Thursday, May 26, 2016

Metagenetics, Part 4

This next installment of my series on metagenetics is going to be something of a departure, as it discusses the subject as seen by another prominent voice in the early (and present) history of Asatru in the US; Edred Thorsson (aka Dr. Stephen Flowers).

One of the seminal works in early Asatru was A Book of Troth, first published in 1989 and most recently republished in a terrific new edition by Runestone Press. The fact that it was originally published in 1989, and that he used the term coined by McNallen means that Thorsson was almost certainly aware of McNallen's first article on metagenetics, and Thorsson used the term in the table of contents to describe one of the chapters in A Book of Troth; "The Folk: Metagenetics."*

The chapter is only a couple of pages long, and is quite blunt in its support for the idea of metagenetics. Be aware that the use of the word "troth" here is a reference to Asatru in general, rather than the organization that today goes by that name (and in fact the term was capitalized in the original 1989 edition):
All peoples of the world have a religion that is natural and at home with them, and with them alone. Sadly, these native religions have been in retreat before the monolithic and spiritually imperialistic religions. However, as long as the ethnic identity if a people remain, the possibility for the rebirth of its true ethical ways remains as well.
Here we see again the idea that the notion of an ethnically-based religious tradition is not limited to people of northern European descent. The general principle is applicable to everyone of every race and ethnicity, even if the specific expression of that principle will by definition vary from people to people. This is not a whites-only club. It is intended as a call to return to a way of life applicable to everyone of every race, applied equally.
The troth simply says: "Come back to the ways of thy forebears". In the troth, the true man or woman is simply going back to a way that worked for his or her folk for thousands of years. The troth does not ask anyone to accept anything that has not already been proven over eons. ... In many ways, the return to the troth is a return to one's own heart. The essence of this return is the rejection of exotic forms of thinking, and the re-establishment of our own true ways.
The troth is our own folk-religion. This means that it is the religion that is particular to this folk, to this ethnic group. We seek first and foremost to delve deeply into the long neglected pathways of our ancestors, to learn their lore, and to to follow their examples. The idea of tradition is a deep-level truth for our folk. In fact, it is the very core of our legal system even today. That which is right is that which has been done before. In returning to the troth, a person would only be doing what is truly right and lawful.
And here we see a new and very powerful justification for a folkish point of view based on one of the fundamental principles of Germanic law and culture; we see its echoes even in the modern day in the use of English Common Law as the underlying basis for our own system of law (except in Louisiana, which for historical reasons uses the Napoleonic Code in the same way). As Thomas Jefferson pointed out in his 1814 letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, English Common Law, with its origin in the Heathen Anglo-Saxon law codes predating the coming of Christianity, is not Christian by its very nature:
Therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law. Another cogent proof of this truth is drawn from the silence of certain writers on the common law. Bracton gives us a very complete and scientific treatise of the whole body of the common law. He wrote this about the close of the reign of Henry III., a very few years after the date of the Magna Carta. We consider this book as the more valuable, as it was written about fore gives us the former in its ultimate state. Bracton, too, was an ecclesiastic, and would certainly not have failed to inform us of the adoption of Christianity as a part of the common law, had any such adoption ever taken place. But no word of his, which intimates anything like it, has ever been cited.
It should also be noted that 1989 also saw the publication of an article by Thorsson, in Idunna #5, entitled "Who Will Build the Hearths of the Troth?" It will probably shock and scandalize newer members of the Troth (the organization, that is) that their organization was founded on what could be described as a metagenetic foundation, and remained thus for its first four or five years of existence. The article seems to deal with the Rune-Gild primarily, but necessarily touches upon the metagenetic concepts found within the Ring of Troth (as it was known) at the time:
The racial question is primarily a socio-biological one, and one which is ultimately involved with the principles of group allegiance. The modern runesters, inspired by Woden and knowing the lore, should seek in the structural principles of allegiance practiced by our forbears—an elegant and dynamic system deserving of our loyalty today—the solution to this spiritual question. Too long has the revival of the elder ways of the Æsir floundered under the false and foreign doctrines of dualistically founded and negative ‘race hatred.’
Before their ‘conversion’ to Christianism, the ancient Germanic peoples owed their allegiances according to a structure best described by a set of concentric circles:
 At the center of this scheme is the symbiotic relationship of individual to nuclear family—the primary allegiance of the individual. The secondary allegiance, but one closely bound to the first, is the clan (the word clan is from the Celtic cland or clann, which answers to the Germanic concept sib) or kindred, while the tribe (Ostrogoths, Vandili, Cherusci, etc, etc.) is quite tertiary, and the ‘nation’ (i.e. ‘Germanic’) was only a faintly conscious concept. The tribe is not, strictly speaking, a genetic construct, but rather an aggregation of clans held together for widely varying purposes by any one of a number of possible governmental institutions—all of which seek to integrate the kindred units into the whole tribal body. All this would seem to offer an ideal situation—one in which the ugly head of alienation could hardly raise itself.
There's a lot more in the article, obviously, and it's deep and heady stuff, but the outline of the concepts relevant to the metagenetic argument is clear. In the concentric circles of allegiance which our ancestors held, the family/clan was genetic in nature, and tribes were assemblages of such clans, but were not necessarily genetically homogenous to begin with. As Thorsson puts it:
Therefore, we see three types of traditional organizational institutions:
1. the familial (genetic)
2. the tribal (geneto-voluntary)
3. the associative (non-genetic, voluntary)
Ásatrú itself may be said to belong to the first two, while the Rune-Gild belongs to the third.
Which is an interesting formulation to say the least. Remember, this is the leader of the Troth speaking in 1989:
The genetic, or metagenetic, argument is powerful, and we have tried to articulate it in the first part of this article—but it has its definite weaknesses in a revivalist scheme. Principal among these is that carried to its logical conclusion it ends in a equation of ‘racial purity’ and ‘divine contact’ For if we say that someone is in contact with the Germanic gods because they are mainly of Germanic descent, then we could end in arguing that because someone else (anyone else) has more Germanic blood then he is automatically more in contact with these archetypes. The ultimate conclusion of such a simplistic and static reasoning would quite obviously be absurd, and what is more, not very convincing. To this important metagenetic, biological line we must add other factors, 1) language, and 2) culture, in order to come up with a complete rationale for Germanic revivalism.
And here I take issue with Thorsson's reasoning. I don't agree that it is a logical conclusion of the metagenetic theory that it "ends in a[n] equation of 'racial purity'". Certainly it argues for a genetic link to the gods ('divine contact' as he puts is), but I don't see at all that purity on the one hand, or majoritarianism in terms of divine contact, is at all warranted. As I mentioned in my own article on the Folkish Spectrum, "one drop is enough" is fully consistent with a folkish (and by extension metagenetic) point of view, even if it isn't a position adopted by a majority of those who identify as folkish Heathens. There are also practical functional issues with his conclusion as well; it almost implies the absurd scenario in which someone with 50% Germanic ancestry is visited by Odin only half as often as someone with full Germanic ancestry, as if there were a cadre of Valkyries tasked with keeping tally over how often each mortal was visited by the Gods! He's right when he says it's a simplistic bit of reasoning, which is why nobody to my knowledge has ever articulated it.

