Monday, July 11, 2016

Priorities, Part 2

A real quick update to my earlier post on the priorities of the folks over at Gods & Radicals. I thought it might be instructive to take a look at the posts over there during the last month (Jun 11 - Jul 11) and see just how many dealt with topics relating to magic, paganism, Heathenry, etc. I did my counts just based on the tags they apply to their own posts; nothing subjective on my part.

The results are as unsurprising as one might expect. Out of thirty posts over the last thirty days, a grand total of eight were tagged with something relevant to religion; paganism, polytheism, magic, etc.

That's just a smidgen over a quarter. Only 27% of their posts in the last month, by their own tagging system, had to do with Gods. Even if you take out their Weekly Updates, which are a sort of grab-bag that don't have any specific tags relating to the content within, their rate only goes up to 32%. Still pretty pathetic for a site that puts the word "Gods" at the beginning of their name.

Perhaps they should rebrand themselves as "Radicals (and Occasionally Gods)."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Kutztown Folk Festival

Yesterday the tribe went on a day trip to visit the Kutztown Folk Festival, a nine-day (!) celebration of all things Pennsylvania German (or Pennsylvania Dutch - even within the community, there is division on which is correct).

To get the mundane stuff out of the way; the festival was a total blast, and I highly encourage everyone to go next year. It was much larger than I expected, the food was one of the showpieces of the thing (all home made and entirely delicious) and the craftspeople selling their wares seemed on the whole to be the people who actually made what they were selling. From the extraordinary woodwork and quilts (of course quilts) to metalwork and hex signs, this wasn't just a trip where you could find the same stuff on Amazon. These were the labors of individual craftsmen, and it showed.

I myself came away with a hoard of new books on Pennsylvania German culture, particularly their folk-magical practice of Pow-Wow/Braucherei/Hexerei, hex signs, and a wonderful book on Groundhog Lodges. Yes. Groundhog Lodges.

But what I really wanted to touch on was the reason why this sort of thing would be of interest to us as Asatruar.

One of the great things about the Pennsylvania Germans is the fact that they represent a sort of time capsule of pre-Industrial Germanic culture. It goes way beyond the stereotypical Amish or Mennonites; these are, for the most part, modern folks living a modern lifestyle that happens to include strong ties back to the Palatinate in Germany. There are ties of language, custom, and religion that hearken back to a time in Germanic society that predates the coming of industrialization, and in some cases arguably before the coming of Christianity.

Since there is strong evidence that continental German culture and religion is strongly related to that of Scandinavia and England, the interest of such things to Asatru, which attempts to restore ancient pre-Christian Germanic religion, is obvious. It is possible to "de-Christianize" some elements, as the Urglawee experiment is attempting to do.

Strong evidence of the continuity of Germanic culture between Scandinavia and southern Germany can also be seen in their respective folk-magical practices; Trolldomr and Pow-Wow/ Braucherei/ Hererei. There are practices that are almost identical across both practices, and which can additionally be seen in the early conversion-era penitentials from the 5th century onwards, that speak of a commonality amongst the various Germanic tribal groups. There are similar commonalities between folk-practices which, on examination, can be traced back to possible religious sources as well.

There were local variations to be sure, but the core seems to have been consistent. And the example of the Pennsylvania Germans is a window into that core that has retained its unique character well into the 20th century. It is, alas, dying out in the face of the relentless march of the global monoculture and American commercial society to homogenize everything, but fortunately we still have examples that we can reapply to our own work in preserving and reconstructing Germanic religion.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Vanatru - is it needed?

There is a significant number of people who, when the term "Asatru" is used, chime in with "but I worship the Vanir, too." I confess I really don't understand that need to differentiate between the two, as it is incorrect as far as the literary record, not to mention deriving much of its motivation from completely outdated ideas of history.

Mythologically, the Aesir and the Vanir were described as two powerful tribes of gods, who went to war with one another, probably over the question of which tribe of gods could receive worship and offerings from humans. The war was ended by a peace treaty, and hostages were exchanged between the two sides. The Vanir received Hœnir and Mimir as hostages, while the Aesir received Njordr and Ingve/Freyr. Interestingly, Snorri's account in Ynglingasaga doesn't mention Freyja being sent as a hostage per se. She simply shows up among the Aesir, and is appointed to the post of high priestess of sacrifices. Her father and brother are similarly appointed as sacrificial priests.

