Anger turns to Despair

The Political Pagan thanks his readers for their comments on the last post about Obama, and wishes to clarify a few points. First of all, PoP` (as the Political Pagan is sometimes referred to; not to be confused with "Pol Pot," though the pronunciation is indeed similar) is well aware that Obama never promised during his campaign or since to wind down the war in Afghanistan as he did with the American occupation of Iraq. However, PoPa did not think that Obama would follow quite so Bushian (or Cheney-esque) a path, or try so hard to be seen as John McCain's little brown brother, in making war his top priority.

Obama has refused to stand up and fight for important domestic initiatives like a public works-job creation program or a health insurance "public option," instead giving every indication that he is willing to bargain away 50-75% of anything that he believes or once believed in. On the health reform issue, he promised from an early point in the discussions that he would make sure that whatever reform emerged would be "revenue-neutral," a position that ensured we would end up with a watered-down, corporate-friendly piece of shit, which is what we are now left with, after months of fruitless negotiations conspicuously lacking in strong Presidential leadership.

If Obama had been willing to make a strong moral argument for national health care, for example, "As Americans, we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, we have a moral responsibility to take care of each other, and so I am going to insist on a robust national health care policy that takes care of every American, whether powerful interests like the health insurance lobby like it or not," it would have been a much stronger case for serious health care reform. Instead, he let himself and his party get boxed into a fiscal cul-de-sac that cut off any serious hope of reform: "We will achieve health care reform as long as it does not cost anything." Well, you get what you pay for. Ever since that moment, the main point of opposition to any such reform has been that whatever plan is put forward will be "too expensive," will "bust the budget," etc. The same cost-conscious logic was allowed to strip last winter's economic stimulus plan of job-creating schemes, which might have given some real money and real hope to the growing hordes of unemployed, underemployed and foreclosed Americans.

This concern with so-called "fiscal responsibility" would be an easier pill to swallow if it were also applied to another major area of government expenditure, military spending. Here, however, cost is no object, and budget-busting is no crime. While every health care reform plan put forward has been run through the rigorous number-crunching mill of the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) to have its future costs dissected, the costs of Obama's escalation of the war effort in Afghanistan have been strangely exempt from such cost-conscious critiques. The lesson the American public is taught is this: national health care and jobs creation programs cannot be allowed, because they are too expensive, but the war in Afghanistan, including its worrisome expansion into Pakistan via CIA and JSOC drone attacks, is worth every billion.

This is where Obama most infuriates and disappoints PoPa. I see a terrible imbalance in his priorities, giving half-hearted support and weak-kneed leadership for domestic programs, but going to the mat for unlimited war. If the President had been as definite and insistent about health care or job creation programs as he has been about expanding the war in Afghanistan, it might have helped sway the corporate ass-kissing democrats in Congress to support such initiatives rather than look for ways to undermine them while pretending to support them. Imagine if Obama had gone before Congress and said, "I will veto any health care plan that does not include a public option," with the kind of decisiveness he showed in defending his Afghan war policy at West Point and in Oslo.

In short, Obama's greater emphasis on military spending than domestic programs is NOT what he campaigned on. He gave every impression we were going to get something very different from Bush policies, and instead, what we are getting is Bush in blackface. Let's not forget that the corporate and financial bail-outs began under Bush, and have been continued without any great modification under Obama. After a year of horrible unemployment and unending foreclosures, Obama has not produced much in the way of new policies or programs dramatically different from those of his predecessor. As an educator, PoPa has very sadly conclused that their education policies are nearly indistinguishable, looking to increased standardized testing and charter schools as magic bullet solutions, rather than facing the larger issues of chronic underfunding of education across the country.

Both Presidents, as well as Clinton before them, have proven to be all too beholden to corporate interests, whether these be the corporate interests of Wall Street, or those of the military-industrial complex from Blackwater to Halliburton, and all too willing to reply to the problems of economically stressed Americans with flimsy promises and optimistic rhetoric divorced from concrete action. When Obama had his chat with the heads of the leading financial service and banking companies, and urged them to do more to lend to small businesses to create more jobs, I had a sickening sense of deja vu. This is just the kind of thing Bush used to do. It makes for nice public relations, but is there anything else to it?

