Theodish Thoughts

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

Month: April 2016

On Sacral Leadership

Over at Pathetic Pagan, there is actually a good article by Kiya Nicoll entitled A Defense of Sacred Kingship. It’s from the Khemetic (Egyptian recon) point of view, but it’s aimed squarely at the current debate sparked by you-know-who concerning leadership and egalitarianism. And it has a lot of relevance for Heathens.

One of the things that struck me about Ms. Nicoll’s article was the way she framed the institution of sacral leadership (she uses the phrase sacral kingship, but I contend that the role isn’t necessarily limited to the title of “king”). The sacral leader isn’t someone who is better at everything, and thus has the reigns of leadership. He is the individual who is simply the best at being the sacral leader, in the same way that the blacksmith is simply the best at blacksmithing, the warriors are the ones who are best at being warriors, and so forth.

As I commented over at her blog post, from my own experience as a Theodsman, the trouble is that the person in the role of sacral leader tend to either let it go to their heads, or get overwhelmed by it and crash and burn. I’ve seen it happen a half-dozen times (including one particular example that has been in the news lately), and I can only think of one Theodish sacral lord who’s been in the role long enough to count, to whom it hasn’t happened, even if they returned to the role later on.

I think the selection process is crucial if the institution is to actually work on a practical level, and yet that’s something that is often left out, or done as an afterthought. It’s usually, “I started the group, so I’m the king”, but too often starting the group, or even coming up with the concept, isn’t the same “at what” as actually being the sacral leader on a daily basis. Historically, this was done at thing, where the assembly chose the sacral leader from a pool of available candidates. It didn’t necessarily go to the eldest son of the previous king, but to someone who the assembly felt had the best qualities to fulfill the function. Of course they weren’t always right, and naturally sometimes the king was just the guy who had the biggest army, but on a theoretical level, our ancestors had a pretty good process in place.

And what are those “best at” qualities when it comes to Germanic kingship? Prowess as a warrior, to be sure. But there are other qualities too. Cunning. Reverence for the gods (as Tacitus tells us, the king acts as the ultimate high priest for the tribe/nation, just as the head of the family does at the family or clan level). The ability to gather around him a retinue not only of great warriors, but wise counselors. Generosity, which includes the willingness to let those below the king do their jobs; let the magician do his magic, let the thulr do his teaching, and so forth.

In a Theodish context, there is also a direct requirement that the sacral leader be able to be the conduit for the luck of the tribe from the gods. That’s not a passive role; it requires constant and active work on behalf of the sacral leader to make all that happen. Those are the “mysteries” of sacral leadership.

I think that arrangement works within Asatru, as well. Naturally, most Asatru groups don’t have the sort of strict social hierarchy that we see in Theodism, but in the vast majority of cases there is a leader of some sort. I think if more Asatru goðar placed more emphasis on the sacral nature of the role, and undertook the behind-the-scenes sort of luck or soul work that we see in Theodism, it might add to the success of their group. It does imply, though, a separation between the sacral role of the goði and the organizational needs of a group. Which might not be a bad thing; after all, someone who’s good at soul or luck work isn’t necessarily the best at organization and logistics.

They have an Umbrella, We have a Hall

The circus sideshow that is the modern neopagan movement continues to whirl at blazing speed. There are accusations of atheist infiltration, Alt-Right infiltration, and even fundamentalist Christian infiltration. There are dire predictions of doom as the “end of the neopagan era” approaches, various neopagan factions tear each other apart with ever-growing invective, as the SJW’s become increasingly less tolerant of dissenting opinions, even to the point of accusing Dianic Wiccans of being transphobic for only wanting biological women in their rituals. Plus there’s the growing child sexual abuse problem within neopaganism, of which I believe only the tip of the iceberg has yet been sighted.

Is it any wonder we Asatruar actively resist being tagged with their “neopagan” or “pagan” labels? Why would anyone in their right mind want to get sucked into that morass of crap, ill luck, and politics?

But the follow-up question then becomes, why do I care? Why do I keep writing about it, and responding to neopagan writers?

