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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Real Magical Debates in RPG-Fandom: Asatru and "Folkish" Concepts of Paganism

Yeah, this is NOT a "real magick in RPGs" post, just so we're clear.  This is an actual debate related to one section of the pagan community, that came up recently on G+ with another noted gaming blogger.

He posted this blog entry, which probably won't make sense to anyone who isn't fairly up-to-speed with the pagan community in North America and its larger issues. Not just the pagan community, but specifically the Norse Pagans (usually referred to as "Asatru"), who tend to keep themselves fairly distinct from the (often flakier) mainstream Wiccan and "eclectic" pagans.  The Asatru could be said to in some ways predate Wicca, in the sense that there were germanic-pagan revival movements going on since the late 19th century whereas Wicca was only invented around 1950 (though in its modern form Asatru came along after, around 1970).   And obviously, you had the problem that some of those earlier forms were tied into german-supremacist movements (out of which spawned many of the ideas of the Nazi party), and that to this day there's significant groups of people who claim to be Asatru or Norse/Germanic Pagans that are also neo-nazis.

Of course, the majority of Asatru are NOT neo-nazis, and have to constantly face those issues (even from other neo-pagans) and some go out of their way to condemn racism in all its forms specifically because of that troublesome association and unwanted connection to certain disgusting elements.

There were some details in the blog entry above that confused me a bit, so I asked the blogger in question to clarify a bit more on his stance in particular, since he seemed to be both against the magazine article he felt was defamatory AND the reaction from the "Heathens United Against Racism" organization.  So he referred me to this article and this article to seek to clarify his stance.

You see, there are a couple of different major schools of thought in the (non neo-nazi) mainstream of Asatru:  for the majority, the "universalists", worshiping the Norse Gods need not have anything at all to do with anything resembling your racial background.  It is a religious faith, like most other religious faiths, where what really matters is that you feel a connection with Odin, Thor and company, regardless of whether you came from Scandinavia, Germany, or from Shanghai. But a non-insignificant minority are "folkish" Asatru, who espouse a belief that either genetics or "ancestry" (where you came from, who the 'gods of your ancestors' were) is a crucial part of the religion; whether or not this is utterly exclusive (i.e. no non-aryans allowed) or just seen as very important (i.e. it 'makes more sense' that you check out the old religions of your own ancestors) varies from group to group.

In the latter two articles above, the blogger in question goes to great lengths to state that his own position (as a "folkish" heathen) is that it is ancestry that matters and not genetics, that in his point of view this is radically different from racism (especially what he calls the "19th century pseudo-scientific notions of race"), and that he in no way feels that his own ancestry is superior to anyone else's, just that people should follow the folk religions of their own ancestors; and he also argues from the point of view that followers of other folk-religions like Yoruba or Native American religion are allowed to be concerned about cultural appropriation and to have groups/gatherings/churches that put ancestral conditions on participation, so it should likewise be allowed for Asatru.

So all that said, here's my response:

In the first place, I agree that racism should be defined by 'prejudice' not by 'power', but there is also more than one level of racism.  There is the race-hatred kind of racism, that sees one race (almost always one's own, by sheer coincidence I'm sure) as "superior" and others as "inferior".  But there is also the racism that is a 'fear of the other'; the mentality of not having any problem with people of other races, feeling like they are equal even, but just not thinking that one should mix with them (in the sense of mingling, and for that matter in the sense of inter-racial relationship); the whole "I have no problem with Swedes but I wouldn't want one to buy the house next to me, go to my church, or marry my son".

In my experience, most Asatru are very unfairly painted as racist, when they are not. But most "volkish" asatru (as opposed to the regular variety) I've met have expressed one of those levels: a tiny minority (I imagine it would be a larger amount if I knew a lot of people in prisons) who are that kind of overt KKK-style racist, a small minority who are the same once you scratch the surface of their 'volkish' ideas, a larger group who are not that race-hate based racist but who are the non-mixing kind of racist, and a vast majority who (if not any of the former to any extreme) are at the very least both aggressively anti-christian and often anti-semitic as well.

I don't think you should be maligned for the likes of Varg Vikernes and his ilk any more than Christians should be maligned for the Christian Identity movement (or Thelema should be maligned for tons of really bad heavy metal music).  But none of the above stops me from being critical of these.

You say that you're not talking about silly 19th century ideas about race, but about ancestry, and yet (from a historian's standpoint) the Volkish movements absolutely did start from those 19th century ideas.  I'm not saying you aren't being honest about your position, but I am saying that if you remove the race-theory 19th century ideas that fed the early Volkish movement and try to base it on "ancestry" rather than some flawed genetic theory, you get into some very muddy waters.

