Archives For Asatru

CHESTERFIELD, Va — On Monday, two men were charged with “conspiracy to possess firearms after having been convicted of felonies,” and a third man was charged with the “conspiracy to commit robbery.” Through an undercover FBI operation, a detailed plan was uncovered to burn and bomb Black churches, Jewish synagogues and their occupants, to rob a jewelry store, stock pile weapons and more. After foiling the plot, the FBI filed an affidavit, which included a note that the men, to some unknown degree, were connected with the religion Asatru.

As written in the FBI report by Special Agent James Rudisill, “Doyle and Chaney … ascribe to a white supremacy extremist version of the Asatru faith.”

After news broke, the Asatru angle quickly went from a footnote in a long FBI report to a news maker and, in some cases, even a headline. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article, one of the first, clarified to its readers, “Asatru is a pagan religion.” And, the media cycle moved from there.

Some news agencies, such as CNN and ABC, did not ever mention the men’s religious affiliation, choosing to focus on the foiled crime. Others offered varying degrees of explanation from simply quoting the FBI document verbatim to inserting some limited facts about the religion. The Washington Post, for example, simply added “neo-pagan” into the FBI quote. Then, others went further exploring the white supremacy connection to Asatru. The Daily Beast went so far as to interview such a group with the added commentary, “Because pagans gonna pagan.”

Get Religion writer Jim Davis questioned the media’s reaction, asking whether journalists even care about implications surrounding the religious aspects of the case. The writer felt the media “missed the boat” by not better investigating the Asatru angle. He wrote:

Now, I’m not calling for some witch hunt, or Norse hunt in this case. If bigotry is not basic for most Asaturars and/or Odinists, fine. But so many media ask so little about a central question in this case. Here we have a story about members of a religion who are charged with wanting to shoot and blow up members of two other religions (and of another race). And journalists aren’t curious about that?

One Virginia-based NBC affiliate did reach out to a practicing Heathen family to talk about Asatru, rather than simply focusing on white supremacy. In that article, Asatruar Bryan Wilson told the reporter, “We’re not about destroying other religions or hurting people … Especially not because of the color of their skin. This is kind of ridiculous. It is very ridiculous.” He was later quoted as saying, “You can blame the religion all you want, but the religion doesn’t tell people to do things like that … That’s someone’s decision that they made on their own, and they just happen to be Asatru.”

As this was all happening, members of the national and even international Heathen communities watched in horror as the story fell like dominoes through the mainstream media. And, collectively, their immediate response was one of frustration and anger.


Heathens Against Hate came out with this statement:

This is an all too familiar song and dance, so it is important for the Heathen community to be proactive in our response to it. These men are criminals with a violent history. According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Chaney, he and Doyle each are convicted felons. Some of the circumstances of this case are reminiscent of virulent forms of prison Odinism that bring stigma to the rest of Heathenry. What we see in these cases is Heathenry being co-opted to advance a political and social agenda that, at the core, has nothing to do with the religion. This perversion of our faith operates against the advancement of Heathenry. This is not a way to honor or to bring bright fame to our gods and goddesses.

HUAR LogoAnd, Heathens United Against Racism wrote, in part:

Such an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and cowardice is the total opposite of everything Heathenry stands for. The would-be race warriors apprehended by the FBI, distinguished by their fearful mentalities and established histories of violence, are not alone in promoting and adhering to doctrines of ethnic violence coated in a veneer of piety. Robert Doyle and Ronald Chaney are two of the worst examples of a much larger problem.

In denouncing these two individuals we further denounce the mental atmosphere giving fuel to their ideas. We denounce those who promote ideologies of fear and terror. We denounce all those who claim Asatru and Heathenry justify a life of bigotry, violence, and prejudice.

Canadian Heathen Robert Rudachyk didn’t mince words. He told The Wild Hunt, “I am personally disgusted that these pathetic nithlings would deign to even call themselves Heathens. They tar all of us with their filth when they act in a manner like this, and I hope the justice system shows them no mercy. They are not warriors, but mindless half-witted savages who want nothing more than to blame people of other faiths for their shortcomings in life rather than taking responsibility for the bad choices they have made in their lives. May Nidhogg gnaw their bones for eternity.”

trothThese Heathen groups and individuals do not deny that these men could possibly have identified or even formally practiced some form of the Asatru religion. Steven T. Abell, Steersman of The Troth, said, “The Troth cannot prevent idiots and creeps from saying they are Heathens, but we can say that idiots and creeps are idiots and creeps. These persons are idiots and creeps, and they are not welcome in our community.”

Two of the men’s online profiles do suggest that they had an interest in or a connection to Heathenry. For example, one of the men recently lost a friend to substance abuse and, in mourning wrote, “[He had the] strength of the Old Gods. Battle and struggle is our way of life. If we lose you Valholl with will improve its ranks.”  At the same time, one of the men showed an interest in some Christian-based groups.

But these are all speculative details coming from social media. What does remain clear is that, regardless of spiritual interest, there are very clear signs of white supremacist beliefs. As pointed out in one news article, one of the men is reportedly a member of the KKK, a claim that is supported by his online profile, and he is also allegedly connected to the Aryan Brotherhood.

Writer Dr. Karl E. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog told The Wild Hunt, “Something about Ásatrú seems to keep attracting this personality type. Maybe it’s incessant social media memes about defending the Folk and dying gloriously in battle. Maybe it’s endless essays proclaiming white victimhood and forwarding conspiracy theories about people of color. Maybe it’s organizations that constantly declare they’re not racist while actively promoting racist ideologies. Maybe it’s Heathens who support racist individuals and organizations in the name of neutrality. It’s probably all of these things. Together, they create a welcoming environment for the worst elements of society, and those elements are gleefully taking advantage.”

Frustration showed in his reaction to the recent incident. Seigfried went on to say, “If Heathens of positive intent are tired of their traditions being connected to racist extremists, they need to actively shut down all this nonsense and lock their doors against those who promote these ideologies.”

Rudachyk strongly agreed, saying, “It is long past time that we as a community stop coddling the racist factions of our faith and cut them out like the cancer they are before they kill our faith with their poisonous beliefs.”

While the media and cultural problems faced by Heathens are not entirely unlike the problems faced by Witches and Wiccans, the struggle appears to be more similar to that faced by Muslims. There are real factions of society who are claiming to be “true” practitioners of the religion, and who commit atrocities in the name of that religion. Overall, these factions are minorities, but they are loud, and they are aggressive, and they are violent. Like many in the Muslim community, Heathens are looking for ways to solve this problem, and protect their religious practice from the inevitable backlash, trauma and bad press.

Heathens Against Hate wrote:

The people in the churches and synagogues are not our enemies. The enemies are those who bring shame to our communities through reprehensible actions. Heathens Against Hate is thankful that the FBI thwarted the efforts of these men and that no one was injured. Issues such as this underscore the importance of In-Reach Heathen Prison Services.

Along with education and In-Reach prison services, Heathens have also been looking to become more active in the interfaith world. The Troth and the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry had their own booth at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. There were Heathen-specific workshops, and one group, the Urglaawe, maintained a healing altar.