But that aside, Thorsson is making a larger point here, as shown in the last sentence of the paragraph, that metagenetics is only one leg of a three-legged stool, with language and culture being the other two. In this, we see the beginnings of his theory of integral culture, which when fully formed seems to bring the argument back full-circle (see below).
Since ‘race’ was never a real category of allegiance for the ancients, why should it be one now? As Rune-Wodenians our allegiance is owed to our biological families (be they Ásatrú or not), to our kindred (which has taken the place of our tribe), and to our band (Varangian {Guard, Rune-Gild, etc.). This model would seem to be more in keeping with Germanic tradition, and the rune-lore expressed in the formula [wunjo:hagalaz:othala] than the 19th century natio-racial model.
And here Thorsson completes his metagenetic argument, coming to the conclusion, not entirely unwarranted, that while ancestry is indeed central to the revival of Asatru, race as a concept is not, and there are levels of organization at which it's appropriate, and levels at which it is less so. It's a fine attempt to thread the needle, but it's a subtle point, and it seems lost on people on both sides of the folkish/universalist debate. I have no doubt it was as a whole an attempt to smooth over internal arguments happening within the Ring of Troth at the time.

The new edition of A Book of Troth also includes a copy of a 2002 essay entitled The Idea of Integral Culture, which originally appeared in Tyr journal #1. In it, he seems to make major changes to his ideas cited above, which directly impact his support for the idea of a racially or ethnically based metagenetics, and has been cited as such in some quarters. Some have maintained that it argues for some sort of qualification for anyone raised in a Western society to be Asatru. A careful reading of the article, however, shows exactly the opposite.

First, Thorsson describes a division of culture into four categories:
Culture is made up of a minimum of four different categories, each of which is essential to the whole idea of culture, and none of which can be ignored when trying to describe a culture in its entirety. These four categories are: ethnic culture, ethical culture, material culture, and linguistic culture. [Emphasis added]
Thus, at the outset, we see it is not possible for someone who does not share all four aspects of a culture to truly belong to that culture. Culture, as such, is dependent on each of the four elements in order to be properly defined. Thus, someone who (for instance) does not share an ethnic link with the originators and purveyors of a culture cannot be said to belong to that culture, any more than someone who does not speak the language of a particular culture can.
In our current state of cultural fragmentation, this sense of the integrated nature of culture has been lost. The root cause of this fragmentation should also be apparent. One of the most effective ways in which to revolt against the modern world is to undertake the (re)integration of culture, to realize a personal and cultural synthesis – or ”bringing together” – of the various categories of culture.
And here is the heart of Thorsson's thesis in its latest incarnation. It seems to me that he's not saying that, just because someone was raised with English (a Germanic language) as their native tongue, they're suddenly candidates to be Asatru. He's saying that in order for us to realize our full potential, and the full potential of our Germanic culture, we need to re-incorporate the four elements of that Germanic culture; ethical, material, linguistic, and... ethnic.

* Curiously, the metagenetics label was omitted from the chapter heading in the reprint, but the text itself seems to be largely the same, with only a few minor editorial changes here and there for readability. This may simply be a reflection of an editorial change in the layout of the table of contents; in the original, each chapter title had a similar label (such as The World: Cosmology), and all of the labels were omitted in the new edition.


Read other installments in this series:

Metagenetics, Part 1
Metagenetics, Part 2
Metagenetics, Part 3
Metagenetics, Part 5


  1. I own a reprint of Thorsson's article "Who Will Build the Hearths of the Troth: Are Racial Considerations Appropriate?" from Idunna No. 100 (Summer 2014). Following the paragraph describing the three types of traditional organizational institutions, the sentence reads "Asatru itself may be said to belong to the first two, while the Rune-Gild [And the Troth! - Eds.] belongs to the third." As I do not own the original version, I can't be sure if the "And the Troth!" was added later -- but I assume that to be the case. While it is perfectly logical for the Rune-Gild to be "associative," Thorsson makes it clear that Asatru itself belongs to the "familial" and the "tribal." By the Troth editors asserting that their organization belongs to the "associative," they create a contradiction in which one could argue, in light of Thorsson's thesis, that their organization is not Asatru at all.

    1. Interesting - I was unaware of the editorial insertion in the reprint in Idunna #100. It is most definitely not in the original.