Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Month: May 2014

Asatru Prisoner News: Leishman v. Patterson et al

Out of Utah comes the case of Leishman v. Patterson et al, where an Asatru prisoner claimed he was denied rune tokens made of wood (he was offered cards or runes made out of some synthetic material, probably plastic) and was not allowed to perform blót for more than ten years, apparently because blót is a communal ritual and prison rules require a non-inmate to “monitor or lead” such a ceremony, and no volunteers are available (the prison apparently is trying to get a Wiccan in to do the job, but one wonders how getting a Mormon in to do a Catholic mass would fly).

The use of wooden runes was disallowed because small pieces of wood can be used to jam locks and the like (but apparently small pieces of plastic cannot do that?), even though Amerindian prisoners are allowed to do so thanks to a special exception carved out in a different case. The prison officials also enjoy qualified immunity.

Case (against the prison officials) dismissed.

Mr. Leishman is in a maximum security prison after pleading guilty to the 1997 murder of two rival gang members in West Valley City, UT.

A Lokean sums it up

Read on the web this weekend, written by a Lokean in a post about why Heathens “hate” Lokeans:

“Many Lokeans I know live with physical disabilities, chronic illness, or are neurodivergent.”

That should tell you all you need to know about worshiping Loki.

Everything wrong with Town of Greece v. Galloway in one headline

This says it all.

It’s not the subheader. I expect the Christians to regard my Gods as “false”, just as I regard their god as a fraud. That just comes with the territory of dealing with folks who don’t share one’s own beliefs.

The problem is that parenthetical.

They “let” Pagans pray before public meetings. For them, the Christian majority, prayer before public meetings is a right. For us, the non-Christian minority, it’s a privilege, something doled out at the sufferance of the Christians whose nation this is, and to whom we should be eternally grateful to even be allowed to be here.

They “let” Pagans pray. Just let that sink in. That’s how they think about it.

And what they “let” Pagans do today, they can refuse to “let” them do tomorrow.

Don’t think that’s escaped their thinking, either.

Science and Asatru

One of the benefits of Asatru is that it manages, for the most part, to escape the “science vs. religion” debate that so often dogs some Christian, Muslim, and Hindu denominations (as well as others, to a lesser extent).

The essential cause of that friction is that these literalist (often called “fundamentalist”) interpretations of religious texts and ideologies are directly contradicted by contemporary science. Creationism (which is just as prevalent – perhaps even moreso – in Islam than it is in Christianity) is flatly contradicted by modern biology, geology, physics, astronomy, etc. Hindu fundamentalists get references to historical eating of beef in ancient times banned, despite archaeological and textual evidence to support it. Indian anti-superstition advocates are assassinated by Hindu fanatics who fear that their precious gurus and swamis who claim superpowers, or pseudosciences such as astrology, will be undermined.

Asatru has its own mythology, and its own creation stories. There are historical accounts of social mores and religious customs. But somehow this doesn’t lead to clashes between Asatru and the scientific, historical, or other establishments. Why is that?

Frankly, Asatru is more about presenting a framework for human interaction than making claims about supernatural influence over the world.

Yes, it is entirely true that there are sacrifices to the Gods at specific intervals, but nobody really thinks that the crops won’t ripen if the last sheaf of wheat isn’t left for Sleipnir. There are folks who practice galdr (rune-magic) and seidr (another kind of magic often erroneously associated with shamanism), but within Asatru such practitioners are in a distinct minority. So specific failures of the magical arts are seen as limited to the practitioner in question, rather than being something that undermines the entire basis of the religion.

On the other hand, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism all make specific claims about history and science which, if disproved, definitively undermine the messages of their respective religions. No original sin in Eden that needs to be atoned for, or resurrection on the cross that does the atoning? Christianity loses a lot of its argument-through-guilt. No Moses and forty years in the desert before the Israelites reach Sinai? Judaism loses a lot of its historical authority.

It should be noted, of course, that there are plenty of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus who are perfectly comfortable with science because they do not require a literal interpretation of their holy books in order to see wisdom in their moral teachings. I don’t have to agree with those teachings in order to see that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a moral precept that can be applied independent of a miraculous creation and resurrection.

Asatru has no “central miracle” (or miracles) that provides the foundation for its authority. And thus, there is no central miracle that can be disproved by science or history to undermine its moral code. Christians who need a Creation in Eden to justify all the other things that Christianity brings are right to be terrified of the overwhelming scientific evidence of evolution; they’re still idiots, but one can understand the source of their anxiety. The central core of Asatru doesn’t disappear just because astronomy teaches us that there are more than Nine Worlds.

The heart of Asatru is the interaction between individuals. Rituals such as blot and sumbel are as much social occasions that bring the Folk together as they are metaphysical attempts to communicate with the gods and land-wights. The point is that the people who only believe the former don’t undermine those who believe the latter as well. It’s more about the concepts of honor, and shame, and kinship, and so forth.

You’re much more likely to find two Asatruar, who agree on almost nothing else, agreeing that “one should live an honorable life” or “family is the most important thing.” That’s the heart of the faith, regardless of how it’s interpreted and spun out. Those are sentiments that science or history will never undermine. Perhaps therein lies Stephen J. Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria. Our religion doesn’t claim to be predictive in the scientific sense. It’s prescriptive in the moral sense, and doesn’t rely on anything other than centuries of tradition to establish its authority.

Viking Winter Camps

From  the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies, at Western Michigan University on May 8, 2014.


(h/t to

On Town of Greece v. Galloway

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. The case stemmed from the practice of the town of Greece, NY, to start its town council meetings with a sectarian Christian prayer, often invoking “Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior,” and similar phrasings. After some local residents complained, the town brought in some non-Christians to give the prayer, but returned to all-Christian prayers after a year or so.

Although many are characterizing the ruling as a victory for the conservative wing of the Court, I must disagree. It is, in fact, a victory for the Christian wing of the Court.

Consider the religious affiliations of the Justices in the way they voted:

FOR Christian prayer before government meetings:

  • John Roberts (Catholic)
  • Anthony M. Kennedy (Catholic)
  • Antonin Scalia (Catholic)
  • Clarence Thomas (Catholic)
  • Samuel Alito (Catholic)
AGAINST Christian prayer before government meetings:
  • Stephen G. Breyer (Jewish)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jewish)
  • Elena Kagen (Jewish)
  • Sonia Sotomayor (Catholic)

Bear in mind that, although Kennedy votes more often with the conservative wing of the Court than the liberal, he is by no means a party-line ideologue like Scalia or Thomas. He is the “swing vote” on the Court, and could have gone either way on this question. But… it’s easy to say that majoritarian prayers don’t have any harm if you’re in the majority.

Notice who voted against this. All of the non-Christian members of the court, and Sotomayor, who would probably burst into flames if she ever voted with Scalia and Thomas on any issue. The non-Christian Justices know what it’s like to be in a country that “tolerates” people whose religion isn’t the majority, and they (rightly) said that there is a very real sense of exclusion and coercion that attends such activities when they’re undertaken in the context of an official government function.

Make no mistake. This was not a conservative victory. This was a Christian victory. A victory for those who think that the views of the majority can and should be forced on the minority, who think that the minority should simply shut up and be thankful that we’re allowed to practice our blasphemous faiths in this country at all. And that point of view transcends party. Bigotry practiced by a majority and endorsed by force of law is no less bigotry.

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