Heathenry at the Parliament of the World's Religions [Courtesy Photo]

Heathenry at the Parliament of the World’s Religions [Courtesy Photo]

In its statement, Heathens United Against Racism wrote:

We call on all Heathens who feel as we do to join us in solidarity. We must all stand together for a truly hospitable, courageous, and honorable community against those who would twist the beliefs and ideas we hold dear into a hateful mockery of everything we, as Heathens, stand for.

Back in Virginia, two of the arrested men had their preliminary hearing Thursday, Nov. 12. As reported by the Roanoke Times, the men are being held without bond due to “their ties to a white supremacist group and potential danger to the community.” According to the report, the judge felt there was very “strong evidence” in the case and would not grant the defense any special conditions. The third man is schedule for a hearing today.

KULPMONT, Penn — An on-again, off-again inmate in Pennsylvania’s correctional system has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his religious beliefs were violated when he was required to shave his beard. Randy Elliot, Jr., said in court papers that the incident occurred June 13 of this year, a month and a half before he was released. He was given a choice between shaving his beard, which, according to the filed papers, is “against the Viking way” or being placed on restrictive housing status. Elliot, who is seeking an injunction against such actions and monetary damages, has since been returned to prison due to parole violations.

Beards as a religious issue are nothing new in the United States, in or out of the prison system. In July, Walt Disney World relaxed its “Disney look” to accommodate a Sikh employee who had been restricted to working out of the public eye due to his unshaven beard. It didn’t meet the company’s grooming standards. Through his attorneys, Gurdit Singh, a park delivery driver, claimed that he was restricted to a single route, denied promotions, and singled out by employees because of his appearance. While Disney started allowing beards in 2012, the company’s policies required them to be neatly trimmed; Sikh beliefs do not allow adherents to cut their hair.

[Courtesy U.S. Army]

Army Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, one of the first granted permission to grow a beard and wear a turban on active duty. [Courtesy U.S. Army]

The United States military arguably has more restrictive rules on appearance than the Disney Corporation. However members are allowed to apply for waivers from those rules for religious reasons, accommodating those faiths that call for facial hair, such as Sikhism, and some sects of Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.  The process of obtaining such a waiver has been called into question, because the soldier still must comply with all the grooming standards while the application is in process.

In prisons, there are different reasons for grooming restrictions. Officials must balance the need for safety and security against the accommodation of religious beliefs, and often they err on the side of safety and security. In January, the Supreme Court found that by denying prisoner Abdul Maalik Muhammad the right to grow a half-inch beard, the state of Arkansas was infringing on his rights of religious expression as a Muslim. Justices were skeptical of arguments that contraband, including SIM cards for cellular phones, razor blades, and other items, could be hidden in beard of that length. They pointed out that longer hair was permitted on prisoners’ heads, and that it would not be particularly difficult to search short beards as well, or at least require the bearded prisoner to run a comb through it in the presence of guards.

According to Diane Duggan, case manager at Lady Liberty League (LLL), questions such as these revolve around whether the prisoner is expressing sincerely-held religious beliefs or not. “I don’t know enough about [Elliot’s] situation,” to comment on it in particular, she said. To the best of her knowledge, he had not contacted LLL for assistance. “What you need to look at is other faiths. If, in that system, members of other faiths are allowed to have beards, and his belief is sincerely held, one would think he would be allowed to have it. Because [prison officials] have to balance security where they have compelling interests, it’s a fine line.”

In the case of Muhammed, the court applied the “Hobby Lobby” test to evaluate the question of religious accommodation. As described in The New York Times,

“The test, set out in federal statutes, first considers whether the challenged government regulation places a substantial burden on religious practices. If it does, the test requires the government to show that it had a compelling reason for the regulation and no better way to achieve it.”

When it came to the request to grow a half-inch beard, the Supreme Court found that the denial did place a substantial burden on Muhammed’s religious practices, and it remained skeptical that there was not another way to achieve the goal of safety. In Arkansas, prisoners with skin conditions may grow beards of up to one-quarter inch in length,. Therefore, the justices questioned whether doubling that length would truly tip the scales away from security within the facility.

There is not a good legal test for evaluating “sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and Duggan suspects that this is by design. “Someone who is new to a religion may not know all of its tenets as they learn, but wish to comply with the requirements,” she said. Sincerity cannot be easily measured by length of time that one has been an avowed member of a particular religion for that reason. In addition, inmates frequently renew or begin religious practices while incarcerated.

Nevertheless, there is some speculation about whether Elliot’s “Viking way” actually has its roots in Heathenry. Kari Tauring, a leader in the Minnesotan Heathen community, said, this:

In my understanding, a beard is an affectation. There is nothing in the Eddas or Sagas to indicate that facial hair had religious significance in the late Iron Age.

If this person wants to adhere to ‘Viking’ norms, they may want to henna their beard. Apparently there is much archaeological evidence for this fashion taste. I also recommend eliminating potatoes, coffee, and chocolate from the diet, as well as not wearing black-dyed clothing. These are all post-colonial imports to Europe and would have been completely unknown to the travelers and traders we now call ‘Vikings.'”

Karl E. H. Seigfried of The Norse Mythology Blog also wondered if Elliot’s claims have any basis in history, as reconstructed practice is important to most Heathens.

I’d like to know more about Mr. Elliott’s claim that shaving goes against ‘the Viking way,’ as he calls his religion. Historically, there is evidence that Vikings sported a variety of facial hair fashions, including moustaches and shaved chins. Theologically, it’s difficult to imagine the gods of the north issuing commandments about fashion and personal grooming choices. The fact that Mr. Elliott complains in court documents about other inmates being allowed to have beards almost makes this seem like a case of kosher envy, of wanting to have a strict set of commandments dictated by the gods to a chosen prophet. So far, Heathenry has not had that sort of mass revelation.

In addition, due to Elliott’s “Viking” claims, media reports have all glommed onto an old 2006 USA Today article, in order to suggest that Asatru is universally or overwhelmingly associated with white supremacy in prisons. However, the old article actually provides multiple views with some skeptical of that assertion, and it does not draw any conclusions based on evidence.  Regardless, there are many questions still left unanswered in Elliott’s particular case.

Despite court decisions and settlements, and even federal legislation intended to protect the religious rights of prisoners, the line drawn between those rights and the responsibilities of correctional institution officials still remains fuzzy. Security is a real issue in those facilities, and pursuit of it often results in constitutional rights being infringed, if not trampled. The ongoing task for prisoner advocates is to ensure that precautions are reasonable, and applied consistently to all inmates, regardless of the religion they happen to practice.

Bilden som visar objektet

Oden från Lindby. Bronze. Historiska Museum, Sweden.
Gabriel Hildebrand SHMM

The figure stands, unsteady and misshapen, only a few centimeters tall. It lacks its left arm, and its bronze form has become so weathered that I cannot easily read its face; the head rises to a point like an arrowhead, and two curving lines beneath the nose suggest a mustache. Its right eye is just a slit in the metal; a protruding oval marks the wide left eye. A nearby sign lists the figure’s provenance: Lindby, Skåne, Sweden, created sometime during the Iron Age – there’s no more definite date given than that.

