Archives For Asatru Folk Assembly

In 2007, after a decade-long struggle, Pagan and Wiccan organizations succeeded in getting the Pentacle approved for military veteran headstones and markers. After that victory, in July of 2007, a rally was held to start the push for two more symbols: the Druid Awen and the Heathen Thor’s Hammer. Two Heathen organizations, The Troth and the Asatru Folk Assembly, were represented at that rally, and from it a wider movement to get the Thor’s Hammer approved emerged. Now, after a six-year journey which included some inter-organizational tensions within the Heathen community and a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs rule change, it appears the symbol has finally been approved.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

The updated emblems list is the only place where this addition is noted. There’s no media release, news story, or even blog post that I’ve been able to find about this development. So I have no way of knowing when, exactly, the official approval went through. I have sent a note to The Troth for an official statement on this victory.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders. Photo: Witchvox

Until we find out more, here’s a relevant quote from Diana Paxson, an Elder in The Troth, written in the wake of the Pentacle Quest and the 2007 July 4th rally.

“America has always been noted for creativity, in religion as in all else. Each new faith, whether immigrant or homegrown, enriches our culture. Today, when Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques may be found in many parts of the U.S., one might wonder why the VA denied a Wiccan veteran the right to have a pentacle on his headstone for ten years, and the Army has still not hired a Pagan chaplain. Paganism does not seek to replace other religions, but Pagan perspectives can revitalize the ways in which we relate to our history, our ancestors, and especially, in this time of climate crisis, to the environment. Rather than resisting, America should welcome the Pagan contribution to our cultural diversity.”

For now, congratulations to all Heathens and Asatruar on this amazing victory! Forward to the Awen! If you or a loved one are a Heathen veteran and want the Thor’s Hammer for a headstone or marker, you can find ordering information at the VA website.

ADDENDUM: The Troth has released the following statement.

“To our knowledge, current procedure to add an emblem of faith to a military headstone requires that the next of kin for a deceased Veteran request it. Josh Heath, of the Open Halls Project, has requested information in writing from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but at this time we do not know who the Heathen service member was. In Heathen tradition, we greatly honor our slain warriors and offer Blóts and Fainings to them as the Einherjar, those warriors collected by Odin and Freya to take to their halls in Asgard. We are ever grateful to this fallen service member, both for their sacrifice to our country and for requesting Mjöllnir, or the Thor’s Hammer, for their headstone. We solemnly anticipate the time we can honor this newest of the Einherjar by name.”

White nationalist organization the National Policy Institute (NPI) recently held their 2011 national conference, and Brian Powell from Media Matters was there to cover it. While listening to post-apocalyptic plans for a white “ethnostate” and endorsements for recreating apartheid in American towns, Powell runs into a contingent of members from the Asatru Folk Assembly during lunch.

“I nodded reluctantly and the four well-groomed white males smiled politely and sat down. What followed was one of the more uncomfortable meals of my life, as I smiled and pretended to concur with their views on affirmative action, the depiction of white people in the media, and their plans to recruit others to the white nationalist cause by use of racist humor. […] The four of them were excruciatingly friendly. They were relieved that they had finally found a place where they didn’t have to “feel out” the conversation before navigating it into the straits of white supremacy. […] They revealed that seven of them had traveled a long way up the East Coast to be here, led by a heavy-set red-faced Englishman in his forties who was sitting at one of the more expensive tables in the banquet room.

Other peculiar interactions caught my attention as well. For instance, the young men grew visibly uncomfortable when people asked where they were from and referred questioners to the Englishman. They talked about runes, and were offered a place to stay by a man they didn’t seem to know. If you have a hammer, he said to them, you always have a place to stay. My curiosity got the better of me, and after some coaxing and snooping (e.g., craning my neck to watch them writing down information on their group for another young attendee), I discovered  to my surprise that they were part of something called the Asatrú Folk Assembly […] there were at least 7-10 AFA members at this event, maybe more, and with their jewelry displayed, they could not have been unnoticed by the conference organizers. What their presence portends for the future of the white nationalist movement remains to be seen.”

In theory, the blatantly racist talk at this conference is against the stated values of the AFA, who while concerned with “the survival and welfare of the Northern European peoples as a cultural and biological group” also state:

“The belief that spirituality and ancestral heritage are related has nothing to do with notions of superiority. Asatru is not an excuse to look down on, much less to hate, members of any other race. On the contrary, we recognize the uniqueness and the value of all the different pieces that make up the human mosaic.

