Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Metagenetics, Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I analyzed Stephen McNallen's original 1985 article, Metagenetics, which concept is something of a lightning rod for critics of both McNallen in particular and folkish Asatru in general. In those first two articles, I came to the conclusion that metagenetics as defined in 1985 held up to scrutiny, and was supported both by modern science and the written lore of our ancestors.

Today I begin my investigation of McNallen's second article on the subject, first published in 1999, and entitled Genetics & Beyond: Metagenetics - an Update. As might be expected, with fourteen years to develop the theory and consider criticism, this article is a bit more polished than the first, and acknowledges the differences right off the bat:
Back in the early 1980’s, I wrote a short article in The Runestone called “Metagenetics.” The shock wave from those three pages has caused more controversy than anything else I have ever written. The mere mention of metagenetics causes some people to go into a rage and a rant – so, both to inform my friends and infuriate my enemies, I decided it was time for an update on the subject!
In the original piece, metagenetics was presented as the idea that “ancestry matters – that there are spiritual and metaphysical implications to heredity.” I tied together such varied topics as Jung’s theories of archetypes, rebirth in the family line, psychic links between twins, and the Norse concept of the soul to support that statement.
The basic outlines remain the same. However, I have made refinements, added information from British biologist Rupert Sheldrake as well as other writers in psychology and the life sciences, and generally thought a great deal about just what metagenetics means in the long run.
Rupert Sheldrake is a scientist who pioneered the concept of morphic fields and morphic resonance. Essentially, this theory posits that genetic information (DNA-RNA) is insufficient for the development of complex life-forms. Additional information, in the form of morphic fields, which also impacts hereditary memory, telepathic abilities, and gives structure to probability. Needless to say, this is not a theory that is universally accepted, and many label Sheldrake's theory as pseudoscience. That said, it does answer some questions that contemporary genetics cannot answer at this time. That's not sufficient to accept it whole cloth, of course, but I think it's at least worth exploring, rather than dismissing it out of hand, as most scientists have done.
If I had to modify the definition of metagenetics after all these years, I’d say that it was “the hypothesis that there are spiritual or metaphysical implications to physical relatedness among humans which correlate with, but go beyond, the known limits of genetics.” This is more complicated than the simple sentence from the 1980’s, but it is somewhat more exact – and it opens the possibility that the mechanism involved might not be as simple as information stored in the DNA molecule.
Interestingly, this expanded 1999 definition presages more recent theories regarding epigenetics. The notion that environmental factors present two generations in the past can have an impact on a current generation is hugely important, especially if the impact of those factors is treated as an inheritable feature in the same way that traditional genomes are. In other words, since behavior influences genetic expression across generations, it's entirely possible that those behaviors can be evolutionarily selected for. Thus do different populations (races or ethnicities) develop different behaviors over the course of generations.

If that can be true for physical as well as psychological or social features, then there is no reason to suppose it is not also true for spiritual ones as well.
The evidence in support of metagenetics is drawn from several disciplines, and I won’t go into it here. I am writing a book which will set it out in great detail. In this article, instead, I will mention some of the main features of the hypothesis, and then list a number of implications.
I believe this is a reference to the publication "The Philosophy of Metagenetics, Folkism and Beyond", available from Runestone Gifts. It will also be reviewed in part three of this series.
FEATURES OF THE METAGENETIC HYPOTHESIS
METAGENETICS IS CHARACTERIZED BY:
Relatedness – It describes a connection, independent of time and space, which links human beings. (The general principles governing metagenetics also apply to the animals, plants, other organic kingdoms, and indeed all self-organizing systems to include crystals and molecules. Metagenetics, though, is a subset of this grander scheme and applies specifically to humans and their spirituality.)
This is a very holistic approach to the question. It's not merely an issue of race or ancestry, but incorporates the very ecology in which those racial and ethnic groups came to be. It does bring up the question of applicability when those racial or ethnic populations move into other ecological niches, as our Germanic ancestors were famous for (and specifically what to do about us here in North America). It implies that there is a qualitative difference between the Germanic peoples of Europe, and those here in North America (and South Africa, and Australia, and so forth). The implications are interesting, and I may explore them more fully in another post.
Similarity – We are used to things being related in time and space, but this is not essential to the operation of metagenetics. Instead, metagenetics says that people who are genetically related to each other share a non-physical bond that is not dependent on location or time, and that the closeness of that bond is determined by the degree of similarity. Our language unconsciously expresses that idea, as we talk about being “close” or “distant” relatives.
I love the use of language in that way, because it's really an on-target point. Language, especially English, is often metaphorical, and those metaphors often speak to psychological realities. In the way that my wife can be "close" to her sister, even though they may be thousands of miles away, because of their ties of shared ancestry (and hence shared DNA), I can feel a "closer" kinship to someone who shares my northern European ancestry than I do with someone who does not. That's not to say that individual friendships, even close ones, can't or don't happen - obviously they do. But as a generic default position, I am more inclined to feel "close" to someone who shares my ancestry than someone who does not. That's human nature (spanning all races), and it's seen in study after study.
Hierarchy – This is implied by the idea of similarity, described above. All humans are related, and for that matter it is true that we are “kin to all life,” as some folks are fond of saying. However, we are not equally related to all. Within the broad circle that is the human family there is a collection of concentric circles representing the many Folksouls – and even this is no neat and tidy arrangement. Individual families, clans and tribes have their own subdivisions or “mini-Folksouls,” and the whole is dynamic and shifting.
Interestingly, biologist Richard Dawkins explains our affinity for those who are more closely related to us in his masterful book The Selfish Gene. In it, he posits that our predilection for assisting people who look like us as opposed to people who do not, is based in the greater likelihood of those who look like us possessing the same genes that we do. For instance, even though helping my 3rd cousin doesn't directly help my genes propagate to the next generation, it does so indirectly, because that cousin is more likely to at least share some of the same genes with me than someone who is even more distantly related.

This also explains the general human tendency (and one which is explicitly seen in Germanic culture historically) to have in-group loyalty first to immediate family, then more distant kin, then the clan, then the tribe, and so forth, as in successive rings. In short, helping people in my inangarð (if it is defined by ancestry) is more likely to help some of my genes survive, and thus it is a behavior for which there are evolutionary pressures.
Holism – The components that make up the individual human being are best seen as comprising a whole. This is typically represented as body, mind, and spirit, though the psychosomatic (mind-body) complex in traditional Germanic lore is considerably more complicated than this. People commonly acknowledge that the body and mind affect each other, but fewer of them understand that the body (to include the brain, the nervous system, and the apparatus of heredity) is also connected to the spiritual or religious.
Interestingly, the Germanic conception of the soul existing in multiple parts (the body/mind/soul complex as described by Edred Thorsson and discussed in part 1 of this series) is not unique to Germanic, or even Indo-European, religion. In Yoruba and Igbo religion, for example, the person is said to be divided into a number of different components which are different than the components that make up the Germanic soul. In addition to the physical body (formed from dust, interestingly, rather than from wood as in the Germanic view), there is the emi (life force that allows breath), the okan (heart, which is the seat of emotion), the ori (personality), and the ojiji (the physical shadow, which represents the "self"). The Igbo also have something called the eke, which is the ancestral spirit that dwells within the individual.

One wonders if the non-folkish Heathens and Neopagans out there are quite as enthusiastic in telling the Igbo people that their eke can be born into anyone, not just someone within their ancestral line, and the Igbo gods "call those who they will call", as they are in telling Asatruar that our ancestry, and our family fylgja, doesn't define our relationship with our gods.

I tend to think not.