Because the figure is missing an eye, it is usually interpreted as the god Odin.

I had not known this figure, Oden från Lindby, was in the Field Museum’s Vikings exhibit before I came face to face with it. It sits in a round glass case that formed one-third of a circle near the far end of the exhibit’s opening hall. In the hollow at the center of the cases, a projector displays a computer model of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology, controlled by a touch screen on the outside of the circle. For those seeking the vikings’ myths, this display is the heart of the exposition; beyond this, it’s all ship’s nails and broadswords, blacksmith’s tools and relics of the White Christ. But here, in this case, Odin Allfather stands, incarnated in an inch of bronze.

The Oden was not the only manifestation of the gods in this circle. The Vanir, Freyja and Freyr, appeared as well, and the exhibition featured several Thor’s Hammer pendants. But the figure of Odin catches my attention more than the others. Despite the throng of museum attendees circling the cases, I have to stop and kneel in front of the case for a better look. The fragility of the piece strikes me – the phantom arm, the worn-away feet. I wonder how it had even been found. Had the shovel gone into the dirt three inches in either direction, it could have been missed entirely.

The strangeness of seeing this statue before me, just a few inches away behind the glass shield, increased because I knew this statue intimately, after a fashion. A replica of it – made of clay from the sacred Ganges River, the manufacturers were always keen to say – has sat on my altar since I’ve had an altar. It’s not an exact copy. The replica has both of its arms, and instead of the original’s dilapidated feet has clay filled in to make a sturdy base. (Although the replica shares the original’s arrowhead skull, for some reason, the sculptor chose not to copy the original’s prominent nose, instead leaving Odin with eyebrows that seem to slope directly down into his mustache, giving his face a somewhat squid-like character.)

I can’t say when I came by this statue; perhaps as a Yule present, long ago, along with a heftier bronze statue of Thor. It began at the outer edges of my altar and slowly worked its way into its present central position, mirroring my own relationship to Odin and to Heathenry in general. I have carried it with me to Pantheacon and Reykjavík, a companion on my pilgrimages. The most powerful vision of my mystical career came while sitting in front of this little statue. If you were to ask me for the image that comes to me when you say the name Odin, it would be the face of this replica by firelight.

I kneel there by the case, struck by this figure which I both see every night before I sleep and have never seen before in my life, still caught by the size of it, the delicacy. A person could put all three of these figures, Odin, Freyja, and Freyr, into their cupped hands and still have room for the Thor statuette sitting in the National Museum of Iceland. These little fragments of the past, so unlike the monuments that have survived from Greece and Egypt. A few months ago, I found myself staring up with awe into the impassive face of a plaster cast of Athena Velletri, who stands ten feet tall. This Odin is not so tall as that Athena’s little finger. The feeling it inspires for me is not awe, but astonishment, the wonder that such a thing still exists to be seen at all.

When Christian preachers spoke against the ancient pagan religions, idol worship was invariably one of the greatest targets of their scorn. Augustine wrote in his commentary on Psalm 115, “For they have mouths, and speak not: eyes have they, and see not. They have ears, and hear not: noses have they, and smell not. They have hands, and handle not; feet have they, and walk not; neither cry they through their throat. Even their artist therefore surpasseth them, since he had the faculty of moudling them by the motion and functions of his limbs, though thou wouldest be ashamed to worship that artist. Even thou surpassest them, thought they has not made these things, since thou doest what they cannot do.” The heathen worships idols, but they are deaf, dumb, and dead; they worship rocks and mistake them for gods. Apparently such preaching was effective; I’m reminded of the legend of Thorgeir the Lawspeaker, who, after making the decision for Iceland to become Christian, threw his statuary into the waterfall Goðafoss, many centuries after Augustine.

But that particular line of attack feels like the worst kind of simplistic literalism to me. Of course the idol is not the god. Has anyone ever really thought that? Even in the most grandiose legends of statues with hidden levers and contraptions supposedly meant to gull the naive into believing false miracles, they were only manifestations of deity. Of course the idol is made of metal or stone; of course it is made by human hands. That’s the point. They form a bridge between the human and the numinous; they give us a focus for the invisible, a face for something that is, at its core, faceless.

This little statue of Odin – this little thing – is not Odin himself. But it is a link between me and the ancient heathen who once held it. Perhaps he or she carried it in a pocket, a reminder of their devotion, as I carry the replica in my suitcase. It is worn, a little broken, a little decrepit. But it survives.

I quickly kiss the glass, like an Orthodox Christian before an icon, and rise to let the little girl next to me have her time with the Allfather.

(The Vikings exhibit runs until October 4th at Chicago’s Field Museum.)

Ásatrúarfélagið, the Icelandic Ásatrú organization, has attracted widespread international attention since announcing plans to build a temple in downtown Reykajavík last February. Although much of that attention has been positive, it was reported earlier this week by the Icelandic news service Vísir that Ásatrúarfélagið had received hate mail and threats of vandalism from foreign Pagans. These threats have, in turn, forced Ásatrúarfélagið to consider the security of its temple and the relationship of its organization to the rest of the world.

asatruarfelagid logo

According to the alsherjargoði, or high priest, of Ásatrúarfélagið, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, the society began to receive large amounts of hate-mail in February, just after a widely-circulated article about the temple was published in Iceland Magazine. Although the society has always attracted the occasional letter of this sort throughout its four-decade history, this surge of messages was unprecedented.

Even more troubling, however, are alleged plans by several Heathen groups in Germany and the United States to “re-consecrate” the Icelandic temple once it has been completed. “At least three groups have been talking about going to Iceland,” Hilmar told The Wild Hunt. “They say, ‘it’s our temple, it’s our heritage, and these Icelandic idiots are doing it all wrong.'”

These re-consecration ceremonies reportedly would involve scattering blood throughout the temple, which goes against Ásatrúarfélagið’s condemnation of animal sacrifice in their religious practice. The rituals, should they be attempted, would be intended to suggest the illegitimacy of Ásatrúarfélagið, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of the temple.

From Ásatrúarfélagið’s point of view, many of the recent attacks stem from a perception that the organization wants to dictate the rules of Ásatrú for everyone. “The thing is, because we have made a point of being the Icelandic Ásatrú society, we don’t do outreach,” says Hilmar. “We never really have never had any interest whatsoever in guiding anyone outside of Iceland in their beliefs. Everyone is free to do what they want on their own turf. We are working in Iceland to serve Icelandic needs.” Hilmar does not believe his duties involve being a Heathen missionary: “We are not looking for lost sheep from the house of Ingvar Ragnarsson.”