My own ancestry is one-half Polish, one half Hispanic.  On the Polish side of the family I come from an aristocratic family and can trace our genealogy back to the 13th century.  I know that it's very likely that my family was Catholic for the last 1000 years at the very least.  On my mother's side, based on what part of Spain they came from, it's quite possible that my family ancestry was Catholic (or at least some variety of Christian) for at least 1500 years (although of course, some of my ancestors from Spain might have been Muslims for a time; and its possible that I might have some ancestry somewhere in either line from the sizable Jewish populations that were present in Poland and Spain alike for quite some time, though I have nothing that directly points to that).

So you're arguing, however, that I should ignore that last 1000-1500 years of "ancestry", reject the last several dozen generations of my ancestors' faith, to adopt a recreation of a specific earlier period of ancestry?  Why?
I mean, you might argue "well, before your ancestors were Christian they were pagans for like 20000 years!"... ok, but what kind of pagan?  I mean, my mother's side would have worshiped the Roman gods for a while. Before that the Slavic gods or the old Iberian gods.  So which to chose?
And this presumes that ancient religions are fairly static, and ignores migratory patterns, and all kinds of other things.  Even if it made sense to ignore the last thousand years of 'ancestry', the rest of most our ancestry is a total jumble.  You could claim your ancestors worshiped Thor for several hundred years, except he wouldn't even have been called that the whole time, and the way he was worshiped would have changed significantly even between 1a.d. and 1000a.d.
Thanks to historical and archaeological research, we now know that in fact ancient tribal religions, contrary to our assumptions, tend to change radically fairly frequently, in response to various factors.  So to suggest that there was one single religion your ancestors practiced since time immemorial, before becoming christians for about 1000 years, is extremely dubious even if all your ancestry goes back to one single cultural group with little to no migration.

So I'm not sure what "ancestral" form of worship you are appealing to here. Or, of course, why that would be more valid than Christianity if the choice was a question of ancestral precedent rather than actual religious epiphany, except if we again get into that idea of some kind of "Foreign impurity", that Christianity is a "Jewish invention that weakens the virile European male" or something like that (which kind of ignores that those European males who adopted Christianity pretty much kicked the living fuck out of those European males who didn't, for most of recent history).

But most importantly, I don't get why I shouldn't be a Buddhist.  Or why it would be better to study the Runes (which I have, for 20 years now) than the I Ching (which I also have, for 20 years now). And especially, why I shouldn't reject my "ancestral religion" of Catholicism, which I don't feel I belong in at all.  And if it was OK for me to reject Catholicism in spite of it being the religion of my father, grand-fathers, great-grandfathers and great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers, it would follow that I should embrace a historical re-enactment of something vaguely resembling the faith some great-to-the-twentieth-power-grandfather might have maybe practiced two thousand years ago?

I'm not trying to condemn your faith here, but I am asking you to examine, and to feel free to respond with your argument for, what you consider the arguments for those certain principles of your faith.  Do you NEED your worship of Odin to be because of 'ancestry'?  If there was no such thing as "ancestry", if it turned out that tomorrow you find some old letters from your grandma in your attic that prove that your entire family is actually Jewish and your dad's side had been Thai Buddhist, would you still follow Odin?


Anyways, that's it for today.  I put this here mostly because I needed some venue in which to put it.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Amber Root Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best


  1. I'm not an Odinist or a Thorist or any of the other Heathen faiths though I've studied Asatru for years. For the record I am 100% with Jon on this one.

    What you are missing is the Folkish Asatru like him there aren't any different than people who want to keep social justice warriors , swine or story gamers out of the current tabletop gaming.

    Its about simply the freedom to choose who they associate with in their private endeavors and not be forced by entrism or the Cultural Marxist or whatever zeitgeist is out there.

    They want something that feels like them and supports them as a people and why not? People are tribal and anything that increases mental well being like this does is a good thing .

    European folk need tribes and identity too and Asatru works pretty well for some. Why not?

    As I figure it unless you are a Heathen and its in your chapter its not your business what they believe, who they hang out with or anything else unless they try to legislate or can be proven to be harming people in a direct way.

    Also what is stopping some random group of people from forming Inclusive Catholic Odinism ? Jon isn't, the AFA isn't , Heck I've been to Churches like that the syncretically mix Christian and Buddhist and Native American stuff. Whatever floats your boat

    And as its faith, objectivity is no concern anyway

    I'm not going to bother Catholics about the Eucharist ,Jews about the pork taboo or Native Americans for excluding me from sacred rituals or Mormons for excluding from their temple Its their thing, not mine.