PoPa also feels that Obama is sadly contradicting himself on his former desire to move American foreign policy into a more diplomatic and multilateral, less militaristic and unilateral direction. His insistence that Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran must do what America wants, and never mind their own political, economic and national security concerns and needs, is not exactly a shining example of multilateral diplomacy. Sure, he is doing some of that, but as long as he pursues a war-mongering policy in Afghanistan, his Nobel Peace Prize is going to become an increasingly ironic honor.

Obama and Bush, buddies in war. Eisenhower was right: "Beware the military industrial complex." I don't think we need to have elections anymore. Just have the Supreme Court appoint a President from the military, and a Vice-President from Wall Street, and the result will be much like what we now refer to as "democracy."

Anger at Obama

Dear Readers,

The Political Pagan is now able to return to life after more than a month of being snowed in by multiple projects and responsibilities, from the always-exhausting business of college teaching to attending the American Academy of Religion conference in the lovely Canadian city of Montreal.

The PP has also been weighed down psychologically by a sense of anger and despair about the increasingly militaristic direction of the Obama administration. Now he will give voice to these feelings.

At a time when America is in economic free-fall, with increasing numbers of unemployed living on the slender lifeline of unemployment compensation, foreclosures on mortgages continuing to drive people out of their homes, and health care reform increasingly devolving into a Christmas gift for the health care and insurance industries that makes this year's Goldman-Sachs bonuses seem paltry by comparison, the brilliant idea of the "Hope and Change" President is to double our troop commitment to the quagmire of Afghanistan, and to actually accept the Nobel Peace Prize with a pro-war speech.

Not many weeks back, this blog had words of praise for Barack Obama as representing a change from the warmongering ways of the Bush-Cheney regime toward a more diplomatic, intelligent, and collaborative foreign policy. This author now deeply regrets and wishes to apologize to his readers for those words of praise. Obama seem to be doing all that he can to take up the mantle of "War President" from the ashes of the Bush presidency.

It is becoming clear that Obama's obsession with being a "bipartisan" leader, "reaching across the aisle" and so forth, includes being willing to act like a neo-con Republican when it comes to foreign policy and the use of military force abroad. It is an open question whether Obama really believes that this military adventure in Afghanistan is actually going to produce any worthwhile results in that beleaguered, divided and demoralized country, with its long history of rising up and fighting to the death against foreign occupation and aggression. What seems more clear is that Obama hopes to win the support of Republicans, or at least conservative-learning independent voters, by devoting resources to the one kind of government program that conservatives and Republicans can always be relied upon to enthusiastically support: the use of military force.

And the cynical political calculation of this anything-but-idealistic President is paying off. Though Republicans in both houses of Congress have generally been the "Party of NO" in refusing to support ANY domestic policy initiative put forward by Obama and the Democrats, when he made his West Point speech kissing up to the pro-war side of American society, these same Republicans suddenly had words of praise and a new tone of respect for Obama. Their one complaint was Obama's mention of an eighteen month deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, following the initial escalation of 30,000 extra troops. Obama's people quickly mollified the voices of discontent with the time limit by explaining that the deadline was nothing hard and fast, just a goal that might have to be modified.

One thing curiously missing from the Republicans' enthusiasm for Obama's expanded Afghan war effort was any concern about the cost. This was really striking. For months, Republicans have been screaming and shouting that we cannot possibly afford any large-scale expansion of national health care because it would be too expensive, it would bust the budget, push the deficit to a breaking point, place an unbearable burden on future generations, and so on. However, when the Afghan escalation was proposed, with a price tag of an extra $30 billion per year beyond the already considerable costs of the existing war effort, not a word of concern was raised by Republicans or conservatives about costs, burdens or deficits. War, you see, is ALWAYS worth paying for. A blank check for the military is the secret soft spot of the so-called deficit hawks, and a blatant demonstration of disgusting hypocrisy--"we can't afford to do anything" versus "no limits, no worries"--to anyone concerned with the sad state and unmet needs of American society.