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, alsherjargoði of Ásatrúarfélagið. From his Wikipedia page.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, alsherjargoði of Ásatrúarfélagið. [via Wikimedia]

In particular, there is a clash between Ásatrúarfélagið’s long-held support for same-sex marriages and some anti-LGBTQ Heathens. Ásatrúarfélagið advocated for the legal authority to perform same-sex marriages as early as 2003, years before Iceland passed its 2010 gender-neutral marriage law. Ásatrú weddings are increasingly popular among same-sex couples in Iceland today. Although Heathenry at large does not discriminate against homosexuality, there are some segments of the religion that consider homosexuality to be inherently dishonorable, and an extreme fringe that sees any support for LGBTQ issues as equivalent to “spiritual terrorism.” This fringe seems to be responsible for the majority of the messages being delivered to Ásatrúarfélagið since February.

Given these threats of vandalism, Ásatrúarfélagið now must consider how to handle foreign visitors to its temple. One idea being considered is to only allow visitors into the temple as part of guided tours. “When it was first suggested to me, I just laughed it off and said, ‘no, no, that won’t be necessary,'” said Hilmar. “To me, the idea of a religious building is that it should be open for worship. The last two or three months have really made me reconsider. We are used to people coming to us – in the summer time, there are more foreigners in our open house meetings in our office in Síðmúla than there are Icelanders. We’re used to those people being really polite and really nice and thanking us for the hospitality… So it’s a shock that we’re suddenly being put into this spot.”

After the publication of the article in Vísir, a number of Pagans have posted notices supporting Ásatrúarfélagið and calls for equality throughout Paganism. At the time of this writing, a Facebook event, “Ásatrúarfélagið – we are at your side!,” created by has attracted nearly 2000 supporters. There have also been petitions created by Pagan writer Yvonne Aburrow and open letters posted by Heathens United Against Racism and Kindred Irminsul, the Costa Rican kindred previously covered by The Wild Hunt. For the Kindred, Esteban Sevilla said:

All the way from Costa Rica, we stand with you and your right to marry LGBT couples. What you have done is admirable and an example to follow, you have stood against racism and homophobia, you believe anyone can practice Ásatrú regardless of their ethnicity or sexuality. To me this deserves an applause and I explicitly request others to send you support in your mission.

Hilmar has expressed his gratitude for the support. “It’s surprised me in a pleasant way,” he said, “because I’m used to nice people not being as vocal as the obnoxious ones.” The outpouring of support has dwarfed the amount of malicious messages, but the attention garnered by the negative statements has worn on the society, especially when they appear in public spaces like Ásatrúarfélagið’s Facebook page.

The temple announcement has attracted more attention than Ásatrúarfélagið was prepared to handle. Just having the staff available to mind the temple full-time may prove to be a challenge, regardless of any threats of vandalism. “Most of the people who work for the society are just doing it as voluntary work,” said Hilmar. “We’re being accused of doing this as a tourist trap. You’ll find that in some of the commentaries – that this is all just a clever ploy to sell things and charge admission, which was never the intention. I don’t know how, during weekdays, we could man the temple as it is. In a way, it’s caught us totally by surprise. The practical issues are totally unresolved.”

Ásatrúarfélagið currently employs only one part-time office clerk. Hilmar added, “If we only had to think about us, then everything would be in place, but now the whole picture seems to have changed.”

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið 2009 [Photo Credit: Lenka Kovářová]

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið 2009 [Photo Credit: Lenka Kovářová]

But in the era of the viral article, it is becoming less and less possible for any organization to only think of its own constituents. Due to its history, both modern and ancient, Iceland continues to have an outsized influence on Ásatrú, despite Ásatrúarfélagið’s insistence on its organization only being interested in the local community. Its temple project has drawn the eyes of many admiring supporters, but also vocal detractors, some of whom may be planning physical or metaphysical vandalism against Ásatrúarfélagið.

“When I lived in the center of Reykjavík, on the road of Freyjugata, people would be pissing in my gardens on the weekends,” Hilmar said. The weariness in his voice is impossible to mistake. “This feels a bit the same. I didn’t like people pissing in my garden, and I don’t like this.”

open_halls_squareAs first reported on the Norse Mythology Blog, the U.S. Army has not yet added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list. Dr. Karl Siegfried writes,”Over two months after being notified of approval, Army Heathens are now in a state of limbo.”

We spoke with Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project, who said, “The Chaplain backed away from his initial statement that the addition was approved,” and “he misread the speed in which the addition was going to be processed.” Heath said that the Open Halls Project will continue pressing for this recognition. He added, “The Army Corp of Chaplains has largely been helpful to us during this process. We particularly want to officially thank Chaplain Bryan Walker for his assistance. However, we also are growing increasingly frustrated that it has taken so long for this process to reach its finale. The Open Halls Project will continue to advocate for this addition, and will do everything in our power to ensure every soldier knows when it finally has been approved. Our soldiers deserve this recognition of their right to claim their faith. Heathenry is about a commitment to one’s community, a gift of service. The US Army has the duty now to return that gift as is our custom.”

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Judy_Harrow_Award_Photo_CleanAs we reported last week, Judy Harrow was “honored by The Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) division of the American Counseling Association (ACA).” She had been nominated in January by Michael Reeder, LCPC. At a special award luncheon Friday, a member of the Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) faculty accepted the Ohana award on Harrow’s behalf. CHS Director Holli Emore said, “Ms. Harrow was crucial to the development of Cherry Hill Seminary early on, building our pastoral counseling department into a program which would meet professional standards as well as the needs of the growing Pagan community.”

The award itself will be housed for viewing at the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) in Delaware. Board member Michael G. Smith said, “Ms. Harrow was an avid supporter of the New Alexandrian Library. She recognized the need for the Contemporary Paganism to preserve its history and cultural artifacts for future generations so they would be able to have a greater appreciation and understand their roots, their beginnings. She felt so passionately that she left her personal library in her last will and testament to the NAL. It is a great pleasure for us to see her work celebrated by her colleagues and we are honored to house her award, along with her collection, at the Library.”

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downloadThe Dragon Hills Retreat and Right Time, Right Place Productions will be hosting a spring Pagan Music Festival in 2016. Over Memorial Day weekend, musicians from around the world will come together in Bowdon, Georgia to perform at this private 30-acre campground and event center. According to the most recent updates, the festival will host over 20 bands, as well as100 vendors and more.

Currently booked to perform are: SJ Tucker, Sharon Knight, Celia, Tuatha Dea, Wendy Rule, Damh the Bard, Witch’s Mark, Murphy’s Midnight Rounders, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, Spiral Rhythm, Dragon Ritual Drummers, Elaine Silver, Mama Gina, Beltana Spellsinger, and Robin Renée. Organizers say that more performers will be added and tickets are already on sale. They added that “a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Katie’s Krops.”

