Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Definition of "Folk Religion"

From no less authoritative a source than the Pew Research Center, from their recent report on The Changing Global Religious Landscape:
Folk religions are closely tied to a particular people, ethnicity or tribe. In some cases, elements of other world religions are blended with local beliefs and customs. These faiths often have no formal creeds or sacred texts. Examples of folk religions include African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. (source)
That's Asatru, right there; "...closely tied to a particular people, ethnicity or tribe." It can't be clearer. Now can we stop all this nonsensical infighting and get back to rediscovering this wonderful folk-way our ancestors bequeathed us?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Pagan Pedophilia Update

Kenny Klein
We have some updates on Paganism's Pedophilia Problem.

The diddlin' fiddler from N'awlins, Pagan community favorite, Wiccan priest, and convicted child pornographer Kenny Klein, was sentenced last week to twenty years. The judge noted, "that you are a renowned artist, teacher and leader -- a high priest in the Wiccan community."

And how did that community respond when the sentencing was in the offing?
Criminal District Judge Byron C. Williams imposed the sentence after first denying Klein's motion for a new trial. The judge said he had never before received so many letters both in support of and opposed to leniency for a defendant before a sentencing decision.
"Your partner talks about your kindness and others say you don't pose a threat to society," Williams said. "But just as many have negative things to say about you, calling you an objectionable human being, and a lot of people contend you are a monster.
It seems that just about half of the Wiccan and neopagan community wanted leniency for this piece of human debris, even after he was convicted of twenty counts of either producing or possessing with intent to distribute, child pornography.

But that's not all...

In response to the plea deal of Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF) Deputy Regional Druid for North Carolina and organizer of ADF Raven's Hollow Protogrove, Scott Holbrook, who recently plead no contest to multiple counts of "distributing obscenities" (also involving children, apparently), the ADF issued the following carefully worded statement regarding his status within the ADF:

After careful consideration of the information available and with regard to our current policy concerning Convicted and Registered Sex Offenders, the ADF Mother Grove has unanimously voted to indefinitely ban Scott Holbrook from holding any position of responsibility in ADF locally or nationally.
So one of the largest and most prestigious neopagan organizations in the country lays it out on the line. If you're guilty of distributing nude photos of children, you're still welcome at events. You just can't run them.

First half of the neopagan community rises up for leniency for one of their leaders who is a convicted child pornographer, and then a leading neopagan organization says that one of its leaders who is guilty of distributing nude photos of children.

Scott Holbrook
Neopagans, you have a long way to go before you can dare stand in judgement against the Asatru community for whatever faults you perceive within our ranks. You need to shut the fuck up and deal with the half of your own population who thinks child pornography is a crime that deserves leniency. Even -- especially -- when it's one of your own leaders, and that person is well-known within the community for, shall we say, his indiscretions in that direction. And then you need to deal with your most prominent organizations, who are willing to tolerate the presence of people who distribute naked pictures of children, and issue clever statements banning them from "leadership" but not from being events. 

Events where kids are also welcome, it seems.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Calendrical Thoughts - When to celebrate?

Something that has come up in my researches on holidays and calendars and related things is the very practical question of when to celebrate holidays whose customs have been shifted from a traditional pre-Christian date to a Christian calendar date, Saint's feast, or the like.

One example of recent relevance is the transition from winter to summer.

Historically, our ancestors marked this transition around April 22, in a ritual the Norse called Sumarmál ("summer meal"). It lasted three days, was noted for being the time when the "sacrifice for victory" (ON sigrblót) was made. This was also the beginning of the Icelandic month of Harpa, which was the first month of the summer season (the Anglo-Saxons transitioned from winter to summer a month earlier, doubtless due to the different climate in England).

In more modern times, however, we see the folk-calendar transition from winter to summer taking place on May Eve/May Day (and the whole Walpurgisnacht/Hexennacht/etc. complex). This was the final victory of summer over winter, as seen by the custom of teams of youths engaging in mock battles, playing out the final defeat of the forces of winter at the hands of the forces of summer.