It is becoming painfully clear to this Political Pagan that America is a dying empire. In our death-throes, we are able to do one thing only: thrash and smash around the world with our immense military might, even as conditions inside America get worse and worse, and the country falls farther and farther behind other countries in terms of education, health, medical care, infrastructure, and technology, except for military technology where we still are #1, since we spend as much as the next 20 countries put together.

Many other countries have better education, transportation, health care and retirement systems, but who cares? We have Arlington National Cemetery with line after line of headstones commemorating our valiant soldiers. Who needs a functioning society when you can have a great military cemetery? What fool would trade in the world's greatest military for silly things like health care, schools with adequate funding and technologically up-to-date mass transit systems? What idiot would propose government-funded employment programs like the WPA of the last great Depression/Recession to provide work for our legions of unemployed young people, when we can instead shepherd the young into our armed forces and our prisons?

This author feels deeply betrayed by President Obama, and deeply depressed by the strongly-rooted militarism of American society. It is hard to see any hope right now. Obama was our last chance for a fresh start, and increasingly, it feels like the winner of the 2008 election was not the "Obama" that his supporters were hoping for, but Bush. The Bush legacy of pro-Wall Street, pro-war, anti-social assistance policies lives on. Obama is making some changes here and there, nice small things, but the big picture remains fundamentally Bushian.

This blog apologizes for its past praise of Obama. A man who claims to respect Martin Luther King and Gandhi while bowing to the every wish and whim of jingoistic militarists is no friend of peace. He should NOT have been given the Nobel award. Judging from the pained faces of those forced to listen to his appalling speech in Oslo, I think many of the members of the Nobel committee are feeling much the same way.

This blog today is all Politics and no Paganism; so be it. Readers of past entries know that the author is much concerned with how certain forms of Paganism show a militaristic tendency. This will be discussed more in future.

But what about the kids?

3 weeks and 3 days ago, during the last conversation I would have with the non-political parent before he walked out of my life for good; the conversation where he told me he wasn't happy and his solution to this unhappiness was to leave me; amongst many other things I said- "but what about the kids?"

I don't remember his answer.

One of the first articles I read (for I have become a massive consumer of self-help of late) stated "and whilst you are grieving, don't forget your children- they have had this tragedy forced upon them"

I hadn't forgotten about them at all- they were the reason I didn't eat the contents of the medicine cupboard washed down with the 'Christmas cake brandy' (though I did drink the brandy at some point during that first week) they were the reason I didn't succumb to a very inviting nervous breakdown, they were the reason I got washed, dressed and dragged my shattered, hungover body out of bed and into Morrisons and the nursery. I didn't clean and I didn't cook and now I reflect I'm not sure what they ate- probably all the food friends brought (mainly chocolates and Haribo) with the odd bag of chips thrown in- the lack of cleanliness is something they're quite used to.

No, I never forgot about my children for a minute- that is a luxury afforded only to the non-political parent.

I realised today that when he said he was leaving there was no question about where the children would live and who would care for them. When he decided he didn't want to live with me anymore he also decided he didn't want to live with them.

The non-political parent left and he took with him the majority of the family income. I am still waiting for HMRC to decide what my income and therefore my lifestyle and that of my children will be. So far I've filled in all the forms, called them 5 times and had 5 different versions of events. In little over a week a new month begins- a month with the same bills due, bills generated from an income and associated lifestyle I just don't have anymore. Christmas is looming and my children, rightly so, expect Santa to visit as usual. These concerns are mine alone.

I read to my youngest child every night before bed (it used to be every other night), tonight's story featured Mr and Mrs Bear (parents of Baby Bear) and I realised they share shelf space with Mr and Mrs Brains (parents of Baby Brains), Sophie's Mummy and Daddy (not at all fazed having a Tiger come to tea), Mr and Mrs Thomas (parents of Mog's family)- a search on Amazon reveals there are more books with stories for children of LGBT parents than of single parents. Now, given my track record with men, these easily available books cannot be ruled out; but in the meantime I would appreciate some stories that feature just Mrs Bear or Ms Brains.

But what about the kids? Well the kids are OK, a tad confused and statistically more likely to have poor health/educational attainment/job prospects/self esteem; a higher chance of ending up in prison/unemployed/as lone parents themselves but they're OK. I'm probably the worst person in the world to end up in sole charge of 3 young minds and I hope they'll all forgive me one day but they are clean, fed and loved though perhaps shouted at a little more than is healthy.