In Other News

  • This Friday will be the soft launch of the new site Gods & Radicalsborn out of a PantheaCon presentation made by Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie. On Friday, they will publish their first essay by Jason Thomas Pitzl. Other essays will follow periodically until the site is in full operation. Writers currently scheduled include Asa West, Lorna Smithers, and Sean Donahue. Gods & Radicals has been garnering much buzz in the community. When its facilitators made a call for submissions, the response was overwhelming. The site will publish works that focus on anti-capitalism, environmentalism and social change. They write, “We Pagans are trying to re-enchant the world, to bring back the magic of the forests and the mountains. We are trying to hear and revere the wild places the sacred forgotten places, the spirits of ocean and rivers and lakes.” 
  • Manannan mac Lir was back in the news again when the Limavady Council decided that the original statue was far too damaged to repair and that they would be erecting a replacement. According to the Derry Journal, the Council said that “a new sculpture should be made by John Darren Sutton at a cost of £9,950 and erected on Binevenagh.” The old statue will be on display as tourist attraction. However, as the decision was made, there was some outcry. According to the Belfast Telegraph, one local councilor believes that the “plan to use the damaged sculpture of a Celtic sea god as a tourist attraction would promote paganism and false gods.”
  • In another part of the world, ancient statues, relics and other historic sites are being pillaged and destroyed by ISIL. The destruction of these treasured artifacts has upset many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. One California Pagan, Jack Prewett has called for a Global Day of Mourning on April 18. Prewett calls the destruction a “tragedy for humankind” and says,“Let us mourn the loss of our history, our heritage. Cry for those that will come after us and know that once we had our history in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.” Why did Prewett choose April 18?  That is the U.N.’s World Heritage Day.
  • Last fall, in the heart of Arkansas, a group organized to host the first ever Pagan Pride event in Conway. According to reports, they had over 300 attendees, which far exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, the city of Conway has since passed an ordinance prohibiting all vendor sales on park property. Organizers said, “This means that we wouldn’t be able to have vendors, our singers and presenters wouldn’t be able to sell their merchandise, and there wouldn’t be any concessions! The only option that the city has given us is to rent out the Conway Expo Center.” If the organizers follow through, the event will cost significantly more money. The organization is now reaching out to the community for help through a GoFundMe campaign.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, has recently released several statements responding to the most recent attempts to enact a religious freedom restoration act (RFRAs), specifically in the state of Georgia. The ATC’s statements have created buzz in the mainstream media, the Pagan blogosphere and local Georgia Wiccan community. We are currently working on this developing story and will bring you the details of the debate on Wed.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

The optimal situation within a family, is when both parents share the same religion. This avoids conflict, confusion, misunderstandings, and all manner of problems. When two spouses have two different religions, there are differences in world-view, priorities, goals, how to raise one’s children, how to live one’s life, the seriousness of the marriage oath, and all areas of your life together… For single Heathens, meeting another Heathen that you want to marry can be difficult at this time of Reconstruction for our Folkway. There aren’t a lot of Heathens to choose from. – Temple of our Heathen Gods

Finding a suitable partner is difficult for anyone. When you’re part of a minority religion the search for a compatible partner can be even more difficult. How do can that challenge be overcomed?

You could attend regional or national festivals. Have a co-religionist set you up on a blind date. Or, if you’re a Heathen, you could join a new online dating service created just for Heathens.


Asatru Dating was launched by U.K. resident Vincent Stagg on January 5, 2015. By the end of that month, he had over 200 members signed up. The service has some basic free functions, or members can pay £4.99 per month ($7.62 US dollars) or a premium membership.

Asatru Dating is available worldwide, and has members from the U.K., U.S.A., Canada, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Norway and other countries.The gender split on the site is about ⅓ women to ⅔ men and allows for a third gender designation – gender fluid.

Heathen religions, like many other revived religions, place a strong focus on family and worship as a family unit. They honor their ancestors and want their children to continue in their ways. If your spouse isn’t also a Heathen, that could complicate matters.

It was for this reason that Mr. Stagg says he created the site to, “…provide a place where single Asatruars could find one another.” He says the process of joining is simple. There are features to make users more comfortable, such as being able to block or report other users for inappropriate behavior.

Kameron Smith, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, has joined the dating service. He said that he’s interested in, “…the possibility of finding a committed relationship with a woman who thinks and believes similar to me.” He says while it isn’t absolutely necessary to find another Heathen to marry, it would make the relationship, and raising children, easier in the long term.

Mr. Stagg hopes that by making it easier for Heathens to find Heathen partners, this process will also contribute to reviving Asatru as the vibrant religion it once was. He said, “We may be seen as dreamers but we wish nothing more than to see temples built to the Aesir and for people to recognise what Asatru is.”

No matter if you’ve already found your true love, or loves, or you’re still looking, The Wild Hunt wishes you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.


Column: North

Eric O. Scott —  February 13, 2015 — 16 Comments
Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

[Warning: contains carnivorous behavior.]

The voice begins buried in the undertones of the voice before it, slowly rising through the sonic gradient until their roles switch and it becomes dominant. It is a man’s voice, recognizably Canadian, and even though we are only a few seconds into the presentation, his words already express doubt at the theme:

Let me say this, though – I don’t go for this ‘northmanship’ thing at all… I’m not one of those people who do claim that they’ve been farther north or so on, but I see it as kind of a game, this ‘northmanship’ thing. People say well, you know, ‘have you ever been up at the north pole on a dogsled trip for twenty-two days?’ and the other fella will say, ‘well, I did one for thirty days…’

But just as that voice rose from the depths of the mix, so does another, this one with more romance in its words:

I can’t conceive of anyone being in close touch with the north, whether he lived there all the time, or simply traveled there month after month and year after year – I can’t conceive of such a person being really untouched by the north…

These are two of the first voices heard in Glenn Gould’s experimental radio documentary, The Idea of North, part of his so-called “Solitude Trilogy.” In the beginning of the documentary, several voices – a woman describing her voyage north on a train, a man grousing about how ‘northmanship’ has become just another test of machismo, another man waxing poetically about the spiritual power of the northern landscape, a woman talking about walking out onto frozen lakes and feeling at one with the setting – are overlaid on one another, the music of their voices intermingling to bring at once a sense of the multitude of reactions these travelers have to the subject of the production – the concept of “north” as landscape and ethos, home and pilgrimage: the idea of “north,” whatever that might be.

Gould’s work was specifically about the north of Canada, but I found myself thinking about the subject too, especially after a member of my writing group – an Alaskan who writes about the environment and is invested in the idea of north – made a comment about one of my essays. (I believe it was the work that eventually became Njord, one of the first of my Iceland columns here at The Wild Hunt.)

“This character has that distinct Northern voice,” she said, referring to the Icelander’s clipped yet expressive demeanor. “Anyone who has been around that part of the world would know it.” It struck me that my friend’s “north” and my “north” were very different places — Alaska and Iceland – but she still observed some kindred nature between them. I suspect Glenn Gould might have seen it too.

I was thinking about this the other day while making a dish – marinated salmon and baked apples with rosemary – from Andreas Viestad’s Kitchen of Lighta Norwegian cookbook I recently bought. I’m not a “kitchen witch” by any means, nor honestly do I know what it would mean to be one[1], but I have been working through cooking as a kind of sacred practice since last summer, when I returned from Iceland. Before then, I belonged to the stereotype of young men who barely know how to boil pasta; I occasionally mustered up the will to commit an act of chili, but that was as far as I went.