So it seems that, when our ancestors moved not only from a Heathen calendar to a Christian one, but also when they then moved from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the final end of winter/start of summer got moved about eight or nine days later. Bear in mind that we're not talking about the astronomical or solar calendar; to our ancestors, summer started when the birds returned and the plants began to bud, not when some arbitrary astronomical alignment happened.

This raises two very interesting (to me, anyway) questions.

First, I wonder if the "sacrifice for victory" mentioned in Heimskringla might not be related to those mock battles between winter and summer? I (and I think most of us) have always assumed that it was a reference to a sacrifice to Odin for victory in the coming summer season, in a generic sense. But what if it's really a reference to a final victory over winter? I think there might be something there.

Perhaps the most important question of all - when do you
turn over the primstav calendar?
Second, on a more practical level, it brings us to the question of when to celebrate the transition from winter to summer? Do we do it closer to April 22, to match the Norse holiday that marks the event, or do we celebrate it on Walpurgisnacht and May Day, because that's what modern sensibilities tell us to do, and we'll be celebrating with thousands of others, at least vicariously.

For that matter, do we celebrate it in March, like the Anglo-Saxons? And do you time it around the lunar cycle, or a fixed calendar of some sort? Our Heathen ancestors did both.

I don't pretend to have an answer. Ultimately, I think this is a question that will need to be answered by each tribe for its own purposes, according to it's own custom. But I think it's a decision that should consciously be made, rather than simply going with the modern date. "Because we never thought about it and that's when everybody else does it" is the worst of all possible reasons for choosing to do something at a given time.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

When does reconstructionism end?

By the title of this article I do not mean when does the process of reconstructionism end (which might be an interesting topic in and of itself), but rather when does reconstructionism stop looking for source material? To use a term popular in the SCA*, what is reconstructionist Heathenry's "period"? In other words, when can or must we stop looking at sources, because they're too far removed from the Heathen period?

The obvious off-the-cuff answer is "after the conversion to Christianity." Which is all well and good, but does pose a few problems. The first is that the Germanic nations weren't converted at the same time. The process was a long one spanning centuries, and every time a barbarian tribe was converted, there seemed to be another Heathen one spring up behind them. So one would have to go place by place and tribe by tribe.

The second problem is that conversion wasn't an instant process. More often than not, a king or other leader would himself convert, or marry a Christian woman who would pressure him to convert, and this new faith would trickle down to the nobles and eventually to the peasantry. Sometimes this was a peaceful process, and sometimes it was done in an orgy of violence to promote the religion of the Prince of Peace. So the "official" dates of conversion are a misnomer; long after those dates, there would still be thriving Heathen communities and the folk-faith would endure. In many cases, we are told of Heathen "revivals" where the new faith was (temporarily, at least) cast off and the old ways reinstated. So during this "period of dual faith" there is still useful information that can be gleaned, although it is possible that it will be influenced by Christianity.

The third problem is that even purely Christian sources hold much value to those of us attempting to learn more about pre-Christian practices. This could come in the form of penitentials, sermons, Saints' Lives, histories, and the like that list out (often in great detail) what the Heathens did as a tool for helping Christians avoid such practices. Or, it could be more subtle, in the use of language and terminology that provides insight into pre-Christian religion, because in order to describe Christian concepts, the author had to use Heathen vocabulary, such as we see in the Gothic Bible of Ulfilas, or the Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood (which paints Jesus as the leader of a warband, and the Apostles as his thegns, and which itself might be modeled on a now-lost myth of the god Ingve).

The fourth problem is that even long after the people were nominally converted to Christianity, there remained a living undercurrent of pre-Christian remnants, often surviving under a Christian veneer. These can take many forms; popular superstitions, belief in and practices around elves/fairies/hidden folk/brownies/etc., holidays and folk-celebrations, nursery rhymes, dances and songs, and even Saints' feasts, as we have seen in other articles.