As an aside, an interesting question surrounds the issue of the nature of the soul as defined by various indigenous religious traditions, including Heathenry. Is the Germanic soul really different in nature from that of a Yoruba? Or are the Germans and Yoruba merely using different terms to describe the same soul-elements that are present in all people (and, in the case of the Yoruba, combining various components that Germanic people view as discreet elements of the soul). I don't pretend to have a definitive answer, but I think it's interesting to speculate. Especially when one brings the question of people of mixed heritage into the equation. Does someone of mixed Swedish and Yoruba heritage have nine parts to their soul, or four, or maybe some hybrid? Would a fylgja and an eke work together in a Danish/Igbo individual, or would only one be present?

These are fascinating speculative questions, but they do cut to the heart of the "everyone is an identical spiritual creature" argument. Who are you to say that the Igbo are wrong when they say there are five parts to the soul, rather than nine? And of course, the very same question applies to Asatru as well, and the differences that arise when both views are given equal weight. When racial and ethnic groups are viewed separately, with each folk-group having their own folk-religion and their own folk-soul composition, the problem vanishes.

It is also worth pointing out that even in Christianity the notion of the individual being made up of multiple "parts" - whether those are the body and the soul (called dichotomist theory); or the body, the soul, and the spirit (unimaginatively called trichotomist theory) - can be found. It is only in the secular scientific conception of the "person" that personhood is reduced to a single factor; the material body, whence personality, morality, memory, and everything else exists solely as electrical impulses in the material substrate of the brain, and when that substrate is destroyed by death, the personality dies with it.
Spirituality – Relatedness and similarity influence the temperament, values, psychic connection, probable reincarnation, and the general tone of spirituality or religion. Some of these things – temperament and values, in particular – may have their origin in the actual coding of DNA, but the mechanism for the other connections may not be within the realm of the physical sciences as they are presently understood. There seems to be a continuum at work, and it may be represented like this:
  
Of course, those who cleave to the materialist/atheist scientific view that most of our Western society has embraced will become increasingly uncomfortable as one goes further to the right on that continuum. But as the diagram shows, that "woo" (to use the derogatory term current in Heathenry) goes hand in hand with a metagenetic, and I might add Germanic, mindset. Our ancestors believed in ancestral memory, and ancestral bonds, and rebirth within families. To jetisson that is to dump out a hefty portion of what gave our ancestors their Germanic mindset in the first place. "Metagenetics" is simply a modern term for a constellation of ancient concepts, and many of them seem to be supported by modern science, as I've been noting throughout this series.

Go figure.
IMPLICATIONS OF METAGENETICS
SEVERAL THINGS QUICKLY BECOME OBVIOUS.
Ancestry matters. Most Asatruar will agree with that statement, but fewer will understand that the ancestors are with us, now and always, because of the time-transcending nature of the metagenetic bond. To the extent that rebirth occurs within the family line, we are those ancestors, manifested again in Midgard! Furthermore, that bond is special – it is closer than our bond to non-ancestors.
See above for discussions of this closeness, both on a genetic and a spiritual level.
We are not “one.” Although there is a level on which every person is connected through the collective unconscious of humanity as a whole, the closeness of the connections varies immensely. Indeed, to some extent we are linked to all life – but that hardly causes us to value protozoa, goldfish, and camels as much as we do our brother or our father! The degree of connection is determined by similarity.
Of course, there are some people who do believe that all animals should be valued as individuals just as highly as ourselves, or even higher. The general opprobrium and derision with which these lone voices in the wind are met today should not be taken as a victory. Just a few years ago, the notion that people could lose their livelihood for supporting a particular ballot initiative (which ended up getting passed by popular vote) that was later deemed Politically Incorrect would have been lampooned as well. But such are the vicissitudes of life.
There are no solitary rituals. All our deeds feed back into the collective unconscious (C.G. Jung) or the morphic field (Rupert Sheldrake) – or in traditional Asatru terms, the Well of Urth. It seems to be that the more intense the emotion accompanying the deed, or the more symbolically alive an action is, the more it will affect all those who are members of the group in question. Our blots, our oaths of might, and our other exchanges with our Gods and Goddesses, then, can be expected to influence all Asatruar, and all our brothers and sisters of European descent, in a fairly immediate way. A whole nest of hierarchies are jostled by all our significant acts.
I just want to say that I love the phrase "there are no solitary rituals". That's just... beautiful on so many levels.
Our religion is a function of who we are, not just what we believe. Since the human being is a holistic entity, our spirituality cannot be considered something apart from our physical ancestry. In terms of both genetics and metagenetics, our ancestors are encoded into our very beings. From values and temperament – which have been shown to correlate statistically with heredity – to the deeper issues of spirit, our forefathers and foremothers continue to influence us. It seems reasonable, then, to predict that people will tend to be most fulfilled by the religious and spiritual paths of their ancestors. Properly presented, the ancient ways of one’s people should exert a powerful draw on the individual.
It bears repeating that this is true on a variety of levels. We see it in the context of modern psychology, modern genetic theory, ancient conceptions of the soul and ancestors, comparative religion, and other fields that have been mentioned in this series. Real criticism of metagenetics (as opposed to the dismissive "it's racist crap" that usually masquerades for a thoughtful refutation) requires a comprehensive critique of all of the evidence, and the wildly disparate fields that provide that evidence. And the evidence does support it, as far as I can see.
The beliefs of our ancestors are largely confirmed by modern psychology and the biological sciences. Most especially, the Jungian collective unconscious and Sheldrake’s hypotheses concerning “morphic fields” and “morphic resonance” are very close to the Germanic ideas surrounding the Well of Urth, in which orlog or “fate” is laid.
I would emphasize that first sentence. Even if you disagree with the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious, or Sheldrakes concept of morphic fields, it still comes down to the beliefs of our ancestors. And, ultimately, that's what we're trying to recreate. Do we reject Thor and Odin because science cannot prove them? No. The fact that there are scientific concepts that do confirm those ancient beliefs (controversial though they may be in some circles), is just gravy.
METAGENETICS – AN EVOLVING CONCEPT
Metagenetics, then, continues to mature as new information becomes available. Far from remaining static over the last decade and a half, it has incorporated new evidence and has found validation in the writings of other scientists as time has gone by.
The transcendental importance of the ancestral bond has always been sensed by Asatru, and by other native religions around the world. We who acknowledge that bond now have striking validation of what our inner voice has told us all along!
And indeed, we've seen how metagenetics has itself evolved in the fourteen years between this article and the first. Up next, we jump ahead another seven years to the latest work by McNallen on the concept of metagenetics, and see how it has evolved, and how science has once again been presaged by an ancient concept.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Metagenetics, Part 1

Nothing is more likely to make the head of a Norse Neopagan explode than to mention the concept of metagenetics. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is the subject of several articles written by AFA Alsherjargodi Emeritus Stephen McNallen, starting in 1985, and taken up by other authors since. The basic concept is that there are certain spiritual qualities that are transmitted through ancestry beyond those recognized by the science of genetics. 

As you can imagine, it's a somewhat controversial theory. I intend to go through those original essays, and provide my own commentary, especially in light of more recent scholarship that has come to light in the intervening 17 years since the last essay on the subject.

Both essays are available on the Asatru Folk Assembly website in their entirety.