But prepared food was expensive in Iceland, and I had to learn how to cook or starve (or perhaps live exclusively on hot dogs, as several of my classmates did.) I don’t mean to make this sound overly important, since, after all, cooking isn’t an extraordinary skill – but, probably because it was something I learned how to do while in Iceland, I’ve attached this special significance to it. It’s something I’ve brought back into my regular life from the heady experience of pilgrimage.

Viestad is no Heathen to the best of my knowledge, but part of what I have loved in working through his book is the connection he draws between the recipes and the landscape and history of Scandinavia. When I make this food, it too draws on the idea of north. Sometimes, especially in very tactile moments of preparation – slicing away the hard skin of a rutabaga, patting down chicken with spices, shaking the pan to make a bed of onions jump and sizzle – I find myself slipping into a light trance, meditating on the connection between food and religion.

I have never achieved a state of emptiness in my meditation, I’m afraid. My thoughts are ever-present. In my daily life, my job is to critically examine literature, texts, ideas of all sorts, and that’s just as true of my own thoughts. So it is in my meditation: what is ‘north,’ anyway, and why should you bother to romanticize it? It’s a question I have pondered often. It is easy to romanticize a place, especially a place so far away. I was raised in a city, and so I long for the wilderness; I was raised in the middle of a continent, and so I long for an island; I was raised in the middle, and so I long for the north. That doesn’t necessarily make that a worthy desire, though, and runs the risk of turning the idea – and more importantly, the people who actually inhabit that idea – into some kind of spiritual Disneyland than an actual place that exists independently of one’s desires for it.

The voices of both of the men from Glenn Gould’s documentary run through my head at once, the pessimist and the romantic, the one who puts no stock in this “northmanship” business and the one who feels no one could resist being touched by the place. I try to keep them both there, with all their static and their crosstalk, to keep myself in balance.

I am running a side of bright pink salmon under cold tap water. My station at the sink looks out through a window onto my back yard, which is bounded by a shallow creek and a barren collection of spindly trees. While the icy water flows over our skins, mine and the fish’s, the gray February sky begins to turn dark. I stop for a moment and meditate on the winter, on how the silence and the cold of the season remind me of places far away. I take the fish from under the stream and pat it down with paper towels until it dries again. The process contradicts itself: soak the fish in water, then pat it dry. I wonder why I am asked to handle the salmon this way.

This is a new recipe; I have never cooked a side of salmon before, with this method or any other. But I trust in it, in the physicality of the meat and the chill of the water and the texture of the dry paper becoming wet. I trust it because, in its small way, preparing this fish connects me to my gods; I trust it because, in its small way, this fish, too, connects me to the north.

[1] I have some explicitly Pagan cookbooks, but I never made it past the psychic pasta.

perlan in the distance

A view of Öskjuhlíð from the University of Iceland. The domed building is Perlan; the Heathen temple will be built on the hill’s south side. Photo by the author.

Outside of my dormitory room at the University of Iceland stretched a long and mostly empty expanse of land. Directly across the street, construction crews were erecting new campus buildings, but beyond that, I saw mostly empty ground: the pond called Vatnsmýri, the lawns surrounding the Reykjavik airport’s landing strip. In the distance there was a hill with a shining dome resting at its peak.

The dome is called Perlan, a revolving restaurant and tourist hub; the hill itself is called Öskjuhlíð. I never had reason to visit Perlan during my visit, but I came to the base of Öskjuhlíð several times –a trail leading to the beach at Nauthólsvík runs alongside it, and I often went there to swim. I got caught in a rainstorm while walking there one day, a heavy, cold rain that pierced through every piece of clothing I wore. I felt wretched. I looked up through my water-spattered eyeglasses and saw the hill before me on one side, the ocean before me on the other, and I started to laugh uncontrollably – a mystical vision from Thor himself, or perhaps just the first signs of exposure.

The site of Ásatrúarfélagið’s new temple, news of which has swiftly wended its way through the Pagan internet since Iceland Magazine published an article about it earlier this month, is only a few hundred meters away from the site of my rain-drenched epiphany. The temple, which is scheduled to be opened in autumn 2016, will be the first Heathen temple built in the Nordic countries in a millennium, and has been rightly seen as a milestone for modern Heathenry and Paganism.

The temple, or hof, has been a long time coming. “When Ásatrúarfélagið was founded in 1972, that was the first thing we said – that we wanted to build our own hof,” said the fellowship’s alsherjargoði, or high priest, Hilmar Örm Hilmarsson. Ásatrúarfélagið has been close to achieving that goal in the past; Reykjavík authorities offered the fellowship a building in the late 1980s, but the costs of renovation were too high for it to be practical.

The idea of building the temple at Öskjuhlíð has been planned since 2003, but the 2008 financial crisis in Iceland set the project back. “We lost one-third of our savings,” said Hilmar[1]. “We had been caught up in the spirit of the times, when everything seemed to be possible.”

The fellowship was forced to scale back from their original ideas for the hof in order to build within their means. Part of the the solution they arrived at was to build the hof complex in two parts: the main temple, which will be opened in 2016, and a communal housing building, which will be constructed over the next ten years. This second building will eventually contain Ásatrúarfélagið’s offices, housing, and a small apartment for visiting scholars. In the interim, the fellowship’s offices will be located inside the main temple itself. There will also be a ritual area set up outside of the main building for outdoor ceremonies, although Ásatrúarfélagið has already been conducting rituals in the location for years without a specifically prepared space.

A diagram of the temple complex, including a ritual area (Blótveislusvæði), a playground (Barnaleiksvæði) and a footpath leading to the beach. Image courtesy of Magnús Jensson.

A diagram of the temple complex, including a ritual area (Blótveislusvæði), a playground (Barnaleiksvæði), and a footpath leading to the beach. [Image courtesy of Magnús Jensson.]

Ásatrúarfélagið has been in existence for over four decades without a temple, using natural spaces like Thingvellir National Park, or rented buildings, like Reykjavik’s Aerospace Society Hall, as sites for its gatherings. A dedicated hof will open up new avenues for Ásatrúarfélagið’s practices, as they will no longer be so tied to seasonal conditions. “Up until the last few years,” said Hilmar, “weddings took place in the summertime, because people usually want them to be outside, but in the past two years there have been a lot of requests for weddings during winter. And of course, children are born without thinking of the seasons, so we have a lot of name-giving ceremonies in the winter, spring, and autumn. These will be moving to the temple.”

The new hof will also allow Ásatrúarfélagið to hold funerals in a dedicated space; Ásatrúarfélagið has a graveyard plot, which was established by a previous alsherjargoði, Jörmundur Ingi Hansen, but has not had its own location to hold funeral services. “It will, in a way, dignify it a bit more, so it’s not like a borrowed place,” said Hilmar.

The new temple has been designed by Magnús Jensson, an architect and member of Ásatrúarfélagið who has been interested in temple design for many years; one of his projects as an architecture student at Arkitektskolen Aarhus was a Heathen hof. “That hof was designed to be a microcosm,” said Magnús. “So is the new hof, but a different kind of microcosm.”