Despite this (mostly) “separate but equal” racial view of indigenous and Pagan religions, the AFA, and its founder Stephen McNallen, seem to keep coincidentally rubbing elbows with elements of white nationalism. For example, McNallen has contributed to two periodicals with ties to white nationalismAlternative Right (see their endorsement of the “National Anarchists”), and Tyr, which was co-founded by the “main business partner and heir apparent” of white nationalist and former Klan lawyer Sam Dickson. Dickson was guest of honor at the NPI’s national conference covered by Media Matters.

“Dickson, the elderly former lawyer to the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, espoused the most creative ethnostate scenario. First, he said, the government would need to adopt a plan to move every white person in Cuba to the state of Florida, where they would form a new city called “Havana Nueva.” Once this was accomplished, the government could begin to move all the black people in America down to Cuba. He made a point of assuring the audience that this forced resettlement would be executed “in a civilized way.” I wondered who in the room Dickson thought he might be offending.”

The open question is why were so many AFA members attending a blatantly racist conference (you can’t have discussion of forced relocation, post-collapse race-wars, and mimicking South African apartheid policies and not be considered racist), and will the AFA condemn the views displayed at NPI as against their stated values? Will these members be ejected for going against its own boundaries in matters of race? If not, what does that mean for the future of the AFA? Will the wider Pagan movement, including other Asatru organizations, have to reconsider its relationship with them?

UPDATE: Stephen McNallen of the AFA has posted a statement on the Media Matters story.

I have investigated the current controversy and have discussed it with the AFA Board of Directors. Here is my statement:

Four (not “seven to fourteen”) members of the Asatru Folk Assembly did attend a conference hosted by the National Policy Institute. They did this as private individuals, not as representatives for the Asatru Folk Assembly. The only way the original blogger, Brian Powell of the left-wing blog Media Matters, knew that they were AFA members is because, by his own admission, he craned his neck to see what one of them was writing on a piece of paper. At no time was there any attempt to speak for the AFA or to identify the ideals of the AFA with the subject matter of the conference.

The AFA will not dictate to its members which meetings they are permitted to attend as private individuals. There are suggestions that we discipline them for the crime of being present in a room where extreme statements seem to have been made. We will not do this. There will be no exposure, no witch-hunt, no apologies, and no reprimands.

A careful reading of the original post on the Media Matters blog makes it clear that Mr. Powell “cherry picked” the most extreme comments possible while ignoring the rest. He admitting that he expected “a little more anger, a little more foaming-at-the-mouth hatred of non-whites.” He further notes that “foremost on the minds of the attendees was not white dominance, it was white extinction.” His main objection, in short, was that people of European descent dared to meet to quietly discuss issues of concern to them as a group.

Let me very clearly state these two points: 1. The AFA will never advocate, condone, or excuse illegal or dishonorable acts directed at any person because of their race. 2. That said, men and women of European descent have exactly the same right to meet and to promote their collective interests as do any other group. To demonize them for doing this, when every other group is encouraged to do so, is to indulge in a vicious double standard.

I will let each of you decide whether this sufficiently answers any questions or concerns.

Back in March I highlighted an editorial posted to the new site Alternative Right, in which assistant editor Patrick J. Ford said some pretty historically ignorant things about pre-Christian religion, and its contributions to what we now refer to as Western civilization.

“…nearly every aspect of the western world worth saving is a product of Christianity, not Paganism. Even the distinctly non-Christian things are Christian in origin. While Christianity absorbed most of the worthwhile aspects of pagan society and made them its own, Christianity has left its fingerprints on every aspect of the West. A rejection of Christianity in favor of a false pagan faith would be antithetical to the defense of the West.”

You might think this would have gone over gangbusters at a politically conservative web site, but there was actually a great deal of dissent and debate in the comments section. You see, the folks behind Alternative Right are (largely) adherents of what is called “radical traditionalism”. What is radical traditionalism? Well, it’s a school of thought that originated with the Traditionalists, and influenced by philosophers like Nietzsche, Julius Evola (here’s an AR exploration), and Alain de Benoist, founder of the French New Right, and author of “On Being A Pagan”. The immensely Pagan-friendly journal Tyr describes itself as a radical traditionalist publication. The common threads within radical traditionalism seem to be a shared hostility for modern culture, a desire to return to a more tribal-based system of social organization, and a hostility to modern forms of liberalism and conservatism. The heavy “blood and soil” (and outright racist) elements within some radical traditionalist camps have some critics saying it’s a sanitized neo-fascism (though there are tensions between traditionalists and fascists).

