Friday, August 26, 2016

Did the AFA just ban gays?

So... this seems to be a current meme; people saying that the AFA banned gay members on Sunday night.
The AFA official body has spelled out in black and white in the recent release that if you are not white, or you are gay, you are not welcome. (John Mainer, Troth Redesman)
The racist and homophobic dickbaggery of the AFA causes problems for some of the very people they claim they care about… (Heathentalk)
...the insistence on men being men and women being women in a heteronormative framework... (A Sense of Natural Wonder)
 ....Racism and Homophobia/Transphobia within Heathenry... (The Arcane Asylum)
The simple fact of the matter is that the AFA did no such thing.

It simply laid out the fact that, as an organization, the AFA promotes and encourages traditional gender/sex roles. Men should be masculine, and women should be feminine. As opposed to the current politically correct insanity of trying to establish 58 genders*.

I'm not going to get into an in-depth analysis of the historical realities of pre-Christian Germanic gender studies, but the thousand-foot view is pretty much that there was no such thing as a "homosexual lifestyle", passive male homosexuality was, while not banned, cause for social ridicule to the point of ostracism (ON ergi), and female homosexuality is pretty much not mentioned (which doesn't mean it didn't exist, obviously, but it likely was done as an adjunct to a heterosexual marriage). There was certainly no gay marriage, no people in the records that were transsexuals** (transvestism is definitely attested, but not outside of a ritual context), and families were multi-generational and long-term couples heterosexual.

So what the AFA did actually say is that it, as an organization, promotes traditional gender roles and families. But you know what?

It's entirely possible for the AFA to endorse heteronormality and not ban homosexuality. It's possible for the AFA as an organization to want to see traditional families prosper, and not go around bashing single mothers. It's possible to say having children is a good thing, while not bashing childless couples. Just because they endorse one thing does not require them to hate everything that is different.

We leave that sort of binary morality to the SJW's. They're the masters of the "you're either with us 100% on every issue or you're a moral evil that needs to be expunged" mentality.

Part of the confusion seems to have been caused by this exchange of comments, made shortly after the original post on Facebook:

Q: Am i misunderstanding the message here or does this mean that if somebody wasn't white or if they were queer they wouldn't be welcome in the afa?
A: You are not misunderstanding. The AFA is not in the practice of policing what people do in their bedrooms, but we as an organization are clear in supporting the traditional family. And yes the Asatru is an ethnic religion of European people.
I'm going to go on record as saying that could have been phrased better, and I've said so to the AFA leadership. On the surface, it does look like they're saying "queers" aren't welcome in the AFA. But the devil's in the details, and revolves around the word "queer". That word has definite connotations for endorsing and pursuing radical political action and social change. Exactly the sort of thing that the AFA is directly opposed to. It is not the same as saying homosexuals are not welcome, because many (most?) of them have no interest in promoting some radical homosexual agenda and actively fighting against heteronormality.

Neither is it the same as saying "you are not welcome." It's merely saying, that the AFA, as an organization, is going to be promoting heteronormality. If homosexuals are okay with that (along with the rest of its Declaration of Purpose, of course), they would not be excluded. PDA at events would not be welcome, but personally I've not seen a lot of PDA of any sort at AFA gatherings. It's just not part of our culture.

It's a subtle and nuanced point, I will be the first to admit. And such points are always the first to be drowned in a sea of angry rhetoric at times such as these. But it's absolutely the case, and I have personally confirmed this with the AFA leadership. There's no purge, no ban, no pogrom against gays. Just a statement that the AFA values traditional families, and traditional gender roles, and if people who are untraditional can accept that, all's well. Just no radicals who are interested in forcing society to upend norms that it has had for tens of thousands of years simply so their feelings are spared.

* Yes, there are absolutely medical conditions where people are born with genitalia for both or neither gender, or where there are chromosomal issues, but those are so vanishingly rare that they are nothing more than a distraction. They're certainly not the point of the statement.

** I'm going to leave the whole "what about Loki?" counterargument on the ground here, as not worth pursuing just now, for a bunch of reasons.