Magnús now teaches a university course that explores the relationship between architecture, sacred geometry, and religion, and his plans for the Ásatrúarfélagið hof put many of those theories into practice. His plans for the temple take into account the local landscape and attempts to build with as much on-site material as possible. The temple will bore into the hill itself, leaving an interior wall of bare rock; water will trickle down that wall and collect in streams and pools built into the floor. These features are meant to tie together the indoors and outdoors, the constructed and the natural. “The first wrong turn in architecture,” says Magnús, “was the invention of ‘indoors.'”

The wooden walls and ceiling will slope up into a dome. According to Magnús, the shape of the dome is meant to evoke the female form, in contrast to the phallic associations of other religious buildings in Reykjavik. Much thought has been put into the interplay of light and darkness throughout the hof; a skylight will let in shadows that change their shapes according to the position of the sun throughout the year, with different effects on the solstices and equinoxes. There are also plans for a large fireplace near the altar, as well as electric lighting, to illuminate the hof during Iceland’s long winter nights.

Inside the hof, specially-designed windows will create lighting effects that change with the seasons. Image courtesy of Magnús Jensson.

Inside the hof, specially-designed windows will create lighting effects that change with the seasons. [Image courtesy of Magnús Jensson.]

Perhaps surprisingly, Magnús had no interest in creating a building that attempted to replicate the designs of ancient Heathen temples. “A lot of people think that Ásatrú is something only from the past, but Ásatrúarfélagið believes it is something timeless,” he explained to me. As a result, he was more interested in designing a building to meet the specific needs of the fellowship as it exists in the modern day. His plans center around modern ideas of green buildings and the classical formulae of sacred geometry, but the greatest inspiration for the hof was the Öskjuhlíð site itself. “The hof was designed so that it could not exist anywhere else,” said Magnús. “If you were to build the exact same plans somewhere else, it would not be the same building, because it would not be the same environment.”

Magnús has hopes that his hof will bring more attention to Ásatrúarfélagið from within Iceland. “I think more people will become interested in Ásatrú when they realize it isn’t all about Vikings,” he explained. In his eyes, many Icelanders who technically registered with the state Lutheran church, but don’t really believe in it, or in anything at all; he thinks the hof may lead them to explore Ásatrú.

hof cutaway 2

A cutaway diagram of the hof. Image courtesy of Magnús Jensson.

Hilmar also has high hopes for the new building. He said that Iceland’s tourist authorities have mentioned a huge increase in interest from visitors about Icelandic Paganism, and he expects that, when the hof is completed, it will become a destination for many of those tourists. “I’ve never thought about it before, to be honest,” he said. “I was getting letters of warning from friends abroad, saying we should impose a code of conduct. I was, in a way, so naive that I assumed everyone would show respect, but that’s a bit optimistic. I think we will have a great influx of people coming in, and I hope they will respect that this is our building, and it’s serving our community.”

Despite these misgivings, Hilmar believes that the hof will come to be seen as an integral part of Iceland’s national character. “Hallgrimskirkja has long since become a Reykjavik landmark,” he said, referring to the massive Lutheran state church that sits near the center of the city, the design of which is meant to evoke the basalt columns of Iceland’s landscape. “We do not want anything less for our hof. We really see it as an emblem of Reykjavik in the years to come.”


[1] As Icelandic last names are patronymic, it is customary to refer to Icelanders by their given names.

The U.S. Army has finally added Asatru and Heathen to its religious preference list after a five year effort led by the Open Halls Project. The Army is now the second branch of the U.S Military to include these two religious options. The Air Force led the way in July 2014. With these changes made, Heathen soldiers serving, or having served, in either of these two branches can accurately communicate their religious preference and, by doing so, earn a host of benefits and protections.

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/]

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/]

“This is a first step into showing how deeply integrated with serving our country Heathens are. We represent a significant minority of the world, but the large majority of Heathens have served their countries in some form or another. Taking care of our community is a Heathen worldview trait, serving in the military is one way to serve those communities. I hope that this recognition helps to encourage more Heathens to serve their communities in all ways,” said Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

It is currently estimated that there are around 500 Heathens serving in the U.S. Army alone. That number is purely speculative based on Open Hall Project registrations. Heath said, “I’m hoping that getting the religious preference added will allow us to eventually ask the military to do an official census.”

Heath’s quest began in 2009 after he and his wife Cat joined The Troth. At that time, Heath was on Active Duty with U.S. Army, and wanted to see both Heathen and Asatru added to the religious preference list. Since that application required the backing of a 501c3 organization, he asked the Troth for help, which they gave. Unfortunately, the Army made an error and put The Troth on the list, rather than Heathen or Asatru.

As a result, Heath had to begin the process all over again. This time, however, he looked for support from a group whose name contained the word Asatru, as advised by Army officials. With the help of Vince Enland of the Asatru Alliance and Patricia Lafayllve of The Troth, he submitted a second application in 2010.  This was also the year that he and Cat formally established the Open Halls Project.

Open Halls Project
A year went by with little to no response. In 2011, the team decided to submit a third application. This one contained a petition with the signatures of over 30 soldiers. But, once again, they were simply told that the application was being reviewed.

After two years of waiting, the Army had still made no decisions, and the team was faced with two new challenges. Heath said, “In 2012, we were told by the Chaplains Corp that a new system to request Rel Prefs was being developed and would take some time to get anything new approved.” Additionally, Heath himself was no longer on Active Duty. Therefore, they “would need to get someone [else] who [could] reprocess the whole request.”

Over the next two years, they put the project on “the back burner.” They periodically checked in with Chaplain Bryan Walker, personnel director of the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. They also worked to garner more support and allies for the mission.

By 2013, momentum began to build in the form of both interest and corresponding actions. In terms of earning increased support, Josh Heath credits a 2013 interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, published on the Norse Mythology blog.  While the article is predominantly about the couple’s personal history and religion, it does mention the Open Halls Project and its deep involvement “in American Heathenry and … the struggle for its recognition as a religion in the U.S. military.” In fact, that very interview is what inspired Msgt. Matt Walters, the Air Force NCO, to seek out the Open Halls Project for help in getting Asatru and Heathen added to the Air Force religious preference list.

While support increased, other serendipitous events began to happen. In spring 2013, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs added the Mjöllnir, (the Hammer) to its list of symbols available for gravestones and markers. Then, in early 2014, the Army added Humanism to its religious preference list, and the Air Force added Heathen and Asatru.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

In a recent interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, Heath admitted that the adding of Humanism, “riled him up!” He said, “I’d been working on this issue for Heathens for five years, and they still hadn’t approved us! I threatened a lawsuit, politely, and even contacted the ACLU and the humanists that won their campaign to ask for some guidance on how to proceed.”

Due the increase in support from the Heathen community, Heath was able to find four new Active Duty soldiers willing to work on the project. The team consisted of Christopher Gibat, Omar Bailey, Andrew Turner and Daniel Head, who would became the new principle point of contact. In a recent interview, Head told Dr. Seigfried that after some “back and forth” and questioning the chaplains signed off. Asatru and Heathen were added to the list.