But the key point here is that, mythologically, the Vanir disappear as a group after the death of Mimir. Assuming they are not simply known by a different name in the written sources*, our sole representatives of the Vanir tribe, Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja. And they are invariably referred to as Aesir in the written sources, after the point in mythological time when the Aesir-Vanir war is concluded, and they are integrated into Aesir society.

Whenever we are presented with lists of Aesir, Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja are included. Many have taken this to mean that the ON word Áss (plural Æsir) is somehow a generic term for divine beings. I think a much more likely interpretation of the usage here is that those three hostages did not retain their original Vanic identity, but were quickly absorbed into the Aesir tribe and assumed that tribal identity. As a chief example, when the Prose Edda introduces Ingve/Freyr and his sister Freyja, they are explicitly said to be of the Aesir:
Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men. But Freyja is the most renowned of the goddesses... (Gylfaginning 24, Brodeur tr.)
And in the original Old Norse, we can see that "goddesses" in the above is originally ásynjum, a female form of the ON word Æsir:
Freyr er inn ágætasti af ásum. Hann ræðr fyrir regni ok skini sólar ok þar með ávexti jarðar, ok á hann er gott at heita til árs ok friðar. Hann ræðr ok fésælu manna. En Freyja er ágætust af ásynjum.
So in terms of the written lore, breaking out Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja into their own little sub-cult seems unwarranted. Once the war between the two tribes of gods is over, the Aesir take the stage and the three hostages are constantly and consistently referred to as being in their group, using that label. If nothing else, "Aesir" includes them, and so does the term "Asatru".

But a lot of people who like to make the distinction between the three Vanir** and the rest of the Aesir do so based on a false idea of their nature. All too often, we see the Vanir painted as pastoral gods of sex and plenty, forced to war only by the mean and terrible Aesir. In many ways, this hearkens back to the thoroughly-debunked theories of Marija Gimbutas, depicting peace-loving matriarchal earth-goddess-worshiping societies in prehistoric Europe conquered by mean sky-god-worshiping Indo-Europeans. It's complete horseshit historically speaking, but the image is still strong in many peoples' minds, especially those who come to Asatru from neopagan religions such as Wicca.

If nothing else, the written lore again comes to our aid in debunking this particular myth. The Vanir are said to be very powerful warriors, to the point of being able to throw down the walls of Asgard itself, and bring the Aesir to their knees. Freyja is a famous warrior, and equally famous for her ferocity. Not exactly peaceful traits. Ingve/Freyr is noted for a connection with wealth and prosperity, but so too are other Aesir; Odin's ring draupnir is a source of never-ending wealth, for instance, and Thor's hammer is famously used to bless the lap of the bride at weddings, presumably to invoke fertility; his connection with the rains that bring crops is also well-attested and obvious.

So, other than a focus on a particular trio of gods, there doesn't really seem much reason to differentiate the Vanir from the Aesir. And even then, those gods have long been called by the label Aesir, which would even be consistent with ancient Germanic kinship and tribal membership patterns. It's a bit of trendiness and a subtle "wonkier-than-thou" jab that serves no real purpose, and that we really don't need.


* Personally, I believe the Vanir to be the same as the Alfar, for a variety of reasons, but there is certainly no iron-clad evidence in favor of that view, and there is some evidence to argue against it. Perhaps I'll go over that in another post some day.
** The less said about the New Age whack-jobs who want to shanghai gods they happen to like into the Vanir, the better.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An open letter to an open letter to Jim Lyngvild

Author's note: I specifically asked Mr. Lyngvild for his permission to write this, so hopefully I'm not just butting in where I'm not wanted. Now, on to the show.

For those who don't know, Jim Lyngvild is a very successful fashion designer/commentator and author in Denmark, has built his own hof, is happily and openly gay, and is something of an iconoclast in his politics.

It should be said that he's also on record as saying that "Asatru and viking-religions is for EVERYONE... NOT just the selected few! And it has NOTHING to do with the color of Your skin". So... not exactly folkish. But he also says "I love my culture and my ancestors, precisely as all other cultures should do! Be proud..." So... not exactly a self-hating SJW ready to see Denmark turned into Little Damascus.

So he's not an ideologue, either way. I can respect that, even if I might disagree with him on things. And there's no denying his accomplishments. I've interacted with him a few times on Facebook, and damn but he's hard not to like. His enthusiasm for Asatru, and his hof, is infectious. He just seems genuinely happy and like a really nice guy. He's also not one to surround himself in a bubble of ideological purity, like some. And that seems to have gotten him into trouble with The Usual Suspects.