The inconsistent recon

With all the brouhaha about the AFA lately, I noticed a curious inconsistency in the negative posts and comments. Thinking back on it, it seems to be a pretty common thing that I never really noticed, at least enough to articulate. Specifically, people are quick to use the "that's not how our ancestors did it!" card when it's convenient, but then they turn around and use "but we're a modern religion and need to keep up with the times!" card when it's not.

One of the things about reconstructionism is that it is a methodology, not an end unto itself. Perfect reconstruction is obviously impossible for a whole variety of reasons, not least of which are an imperfect record and the fact that we live in a post-industrial post-Christian society rather than a subsistence-level agrarian pre-Christian one. But nonetheless, reconstructionism allows us to do the best we can in restoring the religious and cultural values of our ancestors, given those limitations (and many others).

Take, for example the recent screed from Heathen Talk, posted by Josh:
It is 2016, this shouldn’t even be an issue, we should be living in a more enlightened world. 
Okay, fine. So we're supposed to judge everything based on modern mores and ideas about what society and culture should be like. But what's this?
We know that in some heathen cultures homosexuality was a thing that happened and wasn’t grounds for ostracization. We know that men and women performed roles and duties that were outside of the culturally normal gender roles. Hell, we even know that the “traditional” family in ancient heathendom didn’t look like the modern “traditional” family. So what exactly are they regurgitating here? It isn’t based on a reconstructionist method of Heathenry, that much is clear. 
Are multi-generational families the modern thing that the
ancients didn't do...?
Woah, woah, WOAH! You just got through telling us that "this is 2016" and "we should be living in a more enlightened world." Why are you then turning around and trying to invoke reconstructionism and the way things were done more than a thousand years ago to make your argument?

But even worse, and setting aside the less-than-stellar scholarship on display here (which Lucius Helsen pointed out brilliantly earlier today), there's a self-contradiction even within the self-contradiction. Did you spot it? Let me highlight it for you:
We know that men and women performed roles and duties that were outside of the culturally normal gender roles. Hell, we even know that the “traditional” family in ancient heathendom didn’t look like the modern “traditional” family.
...or the ancient thing that moderns don't do? 
So. In telling us that there were a few minor exceptions to culturally normal gender roles, Josh is admitting that there were culturally normal gender roles! And in pointing out that there were differences between traditional families a thousand years ago and today, he's admitting that there were traditional family structures!

The mere fact that there might have been a few exceptions to these rules does not serve to undermine the fact that those rules did exist. And the fact that we, as modern Heathens and Asatruar, have not yet fully actualized those norms across our collective society does not mean that that's not something towards which to strive. And the AFA has stated that it chooses, as an organization, to support those normative rules; not that it wants (or somehow could) force that decision on everyone. The AFA chooses to promote traditional values, even if it can still be tolerant of occasional deviations from that norm, just as it was in the days of our Heathen ancestors.

You know, using a reconstructionist approach to a practical issue.

But... I thought this was 2016, and we're supposed to be living in a more enlightened world.

But... I thought that we're supposed to be using a reconstructionist method of Heathenry.

But... I thought this was 2016, and we're supposed to be living in a more enlightened world.

But... I thought that we're supposed to be using a reconstructionist method of Heathenry.

But... I thought this was 2016, and we're supposed to be living in a more enlightened world.

But... I thought that we're supposed to be using a reconstructionist method of Heathenry.

But... I thought this was 2016, and we're supposed to be living in a more enlightened world.

But... I thought that we're supposed to be using a reconstructionist method of Heathenry.

But... I thought this was 2016, and we're supposed to be living in a more enlightened world.

But... I thought that we're supposed to be using a reconstructionist method of Heathenry.

But... I thought this was 2016, and we're supposed to be living in a more enlightened world.

But... I thought that we're supposed to be using a reconstructionist method of Heathenry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

RIP Jubel Dean

Heathen Jubel Dean was gunned down last night in Phoenix, and an online fundraiser has been set up to help his wife, mother, and three daughters with the funeral expenses. I didn't know him personally, but I know he's a Heathen, and he has a family in need.

Please consider visiting the GoFundMe site.

The Day the Internet Lost its Collective Mind

This is racist?
Last Sunday, the Asatru Folk Assembly, which is the leading Folkish Asatru organization in the world, and the largest Asatru organization of any sort in the United States, issued a relatively brief statement on Facebook endorsing the idea that men are men, women are women, and babies are good:
Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning. Hail the AFA families, now and always!
Matt Flavel
Alsherjargothi, AFA
And naturally, the Internet lost its collective fucking mind.