Personally, I'm inclined to cast a wide net when I look for sources, and I don't see that as in any way against reconstructionist principles.

* Society for Creative Anachronism

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bending history... in a useful way

It should come as no surprise to those who know me that I am a huge fan of the British sci-fi television series Doctor Who. I've been a fan since the 80's, and Tom Baker is my doctor. But I still like the new show that debuted on the BBC in 2005 (and has been rebroadcast in the US on BBC America). I know a Dalek from a Cyberman, and chances are you'll find a bag of jelly babies in my house at any given moment.


The current show runner for Doctor Who, Steven Moffat, who is leaving the show after this season, recently gave an interview to TV guide and had this to say:
"History is always white washed," says Moffat. "How do we manage to have a diverse cast despite that? The way that we did it was ... [to just] say that you will see people of different colors there. In fact, there were. People all didn't arrive in the twinkle of an eye. It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way."
Re-read that last sentence, carefully:
It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way.
Anyone who has read George Orwell's novel 1984 should be both angered and terrified by the nonchalance of those words. He lays it out in no uncertain terms:
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple.

We have always been at war with East Asia. The chocolate ration is being increased to twenty grams. There were thousands of black people and women and out of the closet homosexuals in Victorian London and they were treated as equals to straight white men.

And that's what Doctor Who, under Moffat at least, has done. Whenever there's a black companion to the Doctor, and they end up in Victorian (or earlier) times, nobody blinks an eye. The extras in the shots are as diverse as one might find on a Paddington street today. And the newest companion, Bill (played by Pearl Mackie) checks three boxes in one; she's gay, and black, and a woman (although that last one doesn't really count; there have been female companions since the show debuted in 1963).

Now, I don't particularly care that the Doctor's companion is a gay black woman. This is a show with Sontarans, and lizard people, and blobs of green slime in metal boxes fitted with plungers are the most feared things in the universe. I'm not going to get upset because they have minorities, of any stripe, as characters. Ditto Star Trek, Star Wars, and Marvel movies*, by the way.

But it's a show about time travel, and when the guy who's in charge of the show says outright that they're deliberately distorting history as presented in the show to promote a "progressive" agenda because it is "useful" to a political agenda, I get angry.

This is entertainment. It shouldn't be used as a vehicle to deliberately deceive people into thinking that today's social mores have always been the norm. If you're making a show that centers around traveling in time, you should at least make an attempt to show those times accurately. Russel Davies, the previous showrunner, took that approach; there was an episode where the (black female) companion Martha was chastised for interrupting when white people above her station were talking in Edwardian England.

Everything is politicized now, in every way and in every space the alt-left can possibly find, and even history itself is threatened, in the most innocuous of places; a popular sci-fi show originally aimed at 12 year-olds. BB would be proud.

History should not be "bent" to serve any political aim, progressive or otherwise.


* That goes for Idris Elba as Heimdall, too. The movies make it very clear that the Asgardians are aliens masquerading as gods, not actual gods. In fact, the comic books even had the comic-book-Thor meet the actual Thor from the Norse legends in one book.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sex and Asatru

Asatru, like most pre-Christian religions, is what might be called a "sex positive" religion in modern parlance.

That is, we shouldn't have the same intense hang-ups about sex and sexuality that plague the Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The sort of thing that leads to mandatory celibacy for Christian priests and the insistence that sex is only for procreation as seen in Christianity, odd compulsions regarding menstruation in Judaism, and female genital mutilation and rules regarding female education and socialization designed to ensure female fidelity in Islam.

We like to fuck*, and we're not afraid of fucking and people who do fuck. It's natural, it's pleasurable, and it's something to be encouraged.

