Monday, March 22, 2010

An Icelandic Perspective

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."

Johanna, Kjalnesingagodi


Seeing Eye Chick said...

If it had been as this woman described it, I would have stayed in the Heathen Community. But I have to say, I do not see those values anywhere in America. Right now this country is going through something, and is seething with hate and discontent. I will be glad when that process is concluded and something better can be cultivated.

Matthew said...

Ditto to the Seeing Eye Chick. I haven't been involved in the Heathen community in a couple of years. Is there a big Tea Party contingent now?

Anonymous said...

Okay...well, I've been out of the loop in any kind of pagan fellowship for a while now. Part of the reason being that I'm stuck at Ft. Riley, Kansas and there are relatively no venues for pagans (Heathen or otherwise) that I am aware of.
I don't see myself as left or right...but I'll listen to what left and right have to say about things and form my own opinions.
Americans would do well to avoid extremes in thought, word, and deed. I believe one of the Heathen Noble Virtues has a lot to say about self-governance...or self control. Let your heart guide you, yes...but in all things, I agree with Johanna in resolving things peaceably - remember the American Civil War?.
The mind is a more powerful weapon in combating the rampant stupidity that seems to rule our great country, and now more than ever, cooler heads must prevail if we're to get our nation back on a successful track.

- Ristir

Anonymous said...

Johanna has it right on the mark. While warriors and weaponry is part of the Heathen way, it is only one of MANY parts. I say this as a Warrior and one heavily involved with weaponry, both Medival and Modern.

Unfortunately, in the US, it has been a major "recruiting" tool to get our young men and even women to look back to the faith of their ancestors. However, in the last 20yrs, there has been a major change in that attitude. As our Folk grow older, they have learned the value of everything else that make up our Faith. Yes we still read the Sagas, etc. But we are starting to realize that they are flawed in that they were written by ourtsiders.

Unfortunately, we in the States, often don't have the direct family lines(histories) to fall back on as do many of our European Folk. We've essentially had to start from scratch. And yes, there is a learning curve. Our Heathenry wont be exactly like that of other Folk. Just like every region has it's own runic traditions, so to do the have their own cultural traditions. Often Similar but not the exact same.

We're working on it. Please bare with us.


Seeing Eye Chick said...

What I see is beligerence. Period. I am more than capable of defending my home, my country, my family, etc. I can do terrible things to that end if I had to. But I don't have to. And I don't want to live everyday of my life contemplating those *have tos.

I would rather be in my garden. I would rather be counting the bees. I would rather be wandering with Thor on the plains watching the storms make the earth fertile.

I have had to fight for the first parts of my life for every little thing. I am more than seasoned being a veteran and a survivor of many things, including the actual military.

I don't have to be in that modality every day nor would I want to. It's exhausting. Its boring. Its mean and small and the opposite of enlightening.

And so I resented feeling as if I weren't in that constant hostile mode every second of the day to protect what's mine or suffer being robbed or belittled or challenged by the next idiot to get a bug in their ass for what ever reason.

I got tired of the sexism, and the similarities to every other male dominated religion I ever left as a recovering Baptist.

So I left. I chose now to cultivate my home and family. These people can succeed or fail on their own steam. They don't need me and I certainly do not want them. They were never integral to my relationship with the sacred so what do they have to offer me but more work, more pain and little pay off. Pagan or Heathen?

So thats that.

They can run about and pretend to fight with swords or spears, talk smack, be naked, stoned, whatever it is this month. Or beat their Bible and talk secession, and be jerks to women and racial and religious minorities.

I will be with my bees, and my birds, and my kids, and my plants, and the sun and the moon and all good things. I will no longer squander my strength or my talent for any of that hateful crap that has gone on. I have better things to do.

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