So, I've become a statistic...but I'm still here and that's got to count for something.

A Thoroughly Modern Break-Up

I often marvel at the technological advances in my relatively short lifetime. I remember record players, Sony Walkmans, Atari and being one of only a handful of people in my village who were "on the phone". My newest life experience, being dumped, has opened my eyes to just how technology has affected the way we interact, in a new way, to old situations.

In a week where most face to face or telephone conversations have gone something like this-

Them: Hi, how are you?
Me: fine
Them: really?
Me: yes
Them: really?
Me: no, not really, ohmygodican'tbelieveheleftmeI'msolonelymylifeisruinedidon'tknowwhattodo *sob* *waah*

(which, might I add, has done nothing for my reputation and frightened countless people not used to seeing me in such a state -you know who you are)

........the written word has been my friend. Not my best friend, but it's right up there along with alcohol.

My Facebook wall tells the whole sorry tale with messages of support and (((hugs))) thrown in and much to my surprise it's been a huge source of comfort.

My only complaint with Facebook is the limited scope offered in terms of 'relationship status'.

For the uninitiated, Facebook allows you to display your relationship status and if you are the kind of couple who both use Facebook who you share that status with. So mine currently says

'In a relationship' with 'non-political parent' (well kind of)

In my wisdom the other day I went to change it but was rather disappointed with the offered possibilities.

I could have had 'single' or 'it's complicated' neither of which are really suitable.

Single- makes me sound available at least, if not actually on the pull and for a woman who's been happily pseudo-married for 10 years that just doesn't feel right at all.

It's complicated- well it's not is it? Couldn't be simpler- he doesn't want me anymore and he's gone.

So, there in juxtaposition to the day-by-day, status update by status update narrative of the last week or so I remain 'in a relationship'. The clincher being that when you choose any of the other options Facebook very kindly gives you a "don't cancel relationship" option and I'd be mad not to go for that.......

I am a prolific texter at the best of times but have probably outdone myself this week and email has allowed me to ensure I don't embarrass myself but can inform all those who need to know that I'm too emotionally volatile to engage with life at the moment.

On the whole I'm grateful that I have these tools to help me communicate my grief, especially as I know that these kinds of interaction don't force others to join in. So the feeling that I'm imposing on other peoples non-miserable lives is decreased a little.

The only downside is that a (((hug))) never feels as good as a proper cuddle from someone who cares or who just doesn't know what else to do with the cliche I've become.

Apology to readers

Hello. The Political Pagan must apologize. The last weeks have been too busy with other projects to post here. Weekly blog postings should recommence in mid-November. In the meantime, it would be great to hear from readers of what topics they would like to hear more discussion about. Still in the planning stage: a posting against Pagan fundamentalism. All for now. Keep in touch.

The Rest of My Life

Around this time last week, the man I love and have spent the last ten years of my life loving loyally, told me he wasn't happy- the following evening he walked out of my life for good.

So as I ponder whether to change the name of my blog to 'Political Single-Parent', life, it appears goes on- just not for me.

I will spare you the gory details of my emotional rollercoaster so far and for those of you who have visited, called and texted I say both thank you and sorry.

I'm not sure where recent events leave my foray into the blogospehere as I can't imagine giving a shit about anything again, let alone getting involved and then writing about it. I look at the person I was and see the intrinsic part the non-political parent played in who I was and what I did, and I can't imagine ever being 'me' again without him.

I feel so far removed from the woman in the Scottish Labour kagoule door knocking in Springburn last week, I can't really see a way back. I have the challenge of raising 3 children alone to face- at a point in my life when straightening my hair seems futile and too much of an effort.

I have had to hand over all my local political (with a small 'p') work to others and I don't see me being confident or assertive enough to ever take those roles back. I haven't read a newspaper all week and now wonder why I ever thought the kinds of things I did were important.

My answering machine has messages on it from locals defending me after an attack in the local paper- a situation I knew nothing about and couldn't care less about.