While this designation is purely administrative, the benefits can be far reaching in the experiences of a Heathen soldier, and in the education of military officials. Heath said:

Some Heathens will still have a hard time getting the right to worship, but having their religious preference added will mean the Chaplains Corp, MUST, assist them within the regulation requirements. That is a huge advocacy pool, even a chaplain that doesn’t really want to help will have to or face disciplinary action for failing to uphold their oath. I think this will help, when good soldiers, are seen as good soldiers, and then someone finds out they are a Heathen, this will hopefully show that we are good for our units, good for the Army and good for our country.

He also noted that Heathen Veterans can apply to make a change to their religious preference. Doing so will help with any official census taken, as well as supporting Heathen specific needs for funerals and other religious-based services.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

After the announcement was made, Open Halls members were asked for reactions and thoughts. Heath shared some of those responses:

I have [had] to choose ‘other’ as my religious preference, that makes me and many others feel excluded. I will no longer have to worry, “Will there be someone who understands what I believe, and to speak for me, if the worse were to happen.” – Daron Regan

It is a great feeling not to be marginalized as “that weird guy that believes in comic book characters.” – Andrew Turner

I am thankful for those that have stayed the course, it seems to have paid off and brought honor to us all.- Omar Bailey

This is the seed from which something great may grow. Whether it be something as simple as full recognition or a full chaplain representation. Our deed will feed the well that feeds the seed.- Joshua Spencer

A few members were skeptical on how much this will really affect their day-to-day experience, but most reactions were celebratory and focused on the next chapter of the project. Heath said, “We are planning on pursuing the Navy and Marines next, as they use the same system for Chaplains, a win there will affect both branches at the same time. I seriously doubt they would add the preferences themselves without prodding, but I do not think it would be hard for personnel to make those requests now.”

For more extensive detail on the entire process and experience, turn to the recent interview with Daniel Head and Josh and Cat Heath at the Norse Mythology Blog

The cover of The Magical Confluence #19. Image by Penny Ochs.

The cover of The Magical Confluence #19. Image by Penny Ochs.

I have a box of papers in my office that I like to look at every now and then; it’s an archive of sorts, a collection of artifacts from what seems to me like an entirely different era of Paganism. The box contains old rituals, festival invitations, newspapers, zines, and even a few decades-old picnic leases for public parks, the sites of sabbats that were held when I was only a few months old. I am a child of the internet, and it can be hard for me to think of what “Pagan community” meant, exactly, in the time before it. But my box gives me a glimmer, sometimes.

One of my favorite items in the box is a run of a zine, The Magical Confluence, which was published by the Earth Church of Amargi quarterly in the late 80s into the early 90s. The average issue runs about 16 pages, all black and white, most of the text obviously produced on a typewriter rather than a word processor. Clippings from local newspapers and national publications like Green Egg tend to make up about half of the content, with the rest submitted by Pagans in the St. Louis community. There are occasionally Far Side cartoons for which I am not entirely convinced Gary Larsen received royalties.

Looking through Magical Confluence #19, published in Spring 1990, I found an article by none other than my father – “AMER: AN OPPOSITION VIEW,” an open letter published in a forum that reached, I’m guessing, maybe a couple of dozen people. He was weighing in on his general distaste for the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions, an organization that tried to counter anti-Pagan misinformation through pamphlets, press statements, community meetings, and so on. AMER was founded in 1986 and lasted for twelve years before being disbanded. Despite his role as high priest of a long-standing coven in the St. Louis area, my father had little patience for community organizations; he compared AMER’s attempts to bring him and his into their fold as being “bludgeoned with a club.”

Much of my father’s article is inside baseball to a local controversy that happened almost 30 years ago, and even after I asked him for context, I’m still baffled. (It was something to do with Satanists.) But there’s a one section that I have been chewing over since I read it:

If true that AMER’s purpose is “to insure the individual’s right to privacy” then why do you seem to be so hell-bent to convince me that I am wrong to abridge my right of free association. Free association, you understand, is not only the ability TO associate, but also the ability NOT TO associate. It seems inconceivable to some of you that there are individuals and groups who simply ARE NOT JOINERS.[1]

Just that turn of phrase: “some people are not joiners.” My father certainly isn’t one – not just in terms of religion, but everywhere in his civic life. He has never claimed affiliation with any political party, never joined the PTO when I was younger, never been a part of an Elks Lodge or the sort. He is part of a union, but his career compelled him to join it. Even in his magical life, he eventually left the OTO exactly because it was too much of a “joiner” institution for him. If my father bowled, he would bowl alone. That inclination seems common in his generation of Pagans – and perhaps for many Pagans across the board. Our religions, after all, are made up primarily of converts – people who, for the most part, had a reason to reject the institutions of their parents. It’s not really surprising that people who turned away from organized religion might prefer not to join organizations – especially those which try to organize their new, previously unorganized religions.

But – and I realize this is something of a refrain for me – I am not a convert; I didn’t turn away from anything. And just like it can be hard for me to understand how publications like The Magical Confluence connected the Pagan community before we all had the internet, it can be equally as hard for me to understand the way that those who turned away see the world. I struggle with this. Some people are not joiners. Am I?

The covers to both volumes of Our Troth, from The Troth's website.

The covers to both volumes of Our Troth, from The Troth’s website.

For Yule, my parents got me a copy of Our Troth, the handbook published by the Heathen organization The Troth.  I haven’t had the chance yet to read through it, as I’m in the middle of preparing to teach the entire history of British literature[2], but just flipping through the book has made me think again about joining the organization. It was a thought I had when I first started thinking of myself as a Heathen in addition to a Wiccan, and had only been reinforced by getting to know some of its members a few years ago at Pantheacon.

But I have never actually gone through with it, even though I see the obvious upsides – a connection to a larger community, the support of an organization that more or less aligns with my beliefs, and a pretty, pretty journal. I suppose part of the reason for my prevarication is that it could end up being an empty gesture – would it mean anything other than a stamp of approval, a sign that I am a Certified Heathen? The other part is the general philosophical stance I have inherited from my parents: some people are not joiners. “Some people,” of course, means “us.” We keep to ourselves; we do our own thing. We keep to the edges, because the edges are free.

I see a debate in the Pagan community – at least the one I can see from my tiny window onto the internet – about what direction we are moving in, whether it’s towards more robust and public infrastructure or a move to remain with the largely decentralized nature of the movement as it currently is. I find myself, as ever, hedging about the middle. I grew up in the relative isolation of a handful of covens, and I know and love that environment; I also remember being a 13 year old kid who wished he could have just gone to a normal kind of church, except with Horus instead of Jesus.

My questioning over whether or not I want to join some organization is, I admit, a rather inconsequential element of that debate. But it’s those little decisions that, ultimately, pull us all in one direction, towards one definition of progress or the other.



[1] Sic.

[2] My department’s British Literature seminar is one semester, Beowulf to present. We go from John Donne to Oscar Wilde in about five weeks. I may keel over at some point.