athame, consecrating it, and then using it in ritual. For the experienced practitioner the book serves as a thorough history of the athame; tracing the use of ceremonial knives from ancient times to the grimoire tradition of the Renaissance and finally to the modern day.”

To celebrate the release, Mankey will be hosting a book signing at 1 p.m. Leigh’s Favorite Books in Sunnyvale, California. In the Facebook event announcement, he writes, “This is just a big day in my life and I want to celebrate it with as many people as possible.”

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The MGZ Memorial Foundation’s Academy of Arcana continues to make progress in its growth development. On Nov 27, its gift store, called Curiosities, opened to guests at its new address 428A Front Street in Santa Cruz, California. Several days later, Oberon Zell and Anne Duther were both interviewed by the Santa Cruz Sentinel about the store’s opening. The article begins, “The term “magical” may most often be heard in reference to the county’s redwood forests and ocean views, but it also applies to downtown’s newest storefront, the Academy of Arcana.”

Duther and Zell have also said that the library will be open by the end of this month, and that they will begin programming in 2016. As noted on the GoFundMe site, “In January we’ll begin offering ‘Sunday Sessions’ with classes, presentations and salons, ‘Crafts & Arts’ on Friday afternoons, and Wednesday night magickal movies from our extensive DVD collection.”

The Academy of Arcana is a nonprofit organization under the Grey School of Wizardry. For more information on the specific location, hours and updated programming, visit the organization’s website.

In Other News:

  • If you missed the news in our 2015 Retrospective, the United Religions Initiative (URI) was asked to be part of a special CBS Christmas Eve interfaith event. Several Pagans, including Don Frew and Rachel Watcher, are active participants and organizers within this global, grassroots organization. They were both involved with production, providing footage, interviews and information. Although there were only small mentions of “Earth Spirituality” in the final cut, URI reportedly received a boost in visibility, which will only make their work easier going forward. Footage not used by CBS, including that provided by various Pagans, will be saved for future URI films and videos.

    • According to Iceland Magazine, Ásatrú High Priest Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson led his organization’s traditional Winter Solstice ceremony, or blot, “in the Öskjuhlíð hill recreational area, the small forested hill just south-east of downtown Reykjavík.” This is the planned spot for the organization’s future temple. The article goes on to say that, over the past year, the Ásatrú organization has had to ban visitors to their blots due to the media attention generated by the temple plans. Hilmar told the magazine, “Foreign visitors, who had in previous years been like ‘flies on the wall’ had begun to turn into somewhat of a nuisance this year, turning into ‘flies swarming in the food’.” The temple is scheduled to be erected in 2016.
    • For a bit of holiday fun, look who’s on Buzz Feed. Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, the son of Isaac Bonewits and Deborah Lipp, was invited to the media outlet’s offices to predict what a few people would get for Christmas. After a very typical Buzz Feed presentation of several readings, the articles says, “Although Arthur may not have been able to predict what the gifts will literally be, we think his predictions of how they’ll have an emotional impact on us were much more interesting.”
    • As is typical at this time of year, public discussions emerge on the Pagan origins and symbolism found in the Christmas holiday. On Dec 21, the BBC took on this topic with the help of “Ronald Hutton, professor of History at Bristol University; JJ Middleway, a celebrant and ritualist based in the Druid tradition; and the reverend Steve Hollinghurst, a Church of England vicar and author of New Age Paganism and Christian Mission
    • And, lastly here is another mainstream media outlet exploring Paganism. Sky News published the following video, with explanatory titles, to demonstrate what a Pagan Ceremony might look like.