For a woman that used to assess many situations in terms of political capital and votes gained when the time came, I am perhaps just getting a glimpse of real life instead of playing the game and maybe it's no less than I deserve?

Besides I have discovered that I am not very resilient and really really don't handle rejection well so perhaps standing as Labour candidate in North East Fife (12500 Lib-Dem majority) is the last thing my battered self-esteem needs..........

Just when you think you're the future of politics....

So yesterday was spent, as is becoming usual for a Saturday, in Springburn, helping with Willie Bains campaign. Yesterday however I took 4 members of the St Andrews uni Labour club with me.

Now I don't think for a minute that I'm going to change the world but I do think that being a real person, with real life experience's behind me makes me useful in the modern political sphere. But I'm beginning to think maybe I'm just being humoured and patronised and what we're really going to end up with are more of the kind of people I had to listen to between St Andrews and Glasgow yesterday (that's nearly a 2 hour journey by the way).

The young men in question were totally without malice and most of them were quite charming and I stress it is not my natural bent to character assassinate the young but.........

During a pit stop for McBreakfast during which I made the polite "what are you studying, where are you from, what do you want to do when you grow up?" type conversation I was met with questions about my personal ethics, attitude towards the environment and care for the health of our children. Not just my own children, as I'm not sure the questioner even bothered to ascertain that I had any, he meant the worlds children. All this for enjoying a hash brown, bacon McMuffin (no cheese) and a latte. I should have ran to the car and drive off alone then when I had my chance.

To be honest the conversation in the car was increasingly getting above my head and my poor knowledge of sustainable development and the political history of Sierra Leone was obvious. When the conversation did get so simple I could engage with it I was left questioning myself more than I normally care to.

A pertinent local issue, the University of St Andrews wish to replace what is currently the cheapest accommodation with what will be the most expensive. A student group (Fair Rents Now) are mounting a protest and they're quite typically young, studenty and maybe a teeny bit naive about it but at the same time- right. I fully support their call for the University to think again and to design facilities aimed at students and widening access as opposed to aiming development at the lucrative conference and tourist market.

One of my travel companions was disgusted by the work of this group and constantly referred to them as "the far left". Now forgive me for thinking (and saying) if students can't be left wing then who can? Apparently I'm "unrealistic" and I "should read more" (he even threw in a couple of recommendations).


My travel companions conversation then turned to climate change and how it was the most important thing in the world but people didn't seem particularly concerned. Now considering myself to be "people" or at least one of them, I tried to explain that it would actually be a bit of a luxury to spend a lot of time thinking about climate change. Again, this was the wrong answer and I was duly chastised. I was merely trying to explain if you're day to day is taken up with worries about school, your job, your mortgage, your elderly parents, your broken boiler then if the best you can do to address climate change is a spot of recycling and composting- who's to criticise?

So today as I reflect on yesterday I realise that my political future is probably going to be a lot shorter and a lot less influential than that of those I encountered yesterday. Sure I know my stuff and I can talk to anybody and a lot of the time "I've been there" but I don't do the theory and I think it's unfair to expect people to see the global picture if they're driven to distraction by toothache because they can't find an NHS dentist or they can't watch the news because they're short and can't top up the meter.

Perhaps people like me make good activists but I think you'll find it's people like them that make policy.

I have nothing in common with the young men I met yesterday. We all carry the same membership card and we all claim to subscribe to the same values but that's where it ends.

If it were not for party loyalty I'm not sure they'd vote for me when the time comes but, to be honest I'm not sure I could vote for any of them either.

I'm glad that the rest of my day was taken up with meeting people on the doorstep and talking to other members who are a bit less (*desperately searches for the right word*.....*tries not to use "wanky"*.....*almost writes "middle-class"*)....theoretical or I may have gone home and wept.

Ultimately it was a good day and I felt I'd done my little bit for the cause, even if I'm a little less clear as to what the cause really is.

Perhaps I just feel threatened by the young, even though I can drive, have regular sex and enjoy the X Factor in a non-ironic way. Perhaps I'm idealistic and uneducated and can't see the bigger picture?

I wonder if Amazon sell that book...........

Decision made

I'm going to go for it and attempt to maintain a fairly informative and hopefully entertaining blog.