I will first go through the original article, entitled Metagenetics (published in 1985).
One of the most controversial tenets of Asatru is our insistence that ancestry matters- that there are spiritual and metaphysical implications to heredity, and that we are thus a religion not for all of humanity, but rather one that calls only its own. This belief of ours has led to much misunderstanding, and as a result some have attempted to label us as “racist”, or have accused us of fronting for totalitarian political forms.
In this article we will discuss, fully and at length, a science for the next century which we have named “metagenetics”. For while that science deals with genetics, it also transcends the present boundaries of that discipline and touches on religion, metaphysics, and (among other things) the hereditary nature of Jungian archetypes. The foundations of metagenetics lie not in totalitarian dogma of the 19th and 20th centuries, but rather in intuitive insights as old as our people. It is only in the last decades that experimental evidence has begun to verify these age-old beliefs.
So right off the bat, McNallen confronts the canard that folkish Heathenry is somehow totalitarian or "fascist" (to use the new catch-all for the enemies of the radical left) with a direct renunciation of totalitarianism. And these aren't just empty words; as I've shown before, the folkish branch of Heathenry was involved in fighting against real racism trying to hijack Asatru long before there even was a universalist branch of Asatru. But this is just the intro.
Anyone familiar with Asatru knows that the clan or family line holds a special place in our religion. Kinship is prized for both practical and spiritual reasons, and the chain of generations is seen as a time-transcending unity, something not limited by our narrow perceptions of the past, present, and future. What findings of modern science make this more than a pious conviction? Is there anything special about the genetic bond from a psychic or spiritual standpoint?
Even the most stalwart Norse Neopagan will admit to the importance of kinship and ancestry, even if they somehow distinguish between that and the concept of "race".
Consider for a moment the curious connection between twins. Identical twins, of course, have identical genetic endowment. Hence it comes as no surprise to find that patterns of brain current activity are remarkably similar in twins, nor is it unexpected that Danish scientist, Dr. N. Jule-Nielson, has found that twins raised separately have similar aptitudes and personalities. One step beyond these findings we run across the fact that in many cultures twins are credited with extra-sensory perception in regard to each other. In fact, Dr. J. B. Rhine, famous ESP researcher at Duke University, is on record as stating that, “Cases have been reported to us from time to time of what would appear to be exceptional telepathic rapport between identical twins”.
A study of ESP cases will show that other family members are likely to have this rapport as well. How many mothers during wartime have known with uncanny accuracy the exact instant that their sons have been injured or killed? Countless other anecdotes can be collected which might be interpreted as having a genetic basis. Such a psychic resonance could be explained by other hypotheses, to be sure- but when placed in the context of other information that we have, they tend to buttress the heredity connection. And a biological (or partly biological) rationale for psychic phenomena should make the subject more palatable to “hard-headed rationalists”.
It will be (rightly) pointed out that anecdotes are not evidence. And, frankly, I find the ESP rationale used here to be the weakest link in the chain. Unfortunately, Dr. Rhine's experiments were later found to be riddled with flaws in design and execution, ripe for confirmation bias and outright fraud. Fortunately, it is also a totally superfluous justification for the metagenetic theory in general.
Going a step further, let’s look at reincarnation memories. One does not have to “believe” in reincarnation as it is commonly presented to accept the reality of the phenomenon; there seems to be evidence that people sometimes have memories that don’t belong to them- or at least not to the “them” that they normally consider themselves to be. One is free to accept or reject the literal explanations for reincarnation as it is vulgarly expressed, but there are other explanations for the reports. There is the possibility that these memories, or many of them, are genetic memories. Timothy Leary- who, whether or not one agrees with his drug philosophy, is no small intellect- is only one person who suspects this to be the case. Leary wrote that whether one called it the akashic records, the collective unconscious, or the “phylogenetic unconscious”, it could all be ascribed to the “nuerogenetic circuit”, or what he calls signals from the DNA-RNA dialogue. In other words, these memories are carried in the DNA itself.
In 2013, Discover magazine published an article which pointed to actual evidence that epigenetic information is passed through generations. Not that the genes themselves are altered by experience, but the expression of those genes (i.e., the latent genetic predispositions inherent in all of us are "turned on" so to speak) is definitely triggered by environmental and social factors, and those expressions are thus passed down generationally. The key is the methyl groups associated with the DNA: "A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Without any change to DNA at all, methyl groups could be added or subtracted, and the changes were inherited much like a mutation in a gene."

In short, nurture influences nature, and nature can be "activated" by nurture, and this can endure into following generations.
It’s interesting to note that in many cultures- in our own Norse tradition and in the Tlingit Indian lore, among others- rebirth is seen occurring specifically in the family line. A person did not come back as a bug or a rabbit, or as a person of another race or tribe, but as a member of their own clan. Olaf the Holy, the Norwegian king largely responsible for Christianizing that country, was named after his ancestor Olaf Geirstadaalfr, and was believed to be the ancient king reborn. Naturally the Christian Olaf could not tolerate such a suggestion, and the sagas relate how he harshly discouraged this belief.
The notion of reincarnation within the family line in Germanic religion is not new by any stretch. It is explicitly alluded to in Helgakviða Hjorvarðssonar, which includes a very brief prose epilogue, "Of Helgi and Sváva it is said they were born again" [ON endrborin]. It is similarly passed down in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II; "It was the belief in olden times that men were born again [ON endrbornir], but that is now called old women's superstition."

It should be noted that the latter lay is deemed by scholars to be of older provenance than others included in the Poetic Edda, thus the editorialization about reincarnation is likely to be a Christian addition.

From a religious point of view, this, I think, is the most compelling argument. If, as many have stated, Asatru's thesis is the recreation of the Germanic mindset, then if a belief in reincarnation within the family line was part of that pre-Christian mindset, then a restoration of that belief in contemporary Asatru must be considered as part of that thesis as well.
The Tlingits, though, have preserved their native religious beliefs into our own time, and thus they are subject to scholarly examination at a much closer range than are our own ancestors. Dr. Ian Stevenson is the alumni professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia Medical School, and he also has an interest in reincarnation phenomena. In fact, he authored a volume titled, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, the conservative title of which indicates his scientific approach to the subject. One of the cases he investigated dealt with a modern-day occurrence of apparent rebirth into the clan line in a modern Tlingit family. While the story is too long to be included here, suffice to say that the evidence, while circumstantial, is still impressive. It may not be possible to prove, in strictly scientific fashion, that a Tlingit was literally reborn as his own grandson- nor does it matter. The point is simply that there are metaphysical implications to the bond of genetic kinship.
The crux of the matter, it seems, is not whether reincarnation is regarded as a possibility from a religious perspective, but whether reincarnation was regarded by our pre-Christian Germanic ancestors as remaining within the family or clan line. As Grönbach says:
In the opening of the Vatsdoela saga we are told how the famous family of Ingimund was founded by the welding of a Norwegian clan with the luck of a royal race of Gautland farther east. The union is dated from a fight between the Norwegian youth Thorstein and a scion of the Gautland kings called Jokul; before dying, Jokul requests his slayer to marry his sister and revive the name in the offspring of this alliance, “and I look for blessing to myself from this”, he adds. Thus it comes that the name Jokul runs in the Vatsdoela family. The same theme occurs in another saga, the Svarfdoela, where Thorolf, a brave youth from Naumudal, who on his very first viking expedition receives a mortal wound, in his dying moments asks his brother Thorstein to transmit his name to posterity: “My name has lived but a little hour, and thus I should be forgotten as soon as you are gone, but I see that you will increase the family and become a great man of luck. I wish you would let a son be called Thorolf, and all the lucky qualities (heillir) which I have had, those will I give him; then I think my name shall live as long as men dwell in the world.” And Thorstein answers: “This I will gladly promise you, for I look that it shall be to our honour, and good luck shall go with your name as long as it is in the clan.” He keeps his promise, and the new Thorolf becomes like his kinsman. 
Note specifically that Thorstein can't merely name his yet-to-be-born son after Jokul; the marriage to Jokul's sister is necessary for the intention to be carried out. The clans must be united by blood. Interestingly, direct descent is not required; the child being born to Jokul's sister would be sufficient. It is entirely possible that the importance of the uncle-nephew relationship, which was even of greater import in Germanic society than the father-son relationship, is at play here; technically, Thorstein's son would be Jokul's nephew, by virtue of Thorstein's marriage to Jokul's sister.

But the operative requirement is clear. Naming is not enough. Some degree of clan-membership, in this case by marriage, is required for the luck of the name to adhere to the child.