    Same with the AFA, If I wanted to join and they thought I wasn't White or European enough I'd be disappointed but I' d just go do something else.

    Since they aren't the State religions, have no plans to be such and its the Internet age, its as easy a mouse click to find another group.

    Same with the story gamers really, go over to the Forge or wherever and ask around, boom bing done

    In other words, Jon is right.

  2. In australia thee is a fascist movement using anarchist ideas to be more appealing as kids dont find swastikas appealing. They speak of racially based folk communal villages as being ideas - they also preach organic food as if this is somehow related to human genetic purity. They plagorise lots of more reasonable sounding anarchist philosophy and folk culture ideas then mix in their race/genetic theory as if it is all equally reasonable. The whole thing is smoke screen for their racism and to make their unpopular ideas seem more palatable. If your excluding others based on ethnic claims and theory your missing out on opportunities for friendship and not really helping the world find peace. It doesn't take much for the not want to live near them types to get worse.

    1. So? what makes Anarchism Or Leftism more reasonable than a European Folk Religion? Who decides? King Mob? The State?

      Frankly unless they are engaged in religious violence its no ones business what they believe but the adherents.

      Anyway , the Asatru Folk Assembly , AFA is anti-racist for most part and as are most Folkish Asatru. Even if some are racists, and some a few Odinists are certainly racist, so what?

      Its their life and if they do not want to be around people unlike them, its their business.

      The State isn't all knowing enough to decide what is good for any of us and one of the core principles of Anarchy in fact is the right to choose . If that choice is to avoid some people, oh well. Their loss.

      No one except maybe a politician has an obligation to any bunk like world peace either.

      And while it doesn't take much for them to get worse, its not that hard to avoid social engineering either. The only reason that this is even an issue is that western governments seem to see people as interchangeable commercial cogs who are not allowed anything but the most superficial culture.

      In a healthy homogeneous society where tradition was respected especially at out level of prosperity there would be much less strife and a much happier population not high on dope and psychiatric meds

      And yes no doubt a few Odinists are capable of scary stuff. I have not however seen them do a fraction of what Muslims do and instead of pushing Muslims down, they get catered too.

      Someone violates one of their religious taboos and the State swoops in with speech restrictions. Oh no can't insult Islam. They might hurt us.

      Do you see the implicit lesson there? The more crazy violent and controlling your are , the more respect you get.

      That is exactly teh wrong thing to do and not tp put too fine a point on it, ell who is the real threat here? The people willing to kill over drawings or a bunch of Viking Nazi LARPERS

      Somehow a few White people who believe in some ideal of Whiteness are a far greater terror than radical Islam whose atrocities make the paper every day

      That frankly is bunk and playing on the long dead NDSAP boogieman

    2. That's the leftist mentality for you. In a nutshell. Because they're nuts.

  3. If you are going to go around saying stupid things like you only believe whites should only hang out with whites or black people should only hang out with black people, people are going to call you out on it. That isn't the state reigning censorship on you, thats people disagreeing with your stupid ideas.

    1. That's true enough and insofar as its limited to criticism via free speech, I agree.

      However its kind of the wrong argument here, no one actually said that. They simply wanted their religious sects membership to be limited to certain people and nothing else.

      Given that Native American's do this as do tons of other ethic religions, I fail to see why its an issue.

      Of course if you disagree strongly enough feel free though to go tell your local Native American Tribe they are stupid if if you like.

    2. I don't know much about Native American beliefs. But given recent history, I am pretty uncomfortable with a whites only faith. Do they have a right to practice a religion where they only worship with whites from a particular area of Europe? Sure. But if I meet someone like that in real life, I'm going to be really cautious around them. I've also just met way too many racists and white supremacists who hide behind the kind of language I am seeing there (racists who say they actually believe in and promote diversity and focus on each group sticking to its own heritage).

    3. Bedrock, if you personally aren't comfortable with a White only religion, (and are White) pretty clearly Folkish Asatru is not for you ,

      Still you ought to do a bit of research before you paint with two broad a brush .

      Check out the Asatru Folk Assembly so you can get a good idea what these people are about .

      Now if the Norse Gods are something you feel strongly calling you there are plenty of inclusive Asatru to choose from as well.

      All in all though this is all about freedom of association and freedom of non association and as long as that is respected, no worries,