The sad truth is that I do so because I must. In their zeal to attack one another, they sometimes splash their mud outside the scope of their precious “umbrella”, and it needs to be cleaned up by those of us outside their community. I try not to respond to their inter-community squabbles. I try to only respond when they feel compelled to attack my religion; Asatru (or Heathenry in general).

I’m quite content to let the monkeys fling their rhetorical shit at one another. When it hits me and mine, though, I’m going to take a rhetorical bat to said monkey’s head.

A lot of this stems from the stubborn insistence of some of them that, because we worship multiple gods, some of whom are also worshiped by some of them, and some of us go to the same events, that we must have more in common than we do differences. So naturally they assume we not only stand under the umbrella they thoughtfully hold out for us, but that we want to. In turn, they think that gives them the right to criticize what we, as Asatruar, do. Because in their mind, Asatru is part of the “greater neopagan community”, and thus, folks within that community have a right to criticize, and ultimately police, the goings-on within that community.

But they are oh so wrong.

Heathenry in general, and Asatru in particular, is, and always has been, its own thing. Founded across the world in the early 1970’s, a few years after modern neopaganism, we’ve developed in parallel with the neopagans. Because of the surface similarities, there’s been more than a little sharing and mutual support over the years. But where the neopagans mistook that for inclusion in a mutual community, the Asatruar couldn’t wait to let go and walk on our own. A few Asatruar continue to make the case for greater cohesion between the two, but they tend to be more inclined to disregard the core principles upon which Asatru in America was founded in the first place, and they might be better labeled as Germanic neopagans anyway. Not always, of course, but on the whole.

Seriously. Keep that thing away
from me, ya freak.

This is not a new argument between the Heathen and neopagan communities. I’ve been making the point since at least 2013, when there was a bit of a far-reaching discussion on the nature of “pagan identity” around the internet.

But the end result is that Heathenry, and Asatru in particular, is doing very well on its own, thank you very much. There are differences between groups, to be sure, and I’m not suggesting that everyone gets along in some idealistic paradise. But Asatru as a whole has matured, and grown, and pretty much maintained its cohesion over the years. We have tight-knit communities. We have international organizations that provide services that one normally associates with “mainstream” religions for their members, like making small loans for members in trouble financially. We are acquiring facilities, not because someone inherited some money, or cashed out a pension, but because our community as a whole stood up and supported the effort. We’re starting to become mainstream, and that’s a good thing.

Of course, some people are still singing the siren song of changing Asatru to be more like eclectic neopaganism. And in the process, they would destroy all of the things that makes Asatru unique. And ultimately, the failure of such a project comes down to the fact that Asatru and eclectic neopaganism are two different things. They’re not “other traditions” alongside Wicca within neopaganism.

Lucius Svartwulf Helsen says people need to just ignore the paganism of others. We Heathens have been doing that for going on forty years now, or at least trying to. Now if we can just get the neopagans to mind their own damn business, we’d all be happier.

The problem with umbrellas is that someone is always trying to grab the handle and move it, so it only covers the people they think should be covered. That’s what Rhyd and his ilk are doing most recently. And they’re able to do so precisely because eclectic neopaganism means something different to each and every eclectic neopagan. There are no guidelines, no standards, no real foundation for community whatsoever. There’s just a thousand different groups doing what feels right at the time, forming, merging, splitting, and reforming like bubbles in a boiling cauldron.

By contrast, Asatru has a hall, built on a solid foundation of a shared cultural tradition, reinforced by an ancestral connection to one another. We’ve had our ups and downs, to be sure, but the line on the chart has always been pointed towards steady growth. We have a built-in resistance to demagogues and fly-by-night pushers of ideology precisely because Asatru has a common basis; the pre-Christian beliefs of the Germanic peoples of Europe. There is allowance for variation within that basis, but take away that core, and what you’re left with just isn’t Asatru any more. It’s… something else.

Neopaganism can keep their rickety umbrella, and keep it far away from us. We’re doing just fine in our hall, thank you very much, and that hall just keeps getting bigger.

Why a Black Mass in Oklahoma Matters

Apparently Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has engaged the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall to perform a Black Mass in August.

