Sunday, January 7, 2018

A New Dawn for Ásatrú: New Clarity Against Racism

As someone who has for many years been sounding the alarm about the dangers of right-wing, white supremacist and racist elements in Paganism, particularly American versions of Norse Paganism, and who has continually called on Pagans to completely reject any and all expressions of racism and white supremacy, I am happy to devote this first blog post of the New Year to praising the major American Ásatrú (aka Heathen or Norse Pagan) organization, the Troth, for its increasingly brave stance in these matters. The Troth has always been the most open and tolerant, and to that extent, left-wing Norse Pagan organization  in America, but in its intention to serve as an umbrella for as broad a range of American Heathens as possible, it has not always taken the racism issue head-on, not wanting to alienate more right-wing and ethnically-oriented Norse Pagans. However, as the anti-immigrant and white supremacist views of prominent right-wing American Norse Pagans like Stephen McNallen have become increasingly evident, the Troth has been more firmly and directly rejecting and denouncing racist sentiment and white supremacist identity construction, and declaring that racism has no place in the Troth. If one goes to the main Troth web page to see its mission statement, this is what they will find:

"...We welcome all people, whatever their religious, cultural, or ancestral background, gender or sexual orientation, who have developed or wish to develop a relationship with our Gods and Goddesses, and would like to know more about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry." (updated as of February 1, 2016).

Note, too, that the Troth  also takes a firm stand of inclusiveness toward the LBGT population and gender diversity.

In many way, in many places, the Troth has taken steps to stamp out the lingering, smoldering embers of white supremacy and racism that are an unfortunate legacy of the past history of Norse Paganism, with  respect to the continuing efforts by Nazis, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists and racists to appropriate Norse Pagan heritage and symbols for their own use. Events like the "Unite the Right"  march Charlottesville in August of 2017 have demonstrated that there continue to be disturbing links between white supremacy and a certain segment of the American Heathen population. Therefore, while I salute the Troth for more and more openly and firmly denouncing racism and white supremacy, the battle is not yet won and perhaps can never be, considering how deeply rooted racism and white supremacy are in American society and history. Indeed, when the right-wingers at Charlottesville declared that they simply wanted to preserve American heritage by protecting statues of Confederate soldiers, they had a point: racism, racial segregation and white supremacy are indeed American traditions of very long standing. Of course, so was slavery, and just because something had a long duration, that does not mean it deserved to exist for the time that it did or that it should continue now. Applying this to Norse Paganism, we might also say that just because it existed in the past, that does not mean that it should exist or be revived now, unless it has something positive to contribute to the world today. If all it has to contribute is a Viking justification for racism, than it does not deserve any respect or support, and we should seeks its demise and disappearance as quickly as possible. The many very spiritual, profound and creative non-racist Norse Pagans I know in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the USA have reassured me again and again that Norse Paganism can be a worthwhile experiment in blending ancient and modern cultural and religious elements, and I am happy to be in their company, while I reserve the right to walk away from racists and white supremacists.

The thorny issue around which all these discussions revolve is the complex status of modern Norse Paganism, whether we call it Heatheny, Ásatrú, Forn Sið/Sed or by some other term, as a religion rooted in the past history of one particular place and people, that is, the ancient Norse and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe and Iceland, that has now been revived in a world of constantly mixing identities and cultural diversity. It is rather like the English language: it developed among Anglo-Saxons in England but has not become a language spoken worldwide. If tomorrow, the queen of England were to declare that only those residing in England or possessing Angl-Saxon genes wlll henceforth be permitted to speak English, the world would laugh.  The gods, myths, texts and traditions of Norse Paganism are no longer exclusively Scandinavian (or Icelandic, or German, or Northern European, etc.) possessions.They have become the common property of mankind across the globe. There may always be those who will take the view that the whole point of Norse Paganism is to block out the diversity and complexity of modern life and take refuge in an imagined "pure" white, Northern European identity. For the rest of us, Norse Paganism is an interesting and inspiring religious and cultural tradition that was, yes, born in the North but now faces in all directions, much like Yggdrasil, the WORLD tree that is so central in Norse mythology.

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