Thursday, July 12, 2012

Asatru Black Sheep Of The Pagan Community

Asatru Black Sheep Of The Pagan Community Image
You don't run into a lot of Asatruarar in the Pagan community these days. Well, actually you don't run into much here in the North East except shamanic Wiccans, but we'll let that stand for now. Asatru is the modern revival of the ancient German, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Icelandic Pagan religion. It's been around for almost as long as public Wicca, but it has grown at a much slower rate and is rarely seen interacting with the "normal" Pagan community.

The word Asatru comes from the roots "As" a God who is a member of the Aesir, and "tru" which is from the same root as true or troth and means loyalty. We are those persons who are loyal to the Aesir or more likely to the entire Norse pantheon. Some Norse Pagans will use the word "Odinist" to describe themselves, but in America the largest group using this term is a white supremacist front. The Asatru Free Assembly and now the Asatru Alliance have used Asatru to indicate that their members are those Norse Pagans who concentrate on the religious aspects of Norse Paganism rather than those who use it as a political tool.

Race is the one item which you will hear come up most in discussing Norse Paganism. The Nazi party was very strongly pagan oriented, not only using Germanic magickal symbols such as the swastika, but also using folk festivals and other items of pagan Germanic culture to unify their population. Some groups have continued this practice and use our religion as a front for political action. In addition "real" Asatru has largely been adopted by working class people in conservative areas of the country such as the south and southwest.
Just as many Wiccans, well educated and brought up in liberal areas, espouse progressive political ideas, many Asatruarar espouse conservative political ideas including a latent racism. (You might also want to note that a lot of Wiccans from similar backgrounds are also racist. The educated probably are as well, but they're good at hiding it.) At this point in the development of Asatru, race is an issue which sits in a very tightly lidded pot on the back of the stove. It's influence seems to be slowly lessening. As one person put it
"Adolf is out and the Eddas are in." The religion is the main focus and many Asatruarar, including myself, simply ignore the racists knowing where our own hearts are.

Race is hardly the only difference between the Wiccan community and the Asatruarar. The entire range of values is extremely different. I suppose I should apologize for lumping all the beliefs of the Wiccan community into one, but the fact that I would need to apologize says a lot about the differences between the two religions. Asatru has a certain set of values and beliefs and establishing and discussing what values are appropriate for Asatruarar is a common practice. This is not to say that there are rules to Asatru. Quite to the contrary, Asatru, like Wicca, believes in total human freedom. However, Asatru feels that freedom must be checked from within by a strong sense of values and personal honor. Wicca espouses a lack of beliefs and reliance on personal conscience. It is, in fact, taboo to discuss "Wiccan values." In practice Wiccans tend to mirror the values of the hippie counterculture. However, these values are social rather than theological. Asatru goes back to the Sagas and the Eddas to seek its values. What emerges is a philosophy very close to right wing libertarianism. Asatru posits strong men and women with a hard and fast code of honor who are free to affect the world around them without outside restrictions. Like the political philosophy of libertarianism this has the downside of abandoning those who are for one reason or another less able. The particular issue of where one persons freedom ends is one that has yet to be addressed by Wicca because the personal philosophies and liberal conscience of most Wiccanshave made the issue academic.

Theologically there are extreme differences between Asatru and Wicca. Most importantly Asatru is a form of classical age Indo-European votive religion, where Wicca is a private religion based on the shamanic and ecstatic practices of the pre-Indo-European peoples such as the Picts. It's not just Wicca done with Norse deities and a different form of circle. The entire method of "doing religion" is different. For example, a great deal has been written about "Pagan" religious practices such as trance, magick, etc. However, these are more appropriately the functions of a mystery religion. The original forms of Pagan religion had these aspects, but they existed within a greater system of religion, just as modern religions have inner orders such as monastic paths within an open Christian church. For example, the basic Asatru ritual involves pouring a "blot" as an offering to a God or Goddess. In essence it's not a real "exciting" ritual. There is little or no chanting or consciousness alteration. In many ways there is very little difference between the ritual and a mass in a mainstream church. You believe in this God or Goddess and you need their favor, so you pour some mead in their name.

That is not to say that there are not mystery religions or magickal practices within Asatru, but these are more properly paths within the whole of a religion rather than the main focus of a religion. Rune magick is a common practice in Asatru as is Seidhr, a Norse shamanic practice. However, these paths occur within the greater whole of Asatru and there are many people who merely attend the regular blots as they would attend church services in other religions. In fact, there are many people within Asatru who are distrustful and made nervous by the whole idea of magick!

One of the features of the classical age temple religions in contrast to Wicca is that we have a written mythology. There are a few pieces of written lore in Wicca such as the "Descent of the Goddess" and "The Charge" but they are few and far between. Asatru, thanks to the tolerant people of Iceland (which became a Christian country largely for trade reasons), has the most complete body of Pagan mythology outside of the Greco-Roman. This has both good and bad sides. A set of lore to look to can provide a great comfort. It gives you something to do on those long cold nights i.e. read it. However, there is also the temptation towards ossification and even Asatru has a few "Eddic Fundamentalists" who insist if it isn't in the Eddas, it isn't "correct." The differences in a path with a written mythology cannot be overestimated. It lends an entirely different flavor to the religion and has many effects which are not immediately noticeable.

Asatru is a religion which concentrates very strongly on a single path. Wicca has been applied to every pantheon and culture under the sun from Celtic to Santerian and many groups mix and match favorite deities from different mythos into a "pantheon" specific to their coven. On a purely utilitarian level, I would argue that if you work with a specific pantheon and cultural mythos you will get greater results because the symbol set matches completely. When using say Celtic and Greek deities together you need to make the choice as to whether you will use the three Celtic worlds of land, sea, and sky or whether to use the mediterranean four element system. In Asatru, you don't need to make these choices. It is a singular religion backed up by many written sources. The adherence to a singular cultural metaphor is very important to Asatruarar. There are boundaries on where our religion extends. This is one of the reasons that you don't find many Norse Pagans at mainstream gatherings. Many do not think that the Wiccan community has much to offer them. (Another large reason is hostility based on the assumption that all Norse types are automatically racist.)

There is a movement within Asatru to bring the movement closer to the mainstream Pagan community. One part of this is that there are now a sizeable number of Asatruarar who were once Wiccans and we have roots in the mainstream Pagan culture. Another important reason is the rapidly growing volume of poor quality "literature" being released by the mainstream occult press about Norse Paganism. Many of us would like to correct some of the stereotypes of Norse Pagans and make people aware that there is an alternative to Wicca with Norse deities. Right now the Pagan community is extremely mono-cultural. As Norse Pagans become more involved it will be a true test of "diversity" as many cherished but flawed stereotypes get smashed against the huge hodgepodge that is Paganism.

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