Needless to say, the Christians, particularly the Catholics (who apparently believe they have a lock on performing any sort of “Mass”) have gone completely apeshit. One group, called Tradition, Family and Property, has even set up an online petition to shut them down, because in their words the event “offends more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide, 200,000 Catholics in Oklahoma and countless more God-loving Americans. Sacrilege is simply NOT free speech.”

The trouble is, that is 100% untrue.

Indeed, it may be argued that “sacrilege” is entirely, and explicitly, the reason for the First Amendment in the first place. Precisely because “sacrilege” is entirely in the eye of the beholder, it cannot possibly be subject to censure or interdiction by the forces of the state. What is “sacrilege” to a Catholic might be perfectly innocuous to a Mormon, what is abhorrent to a Muslim might be positively required by a Christian, and… to bring this home… what is worthy of death under the Old Testament might be the entire religion of a Wiccan.

It has been said before, but it bears repeating, that unpopular speech is exactly the sort of speech that needs protecting. Because nobody tries to ban speech that offends no one.

If anyone thinks that, given the freedom to shut down religious expression with which they disagree, the Catholic “Tradition, Family and Property” goons would be content to stop with the Satanic Temple, is simply deluding themselves. Given that sort of power, backed by the literal guns and economic force of the State, do you really think they would scruple to prevent an Asatru blot in their city? A Wiccan Full Moon circle? A druid camping event?

If you don’t think they’d use that power, you’re an idiot.

You don’t have to be a Satanist, or an Atheist, to see that the principle that a majority can shut down the religious expression of a minority, no matter how fervently they object to it, is simply intolerable to a society built on the principle of religious freedom. By involving the tools of force available to the state, whether they be the guns and handcuffs of the police, or the more subtle tools of higher fees, slower approvals, or outright rejections of requests, the heavy hand of the State cannot get involved in the business of choosing which religion is right, which is wrong, and which has the right to shut down another because it feels “offended”.

The higher principle of government neutrality when it comes to religion demands that the city ignore the petition. The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the crushing will of the majority. This is a perfect case in point, and if it is allowed to proceed, I guarantee you neopagans and Heathens are next on the chopping block.

Quote of the Day

“Is a goddess-loving matriarchist who believes transwomen aren’t women really equivalent to the Male Tribalist Heathen who believes the same thing? Or the social justice activist who believes all whites have inherent privilege and responsibility for slavery—are they really equivalent to the white Heathen blood-and-soil Traditionalist who believes in the existence of a Nordic race?


They are equivalent, at least ideologically.”

A May Day Conundrum

Around the area where I live (northern NJ, within easy driving distance of southern NY and northeastern PA), we have a bunch of Asatru, Odinist, and Theodish groups that are very active. At the end of the month, on the Walpurgisnacht/May Day weekend, there are no fewer than two full-blown rituals, a pub moot, and two nature hikes scheduled by various groups. The weekend before there are two more rituals. All within 90 minutes of my home.

What a wonderful problem to have!

On Heathen Leadership

Ah Gods & Radicals, you are truly the gift that keeps on giving. This time out, we have a piece by none other than HUAR founder (and, rumor has it, 33% of the actual membership) Ryan Smith. Yes, the same Ryan Smith who so hilariously bungled the identification of a slavery apologist image, and who thought it was more important to condemn someone for saying “everyone should worship the gods of their ancestors” than to condemn people for actually physically raping women. Let’s see where “wrong way Ryan” takes us today.

Today’s topic is Heathenry and Democracy. And right off the bat, the sharp elbows of Marxist egalitarianism are flying:

There are many who argue, in Heathenry and the broader polytheist and Pagan communities, for vesting leadership and decision-making in an anointed elite who will guide the rest based on their wisdom and superior abilities. They claim these ideas are rooted in the practices of the pre-Christian ancients and natural hierarchies even though, in truth, the argument they make is far more recent than they assume.

The position advanced by these would-be theocrats is rooted in modern political theory. In the liberal democratic societies many such Heathens, Pagans, and polytheists live in there is the central assumption of an unceasing, ongoing clash between democratic governance and rule by the few. 

