Archives For Heathen

A ceremonial offering bowl, containing Thor and Spam. Photograph courtesy Lauren Pond.

A ceremonial offering bowl, containing Thor and Spam. Photograph courtesy Lauren Pond.

Lauren Pond’s photography had me the first time I saw the Spam. In a photoessay about Heathens, one would expect to find pictures of things like wooden statuettes, leather belts, and offering bowls – the kinds of items that have an intrinsic ritual significance, which seem to automatically activate the area of the brain designated for religion. But one does not expect to find the blue cans of meat nestled in right next to these icons. Of all the things I have read about Valgard Murray, the controversial (to say the least) leader of Asatru Alliance and owner of the items in the photograph, the depths of his predilection for Spam were not among them. But Lauren Pond’s pictures focus on exactly these sorts of details – the human quirks of religious cultures that are often drowned in the seas of theology and ritual.

Pond has been photographing religious communities since 2006, when she traveled to the Indian city Vrindavan, known for being home to more than 15,000 Hindu and Hare Krishna widows. Her photos of the widows capture them attempting to survive despite their cultural stigma. They visit ashrams not only for spiritual reasons, but also for the rupees dispensed for their participation. “I didn’t think of it as a religion documentary at the time,” Pond said. “I thought of it as a humanitarian story.” But gradually Pond began to see that religion was the thread tying her work together. “I never thought that I would be documenting that,” she said, “but I decided that was what I wanted to focus on.”

Since her documentary in Vrindavan, Pond has photographed a number of religious communities. Her photoessays tend to focus on congregations on the fringes of society. Her essay Les Talibes covers the lives of Senegalese children who beg for money while studying the Qur’an. Test of Faith, The Next Generation and A Struggling Tradition examine three very different Pentecostal congregations in the southern United States. Pond takes an ethnographic approach to her work, and in some cases she has spent years developing a rapport with the people she photographs. “I’m not a member [of any of these communities] and I don’t participate in any of the rituals I photograph, but I like to develop a relationship with people,” she said. “That’s why I work on projects for long periods of time, too. That’s what helps build the trust.”

A group of Heathens march to a ritual at Christopher Creek, Arizona. Courtesy of Lauren Pond.

A group of Heathens march to a ritual at Christopher Creek, Arizona.
Photograph courtesy of Lauren Pond.

Among the religious groups Pond has worked with are American Asatruar. Pond has been photographing Heathens since 2010, working with groups in Ohio, California, and Arizona. She covers these experiences in her essay American Heathens, which focuses primarily on her visits to events held by Asatru Alliance in Arizona. The photographs in American Heathens seem to dwell on the apparent anachronisms of their subjects: the photos show Heathens in Viking tunics being photographed by smartphones, longships painted on camper trailers, beer cans scattered among waraxes. Pond says those contrasts are what intrigue her about Asatru: “It’s that blend of American culture and the religious aspects.”

“In photography especially, in our portrayals of religion, I think we tend to focus on the theology and the belief system,” says Pond, “but there is so much outside of that which would help to contextualize the actual beliefs and rituals that gets ignored entirely.” With her work on Asatru, Pond says that, unfortunately, she is more limited to photographing the ceremonial events than she is with some of her other projects, mostly due to time and travel constraints. “I wish I were able to visit on a more daily basis and spend time with them, but it just hasn’t happened so far. Of course, at the Yule Festivals and the Althing, there is a lot of hanging around, but it’s still not daily life.”

Even within the current limitations of the project, however, Pond’s interest in the mixture of the “mundane” with the “ceremonial” remains apparent. In the above photograph, for instance, Heathens in ritual clothing, led by a man holding a spear, are marching off to their rites – yet Pond’s framing of the picture makes sure to include the campground shelter and the village of nylon tents. The photo makes clear that both the “sacred” and “profane” elements of this scene are integral parts of the religious experience.