About a month ago, one Räv Skogsberg posted An Open Letter to Jim Lyngvild on his blog. It's actually quite a fascinating piece of hand-wringing. He's downright pleading with Lyngvild to prove his liberal bone fides before it's too late. And that, of course, involves denouncing people and political opinions with which Skogsberg disagrees. Quotes from this point onward are from Skogsberg's letter.
I’m writing to you in this manner because you have become quite famous in our circles due to the beautiful hof you’ve built, but you have simultaneously become very contentious with regards to your political implications.
Why does wanting to see a limit to non-Danish immigration need to be "contentious"? It's a simple matter of disagreeing on a matter of national policy. If it's contentious to be on one side of such an argument, it must be contentious to be on the other, as well. But the assumption here is that Skogsberg's view is the correct one, and any opposing view is inherently and objectively wrong. That's a theme you'll see again here.
Now, I believe you when you say that you’re not racist, and I definitely believe that you’re not homophobic – essentially I believe that you’re a good man, since I have it on good authority – but somehow you’ve become an icon for people with tragically excluding views.
"Tragically excluding"? Why is wanting to limit the number of foreigners who come into a tiny country like Denmark somehow tragic? Is it tragic to want to see one's society maintained? Is it tragic to not want to follow Sweden down the path to becoming the world's rape capital? The language here is so clearly biased it's funny.
People to whom nationality and ethnicity is cause to exclude and look down on others. Those who would use our gods for their own ends, rather than be open to do what the gods want us to do.
 And here we have the crux of the issue. Skogsberg seems to be conflating a desire to limit immigration to Denmark with being a folkish Asatruar, and in the same breath completely screwing up what it means to be folkish. This, despite the fact that Lyngvild has explicitly stated he doesn't think that Asatru should be limited based on skin color. And that folkish Asatru seeks to see people of every folk, every ethnicity, every race return to their own pre-monotheistic gods and religions. And also despite the fact that saying "Don't come here" isn't remotely the same thing as seeing others as inferior, any more than you're looking down on other people when you lock your front door at night.

And, as a bonus, he's telling us that he speaks for the gods. He knows "what the gods want us to do."

Our snowflake continues:
That is not what I believe about you, rather the opposite, and therefore I urge you to be clear about your position and make use of your fame to promote an inclusive Heathenry that takes the stance that the strong should protect and help the weak.
You mean like he already did? Repeatedly? On video? When he said that Asatru as he sees it shouldn't be limited by skin color? Have you even seen his Facebook page, you dumbass?
Be like Thor that Hárbarðsljóð speaks of, the one to take in the outcasts.
Well... no. That's not what Hárbarðsljóð says. In that poem, the line to which you're referring (24) ends "Óðinn á jarla, þá er í val falla, en Þórr á þrælakyn." That last word, þrælakyn, doesn't mean "outcasts". It means slaves. Thralls. It's an insult that Harbard is aiming at Thor, to demean him compared to Odin, who has the nobles. Jarls. But I can see why you'd want to obfuscate that meaning, as it really doesn't advance your argument. But hey, why worry about scholarly integrity when there's a political crusade to advance, amirite?
Do as the High One bids us in Havamal: If you see evil, say that it is evil, and give no peace to your enemies.
And here again we see the motif that Skogsberg keeps up. People who disagree with him, no matter what the specifics, aren't just wrong. It's not just a good-natured disagreement that men of goodwill can come to different conclusions looking at the same evidence. Disagree with him, and you are evil. It's a constant refrain from the regressive Left. This isn't just a political or a religious issue. It's a moral crusade, and if you're not with them, you're against them. Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?
Now, why would you listen to me? I say you should because you don’t want the people I talk about to destroy our religion! You and I would probably disagree on many points if we were to discuss politics, but I’m convinced we would agree on the really important stuff. That is what I have gleaned from our brief chats, your Facebook posts and from what your friends say about you. People I know and think highly of like you.
Which explains why you're trying to convince a high-profile Asatruar to endorse your pathetic political agenda. But look at that language again - those of us who disagree with him on religious issues, specifically those of us who are folkish, will "destroy our religion". There's no having a disagreement with this sort of person. Any attempt at debate will simply cement in his mind the fact that you are The Enemy, and are thus out to destroy what he thinks is right and true. And thus, you're fair game to be destroyed in turn.
There is a tide of a bad nationalism welling in over us. It flows – but it will ebb when the tide turns. The people who want to connect our gods with a specific nationality or ethnicity will drag the names of our gods in the mud when the tide turns.
Ah, not only does he speak for the gods, but now he's a prophet as well! But of course this sort of rhetoric isn't to be taken seriously, it's just more of the implied threat that he's using to whip someone he sees as useful into line. "Agree with us, or else..."
The reason why the heathen/pagan revival started in the UK rather than in Germany or Scandinavia is quite simply and obviously that the our symbols were usurped by people using them for their own ends, without any regard for their divine origin.
Spoken like someone with zero knowledge of the history of the Heathen revival, with little logic in it to boot. First off, if you're talking about the revival that started in the 70's, that started in the US, Iceland, and the UK simultaneously. And in the US and UK, that revival was decidedly folkish. We folkish were here first. I can certainly see Germany being used as an example of "our symbols were usurped by people using them for their own ends." But Scandinavia? Denmark and Norway were conquered, Iceland and Sweden never were. And as far as I know, the National Socialist dream didn't get too far into those places where Germany did conquer. So... this is just bizarre.
People with an agenda very far away from yours or mine. Lets make sure that doesn’t happen again. Lets leave a legacy that says we heathens stand for inclusion. Lets make sure we end up on the right side of history.
And here we have the hard sell again. And the implication that anyone who disagrees with a policy of completely open borders is somehow a racist, or "on the wrong side of history". Muslim history, perhaps.
Perhaps you will disregard this letter. Perhaps you think me one of those who refuse to see you for the man you are: a man who has been charged by Odin to build his hof, and has done so with all the powers available to him. I see that man, but I also see a man who has become a symbol. Who has, against his own wishes perhaps, become a role model, someone who people look up to. That comes with the territory. When Odin chooses you, you are marked for greatness, but that also means that what you do have consequences far beyond your own life.
Yeah, yeah. "You're a notable figure, so I want you to take up my political cause." An age-old call, no doubt. But once he found out about it, Lyngvild didn't disregard that letter. Indeed, he responded quite well, with his usual grace and aplomb.

But what struck me in particular was the ending of Lyngvild's video. I can't embed it here, because it's posted on Facebook, but here's what he says right at the end:
I don't care about races. I don't care about colors. Yes, I do, because if we just put everything down into a blender and pressed the button, it would be grey and boring. I love colors! I love that we have so many different kinds of people in this world. Let's keep it that way. Let's be inspired by each other. Let's love each other! And let there be space for people to have their own ideas about how the world should be ruled. Because I have mine, you have yours, and you know what? That is perfectly fine.
And you know what? That's what folkish people have been arguing for, for years. Contrary to what the SJW's say about us, we aren't just looking out for white people. We genuinely want to see hundreds of folkish faiths spring up, with every folk, and every people, re-embracing the ancestral faiths of their pre-Christian or pre-Muslim, or pre-Buddhist ancestors. I'm not saying that Jim Lyngivld is folkish, because he obviously is not. Neither is he some sort of xenophobe. But a world with hundreds of unique folk-groups existing side-by-side, is something we have in common, even though I might extend that to each such group exploring their own rich cultural and religious traditions.

So close!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Asatru Prisoner News: Bryant v. Woodhall

Over in Tennessee, we hear about a case involving a number of Asatruar who claim they are being denied the right to worship:
Plaintiffs assert that they are followers of the Odinic or Asatru faith... seeking accommodations that would allow him and other Odinist inmates to worship as they claim their faith requires. ... The requested accommodations included two hours of group worship per week; the purchase or donation of an altar cloth, mead horn cup, ritual Thor's hammer, rune staff, oak blessing bowl, oath ring, and rune set for group worship; recognition by TDOC as a legitimate religion; the purchase or donation of a rune set, religious amulet, mead horn cup and altar cloth for personal in-cell worship; and the observance of a religious feast day. ...
The TDOC Religious Activities Committee denied Former Plaintiff McDougal's request on the grounds that each requested accommodation posed a threat to institutional safety and security. 
Now, I can certainly see that having an oaken hammer or staff could be construed as being a potential security threat. The former is, after all, literally based on the design of a weapon. But "two hours of group worship per week" hardly seems like such a threat in and of itself; it certainly sounds like the prison is simply reacting to Asatru/Odinism directly, and wanting to squash it simply because some people use the term as a screen for gang-related activity. And some groups absolutely do use a Thor's hammer to sanctify space, so it's certainly a legitimate request in and of itself.

Fortunately, the court agreed, and denied the defendant's motion for a summary judgement. The Asatruars' case can proceed. Updates will be posted here as they become available.