Glastonbury, UK – The Telegraph newspaper has been undertaking an undercover investigation, which revealed this week that a far-right neo Nazi group has been conducting rituals at the stone circles of Avebury and has also vandalized the area around the ancient monument of Wayland’s Smithy in Oxfordshire. The National Trust has agreed to step up security at the latter site, in particular (for those who don’t know it, Avebury covers an extensive area and is difficult to patrol or cover with CCTV).
The National Trust have called in the police after the reports of the Avebury rituals, but that these have been taking place is not news to many British pagans who have been aware of rumours of Nazi rituals at the stone circle for some time. There have also been rumours about the group, or similar, using Wayland’s Smithy for rituals since 2009. Swastikas have been carved onto trees around the Smithy and the group has apparently conducted masked torch-lit rituals there.
The group in question calls itself ‘Woden’s Folk,’ and promises its followers ‘rewards in the afterlife’ if its members ‘die in the struggle for freedom’ (it claims to be launching an ‘English Resistance’). It asks its followers to ‘take back’ ancient monuments (resulting in some sarcastic responses from more historically aware UK pagans, since neither Avebury nor the Neolithic burial chamber of Wayland’s Smithy are Saxon in origin). The group dates from the late 90s and was founded by Wulf Ingessunu, after an alleged series of mystical experiences following the appearance of the Hale Bopp comet. Ingessunu claims, among other statements, that Hitler was a reincarnation of the god Woden. It has been noted that the group appears to derive some of its theological underpinnings from the popular 1980s television show, Robin of Sherwood. The group is anti-globalist and promotes private gun ownership (currently broadly illegal in the UK). They do not appear to be connected to the Texan Heathen organisation Woden’s Folk Kindred.
Members of Combat 18, a neo Nazi group with links to football hooliganism, and National Action, a banned far-right terrorist organization, also appear to have attended the Avebury rituals, including, allegedly, Garron Helm, a National Action member recently jailed for sending anti-Semitic hate messages to MP Luciana Berger.
The National Trust say that they do not “condone, support or encourage any non-peaceful, antisocial or illegal activities at any of our places” and the recent vandalism has also given rise to statements from the British Druid Order and the Pagan Federation. The BDO states:
As Druids, we work with folk of many traditions and cultures and have shared ceremony with Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, Sami, Shinto, Asatru, Heathens, Wiccans, Christians, Buddhists, Bah’ai and many others.
Those who come to us in search of narrow-minded nationalism are quickly disabused of the idea. Most leave equally quickly. If they don’t, and attempt to spread hatred, we remove them. A few stick around and have their ideas radically changed by association with us. To abandon long-held prejudices and adopt new ways of looking at the world is neither easy or comfortable and we applaud their courage.
For the record, we also vehemently oppose any and all discrimination, abuse or hatred based on a person’s gender or sexual preferences, mode of dress, hairstyle or religious affiliation.
The Pagan Federation has also issued a joint statement with Heathen organisation Asatru UK:
Asatru U.K. is categorically opposed to fascist movements, or any movements, using the symbols of our faith for hate. We welcome exposure of the thin veneer of faith such groups use to attract and subvert those who would follow the gods.
Our group, Asatru U.K., was founded in 2013 on principles of inclusion, and has worked for years to both expose the mis-use of our faith, and to demonstrate by our actions that Heathenry is a faith for ALL
The thousands of modern heathens of all ethnic backgrounds practicing their faith, supporting their communities, and raising their families with inclusive values, are disgusted at the misuse of our gods and our historical sites.
Across Britain today inclusive Heathenry grows. Asatru UK is proud to be leading this movement of people, proud to take a stand against hate in any form, and proud to share a true understanding of our faith. Proud to oppose the abuse and damage of ancient pagan sites and monuments, and support ongoing protection and preservation of these locations.
Our group has met twice at Wayland’s Smithy, making sure to respect the location and its upkeep by following the old adage of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories”. We are wholly supported in our efforts by the decades of volunteer advocacy by the Pagan Federation, which since 1971 has sought to debunk outdated ideas about the revival of ancient beliefs.
Whilst the British pagan community has applauded the Telegraph for its uncovering of neo Nazi involvement, some reservations have been expressed about the newspaper giving the impression that all Heathens may have the same political views as these far right organisations. This is by no means the case, as the statement above illustrates. Asatru UK go on to say
“The press has a responsibility to shine a spotlight on those who seek to bring hate to all communities and have a duty to do so in a balanced manner. The Daily Telegraph article of 9 August 2019 failed to do so by its suggestion that right wing extremist pseudo-religious groups are the majority of heathen practitioners – they are not.”
British Heathen and Norse groups have the same problem as those in the States: working hard to differentiate themselves from those organizations who espouse a nationalistic and fascist agenda and who do not represent the faith as a whole. Meanwhile, the issues of vandalism are in the hands of the police and we would further note that the UK has relatively stringent laws over the production of hate speech, so this is not only a question of physical damage to ancient monuments.