I also hope at some point to be able to make it look...well....a bit less shit.

Today was a fairly uneventful day, had work which to be honest was a little bit pointless and soul destroying so I'll need to fix that.

The one good thing about work was escaping from the kids for a while- it's the October holidays and I was all parented out- especially as the non-political parent has been away darn sarf this week with work.

Glasgow North-East by-election is now official and I'm going back tomorrow to help with the campaign. I'm a bit excited as I'll be taking some local Labour Students with me. It's been a long hard slog convincing the local University Labour Club that they needed to do any actual work for the party and I got as far as threatening to tear up all the requests for work experience and jobs they submitted before I had a firm commitment to help in the by-election- I bet they love it.

Having horrible sad moments this week as I realise the eldest child is 15 and old enough to be Young Labour, sadly he's just a bit too autistic for all that. :-(

From Halloran to the Havamal

The Political Pagan blogmeister returns to the blog this week quite amazed at the vociferous response to last week's posting "In Defense of Dan Halloran." While he appreciates the commitment to moral integrity on the part of those who disagreed with the author about excusing Mr. Halloran for trimming around the topic of his religious identity in a newspaper interview for the sake of a political campaign, the author remains convinced of the validity and practicality of his original point of view.

The author continues to believe that Pagans who operate in the public sphere should not be forced to sacrifice their chances for professional and personal fulfillment on the altar of public self-disclosure. The author wants to see more and more Pagans achieve great success in many professions and occupations, win the respect of their fellow citizens, and THEN "come out" with their Pagan identity at a time and place of their choosing if they judge that this will be a positive contribution to the overall cause of Paganism as well as their personal well-being. The author believes that in the long run, this approach will provide a solid foundation for the Pagans of the future to build upon. Premature self-disclosure in a hostile environment might only lead to self-destruction and public persecution.

Having struggled to build a career in the murky waters of higher education, the author is speaking from experience, and hopes that readers can respect that even if they disagree. Let those who are in a position to shout from the rooftops do so; not everyone is in such a situation. Some need to keep their religion private and out of public view, and they should not be looked down upon.

The ancient Norse text "Havamal" teaches the need to be careful and circumspect in potentially hostile situations, and not talk overmuch, because one never knows where enemies may be lurking. Until the day when Paganism is widely accepted in American or other societies, a bit of caution and restraint may be the path of greatest wisdom.

Of course, the person who loudly and proudly proclaims and defends his identity and dares anyone to oppose him, who is willing to fight to the death outnumbered by his enemies and eventually dies in a blaze of glory shouting "ODIN!!!" might make a better hero for a Hollywood action movie or Playstation video game, but to the author, this is just juvenile warrior-hero fantasy: great stuff for angry thirteen year-olds, but not real life and not real Paganism.

To blog or not to blog?

Well I can't decide.

I only remembered I had the blogspot as I had to sign in to comment on someone elses (much better) blog.

I Facebook (though am tiring of it) and tweet so not sure what's stopping me....

In Defense of Dan Halloran

The author of this blog would expect that many of his readers are aware that in the Queens area of New York City, there is a Heathen candidate for public office. Dan Halloran, a respected member of the Theodism variant of Heathenry/Asatru/Norse Paganism, is a Republican candidate for City Council in NYC. He recently got himself into some trouble with the media, with his chances for political victory, and his relations with fellow Pagans because of some newspaper stories about his Theodish affiliation.

The author had a mixed reaction to hearing about Halloran's candidacy. Though it is exciting that someone with a Pagan identity would run for such a position, Theodism is not the author's favorite flavor of Norse Paganism, as it is heavily involved with the idea of tribal identity that this writer has expressed discomfort with in the past. Furthermore, the Republican party in the USA is a political movement that the author finds extremely disagreeable, to put it mildly. For a liberal-progressive Pagan, there is not much to like about a right-wing political party that has often stood for racism and opposition to environmental protection efforts, to name just two items on what could be a very long list. So the author was struck with a dilemma: to cheer or to jeer at this Republican Heathen's run for office?