In the future, Pond hopes to expand her work on Heathenry to include more groups. In addition to the American Heathens essay, the Singles section of her website includes photographs of Heathens in her home state of Ohio, as well as members of a prison kindred in California. She has also attended a Troth Yule ceremony and hopes to soon photograph Heathen communities outside the United States as well. Pond’s American Heathens, along with Jennifer Snook’s recent book – also titled American Heathens – suggests that a turn toward ethnography in work about Heathenry is upon us. Pond thinks that this ethnographic approach is important because of how it humanizes religion. “When you study just theology, all you see is the differences between religions,” she says. “When you break it down into daily life – into moments – you begin to see the people.”

Katherine Stewart and Grant Smith try to ward off storm clouds. Photograph courtesy Lauren Pond.

Katherine Stewart and Grant Smith try to ward off storm clouds.
Photograph courtesy Lauren Pond.

When I ask Lauren Pond which photograph in her essay means the most to her, she pauses to think, then directs me to a picture of a man and a woman with their arms raised towards the sky, which glows in vivid blue and pink. “They were having a blot – I want to say it was the Odin blot,” Pond recalls of the photo, taken at a Heathen gathering she photographed at Christopher Creek, Arizona, in 2014. “There were these clouds rolling in all day, and just after the blot started, the skies opened up. That particular image was right before the downpour. They were gathered over by the edge of the campground and were asking for protection.” Pond, who also does nature photography, found this confrontation between the Heathens and the sky fascinating. “I think what was most interesting to me was that, in that moment, there was a definite connection between people and nature.” Ultimately the invocation failed – the downpour came and everyone had to run for cover, and the rest of the weekend was rained out. “I slept in my car,” says Pond. “I guess Arizona has a monsoon season.”


All images were used with permission from the artist and under copyright. © 2006-2015 Lauren Pond. All rights reserved.

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

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

[Courtesy U.S. Army]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bilden som visar objektet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

asatruarfelagid logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið 2009 [Photo Credit: Lenka Kovářová]

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið 2009 [Photo Credit: Lenka Kovářová]

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

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

Column: North

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

Photo by the author.

[Warning: contains carnivorous behavior.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

perlan in the distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hof cutaway 2

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

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

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


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

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

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/]

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

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

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

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

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

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

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



[1] Sic.

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

The Republic of Costa Rica, nestled in Central America, is a small country home to approximately 4,300,000 people. According to the country’s tourism service, Costa Rica’s small landmass “shelters 5 percent of the existing biodiversity in the entire world.” As such it has become a prime tropical tourist destination for travelers wanting an exotic or natural vacation experience. Much of that may not surprise anyone. However, what is surprising is that Costa Rica is home to a burgeoning Heathen community.

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

“I have always been interested in ancient cultures,” said Esteban Sevilla Quiros. “When I was little I was fascinated with Greek Mythology and many other ancient beliefs. But one day I found the Mjölnir in a Symbol Dictionary and started to investigate more about Norse Mythology. This led me to find the Asatru faith.”

Sevilla Quiros is the goði for Kindred Irminsul, the first organized Asatru group in Costa Rica. He shared with us his experience as a Heathen in Costa Rica. “Some of my friends already knew about [Asatru],” he explained. “One day someone in a sarcastic and challenging tone told us ‘If you guys are all asatruar why don’t you get organized…’This got me thinking and I immediately replied to the others ‘why not?'”

In September 2010, Sevilla Quiros and his friends officially formed Kindred Irminsul. Wanting help and community, they reached out beyond their borders to The Troth, who answered the call. The following spring, Idunna, the Troth’s official journal, featured an article about Kindred Irminsul. Then, as Sevilla Quiros recalled, “in October 2012 we had the visit [from] Victoria Clare, former Steerswoman of The Troth, she traveled to Costa Rica and helped us out in several subjects regarding Heathenry and held a Winter Night’s blot and a Seidr session for all of us.”

It wasn’t long after establishing itself that Kindred Irminsul was joined by new kindreds. Within a year, the country boasted a total of six Heathen groups. Unfortunately, due to differences in theological interpretations, the new kindreds generally kept to themselves.