Quotes now go back to McNallen's 1985 "Metagenetics" essay:
One wonders, as an aside, if rebirth (whether literal rebirth of the individual personality, or the rebirth of some spiritual essence beyond the “merely” biological) might not be some sort of evolutionary bonus for the clan and tribe, whereby the best, wisest, most spiritually “in tune” characteristics are conserved in the family line.
Assuming that reincarnation within the family or clan line is the norm, this certainly does seem to be an interesting, if ultimately unanswerable, speculation.
So far we’ve worked on the idea that there is a link between heredity and the clan concept on one hand, and psychism and rebirth on the other. Let’s try a different tack now, and look at Dr. Carl Jung’s archetypes.
I will start this section off by stating that I am not an expert in Jungian psychology, nor do I particularly buy into his theories about archetypes. That said, let's continue to work through the article.
Jung spoke of the collective unconscious- a level of the psyche not dependent upon personal experience. The collective unconscious is a reservoir of primordial images called archetypes. They are not exactly memories, but are rather predispositions and potentialities. As Jung said, “There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life. Endless repetition has engraved these experiences into our psychic constitution, not in the forms of images filled with content, but at first only as forms without content (emphasis in the original), representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action”.
Most modern students of Jung miss a very key fact. Jung stated explicitly that the archetypes were not culturally transmitted but were in fact inherited- that is to say, genetic. He linked them with the physiological urges of instincts and went so far as to say that, “Because the brain is the principal organ of the mind, the collective unconscious depends directly upon the evolution of the brain”. A more precise statement of the mind/body/spirit link, and of the religious implications of biological kinship, would be hard to find.
Yes, it is true that Jung said that, but that is not in and of itself sufficient to make that a true statement. One thing that makes me queasy when using Jung as a justification for metagenetics is the fact that Jungian archetypes are also used as the justification for the atheist-Heathen position. I am troubled by the implication that accepting metagenetics might also mean that one must also accept a non-literal interpretation of the existence of the Gods and Goddesses as distinct personalities. Of course, the question of atheist-Heathenry is a completely separate discussion, which I've commented on before to no one's satisfaction in the debate.

While I know using the evidence for one doesn't necessarily require accepting the other, the implication is still there. But the good news is that it's also unnecessary; metagenetics gets along just fine without Jung's archetypes.
But Jung was not satisfied to make this connection. He went on to say that because of this biological factor there were differences in the collective unconscious of the races of mankind. Boldly he asserted that:
Thus it is a quite unpardonable mistake to accept the conclusions of a Jewish psychology as generally valid. [This statement must be taken in context. It is not some irrelevant anti-Jewish remark, but instead stems from the growing rift between Jung and his Jewish teacher, Freud.] Nobody would dream of taking Chinese or Indian psychology as binding upon ourselves. The cheap accusation of anti-Semitism that has been leveled at me on the ground of this criticism is about as intelligent as accusing me of an anti-Chinese prejudice. No doubt, on an earlier and deeper level of psychic development, where it is still impossible to distinguish between an Aryan, Semitic, Hamitic, or Mongolian mentality, all human races have a common collective psyche. But with the beginning of racial differentiation, essential differences are developed in the collective psyche as well. For this reason, we cannot transplant the spirit of a foreign religion ‘in globo’ into our own mentality without sensible injury to the latter.
Thus the link between religion, which expresses itself in terms of archetypes in the collective unconscious, and biology- and hence race- is complete.
In this particular case, however, while I can readily accept the fact that persons of different ethnic or racial backgrounds would have different psychological makeups, to dismiss utterly the impact of culture on one's psychological upbringing entirely seems to me to be excessive. It also ignores one of the most often-cited criticisms of both Jungian psychology and metagenetics; the question of persons of mixed heritage. Does a half-German/half-Japanese person have a psychology based on their German or Japanese heritage, or some sort of hybrid of the two? At least at this point in the development of metagenetic theory, the answer remains a mystery.

My basic problem with this line of argument is that it ignores, or at best undermines, the existence of the gods as independent entities, and instead relies on a Jungian interpretation of them as psychological archetypes that are essentially dependent on the individual minds of the ethnic or racial group whence they come.

In short, the reality of a "Jewish psychology" or a "Chinese psychology" is not directly relevant to the idea of a "Jewish spirituality" or a "Germanic spirituality", although the possibility of some sort of interaction cannot be discounted (see below for a discussion of the Germanic body/mind/soul complex). Indeed, there are indications that psychology (in a clinical sense) is much more dependent on genetic and epigenetic factors than was ever even suspected in Jung's lifetime. I've mentioned that in part 1 of this series, and there will be more on it later.
Jung is substantiated by more recent research as well. Perhaps the most important such study was conducted by Dr. Daniel G. Freedman, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Chicago. His results were published in an article in the January 1979 issue of Human Nature entitled, “Ethnic Differences in Babies.” Freedman and his associates subjected Caucasian, Asian, Black, and Native American newborn infants to identical stimuli, and consistently received different responses from babies of each race.
Furthermore, these differences matched the traditionally-ascribed characteristics of each race- the Asian babies were in fact less excitable and more passive, etc. Native American and Mongolian babies behaved similarly, apparently due to their relatively close biological kinship. It is only a small step from inborn temperament to inborn attitudes to inborn religious predispositions, which is only a restating in different words of Dr. Jung’s theory.
Here I would respond that it is not Jung that is substantiated by the research, but rather it is metagenetics in general that is being validated by the research. The thesis that babies of different ethnic or racial origins behave differently from one another, as well as the idea that people of different ethnic or racial origins have distinct religious predispositions, is totally unconnected to the idea that psychological archetypes exist and are distinct between ethnic populations, unless one is inclined to say that religion is based on one's relationship with those psychological archetypes, rather than one's relationship with spiritual beings whose existence transcends and is independent of the minds of human beings. Needless to say, I am not so inclined.

I've been unable to track down a copy of the original article online, or I would have linked to it here. If anyone can point me to it, please let me know in the comments, and I will happily include a link (and read it to make sure it says what we think it says - always read primary sources wherever possible).
Let’s look again at how the clan mystique, the expression of which in the physical world is a genetic one, relates to the Vanir in particular, and the ancient beliefs of Asatru in general.
The goddess Freya is strongly linked to the clan concept for she is the leader of the female tutelary spirits called the “disir”.
I'm afraid this is simply incorrect. While Freyja is referred to by the title vanadís in Snorri's Skáldskaparmál, the Norse tendency to use kennings, allusions, and other poetical circumlocutions would lead one to view that as yet another poetic turn of phrase, rather than a mythological statement of function.
Of the disir we read, in The Viking Achievement (P.G. Foote and D.M. Wilson) that:
It is sometimes difficult to keep the disir distinct from valkyries or harsh Norns on the one hand, and spirits called ‘fylgjur’, ‘accompaniers’, on the other; and it is probable that the Norsemen themselves had notions about these beings that varied from time to time and place to place. Fylgjur were attached to families or individuals, but had no local habitation or individual name. They appear to have represented the inherent faculty for achievement that existed in a family’s offspring. Everyday observation of consonant or discrepant facts of heredity would confirm that it was possible for a fylgja to desert an individual or to be rejected by him.”
The function of the disir and fylgjur as classes of beings, on the other hand, is entirely germane to the topic of metagenetics. The quote provided above is entirely accurate; both were innately tied to the family, which by definition makes them "transmitted" through blood, or ancestry. That there was some overlap between the two, especially in the twilight years of Norse Heathenry, is an unfortunate truth. It is not so much a commentary on the fickleness of ur-Heathenry as our modern demand to neatly and universally categorize all elements of religion and mythology. Germanic religion was a messy thing, full of contradictions and overlaps and uncertainties, as should be expected from a folk religion, as opposed to an authoritarian Religion of the Book.

