Letters to the Editor: Enacting Declaration 127

In March 2019, I participated in a panel session at Cherry Hill Seminary’s conference, Paganism & Its Discontents, on Declaration 127 and what we can do now. There was a consensus between panel members that Declaration 127 doesn’t go far enough to address folkism and its opposition to inclusivity. While the statement embraced by many inclusive Heathen groups does have extremely supportive words to build an inclusive community, I’ve heard many state that by focusing the statement primarily on the AFA, it weakens a statement that many Heathen groups want it to address: inclusivity and universalism over exclusion and folkism.

For those unfamiliar with its history, Declaration 127 was a reaction to the Asatru Folk Assembly’s (AFA) folkish statement that Heathenry, in their eyes, is for straight married couples and their white children. Many Heathen groups have signed the declaration in the years since its creation, but some don’t feel it goes far enough. While this opinion is focused on Heathenry, inclusivity is something paganism as a whole struggles with in varying degrees.

Declaration 127 is taken from the Hávamál, a poem of wisdom believed to be written by Odin himself. The Hávamál is usually found among other writings in the Poetic Edda; and verse 127 is the basis for Declaration 127: “When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frið” (frið/frith is an old English word meaning peace, safety, and security).

Folkism (the root of the AFA’s view on Heathenry) is the exclusionary belief that your ancestral connections (your DNA and heritage) makes your connection to a spiritual practice more special than someone without said connection. Folkism also tends to feel that only people of that heritage, in this case Heathenry, should be practiced by people with that genetic ancestry. Folkism takes that ancestral connection and states that you can’t fit in if you don’t have the blood connection. Inclusivity counters this by letting people from all races join into the spiritual practice. Folkism creates a gateway in which to keep those people that don’t fit what they want out of their faith.

But really, who are we to speak for the gods? Who are we to decide who hears a call to work with them and who is not acceptable to them?

I don’t dare.

Folkism does. Folkism insists that a blood connection to ancestors offers an edge to a spiritual path over those who may not have the same heritage. There’s nothing wrong with finding out you have a strong Germanic connection through a DNA test and that makes you look into Heathenry, but it is folkish to assert that it makes you, somehow privileges you, to follow that path. Curiosity and exploring a Pagan path due to your ancestors is natural and inspires many to follow the paths we do. Heritage can – and perhaps should – inspire but it should not create spiritual discrimination.

But there is also a missing piece that we must work toward understanding better. In Heathenry, we are called to be aware of how we interact with and respect others both personally and as a group. The concept is called innengarð, which is the members of your kindred, family, or friends as well as members of your faith versus those outside of it which is known as the outengarð. Innengarð and outengarð were historically about those within the law and the protection of it versus those who are outside of it. Folkism is all about weaponizing the innengarð/outengarð concept and turning it into us vs. them. It’s what drives white nationalism, racism, and other exclusionary viewpoints based around dislike and hatred towards the “Other”.

Georg von Rosen Oden som vandringsman 1886 Odin the Wanderer

Odin from an illustration from Fredrik Sander’s 1893 Swedish edition of the Poetic Edda [Wikimedia Commons]

The rise of Brosatru parallels that weaponization. A portmanteau of “bro” culture and Ásatrú, Brosatru is boisterous and chauvinistic Heathenry. It’s about being loud, aggressive, argumentative, bellicose, and viewing Heathenry as being for strong warrior types. Brosatru looks down at those who don’t fit that mold, sadly including women regardless of their own identification as warriors. To them, women are supporting figures who should remain quiet rather than equals who deserve respect. There’s a reason why more inclusive Heathens use the insult of “Brosatru” when talking about how some male Heathens act like Heathenry is a “boys’ club” more for men than for women.

It doesn’t stop there either. Brosatru excludes anyone who doesn’t present as stereotypically strong and masculine. That includes members of the LGBTQIA+ community or anyone for that matter who choose to present themselves outside of Brosatru expectations. It also includes people who are differently-challenged physically and emotionally because they do not represent the masculine warrior ideal.

The construction of Hethenry around the ideas of Folkism and Brosatru damages Heathenry, not just in perception but in the matter that each causes exclusion. This is why I believe we must collectively take another look at the statement that lies at the core of Declaration 127: “When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frið.”

A flaw I’ve seen with Declaration 127 is that most feel that inclusivity is a passive way of being. Letting in people of different backgrounds, genders, skin colors, nationalities, or members of the LGBTQIA+ community into your group is a start.

A truly inclusive community goes further: We are richer for welcoming individuals with different abilities as well as physical and emotional challenges in their life. We need to listen to them and treat them with honor and respect.

We need to be inclusive towards other Pagans and not treat them as the Other. We need to be welcoming to those who are curious about Heathenry and Paganism no matter their level of knowledge rather than treat them as outsiders. Our challenge is to welcome them because the god call whomever they call. Whenever you welcome the other, you are upholding those words from Odin.

Odin is a god of action, not passivity. Throughout the Hávamál, Odin gives sagely advice to the reader on how to interact with others as a traveler and as a Heathen. Hávamál verse 127 is about speaking out when you see evil. When you see exclusivity in your Pagan group or in the world, speaking out against it is action. Speaking out against exclusivity is following the words of Odin.

It is hard to speak out. It is often easier to turn away; but doing so for the sake of peace is not action. It lets the problem fester. Inclusivity must become an active way of being.

J. Michael Rollins

Mr. Rollins is a member of ADF and a founding member of Berkano Hearth Union as well as clergy. His blog can be found at http://www.urban-druid.com where he writes about Druidry, Heathenry, prayers, rituals, general pagan and philosophical thought.

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