At the same time, Kindred Irminsul began reaching out to Costa Rica’s Pagan organizations with the hope of developing public works and fostering a stronger community within the Catholic nation. Sevilla Quiros noted, “Costa Rica is a Catholic confessional state. Pagan or Heathen religions are not illegal, but people get scared and call the police on you if they see you practicing in public.”

According to recent statistics,”76.3 percent of Costa Ricans identify as Catholic.” An additional 15.7 percent practice other Christian religions. The remaining 8% of the population reported being atheist or practicing other montheistic religions. Sevilla Quiros said that most of his Kindred members came from a Catholic background but passed through Atheism before finding Asatru.

The 2014 winternights blót, which was attended by 3 kindreds. [Courtesy Photo]

The 2014 winternights blót, which was attended by 3 kindreds. [Courtesy Photo]

In 2012, Kindred Irminsul and other small Pagan groups joined together to form the Alianza Pagana de Costa Rica. This alliance includes Asatruar, Roman Reconstructionists, Wiccans and Druids. In 2013, the newly formed alliance organized its first Pagan Pride Day. Sevilla Quiros added enthusiastically, “The PPD led us to re-establish our relationship with one of the kindreds we were with previously, the Volsungr Hearth. And recently, two former members and their Kindreds have [also] rejoined our projects for a greater good.” The birth of the alliance not only brought together Pagan and Heathen groups, but it also helped reunite a portion of the Costa Rican Heathen community.

Together these united Kindred have applied for legal recognition as a religious association, that will be called the Asociación Ásatrú Yggdrasil de Costa Rica. While Costa Rica is a Catholic country by constitutional law, it does allow for the practice of minority religions. With this special legal designation, Sevilla Quiros explained, “We can’t be kicked out for making rituals in public; we can get some privileges for our holidays, like getting days off or vacations for that specific date, acquire land and a building free of taxes, tax exempt donations.” If all goes as planned, the new Asatru association will have its papers by April.

Unfortunately, legal recognition will not automatically end religious discrimination for Heathen practitioners, who still remain an overwhelmingly small minority in Costa Rica. Sevilla Quiros lamented, “We still get discriminated [against] in our workplaces, public spaces and within our families, just like everywhere else, but we are not extremely harassed.”

The Kindred has also faced problems originating from within the Pagan and Heathen world. Because Asatru is so uncommon in Costa Rica, many people mistake it for a New Age practice or Wicca. Sevilla Quiros said that seekers often think “Heathenry is a witches’ religion centered on tarot and rune readings, magic crystals.” He added, “I guess this happens everywhere. It is something we have to work with every time someone new comes in.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

In its work and public outreach, Kindred Irminsul always stresses it’s dedication to Norse traditions. For some people, this religion, based on a mythology and history originating in a land so distant and different from Costa Rica, may be a source of confusion. Even if it hasn’t, the cultural difference and regional distance has caused another, entirely different, problem.

In establishing themselves and reaching out to the greater Heathen world, they have run into bigotry. All of Kindred Irminsul’s members are native to Costa Rica. Sevilla Quiros said that its membership is “mostly a mix of Europeans and indigenous peoples, some are white, some are brown, it is a 50/50 ratio.” He added, “We received backlash from folkish and racist Heathens several times, especially at the beginning … We decided to continue anyway. That’s where the Troth helped us out. We still get some hateful comments on Facebook but that’s it.”

In a country and a land so rich in its own natural and native spirituality, it may seem odd to some that Sevilla Quiros and other Costa Ricans are not drawn to the spirit of their own land. Sevilla Quiros explained, “I was always curious about indigenous beliefs, such as the Bribri religion, it is an animistic religion but I didn’t really feel connected to it, though I am not sure if they would let me in into their tribes.” Instead, it was the Norse traditions that fed his spirit and that of others.

But Sevilla Quiros did say that their form of Heathenry does carry a flavor that comes from being Costa Rican. He explained, “As a Kindred we might have our unique things, but I think they are mostly about the Costa Rican culture itself, the “Tico” culture and our “Pura Vida” attitude.”