Bottom line; we see ample evidence for the transmission of spiritual characteristics within family lines, in this case through the disir and fylgjur. That is completely consistent with metagenetic theory, and in no way reliant on Jungian theory of racially-distinct psychological archetypes.
ANCIENT WISDOM MEETS MODERN SCIENCE
The idea of metagenetics may be threatening to many who have been taught that there are no differences between the branches of humanity. But in reflecting, it is plain that metagenetics is in keeping with the most modern ways of seeing the world. A holistic view of the human entity requires that mind, matter, and spirit are not separate things but represent a spectrum or continuum. It should not be surprising, then, that genetics is seen as a factor in spiritual or psychic matters. And the ideas put forth by those who see consciousness as a product of chemistry fit into metagenetics as well- for biochemistry is a function of organic structure which in turn depends upon our biological heritage.
This is an interesting take on the question, and calls to mind Edred Thorsson's conception of the Germanic body/mind/soul complex. Thorsson describes the lyke (body) as the "physical vehicle that houses the other parts of the soul." Within that vehicle are the other elements of the Germanic body/mind/soul complex; the hyde (shape), hugh (intellect), myne (memory, including ancestral memories), athem (breath), wode (inspiration), and fetch (connection to the supernatural). All components work together in order to create a person. There is also the fylgja, or ancestral spirit, that acts as the guardian spirit of the clan, and in many ways embodies the luck of all the members of the clan or family.

In this sense, then, it is entirely possible that some elements of the Germanic body/mind/soul complex interact with, and thus influence, one another. This is the possible intersection of ethnic/racial psychology with ethnic/racial spirituality.
We of Asatru are concerned about our ancestral heritage, and we consider our religion to be an expression of the whole of what we are, not something that we arbitrarily assume from without. It also explains why those who do not understand us accuse us of extreme ethnocentrism or even racism- for it is clear from metagenetics that if we, as a people, cease to exist, then Asatru also dies forever. We are intimately tied up with the fate of our whole people, for Asatru is an expression of the soul of our race.
This does not mean that we are to behave negatively toward other peoples who have not harmed us. On the contrary, only by understanding who we are, only by coming from our racial “center”, can we interact justly and with wisdom with other peoples on this planet. We must know ourselves before we can know others. Our differences are great, but we who love human diversity and variation must learn to see these differences as a blessing to be treasured, not barriers to be dissolved.
And the essay ends with a reiteration of the folkish point of view. Heritage is important, race is real, and Asatru is connected to our racial identity. And just as surely, that is intimately intertwined with a respect for, and even admiration of, people of other races and ethnicities, in a world where all races and ethnicities are given the opportunity and the respect to fulfill their own potential.

So, to recap my thoughts on the 1985 Metagenetics article:
  • The original article cites Dr. Rhine's experiments with ESP, in an attempt to use the supposed phenomenon of in-family ESP as evidence for the possibility of metagenetics. I find the argument unconvincing, but also unnecessary.
  • The original article also cites Jungian archetypes, which are supposedly based on racial and/or ethnic boundaries. I find this association not only unnecessary, but also problematic, as it implies an archetypical and psychological, rather than hard polytheistic view, of the Gods and Goddesses, which I do not embrace.
  • The original article cites DNA-RNA evidence for the transmission of behavioral information and memories. Although brought up in the context of Timothy Leary's work, more modern scholarship not only agrees, but recent publications on epigenetics makes the case even more compelling.
  • The original article cites the possibility of reincarnation within family/clan lines. This view is directly supported by the written lore, and is therefore consistent with a pre-Christian Germanic world-view.
  • Research with the behavior of babies supports the idea that behavior is genetically transmitted, and can be predicted based on racial/ethnic lines. This is consistent with the metagenetic point of view, which holds that spiritual qualities are transmitted similarly. 
  • Modern interpretations of the Germanic body/mind/soul complex are consistent not only with the ancient concepts of the fylgja and dis, but also with the metagenetic principle of spiritual transmission through family/clan lines.
In short, even when the few questionable sources are removed from the equation, the fundamental concept of metagenetics, that spiritual qualities are transmitted through ancestry, and can thus be found consistently within racial and ethnic groups, is supported by the written sources as well as modern scholarship and scientific studies of race and behavior. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Where is this Book?

A tribesman and I were discussing a need within the Asatru community on our ride back from AFA Ostara down at Gladsheim Hof in Maryland. Specifically, the need for a history of Heathenry in America.

There are bits of history scattered hither and yon in various books, magazine articles, and websites, but almost all are written not only with a very limited scope, but often with a particular agenda. I'm talking about something quite a bit different.

I want to see a book that's comprehensive and neutral. It would probably have to be written by some scholar outside of the Heathen community, who doesn't have a particular axe to grind. Comprehensive, in that it would cover the activities in all of the major organizations over the years, from the original Asatru Free Assembly, to the Asatru Alliance, Ring of Troth/The Troth, Asatru Folk Assembly, the Rune Gild, Gering Theod and the Theodish Rice (and all of its offspring), and so forth. It would give biographies of the major players in Heathenry over the years; Stephen McNallen, Edred Thorsson, Valgard Murray, James Chisholm, Kveldulf Gunderson, Garman Lord, Diana Paxson, Eric and Swain Wodening, etc. Major events, such as the infamous Alliance Althing 9, Erik Moore's East Coast Althing (anyone else remember that?), the Our Meadhall moots, and overviews of regular events such as East Coast Thing, Trothmoot, Alliance Althings, and the various AFA regional events, would also be included.

But the key would be neutrality. It shouldn't be a hit-piece against the folkish, or the universalists, or the Lokeans, or the anti-Lokeans, or the reconstructionists, or whatever other factions and fault lines exist. But it also shouldn't paper over the rough times; the infighting, the schisms, the dissolutions, the purges. It should be based entirely on fact, with a minimum of editorialization (but that wouldn't preclude contextualization or pointing out narrative themes, of course). Someone outside the Heathen or Pagan communities altogether. A scholar with a reputation for writing about facts, not opinions or agendas.

In short, a true history. Comprehensive, neutral, and needed.

I'd pay a decent price for such a book. In fact, I think it's not only a good idea, but a necessary one. Pretty soon we're going to be losing those early stalwarts from the 1970's and 80's (and some have of course unfortunately already left Midgard), and interviews would be crucial to such a work. Along with primary sources wherever possible, of course. There are a lot of magazines out there that chronicle what was going on twenty or thirty years ago; Vor Tru, Runestone, Idunna, Rune Kevels, Mountain Thunder, Marklander, etc. Gathering those disparate sources would be a task unto itself.

Who'd be up for donating to commission that book? And who should write it?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Metagenetics week at the Garden

Just wanted to make a quick programming announcement. All next week will me "Metagenetics week" here at Jön Upsal's Garden. I will be publishing a five-part series of articles on one of the most controversial aspects of Folkish Asatru.

The series will cover Stephen McNallen's 1985, 1999, and 2006 works on the subject, as well as Edred Thorsson's writings, and will wrap up with some of my own thoughts. I hope you'll join me for what will probably be a wild ride.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Reconstructing a Straw Man

Over at the Rational Heathen, "Tyra Ulfdotter" made a post entitled Reconstructionists are Idiots.

As you might imagine, I have a couple of thoughts on the matter. I should point out that this isn't a complete Fisking of her article. I just don't have the stomach for it tonight. I'm just hitting the highlights on this one; full text at the link above.

