Asatru and the Alternative Right

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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.