That's not to say that Asatru endorses complete licentiousness, especially within the bonds of marriage. There are definite moral proscriptions around men who seduce the wives of other men (along with oathbreakers and murderers, the only people destined for torment in the afterlife), and Lokasenna 30 implies that women sleeping with married men were equally ill-regarded. Ibn Fadlan's account supports the view that adultery was a serious crime. Incest was regarded as a vice among the Aesir, and so presumably among mortals as well, although it's highly dubious as to whether the tales of the gods were intended to be models for human behavior in all instances. And divorce was almost ridiculously easy for a woman to do (she even got her dowry back!). The law codes are harder to interpret, because so many of them were written down in Christian times, but those that scholars deem the oldest do seem to agree with this.

However, it should be noted that polygamy wasn't unknown, especially among men of high rank, if Adam of Bremen is to be believed. The Germanic people practiced exposing unwanted children, so it's difficult to imagine they'd blink twice at aborting a child in the womb if they had the technology (as far as I'm aware, the jury's out on whether or not they did, in the form of abortifacient herbs and the like; the Romans certainly did, so it wouldn't be a stretch). Ditto for birth control; they almost certainly had some form of condom. And rape? I realize it's a common stereotype, but it might very well have been much less common in Viking society than other contemporary societies, even after battle.

I should point out that none of this negates the idea of traditional gender roles. They weren't exactly iron-clad Commandments brought down from the Mountain, but even though there were defintiely exceptions, they were still only the exceptions that proved the broader rule. (Part of the problem with modern society is that everybody feels the need to be special, so they're the ones who get to be that exception, just to prove they're an individual; I put the blame on our postmodern, secular, atomized society; but that's for another article.)

Homosexuality and gender and the like are larger questions that deserve articles of their own, if not entire books. Suffice to say that our pre-Christian ancestors were a lot more liberal and forgiving about such things than many conservative Jews, Christians, and Muslims are today**, but it's also true that the exacting categorization that modern society insists upon simply didn't exist back then. There was no "gay lifestyle." There was a Viking lifestyle, or a Gothic lifestyle, or a Saxon lifestyle. The ones complaining about the "womanly clattering of bells" were the Christians on the outside looking in.

So the Abrahamics have it all wrong from an Asatru perspective, as far as sex is concerned. They think it's something dangerous, something that needs to be suppressed and controlled. We think it's something to be indulged in, and screw anyone who thinks otherwise.***

But that brings us to those who think that Asatru should espouse some sort of "return to traditional values." The problem is, their idea of "traditional values" is somewhat at odds with the actual pre-Christian values of our Heathen ancestors. When examined critically, their idea of "tradition" goes back to Eisenhower, or even worse, the Victorian era. It's entirely understandable, given the society in which we all live, but it's something that must be actively and consciously resisted.

But when you hear an Asatru leader start talking about "traditional values" you must ask yourself, "what tradition is that?" Is that the "tradition" of the 1950's, when Protestant Christianity had hegemony over western culture, sex was something you only did once the kids were asleep, indoors (preferably missionary style, with the lights out), and homosexuality got you fired from your job or thrown in jail? Did Egill and Ásgerðr sleep in separate beds like Rob and Laura Petrie?

How was Richie ever conceived with that night stand
stalwartly protecting Laura's honor? The world may never know.
Or is it the tradition of the 9th century, or the 5th century, or the 1st century, when men and women weren't afraid to fuck one another, but still knew the importance of marriage? When the only things that were beyond the pale were incest and adultery? When people danced licentious dances around Maypoles, pairing up young boys and girls for some not-so-subtle imagery?

Asatru isn't afraid of sex. We embrace it, we love it, and we practice it every chance we get.


* My use of the Saxon-derived term is deliberate. If you're a delicate hothouse flower who can't stand the use of a perfectly good word of Germanic origin, perhaps Asatru isn't for you.

** Yes, yes. Ergi. I know. As I say, it's a very complex subject, and that particular question is quite tangential to this particular article. I mention it here only because someone will give me grief if I don't.

*** Pun intended. ;-)