Is that an in-your-face statement? Absofuckinglutely, and I'm sure it was intended as such. The AFA has new leadership now that Steve McNallen has stepped down, and they want to stretch their legs and make their mark. But is it particularly shocking? Did Matt Flavel take the AFA into some radical new direction whose endpoint is storm troopers and gas chambers? Of course not, but you'd never know it from the hysterical, pearl-clutching reaction that simple statement received.

This is transphobic?
If you look at it, there are two basic elements to this statement, and there is nothing new in either of them. First, they support a traditional view of gender, and second, the folk having more children is good. Considering that the first point has been the norm for about all of human history prior to the last ten or fifteen years and the second point is pretty much a given (unless you're a progressive-liberal shitbag who literally advocates genocide for white people), one struggles to figure out what the issue is.

A folkish religious organization says it wants to see the folk grow. GASP! How shocking! You'd think that wasn't something it had been advocating for years, and actually had written into its Declaration of Purpose, or something. And it embraces traditional views of gender. WOAH! You mean wanting to do things the way they were done in the past? How... reconstructionist of them.

But the reaction? Holy crap. You'd think the AFA was literally lynching blacks at blót. "As it stands now, merely being a member of the AFA, or an apologist for the AFA, is a tarnish not easily removed."

Pathetic Pagan: "I’m sorry, but what the fuck? “Our beautiful white babies?” “Feminine ladies and masculine gentlemen?” It’s racism, transphobia, and some supremely antiquated ideas about gender all in one neat little package! Excuse me while I throw up."

The Troth tried to turn it into a recruiting opportunity: "Folks who are essentially being cast out of the AFA should look into The Troth." (Despite the fact nobody was being "cast out" of the AFA.)

Huginn's Heathen Hof: "Emotional appeals don’t require logical backing, and with the nation becoming more comfortable with extremist views on race and religion, this is a stance that the AFA knows it can use to attract and maintain its membership numbers."

John Mainer (Troth Redesman): "How dare they attack my folk, my people, out of a failure to understand how living true to your heart, living honestly, openly and honourably as the teaching of your ancestors and your own best judgement teaches you, do not fit their own preconceived poster of what a Heathen should look like?"

That last one is particularly rich, as he complains in essence that the AFA are attempting to "speak for the gods" (they're not), and then goes ahead and tells us what the gods really want.

But the real point is that none of this is new. All the people complaining about the statement from the AFA leadership already hate the AFA and folkish Asatru in general. They already line up against the AFA and what it stands for. The statement itself doesn't offend them, because they were already offended by the AFA and its principles. There's nothing new there, and all this sturm und drang is just for show. They would find fault with anything put out by the AFA that reinforces folkish principles, because they're already against those principles. It's just an excuse for them to complain about the AFA once more. They feel exactly the same way about the AFA after the statement that they did before it. Thus, the content of the statement is irrelevant to their reaction. They just want an excuse to condemn the AFA once again, because the AFA doesn't tow the SJW line.

Gods forbid, the AFA isn't embracing all the social change that the progressive-liberal SJW's are demanding RIGHT NOW. An organization espousing a reconstructionist religion wants to do things the way they were done in the past. And it has the audacity to state that there's nothing wrong with being white. That's what they really can't stand; that there are people that disagree with them, proudly, confidently, and who aren't going to be bullied by them into silence and consent.

If I wasn't already an AFA member, I'd join now, just because the people lining up against it are so far removed from reality and the mainstream of society that any organization that they oppose must have something good going for it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pagan Entitlement, Pagan Hypocrisy

There's an interesting case over at Pathetic Pagan involving accusations of "entitlement" among the neopagan community. Bekah Evie Bel wrote an article entitled Pagans Really Are an Entitled Bunch, which itself was a reaction to an article over at Witches & Pagans by Steven Posch entitled Can a Pagan Woman, in Good Conscience, Go to Uluru?