There are links in the original to the Asatru Alliance website, Galina Krasskova’s blog, and something called the Sons of Odin 1519, which I’ve never heard of before, and which seems to be an explicitly racist, Odinist, outfit that seems to be one or two people with a website (and that really seems to have it in for Valgard Murray of the Alliance). So he’s got a folkish source, a universalist source, and a racist source. Okay; he’s got “non-Marxist Yahtzee”. Let’s unpack this.

“…vesting leadership and decision-making in an anointed elite who will guide the rest based on their wisdom and superior abilities.”

I think you’re confusing leadership
with being a commissar.

Just speaking on a practical level, as someone who has been in the trenches organizing Heathen groups for twenty years or more, it’s not about someone who is an “anointed elite” or “wisdom and superior abilities”. It’s about having the willingness to take on an enormous amount of work, unpaid and often unrecognized, to bring people together in a place where they can worship the Gods together. Sure, there are skills that are required; some level of organization, for example. But it’s not the purview of any sort of elite. In fact, the Alliance article that Smith links to puts it excellently:

If you think that you have all the qualities of leadership and determination that are required of the Gothar, if you are willing to promote Asatru, the worship of the Holy Aesir and Vanir, and the right to self determination of our Folk… then I would encourage you to start that Kindred. 

Leadership and determination. Of course, any sort of leadership, which implies followership, offends the Marxist egalitarianism that G&R in general espouses, but the willingness to be the guy who puts together the meetings isn’t some sort of Divinely Inspired Ability. It’s just old fashioned grit.

And Gods Forbid that someone have more knowledge about Heathen history, or mythology, or runes, or literature, than someone else. After all, Marxists have shown they know what to do with… intellectuals.

Marxists leaders?
I thought that was un-possible!

Now, in fairness, there are some strains of Heathenry that espouse a concept called Sacral Leadership (aka Sacral Kingship). Theodish Belief is best-known as the proponent of this arrangement, but it’s by far not the only one. And yes, Theodism has ranks (arungs) to recognize ability, and a sacral leader who serves the function of intermediary between the folk and the Gods. But in that respect, he’s just the High Priest of the tribe.

And we know that the ancient Germanic people had priests. More on that in a minute.

“They claim these ideas [that groups do better with leaders] are rooted in the practices of the pre-Christian ancients and natural hierarchies even though, in truth, the argument they make is far more recent than they assume.”

Is that Zeus on a throne?
With a crown? And
a scepter? Like a… KING???

Somehow, Smith seems to think that the fact that the Germanic peoples had the institution of Þing (a sort of popular assembly), that that is somehow proof that “the pre-Christian ancients” didn’t have kings with real power, priests who acted as intermediaries between the folk and the Gods, or other forms of social and political stratification.

Now we’re rolling.

Setting aside the history of just about every pre-Christian culture, from ancient Egypt to Sumeria to Persia to Greece to Rome had monarchies (and noting the exceptions, such as Athens and Rome, which were by no stretch of the imagination democracies in the modern sense of the word, lacking any concept of universal suffrage), let’s turn to the Germanic peoples.

“The position advanced by these would-be theocrats is rooted in modern political theory.”

Apparently, anyone who thinks that a group does better with a leader, or that espouses anything other than pure Marxist egalitarianism, is a “would-be theocrat”. Leaders rising to the top of any sort of social structure, by dint of the fact that they’re doing most of (or in many cases, all of) the work, and people just naturally look to them for the qualities of leadership because they’re doing the work that leaders do, is in and of itself theocracy.

This fixation on the vilification of hierarchy is fascinating to watch. It’s like a bacillus, moving from one writer to another over at G&R. They must’ve had a staff meeting or something.*

Smith makes a great deal about the fact that pre-Christian Germanic kings were somewhat beholden to the Þings. And it’s true; the reason there was a check on the power of kings, and why their rule was not absolute (i.e., not an example of “the divine right of kings”, which is not at all the same as “sacral kingship”) is because the Þing and those who ran it were the local powerful warlords, who together could gang up and tell a king to shove off if he overstepped his boundaries.

