The Political Pagan received some very thoughtful responses, with some agreement, some disagreement, and some very worthwhile alternative viewpoints, to the last essay posted here, "The Big Lie," and these can be found in the comments section. One particular response, however seemed worth further highlighting. Jóhanna, a godi (goði) in Iceland, wrote to share her perspective on several issues raised in that essay. Here are her remarks, edited by the Blog editor in correspondence with Johanna.
"About The Big Lie."
"Maybe I´m not suited to take part in this discussion – I don’t seem to understand the American interpretation of heathenry you are criticizing.
"I am Icelandic, a heathen person as were my forefathers and mothers, I´m a godi (Kjalnesingagodi) and all my life is dedicated to Our Way: Asatru. Here in Iceland there´s no connection between heathen people of Asatru and political movements and absolutely no connection between heathenry and weaponry.
"Heathen people in Iceland do not read the Sagas and consider the stories as a way of life to worship. Heathenry and norse mythology is one thing – Viking sagas of our forefathers is another. The sagas tell stories of hardy people that had to fight for their lives in so many ways. Iceland is a rugged place and life was (and is) not easy.
"But may I remind you all that the sagas were written in christian times in Iceland— by christian people. They hold stories about families, stories that had before been kept alive by storytelling in the home – but they were written mostly for amusement and it shows when you read them.
"The truth about our Icelandic Viking heritage is that the heathen people that settled in Iceland were peaceful people like the majority still is today. The heathen settlers of Iceland were well off, as they moved here with their families and belongings on ships that were owned by one of the settlers, and the people on board were not slaves but free farmers that also got the right to own land and be independent. You can read about that in many sagas. The settlers were political refugees, they fled from the norwegian king (the kingdom) because they wanted to live in democracy . Our Alþing was established soon after they came here, and it stood until the norwegian kingdom had taken over the country.
"The overtake of christian ways in Iceland started when the norwegian king forced Icelanders to become christian in the year 1000. That was a political take-over or coup where the king Olafur Tryggvason used all his powers (taking hostages, bribing and threatening with weapons on Alþingi) to force us to take christianity. It was a take-over achieved through arms – something that the settlers in Iceland had fled from. This military coup led to the fall of the Icelandic democracy and peace amongst the people.
"The heathen settlers of Iceland were independent farmers, inventors, craftspeople, traders (only a few of them where raiders or vikings), well educated storytellers and observers of nature (scientists of a sort). The settlers and their families were heathen people (all except 5 of them) and heathenry is NOT a worship for lovers of anarchism or weaponry. The heathen people took care of each other (a democratic, social society) and if you read Havamal and Sigurdrifumal you can see the pattern of how to behave towards other people. You are told to be polite and considerate towards others – heathenry is based on honesty, responsibility and respect towards other people.
"Heathenry is a very simple and realistic nature-wisdom, and our gods are tokens of the powers within the world and ourselves – and that is the way it has always been and will always be. The gods, like all other powers, have both their good and bad sides; so do we, and it’s our duty to make the best of them...
"The good way to use our powers is to take care of each other in a peaceful way.
"I do not totally agree with you on the subject of slaves and women. Slaves were brought to Iceland by the Vikings (the few individuals that were raiders), but most of the slaves were not badly treated as you can read both from Icelandic and British sagas. I could tell you many stories of that. Women had a better status and more power here than in most parts of the world. I wish I was there to discuss it, but it is too long a story to write in a foreign language here and now."