The original article discussed the propriety of female neopagans going to an Aṉangu (one of several types of Aboriginal Australians) holy site where females are banned. It was purely an exercise in virtue signalling, though, and seemed to only have been written to express the "This is me respecting non-European religions" and "This is me not mansplaining." The conclusion was essentially "ask an Australian woman neopagan," making the reader wonder why it was written in the first place, except to put the aforementioned virtue signalling on display, because he fails to provide an answer to his own question.

But the article reacting to it was much more interesting, and is actually what I would like to respond to here. Rather than praising Posch's piece as being respectful of Aṉangu religion, she blasts it for the assumption that Aṉangu = Pagan:
This is an example of a Pagan who seems to think that just because they follow a religion that is not Abrahamic, then they of course are entitled to the sacred spaces of all peoples, everywhere, that are also not Abrahamic.  So, Native American sacred spaces are also Pagan spaces.  Uluru, a sacred space for Australian Aboriginals is also a sacred space for Pagans.
Because don’t you know, we are all one and the same, fighting off the evils and indoctrinations of Christianity and its ilk.

That's the "Pagan Entitlement" mentioned in the title of his piece. It's the automatic assumption that other cultures, religions, and traditions are fair game for inclusion in neopagan ritual, simply by virtue of the fact that they're not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. 

That's a sentiment that I, as a folkish Heathen, can absolutely relate to, because it's an issue that lies at the heart of folkish Heathenry. The idea that every culture, every folk, is entitled to practice its own religious and other traditions without someone else barging in and claiming it for their own. That's a terrific point, and one I wish more neopagans (and Asatruar, for that matter) would adopt.

Now, Bel is writing specifically about sacred spaces, but the principle applies equally to sacred traditions in general. Just as Bel wouldn't think of climbing the sacred mountain that is forbidden to women by Aṉangu religious taboo, I'm sure neither would she impose herself on an Aṉangu ritual elsewhere without some sort of appropriate invitation. Which is a good thing.

So when it comes to Aboriginal, Native American, and other non-European cultures, respect and forbearance are the watchwords. As they should be.

But here's where the hypocrisy comes in. Although Bel is more than willing to extend that principle to Aboriginal and other non-European religions and cultures, when it comes to the pre-Christian cultures and religions of ancient Europe, the rule seems to go out the window. Behold what she had to say a couple of months ago in another article entitled Ancestors and Heritage in Paganism:
And yet I am mostly Hellenic, with perhaps no Greek lines at all.  Because the Gods call who They will and who are we to gainsay Them?  Well, obviously we can refuse Them.  But you cannot refuse Them to me.
But this can be a contentious stance as well.  For some religions, the idea of the Gods calling to people outside of the ancestral lines is, well, blasphemous I suppose.  This is apparently true within Heathenism*, where the people are, in some way, descendants of the Gods!  So, not being of that line, you cannot be called by Them.
*Try not to quote me on that though, I don’t have enough knowledge of Heathenry to say this is true, but it is said by some Heathens.
The above has some detractors, the idea is that it is not impossible for the Aesir to call on people who are not of the right ancestral lines – I guess for spreading the religion and growing numbers?  I only have my Hellenic perspective, which says, the Gods will take everything and everyone because they are greedy.  So, to me, the idea that Aesir and Vanir would have two different types of people they call on, one for purity purposes and one for growth purposes, is not something that seems wrong to me.  But, my view is distinctly Hellenic.
Setting aside the use of the prejudicial term "blasphemous," which isn't how I would describe it, she definitely comes down on the universalist side of the equation. So it's bad to do when it's an aboriginal or Amerindian religion, but it's okay to do when it's a European religion. Putting one race in a different status than all others? I'm pretty sure that's the definition of racism.

Digeridoo and handpan? That's cultural
. Because no kid outside of
Australia ever turned a metal pot upside
down and banged on it.
But what if the Aṉangu gods call to me? She just said that's possible. Of course, she does have a bit of a weaseling explanation to get out of that one, that is based entirely in a double-standard:
But I also caution respect for the original adherents of a religion, especially a current culture, such as with Native Americans and Aus Aboriginals.  It’s one thing to choose a “dead” religion with oft ignored Gods or entities, it’s another to try to take from a living religion and culture that may take exception to your choice.
So it's okay to respect aboriginal religion because it's a "living" religion, but it's not necessary to do with Germanic or Hellenic religion because those are "dead." Conveniently, all of the religions that would be fair game for neopagan appropriation are European.