Together with the other members of the Pagan Alliance, Kindred Irminsul remains in the public eye with the aim of educating the local population and bringing change to religious laws. On Dec. 4, Costa Rican channel Canal Nueve interviewed the group on its national show Universos Desconocidos.

The producers have scheduled two more appearances for the Pagan Alliance, both of which will air in January.

Sevilla Quiros has also tried to maintain his own personal connection to the international community and to the Troth. As a small country with a tiny Heathen population, resources are limited so this has always been important to him. Unfortunately he has yet to have the funds or time to travel to any large international events. In the meantime, Sevilla Quiros does what he can to stay connected. Kindred Irminsul was one of the many Heathen groups that published a community support statement in response to Ferguson.

In addition, Sevilla Quiros has published a plea on Facebook to the international Heathen community. He asked that everyone help his community grow by publishing works in Spanish or allowing their works to be translated. On Dec. 9, he wrote, in part:

… I would like to kindly ask all the heathen writers to send your books and articles for translation, it will be good for your business and it will be good for us too, We will keep your work untouched and we will be well informed … Hispanic heathenry is growing way too fast, and you can’t think that they all will learn English just to buy your book. Let’s do it for the sake of knowledge, for the sake of heathenry around the world.

As is noted in this Facebook plea and is evident by the Kindred Irminsul’s story, the population of people practicing Heathenry, and even Paganism, is growing in Costa Rica, and other countries in the Americas. While each nation may add its own cultural flavor to its religious practice, the connection to a specific mythology and tradition, whether it be Norse or something else, can bring people together from around the globe who might otherwise never connect. Kindred Irminsul now joins that extended global Heathen world.

*   *   *

Click here for the Spanish version of the above article.


Correction: Kindred Irminsul has applied for legal recognition together with other local Asatru organizations. The original article suggested that they did so alone. That correction has been made in the body of the text above.

Robert Rudachyk is seeking the nomination to become the Liberal Party of Canada‘s candidate for the federal riding of Saskatoon West. What makes this run for office unusual is that Rudachyk appears to be the first openly Heathen candidate to run for public office in Canada.

Robert Rudachyk [photo provided byRudachyk]

Robert Rudachyk [Courtesy Photo]

The nomination meeting is set for November 12 and the political process is very different, and much more complex, than what may be familiar to U.S. readers. In order to be nominated as a candidate, Rudachyk needed to first collect at least $1000 in donations and get the signatures of 10% of the party members in the riding (a area similar to an American electoral district), or recruit enough new members to sign his nomination papers to meet that number.

Since Rudachyk was able to do that, he then went on to fill out a detailed form about his background, financial status, education, every job and address he’s had for the last ten years, along with several work and personal references. All this information was reviewed by national and provincial committees for accuracy. Once past this step, Rudachyk signed a contract agreeing to abide by party rules and Canada’s election rules. He also agreed to be responsible for all costs associated with his campaign.This was, then, followed by an interview with the chair of the National Green Light committee.

Rudachyk has passed all these steps so he can now begin selling party memberships and try to gain support from party members at the nomination meeting. If Rudachyk were the only person running, he would simply be named the candidate at the meeting. However, since three other people have successfully completed all of these same steps, the party must hold a vote. Once a candidate has over 50% of the vote, that person becomes the candidate, subject to a final review by the party and its leader, as well as a thorough audit of their financial statements for the campaign.

If Rudachyk beats out the other three people running, he’ll be the official candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada running for a seat representing the riding of Saskatoon West in the Canadian Parliament in the October 2015 election.

So who is Robert Rudachyk?

Rudachyk is 47 years old and was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He has a B.Sc. degree is biology and is currently an Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator with NSC Minerals. He is married and has two children, and is active in his community, recently finishing a two year term as President of the local community association. He’s also been very active within his religious community and has worked for 24 years in community building. He is also a founding member and current admin for Heathens United Against Racism.

He describes the Liberal Party as a progressive centrist group, which has held power in Canada for most of its history. On his Facebook page, he’s been writing about his approach to different public policy issues, such as this post about his views on crime and punishment.

