Archives For Asatru

[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.

 *   *   *

[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.

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.

HAH_logo

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 http://www.historiska.se/data/?bild=341354 som visar objektet http://www.historiska.se/data/?foremal=109043

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.

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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.