But of course, once a religion has been revived, as Asatru has since the 1970's, is it really dead any more? Wouldn't the fact that there are tens of thousands of Asatruar alive in the world right now make her point about it being a "dead" religion moot?

And what about non-European "dead" religions? What about Central American religions? If a white guy wanted to start wearing a loincloth and worship Quetzalcoatl, wouldn't that be okay because it's a "dead" religion? Or would that be appropriation because it's a Native American religion, even though it's no longer practiced? What about Khemetic (Egyptian) religion? A lot of African-Americans like to claim ancient Egypt as their own; does the fact that Khemetic Orthodoxy here in the U.S. explicitly denies a racial component, and its current leader is whiter than an extra in a Cecil B. DeMille movie*, amount to appropriation?

I don't make these points so much to knock on Bel as to point out the vast tangle of inconsistencies and outright hypocrisy that can occur when one tries to make different standards for different races, even with the best of intentions. In the end, the best and most consistent way to handle these sorts of issues is the folkish position. Let everyone worship the gods and goddesses of their own ancestors. The only ones left out are the ones who want to appropriate the gods of someone else's ancestors. And I'm perfectly okay with leaving them out.

* Update: I am told she is half Amerindian. Which, fine, but it still doesn't bring her any closer to Africa. Or does it...?

Monday, July 25, 2016

No local events? There's a solution for that...

The other day, a couple people on Facebook commented on an upcoming event I've got posted there, wishing there were more events in their area. This was my reply (a little bit expanded); I hope you find it useful.

If you want to see events near you, the answer is to set up an event near you and see who says they can come. Don't wait for someone else to set it up.

It could be a nature hike, or a pub moot (getting together for dinner and drinks), or a book club, or a meet-and-greet, or visiting some local museum with Viking or Scandinavian or German themed exhibits, or a full-blown blót, or coffee at the local Starbucks, or a viewing party for the premier of Vikings on History Channel, or a movie night at your house, or anything else.

But the onus is on you to make it happen. Come up with an idea you think is fun, interesting, or relevant. See who's in your area who can come. Worst thing that happens is nobody can make it.

And if nobody shows up the first time? Keep doing it. You never know when someone is going to stumble on your event who's twenty minutes away from you. Keep at it. None of our kindreds or tribes were built overnight. We all kept at it, over years. Don't be afraid to try, and don't get discouraged right out of the gate.

AHHHH! Demon cat!
Put your event up on Facebook, but don't just rely on Facebook! Ask your local AFA folkbuilder to get you in touch directly with other Afar (I love that term for AFA members). Put up notices in your local Pagan bookstore. Put up something on (it's old, but active, and people still go there). Join a local pagan or heathen group on, or start your own. If there's something more locally relevant, post something there. Hel, I put up fliers in local grocery stores and laundromats.

And don't be afraid of the personal touch. I make it a point to ask everyone I see wearing a Thor's hammer if they're Asatru or not. One of our newly regular faces was someone I happened to meet in the parking lot of the local supermarket. I gave him one of our flyers, and now he's a regular. (That's another thing; always have a card, or a flyer, or something handy. I keep a stack of them in my car at all times, for exactly this sort of case.)

And if I can offer any advice, or help, or anything else, just ask. Or better yet, ask your local AFA folkbuilders. That's what they're there for. I'm just a guy with a tribe in New Jersey.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bölverkr's whetstone

There's a passage in Skáldskaparmál that a lot of people find a bit obscure. It deals with Odin's scheme to steal Sutting's mead:
Odin departed from home and came to a certain place where nine thralls were mowing hay. He asked if they desired him to whet their scythes, and they assented. Then he took a hone from his belt and whetted the scythes; it seemed to them that the scythes cut better by far, and they asked that the hone be sold them. But he put such a value on it that whoso desired to buy must give a considerable price: nonetheless all said that they would agree, and prayed him to sell it to them. He cast the hone up into the air; but since all wished to lay their hands on it, they became so intermingled with one another that each struck with his scythe against the other's neck.
The question is, why would the thralls be so intent on getting that whetstone? If you ever wondered about the value of a sharp scythe, wonder no more: