Theodish Thoughts

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

Category: political correctness

Mixed-Race Gods?

Hilmar Hilmarsson, current allsherjargoði of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið, recently said: “The gods are of mixed races.”

From time to time, I’ve dealt with this particular canard that the Norse Neopagans keep trying to trot out in an off-handed manner, in the context of other things, but it’s something that appears with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season, so I thought it was about time I took it on directly.

Let’s take this step by step. When someone like Hilmar says “the gods are of mixed races” he is referring to the fact that some of the gods are either said to have parents who are Jötnar (giants) or who are counted among the Jötnar or Vanir themselves and then marry into the ranks of the Æsir. Týr is an example of the former, with the famous account of his visit to his father Hymir’s hall to get a cauldron in which to make mead. Skaði is an example of the latter, the daughter of the slain Þjazi, who marries Njörðr as recompense.

But are the Æsir and the Jötnar different “races”? That depends on the definition of race, of course. The simplest definition is “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.”

Given the ancestry of the Æsir and the Jötnar, it’s clear that they are of the same “race”. That is, they are all of them descended from Ymir (in Odin’s case, via Ymir’s descendant, Bestla). Odin is also descended from Borr, whose own father Buri was licked out of the primordial rime-ice independent of Ymir, but there is nothing to indicate that Buri and Borr were of any different “race” than Ymir. All were born of the same rime-ice at the dawn of time; Ymir from the interaction of the ice with the sparks from Muspell, and Buri from being licked out of the ice by the cow Auðumbla. The common factor is the ice, and Odin embodies the merging of the two sons of the ice, Ymir and Buri.

At best, the Æsir and the Jötnar are cousins, and are quick to marry within that boundary if it suits their desires or needs. They share a common descent and heredity, and are thus of the same race, according to the definition. We might refer to these individuals as the “sons of Ymir”.

Thus, intermarriage between Æsir and the Jötnar isn’t an example of interracial marriage. It is, in fact, nothing more than an exchange of individuals between clans (the Æsir and the Jötnar) who both stem from the same seed.

In other words, the Æsir and the Jötnar are the same race. They simply have separated themselves into different clans, much like the Swedes and the Norwegians and the Danes. Different clans, or nations, but the same race.

What further attests to this fact is that when a Jötunn (or a Van, for that matter) marries or is otherwise brought into the Æsir, they are called Æsir thereafter. Thus does Snorri refer to Skaði and Loki as Æsir.

So what about other races mentioned in the lore? We have several; the Vanir, the Alfar, and the Dvergar. Unfortunately the vagaries of what has survived makes the question somewhat less than easy to quantify. We don’t know the origin (or, really, the nature) of the Vanir at all. They simply show up to go to war with the Æsir, leave three of their number to join their former enemies, and then disappear from the lore completely, except for a throwaway line in the description of Ragnarök. There is a strong case to be made that the Vanir and the Alfar are the same (see, for example, Alaric Hall’s Elves in Anglo-Saxon England), but it’s far from settled.

The Alfar are similarly mysterious in their origin, although see above regarding their possible association with the Vanir. They are something of a moot point, however, as there are no examples of an Alfar joining the Æsir.*

For both, however, if the genealogy of Ymir’s line is considered to be accurate, then they must be of  Jötunn origin themselves, because there isn’t any other possibility that is described for us in the written sources. Of course, it’s entirely possible that some now-lost legend referred to the origin of the Vanir and/or the Alfar, but that would be pure speculation, and we can’t draw conclusions from it.

The Dvergar, on the other hand, have an origin which is known to us outside of the continuity of the offspring of Ymir, Buri, and Bor. Snorri tells us they are the maggots who infested the flesh of the slain Ymir, while Völuspá states that they come from “Brimir’s blood and from Blain’s limbs” (both of which could be seen as alternate names for Ymir, and thus reinforcing Snorri’s origin). The point is that the Dvergar are the only group of beings which qualify unequivocally as a separate “race” in the sense of being “related by common descent or heredity.” Everyone else in the lore either comes from Bor or their origin is unknown. The Dvergar give us an excellent opportunity to check to see if there is any example of true, unequivocal, inter-racial mingling in the lore.

And, indeed, there are no instances of one of the Dvergar joining the Æsir, through marriage, adoption, or any other means.

That certainly seems suggestive.

Of course, it is true that we do hear of the goddess Freyja sleeping with the four Dvergar in order to secure the necklace Brisingsamen. But there is nothing in the account to suggest that there was any sort of marriage, no crossing of the boundary between the two races from one clan to another. Indeed, the fact that Freyja did sleep with these Dvergar is held out to be something very shameful, and is used by Loki to taunt her in Lokasenna.

So to recap:

  1. The Æsir and the Jötnar are cousins, and should be considered the same “race”. Their mixing together is thus not proof of “mixed race gods”.
  2. The origin of the Vanir is unknown, but according to the available evidence they would also be of the same “race” as the Æsir and the Jötnar, being descended from Ymir. Thus, their mixing with the Æsir does not count as “mixed race gods”.
  3. The origin of the Alfar is also unknown, but since there is no example of an Alf joining the Æsir, the example is irrelevant.
  4. The Dvergar are expressly stated to have a different origin than the Æsir, so they do count as a separate “race”.
  5. There are no examples of the Dvergar joining the Æsir. The only example we have of a goddess even sleeping with the Dvergar is presented as a very shameful and unacceptable act. Thus, the only example of cross-racial intercourse, not even marriage, is given as a negative thing to be avoided.
There we are. While it may be emotionally satisfying to try to apply modern notions of “progressive” politics as being the norm as seen by our pre-Christian ancestors, and applying it to the lore concerning our gods, when we actually look at the lore that comes down to us, it turns out not to be an accurate portrayal. Once again, politicization of religion to accommodate some left-wing agenda fails, when compared against the facts.

EDIT: Updated slightly to clarify the point of common ancestry between the Æsir and the Jötnar.

* There is a reference to Idunn being one of the Alfar, but it appears in Hrafnagaldur Óðins, which scholarly consensus holds to be a very late, 16th century, work imitative of the style of the Eddaic poems, but not truly belonging to the corpus. Some disagree, of course, but I’m going with the opinion of modern scholarship. It wouldn’t damage the argument about race either way, especially if they are all still descended from Borr.

Fun Fact

Fun fact of the day.

Intentionally disrupting a religious meeting is considered disorderly conduct. Which is a crime. Like, with police, and courts, and fines, and jail time. In many states, there are even specific statutes concerning disrupting religious meetings. In California, you can end up in the pokey for a year.

Just a friendly warning to anyone who’s thinking of taking some very, very bad advice that some tumblr troglodyte posted the other day. We will press charges, you can be sure.

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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