Tonight, let me start by saying I am very gratified by the thoughtful responses my blog entries are receiving. Click on the "comments" button below each blog entry to see these fine contributions. I do have veto power to publish or not publish comments, but it will be my policy to try to publish all comments except those that are vicious and abusive. One respondent queries why I am focusing on the problem of racist or Nazi attitudes within Asatru/Heathenry, as opposed to other Pagan groups with similar issues. This is a valid complaint which I take seriously, and in response I would have to say that first of all, it is beyond my knowledge and abilities to explore this issue in all the different possible varieties of Paganism that are out there. Asatru is what I know best and what most concerns me, but I would hope the author of that complaint understands that I am a supporter of Asatru. I am speaking from "within the family," so to speak, and not concerned with sugarcoating difficult issues to create a more pleasant public image. Future postings will deal with other Pagan groups, I can assure you of that.
As my earlier post explained, in a passage which I fear may have been overlooked, my mind is fixed on the Asatru-Nazi-racism problem these days because I have been working on a scholarly article specifically intended to debunk the association between Asatru/Heathenry and Nazism/neo-Nazism. As my Asatru friends and colleagues are all non-racist and anti-Nazi,to the best of my knowledge, I had started this project expecting it would be EASY to disentangle Asatru from Nazism and racism, but the sticky issue I have run across is that there are indeed a small number of neo-Nazis who purport to be believers in the Norse gods, and that in addition to that, there are many Asatru believers, who are by no means neo-Nazis, who place a high priority on ancestral ethnic identity that in my view is potentially problematic, because it does sometimes seem to walk a line between pride in heritage and a possible unconscious attitude of racism.
This is very personal to me because my first attempt to reach out to an Asatru group
back in the 1980s introduced me to a white supremacist, ultra-racist version of
Asatru based in Florida that so disgusted me that I avoided all contact with
Asatru or Heathen people for many years. It was only when I lived in Iceland in the mid-1990s and got to know people in the Asatru Fellowship there that I felt reassured that Asatru could truly be a spiritual movement and not a racist one. As some of you know, I am an academic and have researched and published on Asatru in scholarly publications, and in my writings, I have always tried to defend Asatru against the charge that it is racist, and this includes my current research project about Asatru groups' efforts to dissociate themselves from any kind of racism, neo-Nazism, etc.
In another forum, I had an exchange with an Asatru believer who spoke about "having pride in one's own race" as a key element of their interest in and faith in Asatru. In approaching Asatru or other forms of Paganism I would like to express an alternate point of view. I don't see Asatru being about pride in the "white race" at all. I see it as a matter of loving and taking pride in the spiritual dimension of the cultural heritage of Scandinavia and/or Germanic Europe, not the "white race" per se. Being white or Caucasian is not any special achievement; it is just an accident of birth. However, learning about Scandinavian/Germanic heritage,
developing a sense of spirituality rooted in that heritage--now THAT is an
achievement, based on an intelligent thought-process and a personal decision.
I take pride in the people I know who have worked hard to cultivate an
Asatru/Heathen spirituality, but it is not because they are white. If I were to
meet a person of African or Latino descent who had similarly dedicated him or
herself to Asatru/Heathen spirituality, I would welcome them, and I hope you
would too, and I would not think any less of them because of which color womb
they fell out of. I don' t think the circumstances of our birth are really so important, as they are quite arbitrary and beyond our control, unless you believe that our birth-situation is determined by karma or something like that. In my thinking, what is far more important is what we make of ourselves after our birth, through our own effort, intelligence and understanding. I know plenty of white people who are cretins and jerks, and aside from our sharing the same pale skin,I don't really feel all that much in common with them. I have lived in Japan and felt much more in common with people I met there who impressed me with their nobility of character than with many ignorant, closed-minded, self-satisfied white people I meet in America. On the religious level, most white Americans are Christians, as I am sure you have also noticed!, so I also don't feel any particular "white" spirituality that bonds us together. This is why I believe Asatru or Heathenry is best defined in terms of a particular spiritual-cultural heritage, not a particular race.
I see the same applying to other forms of Paganism based on the past cultural heritage of a particular region, such as Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, etc. If you relate well to that heritage, and find that it exerts a spiritual pull on you, then it is well and good for you to develop spiritual practices based on that heritage, even if you are of a quite different ancestry. Of course, if you have ancestry related to a particular region and cultural tradition, that might be all the more reason why you would feel attracted to it, and I know many Asatru believers reason thus. Where I part ways with some is that I do not believe ancestry, or race, should be the key criterion of faith or fellowship. It is just one possible path up a very high mountain.
Certainly the gods, whatever they may be or how we may conceive of and connect to them, are beyond race and narrow tribal boundaries, and I cannot believe they mean for us to be narrow and limited in our understanding of the world and approach to life. The Vikings were all about expansion and connection to other parts and peoples of the world, were they not?
All for now.