Wait… what? What about the Þing where, according to Smith,

Every free person, man or woman, could speak before the Thing and seek redress of their grievances and in some cases even thralls were given voice and space before these assemblies. These Things were the bodies that made and deposed kings. The leaders of the Germanic world, quite contrary to the assumptions cultivated in popular culture, ruled at the behest of the Things.

Well, yes, Þings made kings. They elected a king from a body of contenders based on their ancestry; a candidate for king had to be related to someone who himself had been a king. And those semi-divine royal lineages all traced their ways back to either Odin (in the case of the Saxons, Anglo-Saxons, and others) or Freyr (in the case of many Swedish lineages).

In other words, not anyone could get elected king. The kings that got elected were from a pool of people quite literally descended from the Gods. How’s that for an “anointed elite”? As William A. Chaney puts it in The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England (p. 20):

‘Let us sit and weigh the Races of Kings,’ the goddess Freyja says in the Hyndluljoð, ‘of all men that sprung from the gods’; in one of the oldest epics, the Hamðismal, ‘the god-sprung king roared mightily, as a bear roars, our of his harness’. If, as shall be seen, Anglo-Saxon monarchs also came of a divine race, they shared this in common with other Germanic ruling houses.

As has been observed, the entire royal kin and not merely the holder of the kingship was elevated into the divine race by the descent from deity. The royal dignity was transmitted to the family; ‘the realm belongs to the royal race’, as Libermann says.

Not exactly the picture of the proletariat assembling in their soviets** to overthrow a king who cut their ration of bread, eh?

Hilmar Örn, allsherjargoði of Iceland.
Wait – I thought they were supposed to be the good lefty types?
Don’t tell me they have leaders, too!?
Could they be… fascists?

And thralls given voice at Þing? Gonna have to ask for a source on that one, Ryan. It’s certainly possible, maybe as a witness in a court case or something, but I can’t recall anything saying it was a common practice just to air some grievance.

So much for the egalitarian election of leaders by the Þings. But leadership (and thus anti-egalitarianism) in general?

Amazingly, Smith non-ironically undercuts his whole argument in his choice of quotes when he describes the power of the Þings to overthrow rulers:

“As soon as the king had proposed this to the bondes, great was the murmur and noise among the crowd.”

“We bondes, King Hakon, when we elected thee to be our king…”

“…we bondes have resolved among ourselves to part with thee, and take to ourselves some other chief, who will so conduct himself towards us that we can freely and safely enjoy the faith that suits our own inclinations.”

“The bondes gave loud applause to this speech, and said it expressed their will, and they would stand or fall by what had been spoken.”

Who are these “bondes”? It comes from the Old Norse term bóndi, which according to Cleasby-Vigfussion means:

“…originally a tiller of the ground, husbandman, but it always involved the sense of ownership, and included all owners of land (or bú, q.v.). from the petty freeholder to the franklin, and esp. the class represented by the yeoman of England generally or the statesman of Westmoreland and Cumberland: hence it came to mean the master of the house…”

Yes, that’s right. the Þings that Smith is so laudatory about, and which he claims were examples of true democracy in pre-Christian Germanic society… were led by the fucking landowners! The wealthy! The leaders! The ones who had men under them (the griðmaðr, or land-tiller) and who provided the troops for the king’s army.

In other words… the only reason the Þings had the authority to even stand up to kings was because the kings at the time were too weak to stand up to the powerful bondes under them. It had nothing to do with democracy as we know it today; it was just an example of the stratification of power. King at the top, bondes under him. Get enough bondes together, and they can stand up to the king.

But it’s also interesting that Smith omits a crucial example in his article; Iceland.

They famously had Þings in Iceland; a whole system of regional Þings, and then the central Alþing. And who ran these Icelandic Þings? The goðar (that’s where modern Asatru gets the word “godhi”, which is pretty much what Smith is railing against – the concept of a priesthood or leadership of any sort, even if it’s self-selected and affirmed by acclamation of the folk he or she purports to lead).