I didn’t give that preamble last time I mentioned Alternative Right, since I didn’t, at first, notice that it was a radical traditionalist-based site. Ford’s anti-pagan and pro-Christian attitudes on the site especially threw me off of the scent, since the radical traditionalist crowd are usually pretty down with (some) forms of modern Paganism, or at least a certain sort of philosophical polytheism. Which brings me to the reason for today’s post. After the debate and controversy of Ford’s editorial, the site has posted a series of pro-Pagan rebuttals, including one from Stephen McNallen, leader of the Asatru Folk Assembly.

“‘Pagan,’ as I use the term, does not mean lacking a moral code. It does not mean rituals mixing Isis, Thor, and American Indian beliefs, with a little lesbian-feminist philosophy thrown in for good (or bad) measure. It is not a hobby, a pastime, or an affectation … Generally, I avoid using the word “pagan” because of the nonsense done by some people under that name. (The primitive and puerile are, unfortunately, out there.) Usually, I call my practice “a native European religion.” I’m only using “pagan” in this essay because most of you will be familiar with the word in the context of the Alternative Right and Radical Traditionalism … There are only two kinds of religions in the world. One kind, like Christianity, Islam, or Scientology, lacks any roots in blood or soil … The other category includes the ones we call pagan, or native, or indigenous religions.  They are innately tied to a specific people and cannot be transferred to another group without losing their truth, power, and integrity. Such religions are the distilled experience of a specific biological and cultural group from its very beginning.”

So what are the advantages of belonging to a religion with “roots in blood or soil”?

“Obviously, such a folk-based religion has strong advantages for any group trying to preserve its physical and cultural existence. Continuation of the people in question becomes a religious imperative. It creates a strong in-group, encourages healthy families, elevates a heroic ethic, and teaches the hard virtues of loyalty, courage, and honor.  I don’t think anyone reading these words is likely to have a problem with that.”

That’s pretty boilerplate stuff from groups like the AFA that try to walk the “folkish” line while rejecting the idea of racial supremacy. So instead of getting into the mire that is the folkish/racist debate, I wanted to focus more on his opening comments, where he strives to distance himself from the larger modern Pagan community.  That too is nothing new, many Asatru refuse to use the term “Pagan”, preferring to call themselves “Heathens” instead, and are often quite dismissive of other Pagan groups, with their greatest ire saved for the dreaded “Wicca-tru”, that is, Wiccans who worship Germanic gods/incorporate Asatru elements into their practices. Which again, is fine. We don’t all have to hold hands and sing “kumbaya” with each other. What I’m wondering is if Stephen McNallen wants to be part of the larger Pagan rights coalition or not.

He certainly seems to want to join forces with the larger modern Pagan community when it suits his interests, but then pretty much says he doesn’t even consider whole swathes of modern Pagandom to be Pagan. So does he simply bite his tongue when he shakes hands with Selena Fox, or what? I point this out because it seems he’s telling the radical traditionalists he’ll have nothing to do with “those Pagans”, the ones who include a little “lesbian-feminist philosophy” in the mix (which would place Feri and Reclaiming outside of McNallen’s “Pagan” zone), but “those Pagans” are often on the front lines of legal battles that directly benefit all Pagan religions. They are often the activists, organizers, and structure-builders, and like them or not, are an integral part of the larger modern Pagan movement.

In the end it comes down to this. I don’t have to like all Pagans, I certainly don’t have to practice with all Pagans, and I’m long over the notion of any sort of real “Pagan Unity” ever being feasible, but a broader idea of solidarity is important if we are to capitalize and build on the legal, political, and social gains we have made. When we trash each other to impress other groups or individuals, we don’t damage the integrity or utility of those other religions and traditions, but we do harm the vital solidarity necessary to get the things we all want. This doesn’t mean you can’t draw distinctions or even civilly criticize paths different from your own, but when folks start implying that you shouldn’t be in the larger movement, that’s counter-productive and drains enthusiasm from the activists working for the rights of all Pagans.