In the course of this career I have come to see all crimes as an incident no different that a workplace incident, and behind these incidents is a Root Cause. If you can eliminate the Root Cause, you can eliminate future incidents like this. It is the same for crime. Find the root cause of what is causing the individual to commit these crimes, and you will prevent them from re-offending.

He says that while he agrees with much of the platform of the Liberal Party, the views he writes about on his Facebook page are his own personal views.

Logo for the Liberal Party of Canada

Logo for the Liberal Party of Canada

The Wild Hunt talked with Rudachyk about his attempt to be named the Liberal Party candidate for a Parliament seat.

Cara Schulz: Is it true you could become the first openly Heathen candidate in Canada?

Robert Rudachyk: It is true, that I am the first openly Heathen/Pagan ever to be green lit to run for a nomination of a major political party at the federal level. Other Pagans have tried to run provincially or for fringe parties, but I am the first to do this at this level

CS: What challenges do you expect in your candidacy? Is religion as big a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S.?

RR: If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.

Religion and politics are not so intertwined here as they are in the U.S., and we have strong laws protecting people’s rights to worship as they see fit. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is enshrined in the Constitution of Canada gives us a greater degree of protection from religious persecution than most places, including the U.S. By the same token I need to show the general public that Heathens are regular people just like them so that I can earn their support.

To this end I have been very active in my community by taking on the role of the president of our community association for the previous two years, and I have worked hard to make my neighborhood a better and safer place to live and work. The political system here in Canada is also very different than in the U.S. We are a parliamentary democracy, and the fortunes of the party, in no small part, rise and fall with the popularity of the party leader. My purpose is to represent the interests of the people of my riding, the interests of Canadians, and the interests of Heathens and Pagans to ensure that they have a voice at the table when it comes to the affairs of governing this country.

CS: How does your faith affect your ethics?

RR: My faith is my ethics. I live by a code of honor that binds me to keep my word at all costs. I have long stood against the scourge of racism that has been a cancer for the Heathen faiths for a long time, and I carry that attitude through to my real life. I would rather die than compromise these ethics, and over my lifetime, this has caused me a great deal of suffering because I was not willing to bend my personal ethical code to suit others. I will take this with me if I win the nomination.

CS: Why did you decide to run for office?

RR: In many ways, I feel this is a calling for me, and my whole life has led me to this place. I come from a family that has been active in politics for several generations. My grandfather was a reeve in his local Rural Municipality, and my father was a long time city councilor in my home town. I was raised with the idea that to serve your community as a leader is a very high calling. Also my life experiences, which are many and varied, have given me a deeper empathy and understanding of what people need in a leader and how to listen to those needs.

CS: What does your local religious community think about your run?

RR: It varies. There is not a large Heathen community here in Saskatoon, but there is a well-established Pagan community overall. Back in the early 1990’s, I helped start the process of networking, which brought many of the solitary practitioners of this community together to meet and talk. Since then, others have taken up that role.

I did the same thing in Vancouver where I spent a large part of my adult life. In the early 1990’s, I also played a role there in getting the first Pagan organization recognized to perform legal marriages in Canada. In fact I attended the first legally recognized Pagan marriage ever done in Canada, and I am very proud of the role I had in helping our community achieve this.

The community has grown far beyond those early accomplishments and, looking back at all of it now, I am proud to have helped plant the seeds that these communities have grown into. As for how the local community feels about what I am doing, there are Pagans of all political stripes here, albeit mostly on the left wing. While many of them do not necessarily agree with my stances, they are overall encouraging that one of us has made it this far. I see that excitement growing if I achieve the nomination next week.

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According to the Liberal Party announcement, “the candidate selection meeting will be called to order on Wednesday, November 12th, at 6:00pm at Westmount Community School, 411 Avenue J N, Saskatoon, SK S7L 2K4. Speeches from nomination contestants will commence shortly thereafter.” Rudachyk says that if anyone wishes to send him positive energy to overcome his opponents in this race, he’d appreciate it. He added, “Let’s ask the gods to help make this a reality.”