*You* tell Ragnar Lothbrok
he’s not a king

The topic of Icelandic goðar is far too interesting and detailed to get into here, but suffice to say that they didn’t just serve as priests, but they were, for all intents and purposes, the leadership of the island. They were the wealthy landowners, and they took on clients among the people, which would give those people the protection of the goði to whom they were allied. This would help them in court, in disputes with other farmers, and in many other ways.

And the goðar ran the Þings. They made the decisions. They were in charge. Don’t believe me? Read Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power by Jesse Byock, or (for a Scandinavian point of view), Society and Politics in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla by Sverre Bagge, which says (p. 125):

The real aristocracy is not confined to men with these titles [hersir, earl, lendr maðr – landowners]. In his narrative, Snorri repeatedly refers to men as esteemed, mighty, and so forth, who have a strong position in their region and act as spokesmen for the people and local leaders. Such men may or may not be attached to the king’s service as lendr menn. The term “magnate”… is meant to include those men as well as those holding formal titles.

Its aristocracy and leadership all the way down, Ryan.

It’s not surprising that Smith didn’t include that example, but it is telling. He has no argument. Leadership in general was certainly present in pre-Christian Germanic society, and the fact that a bunch of sub-leaders could band together and overthrow a high-leader that got too big for his britches doesn’t alter that fact.

Ryan Smith: Fascist

In closing, I must say I am shocked, shocked! to find out that Gods & Radicals would even publish such a counter-revolutionary piece as the one written by Ryan Smith. After all, weren’t we told not too long ago that one of the warning signs of creeping fascist/New Right influence is a respect for tradition? Yes, I’m very sure we were:

Our Sacred Traditions: The New Right advocates a return to ‘older relationships’ between humans and the Sacred. As part of their critique of modern civilisation, they believe that the sacred order of the world has been disrupted (through Democracy, or Marxism, or Monotheism) and humanity must embrace pre-modern traditions, be those Christian, Pagan, Polytheist, or Heathen.

And yet, here we have Ryan Smith making an appeal against kingship (and leadership in general) on the basis that it wasn’t historically practiced by the pre-Christian Germanic peoples. The fact that his arguments fall flat on their face on examination is irrelevant – what matters is that he attempted to make an appeal to “Our Sacred Traditions” (in this case, a democratic tradition).

There’s a sure sign of creeping fascism in your ranks, Rhyd. Might be time for a purge.


* If so, did someone call the meeting to order? If so, xe may be a fascist. Keep your guard up! They may be infiltrating you even as you read this, G&R!

** “Soviet” just means “council”. One can’t help but wonder if Smith doesn’t make that, dare I say romanticized connection. From the way he describes the power of the Þings, it doesn’t seem impossible.

About that Skraeling DNA in Iceland…

There’s a story kicking around since 2010 about some results of a DNA survey of Icelanders that purports to show an Amerindian came to Iceland around the year 1000 CE (presumably with some Norse explorers) and interbred. “AH-HA!” the Usual Suspects cry – proof positive that our ancestors didn’t care about “racial purity”.

Rather than just taking such people at their word, it’s worth reading the actual article, and the report upon which it is based. As can be imagined, it’s not quite the slam-dunk that folks who tout the article seem to think it is.

What’s most often cited is the National Geographic article reporting on the study. The language used is incredibly wishy-washy, and goes out of its way to hedge on any sort of definitive conclusions:

“The study authors themselves admit the case is far from closed.”

“Despite the evidence, for now it’s nearly impossible to prove a direct, thousand-year-old genetic link between Native Americans and Icelanders. For starters, no living Native American group carries the exact genetic variation found in the Icelandic families.”

“It’s possible, he added, that the DNA variation actually came from mainland Europe, which had infrequent contact with Iceland in the centuries preceding 1700.”

“Complicating matters, the historical record contains no evidence that Icelandic Vikings might have taken a Native American woman back home to their European island, scholars say. “It makes no sense to me,” said archaeologist and historian Hans Gulløv of the Greenland Research Centre in Copenhagen.”

Not exactly a rousing endorsement of the theory. Just a lot of assumptions and wishful thinking. But some people are willfully ignoring those caveats and running with a very dodgy conclusion because it suits their preconceptions and political narrative.

There’s also the question of the dating of the DNA admixture. According to the article, the DNA evidence points to an earliest date of around 1700 CE:

Through genealogical research, the study team concluded that the Icelanders who carry the Native American variation are all from four specific lineages, descended from four women born in the early 1700s.

The genealogical records for the four lineages are incomplete before about 1700, but history and genetics suggest the Native American DNA arrived on the European island centuries before then, study co-author Helgason said.

He pointed out that Iceland was very isolated from the outside world in the centuries leading up to 1700, so it’s unlikely that a Native American got to the island during that period.

As further evidence, he noted that—though the Icelanders share a distinct version of the variation—at least one lineage’s variation has mutated in a way that would likely have taken centuries to occur, the researchers say.

So the actual DNA evidence points to a date of 1700 CE. But because Iceland was “very isolated” at that time, the researches push back the date seven hundred years for no real reason. Iceland was pretty isolated in the year 1000, too; voyages between Iceland and North America were so extraordinary that entire sagas were written about them. Meticulous records were kept concerning who married whom, and who was descended from whom. But the researchers for some reason feel that a secret, unrecorded Viking-era voyage to Vinland that brought back a skraeling wife was less of a stretch than the idea that an Amerindian could have made their way to Iceland in the age of sailing ships. Why is the one more credible than the other? It’s not, of course.

As for the variation to the DNA that’s noted above, there’s absolutely nothing to say whether the mutation happened before or after the Amerindian blood (if that’s even what it is) entered the Icelandic gene pool. It’s precisely as likely that the variation occurred within a now-extinct Amerindian population (say, for example, the Beothuk, who went extinct in 1829) and was carried to Iceland by way of Denmark (which had a trade monopoly with the island) in the late 17th century.

If Pocahontas could be brought to London a hundred years earlier, there’s certainly nothing to say that a Beothuk woman couldn’t be brought to Copenhagen, and then maybe made her way to Iceland (trying to get home?) around the start of the 18th century.

So when someone gets all breathless and tells you that DNA proves that the Norse interbred with Amerindians in the year 1000, calm them down and explain:

  • The DNA evidence only goes back to 1700
  • The 1000 year date comes from a supposition that makes no more sense than a 1700 date
  • It’s entirely possible that the DNA sequence in question isn’t even Amerindian in origin
  • The study itself goes out of its way to downplay any concrete conclusions, despite what news reports say
Facts is facts, after all. And the conclusions a lot of people are drawing don’t seem to line up with the facts. Certainly they’re not the only interpretations, and not the only conclusions, that can be drawn. The original study itself even says so.

Over the Rainbow, Part One: Recon = Racist?

The Marxist anarchists over at Gods & Radicals are at it again. In their latest piece, Shane Burley (an author whose biography, tellingly, says nothing at all about his religious background, but rhapsodizes about his ultra-left-wing political activism) takes the requisite shots at folkish Heathenry (which I’ll get to in another post), but the thrust of the latest article is aimed straight at reconstructionism in general. Which, given their mission to obliterate anything that smacks of tradition or traditionalism, makes sense. The trouble is, most recons are universalists. But of course their knowledge of Heathenry is as skewed as their ideology, but it’s still remarkable that the author wouldn’t realize that simple fact.

This time, they ask the rhetorical question, “Rainbow Heathenry: Is a Left-Wing, Multicultural Asatru Possible?

Their answer, of course, is yes, but their version of Asatru has to be a lot more eclectic. You know; sort of like Germanic Neopaganism would be. Which of course would destroy what makes Asatru, Asatru. True to form, G&R comes out and says that reconstructionism is racism:

If people from the polytheist traditions want to challenge racialized interpretation of the Asatru faith, there has to be a conscious Theology and Philosophy that can undermine the folkish traditionalism that has dominated much of the ideas inside of the “cult of Odin.” Many pagans see that this could come in the form of eclecticism that allows for openness and integration of other traditions. Many folkish Asatru oppose eclecticism* and prefer a stricter form of reconstructionist fidelity, which often comes from the fact that the traditions they see as bound to their blood. 