First off, for someone who touts herself as being rational, the author sure engages in a lot of name-calling. "Idiots", "morons", "idiots" (again), "a sorry lot", "kind of like the Catholic church", "tainted", and so forth. That should give some idea of the level of discourse to be found here, but she goes much further than that, laying out a series of propositions of what reconstructionism is, and then, having knocked over those straw men with aplomb, proceeds to lecture us on how Heathenry is supposed to be done. According to her, I suppose.
After having dealt with enough of these morons, I've come to the conclusion that at best, reconstructionists are misguided. At worst, they're idiots. I say this with the utmost candor, having dealt with reconstructionists when I first got involved in online Heathenry.  I even got thrown off a list for expressing my views, albeit politely. (Yeah, me being polite -- go figure.)  I was told in no uncertain terms I was wrong for my opinions and ideas, and when I logically tore them to pieces, they resorted to ad hominem attacks, and then throwing me off their list. Oh, and then banning me.  Like that really showed me?
Seriously?  Seriously??
Ad hominem attacks are a clue to me you really don't have your shit wired, and at this point, the best you can do is just insult me.  Yeah, that won the argument.  Throwing me off the board and banning me just proves your opinions can't stand scrutiny.  
Okay, so here we see the root of the problem, right up front. Tyra apparently had some sort of dust-up with a group of reconstructionists over on Facebook, and ended up getting banned from a particular Facebook group. I have a shrewd notion of which one it was, too, but I'm not certain so won't name names...

That's what this whole thing is about; a woman scorned, and marching off to the Internet to vent her spleen. And in the process tagging all reconstructionists (which would include non-Asatruar as well, I am compelled to add, such as the Celtic Recons, the Religio Romana, Hellenismos, Khemetics, etc.) with the behaviors she claims to have witnessed in that one group.

And then to go around complaining about ad hominem attacks, when the very title of her piece contains a schoolyard insult, is just... wow.


If her article is an example of how "polite" she was in that Facebook recon group, I can't say I blame them for giving her the heave-ho.

Now we proceed to her pronouncements about what reconstructionism is. This oughtta be good.
Reconstructionism, at its core is trying to learn and ascertain how northern paganism came into being, what constitutes northern paganism, and what influenced it later.
Why, no. No it's not. Thanks for playing. Reconstructionism, at its core, is the process of trying to reconstruct a religious system as accurately and completely as possible, given the available evidence. Of course there are a variety of different definitions, but that's the core of it. This emphasis on origins is... weird. Origins might come into things if some sort of Indo-European comparative study is required, but it's certainly not the goal, and certainly not worthy of being listed first in a list of what reconstructionism is.
They [reconstructionists] look at the sagas and Eddas as being tainted by Christianity. That any semblance of Heathenry is corrupt in them and therefore they are unreliable. 

To be sure, the sagas and Eddas were, for the most part, composed and certainly written down after the conversion to Christianity. They must therefore be used as sources carefully, and there are many excellent secular books that do just that, and have been working on that problem for well more than a century. But to imply that reconstructionists throw out those sources merely because they were written down by Christians (or, perhaps, Muslims, or Romans, or Greeks, since we have written evidence beyond the Eddas and sagas that she doesn't seem to either be aware of, or chooses to ignore) is simply wrong. That's what the whole field of historiography is about, as a matter of fact; critical analysis of historical texts.


Tyra Ulfsdotter continues.
I'm not against the concept of reconstruction, per se, I'm against the way it is being used in arguments.
I doubt that, since you haven't demonstrated any real understanding of what reconstructionism actually is.
I've read through enough reconstructionist babble to decide that they've gone too off the deep end when it comes to trying to recreate our beliefs.  They argue point after point against those who do use the Eddas, Havamal, and Unverified Personal Gnosis to beat people into submission, when the reality is when it comes to science, we really don't have a full picture what Heathenry was to our ancestors.
I have a feeling I'm going to be using this one a lot in this post
Again, it really looks like she's talking about a very specific group of people who were mean to her on Facebook. Given the complete lack of any sort of examples or evidence to back up her claim (hmmm... isn't that supposed to be part of the scientific method? You know... evidence?), it's impossible to say what exactly she's talking about.

I can tell you what she's not talking about, though. The vast majority of people who call ourselves reconstructionists. I am a staunch reconstructionist, and I use evidence from the Eddas, the Icelandic sagas, and other written evidence all the time. Not as holy writ, of course, but not throwing them out entirely either. Edda-thumping sort of went out around the turn of the century, anyway:

But UPG? Yeah, gonna agree on that one. Unverified Personal Gnosis is just that... unverified and personal. It's fine to use UPG in one's personal religious practice. I do it myself. But that's a far, far different thing from having some UPG and presenting it to the world with no differentiation between it and actual historical evidence, or beliefs and practices that are imputed from historical sources, which is not at all the same thing as "Loki came to me in a dream and told me this". Then again, the very categorization of UPG has led to a conflation between "we know this is 100% true" on the one side, and "Odin told me" and "respectable scholars have examined the evidence and come to a conclusion that is supported by, but not definitively proven by, the evidence" on the other. And that's a bad thing, because the insight of scholars who are connecting the dots is not on the same plane as people who insist gods talk to them. Ahem.
The greatest problem with reconstruction is that we just don't have enough evidence to say "Yea verily, this is how it was."  We have a lot of good educated guesses by really smart dudes with letters after their names, but we don't have proof other than what others have wrote about the northern pagan cultures and what those people left behind.
This is perhaps the most commonly-found straw man argument about reconstructionism, because it is factually correct. We don't know exactly how thing were done, or precisely what people believed, a thousand years ago.

But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that is not what reconstructionism ever set out to do!



Reconstructionism is about making best guesses based on the available data. One of the most reputable things about true reconstructionism is its willingness, nay, it's insistence, that even cherished notions and practices must be set aside if new facts or scholarship comes to light demonstrating that they are wrong. I've written extensively about it myself, here on this blog.

Don't condemn reconstructionism because it doesn't do what it never promised to do in the first place. Or, perhaps, stop applying some argument you had with a handful of people on Facebook to everyone who is a recon.
I'd argue that the reconstruction folks are more along the lines of putting it in a nice display case to look at from time to time. They're not the ones who take the cup out and actually use it the way it was intended.  They're interested in the cup as the prize and not as what the cup does for anyone, metaphorically speaking, or they're using it as a weapon against other people. It's still a cup, but it's being used as a hammer to slam people who actually agree with multiculturalism in Heathenism. 
Wait... Where the Hel did that come from?

How did we get from "you can't be sure how it was back then" to multi-fucking-culturalism?

Methinks I'm beginning to see more of the underlying problem that the "Rational Heathen" has. But she drops it for the nonce and goes back to trying to define what reconstructionists are, at least in her mind. Leave us continue.
Reconstructionists, if they had their way, would fix heathenism in some arbitrarily agreed to point and time.
Yup. here we go.
Well... no. Not really at all. I am unaware of any reconstructionist group that says "we're going to do things as they were done in tenth century Svealand and no evidence not from there will be accepted." It's an absurdity on its face, and she should be embarrassed for even suggesting it.

Now, there are some Theodish groups that attempt to reconstruct the ways of specific Germanic tribes, such as the Anglo-Saxons, continental Saxons, Goths, etc. But even so, they don't define a particular "period" (except of course pre-Christian), and will simply convert relevant source material from other times and Germanic (or even other) cultures in order to arrive at as holistic an approach as possible. Some exceptions are obvious (Anglo-Saxons not including Loki because there are no A-S sources that mention him), but on the whole the reconstructionist approach is pan-Germanic, and spans from the conversion era backwards a thousand years or more, usually trying to suss out commonalities across Germanic cultures. And it's pretty successful at it, too. But a single point in time and space? Nonsense. Nobody insists on that across the board; and if they do, I want to see it.

But now she veers, inexplicably, back into the whole multicultural thing. Somehow, in her mind, she seems to have conflated folkishness with reconstructionism, despite the fact that in my experience, it's the reconstructionists, such as Kveldulf Gunderson, who are the leading voices in the universalist movement. In fact, I addressed this very thing in detail when it came up just a month ago.

But, again, she doesn't give any actual examples, just tosses out assertions willy-nilly, and expects them to be believed without question. Protip: Some concrete examples would be helpful to let folks know what the fuck you're talking about.



But now, out of the blue, without any build-up or lead-in, she veers into a rant about folkishness. I can only guess it's because she doesn't like reconstructionists, and she doesn't like folkish Asatruar, and so they must be the same. Or something. Because there's no other way this paragraph has any possible connection to the one that precedes it:
We know that during the Viking Age our ancestors went, well, everywhere. The Vikings went everywhere in the known world.  We know they were in Sicily (conquering it twice, once by the Norse with Bjorn Ironsides and once by the Normans), Russia (the Varangians), and in Slavic countries.  They went west toward the Americas, east far enough to have genetic mutations that are only found in people with Mongolian ancestry in Iceland, south into Sicily and did have dealings with Muslims, and north, well, they are Norse.  There is a black Heathen mentioned, for the gods' sake! I've seen Viking caches that had a gold Buddha in with all the other treasure in a museum display.  Think about that and tell me that Northern Paganism wasn't influenced by other groups.  The answer is that they were.  Which means there is no way we could distill what a pure Heathen was like at any point and time.
And HALLELUJAH! she has links for some of those assertions in the original, some of which I've already dealt with in previous posts. But once again she ends up with an assertion that nobody on the reconstructionist (or folkish, for that matter) side has ever made to my knowledge, and sure as shit, that's the one she doesn't have a link for.

Who the Hel ever talked about "a pure Heathen"? It's absolutely fascinating that the only people who seem to be insistent about purity, whether it's cultural or genetic or whatever else, are the ones arguing against it. As if to say, "your position insists on purity, and purity can never exist, therefore your position is wrong", without bothering to notice that nobody she's arguing against is insisting on purity in the first place!

Please, show me someone on the reconstructionist side who is arguing that the goal is "distilling what a pure Heathen was like at any point and time." Because in my experience, as a reconstructionist for going on thirty years, it's much more pan-Germanic, and much more forgiving that whatever she's talking about.

It's handier than a broomstick.
They want to espouse their own world view as fact and use what few bits of what archaeologists have recovered to support their assertions. They're kind of like the Catholic church that insisted on an Earth-centric view of the cosmos instead of accepting that the Earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around. If they just would bend a little and look at reality with an open mind, they'd see it all fall nicely into place, instead of trying to shoehorn their own beliefs like the proverbial square peg and round hole.
I... just... what the fuck are you talking about? In the complete absence of any actual examples, this is just "I hate reconstructionists" babble. Reconstructionists only use archaeology? What planet are you on? But thank the Gods she finally gives a few concrete examples to go with her opprobrium, but naturally omits any specific references to individual cases:
I've heard them call those who try to incorporate other pagan traditions into Heathenry derisively as "Wiccatru," and while I'm clearly not Wiccan, and don't think much of spells (and don't believe in magic, per se), I don't think discouraging that branch of potential heathens is helpful. 
There's a lot of wrongness to unpack in this sentence.

"Wiccatru" is not used to describe those who try to incorporate any other pagan traditions into Heathenry. It's used to describe those who try to specifically incorporate Wiccan traditions and ideology into Heathenry. Things like the Hammer Hallowing Ritual, which is just a rewrite of the Wiccan Calling the Quarters ritual (and which itself derives from ceremonial magic). Or making up names, meanings, and even creating entirely new runes, in line with the New Age/eclectic nature of Wicca in the 1980's. Or the Eightfold Wheel of the Year, which is at variance with the major sacrifices described by Snorri in Heimskringla and other sources. Or indulge in Wiccanate theistic reduction, where all of the Gods are "aspects" of Odin, and all of the goddesses are "aspects" of Freyja. It's a term that stems from the earliest days of Asatru in the US, when Wicca was such an overwhelming force in our then-shared cultural space that a certain level of distancing was necessary, and some even wrote pamphlets to point out the differences between the two. It's a term that was used disparagingly, to be sure, but also for a very real purpose; to help guide people into an Asatru path that was removed of most of its Wiccanate elements (and the question of Wiccanate Privilege as it effects neopagan religions has recently been recognized as a problem). That's mostly the case today, with the possible exceptions of the Hammer Hallowing Ritual and the Wheel of the Year, which unfortunately seem baked into modern Asatru, despite their completely ahistorical natures. Hel, even I've been known to do an old-fashioned hammer hallowing every once in a while, for old times' sake ("old times" in this case being the 90's).

The second issue here is the notion that casting spells and using magic in general is somehow not Heathen, or exclusively the province of Wicca. I hate to break it to you, but the Germanic world-view was a magical world-view. Our sources are replete with examples of people using seidr, and galdr, and spa, and the archaeological record is stuffed to the gills with examples of magical inscriptions on amulets and weapons. But damnit, I've lost track. Is that a good thing or a bad thing with the Rational Heathen? I thought she said she was in favor of using historical sources, but not the in the bad mean way the awful reconstructionists do, but now she's saying that she doesn't believe in spells even though they're in the sources. I give up. But the point is that skepticism regarding magic is not something that is exclusive to the reconstructionist side. There are people all over all the various spectra of Asatru that are uncomfortable with the "woo" side. Recons and non-recons alike.

Finally, she describes Wiccans as "potential heathens". Sigh. On the one hand, I'm a big believer in outreach, even to the Wiccan community. If we've got something that they find lacking in their own faith, then I'm all in favor of bringing them in. But to say that we need to somehow soft-pedal our own internal discussions in order not to offend them, so more of them will convert? Or that we should change what we do to make our religion more palatable to them? That's a bit much even for me. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of Asatruar today are former Christians, not Wiccans. Did Asatru ever tone down it's disparaging remarks about Christianity in order to attract more Christian converts?


There are the Rokkatru folks who honor the Jotnar, whom the reconstructionists say can't honor those beings because nobody in the past honored them (Like they were there? There may be no evidence of worship, but you just can't prove a negative, especially with our lack of archaeological evidence.) 
Oh, my head.

First of all, reconstructionists don't say people "can't honor those beings" because they don't have the power to stop them. Of course people are going to do all sorts of fuckwitted things because they want to, or just to be contrarian, or just to prove they can be the fringe-of-a-fringe and really be a outsider. That'll show 'em! And reconstructionists know this, which is why they never frame their arguments in terms that someone "can't" or "must" do a thing. Because that's bullshit and they know it.

Really, I'm past the point where I wish that she'd just go back to being an atheist, and leave Heathenry altogether. She'd do less damage there, because there are people over there that know how onus probandi works in logic. Because what reconstructionists say is, "there's no evidence for such-and-such a thing", which is entirely different from saying "you can't do a thing." All the reconstructionist is saying is, differentiate what we know is genuine from what we don't know, and don't pretend that the one is the other. And where does that leave the burden of proof? On the people who say that Heathens a thousand years ago worshiped Jotuns, or Loki, so it's okay to do so now. They're the ones making the claim (that what they're doing has an historical basis), so they're the ones who have to prove their assertion. To date, the proof has been somewhat wanting.


And if they don't claim it's an historical practice, who come out and say, "this is a new thing"? Reconstructionists are usually cool with that as long as it's not being forced on them, even though they might not do that thing themselves, or even think it's a particularly good idea. What we hate is people trying to present their new crap as historical. Just draw the line sharply and clearly, and nobody will get hurt. Try to pretend it's historical and we'll come down on you like a ton of bricks.
The point is we have people who want to know our gods and our beliefs -- there is no reason to exclude them.
This isn't a race to see who can rack up the most numbers as quickly as possible. If people are willing to come to Asatru and learn, that's one thing. But we don't need a zillion people coming to Asatru who have completely batshit crazy ideas of what Asatru is, the historical beliefs and practices of our ancestors, how it's practiced, what Asatruar believe (or should believe), and then go ahead and actually change Asatru according to their own historically incorrect opinions. You come in and say, "the historical record is silent on X, I think Asatru should do Y", well, then, we can have a conversation, and maybe Asatru will grow out of it. You come in and say, "I know Asatru says X, but when I was Wiccan we did Y, and it was really great and you should try doing it instead of X" then I'm going to tell you to pound sand, and probably most Asatruar will be right behind me, reconstructionist or no.

I would rather have a dozen people in my tribe who actually get Asatru, than a hundred who think it's just another catch-all bucket for whatever New Agey weirdness happens to catch their eye at the moment. Come to think of it, I do.
Some reconstructionists go as far as to be tribal. If your ancestors were not from a particular German hamlet, or didn't come from Norway, they don't want you as part of the team. Dudes, quit goosestepping in your parents' basement. Race is a construct. We're all a bunch of inbred monkey cousins with some very small genetic adaptations. Deal with it.

 And here's the preaching again. I really think she is conflating folkish and reconstructionist Heathenry, which is just not the case (see above). Maybe the meanieheads on Facebook were Folkish recons, but I have to say we're in the minority, at least in my experience. But again, there aren't any examples given, so it's just her spouting off.

As for "race is a construct", well... wait 'til next week. I've got a thing coming up. ;-) That said, admitting that race exists isn't racist, and every forensic anthropologist in the country will doubtless stand up and call "bullshit" on the whole "race is a social construct" nonsense. Race is real. That doesn't make acknowledging it racist.

That said, even the most hardcore folkish Heathen, or even if we go into actual, real, racist Heathenry, doesn't go so far as to only accept people from a single German village. Is it possible there's a Norway-only racist kindred out there? Maybe. I'm going to ask for a link.


Let's face it: our worldview is vastly different from our ancestors'.  We don't hold slaves and most of us find slavery repugnant and downright wrong (I say "most of us" because I know of some whack-jobs who probably think it's okay).  We find the idea of human sacrifice to be abhorrent (everyone except the guy I argued with in a group that said that he understood why it happened and wouldn't, when pressed, be against it), and value the individual. 
And you know what? A lot of us actively attempt to recreate the world-view of the pre-Christian Germanic people. Not for the slavery and the human sacrifice (but see Theodish thralldom and capital punishment, respectively) but for the magic, the tribalism, the honor, the view of a world controlled by Fate, the relevance of omens and divination, the honoring of women as near-supernatural figures, the warrior ethic, and many other things besides.
Some reconstructionists would like to point to the family as the smallest acceptable unit and would like to claim that Americans (and Christianity) puts emphasis on the individual only, and not the tribe.  This is patently absurd.  Here's why.
Looking at Anglo Saxon texts such as the Seafarer and Beowulf, not to mention the Norse Eddas, seem to point to accomplishments of individuals. If you look at Bronze Age folklore, it's not the family who triumphs in those stories; it's the individual.
Huh? In going on thirty years of being an Asatru Reconstructionist, I've never heard anyone talking about individualism being bad. Gonna ask for a source on this one, because it's a bizarre argument. She really seems like she's taking one or two bad conversations with a particular recon or couple of recons and projecting it to cover everyone. But at least she said "some reconstructionists" here, rather than implying that her straw men applied to all recons.
If you're a reconstructionist, you need to be at least open to allowing Heathenism to grow.  Trying to reconstruct a religion from more than a thousand years ago from a dead culture is like trying to preserve a time capsule that never existed. You may construct something, but it's unlikely it is something that resembles what was there in the past. It's a lesson is futility.  Your current world view is based on what is around you. You will never, ever come close to what our ancestors were like in your attempts at mimicking them. For one thing, technology has tainted you. Your language has tainted you. Your education has tainted you. Your nation and how it has evolved has tainted you.
See, that's something that a lot of people misunderstand about reconstructionism. It's never been about finding some idealized perfect version of Denmark in 968 CE and then staying there for all time. It's about finding a starting point. Once we have that firm foundation, that well-researched, well-reasoned, and practical starting point, then we can start innovating and experimenting and adding. But without that firm foundation first, all you have is a morass of half-assed ideas, eclectic nonsense brought in on a whim because someone thinks it's "neat", and the attempt to reconstruct what was, as best we can, falls apart.


I'm the first person to say if new evidence comes around, even favorite things should be up for change or removal. I'm also leading the charge to incorporate new ideas, new practices, and new ways of doing old things, within the framework of what we know our ancestors did. That's the core of reconstructionist theory; it's fine to add something to what you're already doing, as long as you know (or strongly suspect) that it's something that was done in the past. The fact that we don't know the details (yet) doesn't matter; the fact that a thing was done gives us the opportunity to fill in the details ourselves. Look at my efforts to include music, and dance, and animal guising into ritual. That's pretty new and radical for a lot of Asatruar today, but it's completely consistent with the reconstructionist methodology, because it's all stuff we know they did. How to fill in those gaps is where the bulls-eye theory comes in.
The gods are not stagnant beings. They don't just hang around and wish for the halcyon days of the Viking era. They know it's folly to look backward.  If they wanted that time saved, don't you think one of them could have saved that puppy in a time capsule somewhere and trotted it out for all to see? 
And now she claims to speak for the gods. That's all the commentary I'm going to give here.

Back to the preaching, and a repeat of her fundamental misunderstanding that reconstructionism and folkishness are somehow inherently related:
There's enough room under the Heathen tent to be inclusive and open to other ideas, and other people.
By "other people", I assume this is some sort of universalist "the gods call whom they will" stuff? That's a whole 'nuther argument entirely. Or is it a reference to bringing in Wiccans and such? It's really hard to tell in context.

Yeah, you can have her in your kindred
Yes, there are going to areas where we disagree, but that's normal. We need people with new ideas and new perspectives on our beliefs because otherwise we remain stagnant.
Indeed, but those new ideas and perspectives don't necessarily have to come from outside the context of a reconstructionist approach to Asatru. There are dozens of areas of belief and practice that we know existed in pre-Christian Europe that Asatru as a whole hasn't even touched on, yet. Let's work through all that material, and come up with a fully-formed and robust religion of our own, before deciding that it needs to import foreign ideas from Wicca, or whatever she's alluding to here.
Heathenry should not be something that sits on a shelf to show everyone how cool and smart you are.  Heathenry is a celebration of our gods and the old ways as they pertain to today.
Your Heathenry might be that. What gives you the right to decide what Heathenry has to be for everyone else? That's always been the problem with universalists; they keep wanting to tell other people how to do things, rather than just letting people choose their own way. You don't want to use reconstructionist approaches to Asatru? Great! Don't. Just make sure you are clear in what parts of your beliefs and practice are, and are not, based in history. Or maybe you'd be happier just calling yourself a Norse Neopagan and being done with it. Just sayin'.
We know through science that we're one tribe, not many, although we have different ethnicities.  We need to find common ground with people who want to be included.
Why? Why do we "need" to do this? Do other ethnic religions "need" to do this? Do you have the same advice for the Navajo? The Yoruba? The Cherokee? The Ibo? Just because someone wants to be included in something, doesn't necessarily mean they get to be. For a lot of us, Asatru isn't just a religion. It's who we are. Besides, it's not like there are hordes of non-Europeans wanting to come and be Asatru. Stop trying to make it a bigger issue than it is.
The only people we should not include are those not willing to consider other viewpoints and whose sole purpose is hate.

Annnnnd we're done here folks!

EDIT: Here is some more reaction to her screed from around the web (I'll keep adding to the list as I come across more):

http://www.heathenhof.com/ranting-recon-no-not-all-reconstructionists-are-idiots/

https://www.reddit.com/r/asatru/comments/4jmbk0/the_rational_heathen_reconstructionists_are_idiots/

https://thelettuceman.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/on-religious-reconstruction-within-paganism-a-methodological-defense/

http://www.realheathenry.com/misconceptions-of-reconstruction/