Anyone bothered to tell the
Celtic Reconstructionists
that they’re racists?

This will doubtless come as a shock to the great majority of universalists, who actually tend to be more on the reconstructionist end of the spectrum than the folkish, in my experience. Indeed, folkish organizations like Balder Rising even explicitly distance themselves from reconstructionism:

“They [reconstructionists] were so concerned with recreating what once existed, and had forgotten that pagan religions, including Germanic heathenery, were not the creations of some religious sage or prophet, but was a set of traditions and spiritual (magical) knowledge that slowly evolved with the folk that it originated with over many generations.”

The Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) also takes a stance not entirely approving of reconstructionism:

In the AFA, we don’t have to dress up like Vikings to live true to the Gods, nor do we turn our backs on the age in which we live. We practice Asatru in the here-and-now, and make it available to our kin.

Folks like Kveldulf Gundersson (aka Stephan Grundy), who just about embodies the space where universalist and reconstructionist meet, or the Troth, which according to its website “provides excellence in its resources, up to date research in Northern European Heathenry” and which runs a Lore Program explicitly designed to aid in the reconstructionist mission through scholarly study of the ancient sources, will doubtless be shocked to learn that opposition to eclecticism is in fact often a sign of racism.

And G&R’s solution? Asatru should look more like Starhawk’s “Reclaiming”:

An example of this: many of the ideas that have fueled Starhawk’s Reclaiming movement, which takes a uniquely panentheist understanding of the Gods and specifically sees an importance in the progressive values inside of Myth and practice. These ideas were never God/Myth specific, yet a strong sense of syncretism could allow a new synthesis that builds an emerging tradition that is both coherent and Philosophically strong.

And what does Reclaiming look like?

We are an evolving, dynamic tradition and proudly call ourselves Witches. Our diverse practices and experiences of the divine weave a tapestry of many different threads. We include those who honor Mysterious Ones, Goddesses, and Gods of myriad expressions, genders, and states of being, remembering that mystery goes beyond form. Our community rituals are participatory and ecstatic, celebrating the cycles of the seasons and our lives, and raising energy for personal, collective and earth healing.

Wow. That sure sounds like Asatru. </sarcasm>

The thing is, once you take the Germanic-specific aspects out of Asatru, you get… well, you get a watered-down, eclectic neopaganism that has no structure, no uniqueness, Just a bunch of people doing whatever, with the only common denominator being that they do it together. Gone would be those things that make Asatru, Asatru. The moral principles that Asatru has are quite distinct from those of the vast jelly-like blob that is eclectic neopaganism. Gone. The focus on a specific set of gods and goddesses that were worshiped by a specific group of people historically. Gone. Specific rituals unique to Asatru, such as blót and sumble. Gone.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from the original piece, for now:

The pagan traditions, both old and new, often evolve based on what parishioners bring to it. The ideas that evolve both inside and outside of spiritual practice, where it is the broad experience of life, relationships, and the earth that guide some of the most profound insights that are brought into practice. With Asatru, pagans can again bring those experiences in and make it more of an exchange between the living world and that of tradition, between the follower and the Gods.

There you have it. Be more eclectic. Be more like neopaganism. Be more egalitarian; even when it comes to our relationships with the gods. And the best part? It all comes from the outside-in; “Many pagans see that this could come…”. This is the eclectic neopagan prescription for “saving” Asatru, coincidentally by making Asatru look just like eclectic neopaganism.

This is a prescription for “saving” Asatru by destroying it. Which, of course, is precisely what G&R wants. Anything that is traditionalist, unique, or looks to the past rather than the Glorious Marxist Future, must be crushed. And G&R has the prescription, in the guise of “saving” Asatru from those elements it deems evil. And in so doing, it places all reconstructionists, including the universalists, right in their crosshairs.

So, have fun with that, my uni recon friends.


* The article does conflate reconstructionism with anti-eclecticism, which aren’t necessarily the same thing at all. But let’s just go with it for now.

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