Certainly, Halloran's effort was groundbreaking, but the author would have much preferred that the first Norse Pagan to run for public office in the USA be a liberal Democratic candidate. That, however, is just a matter of personal taste, and it was mitigated by reading on various Asatru/Heathen forums about what a fine man and long-term supporter of Asatru and Theodism Halloran has been.

Something soon happened that caused the author to feel a rush of compassion for Halloran. Having been "outed" in a local newspaper about his involvement in Theodism, Halloran defended himself with an essay in which he spoke in very generic terms about being raised a Catholic and having belief in God. The author read this as a necessary political response, with a bit of understandable camouflage of religious identity, as the smartest possible way to deal with the political damage sure to follow from being associated with a religion that most Americans are likely to think badly of, out of ignorance, fear and the typical American distrust of non-Christian religiosity.

Then the author saw reactions from other Norse Pagans and Heathens on a variety of Heathen-related sites, and was quite shocked. Quite a few lashed out at Halloran in a brutal manner and condemned him for not making a more forthright public defense of his Heathenry. Several expressed pride in how they had been in tight spots themselves with job interviews and the like, and had openly proclaimed their Paganism despite the consequences. The author found this kind of reaction quite ironic, as it seemed as if what these critics really wanted was for Halloran to sacrifice his political aspirations and become a "martyr" for Heathenry, despite martyrdom being a rather Christian concept! The author feels that some expression of disappointment over Halloran's statements might have been fair game, but that this went over the line.

Worse, it suggested a very shortsighted and self-destructive view of how Heathens and Pagans should function in American society. There are few professions or lines of work where a person in America can really get away with being openly Pagan without paying some kind of cost in terms of lost respect, increased animosity, and decreased prospects for personal advancement, if not a quick loss of employment altogether. The insistence on Pagans or Heathens or Theodsmen proudly displaying their religious affiliation in very public ways even when in high-profile positions would, the author believes, probably confine Pagans to very low-level and marginal occupations. The author does not think that any Pagan should be forced to proclaim his or her religious identity when this might mean an end to their professional aspirations or a one-way road to public humiliation or persecution.

America is just not that tolerant, not yet. Let's be compassionate to those who need to cloak and conceal their Pagan identity at this point in time. After all, Odin, Thor and Loki all shifted shapes, lied and traveled in disguise when this was necessary to achieve their aims.

The author would be very curious to hear from readers in other countries about any similar or parallel situations of Pagans in politics in other lands.

Let Us Worship the Tree

One recent reader suggested that this blog had gotten bogged down in criticizing aspects of Norse Paganism that the author objects to. The suggestion was made that it would be good to devote more space to articulating a positive vision of the kind of Paganism that the author would like to see. This entry is a first step in that direction, building on ideas that have been hinted at and pointed to in earlier portions of the blog.

In Norse Paganism and many other European-derived religious traditions, as well as many traditions from other regions and peoples around the world, one of the most potent symbols of unity and interconnectedness among the many aspects of our existence is a tree often called a "World Tree," a mighty tree which rises from earth to sky, whose roots and branches reach out in all directions. In Norse tradition, this is Yggdrasil. In other traditions it has other names. It is the center of the universe in the Norse cosmos, containing within its expanse nine worlds in all, including ours, the world of mankind.

In Norse myth, the base of Yggdrasil is where the three Norn sisters, supernatural beings who may be more powerful than even the gods, carve runes that shape the past, present and future and determine the fates of all. The Norns also water the tree each day. Yggdrasil is also where the gods meet each day to hold council. It is on the tree that the god Odin hangs himself in a ritual of self-sacrifice, an action which gives him access to magical wisdom. "Ygg" is in fact an alternate name of Odin, and Yggdrasil means "the steed of Odin," as he "rides" the tree in his shamanic quest for knowledge.

The tree suffers from deer that nibble its branches and a serpent, Nidhogg, that snaps at it from below. When the end of the world comes in the poem "Voluspa," one of the indications of the coming doom is that the Tree begins to tremble. It is therefore something of a nerve center for the Norse cosmos.

We also have evidence that the World Tree was of great significance in pre-Christian worship of the Germanic peoples. The Saxons, a Pagan people who would ultimately be forced into Christianization by the armies of Charlemagne at the end of the eighth century, worshipped a great oak pillar symbolizing the world tree, which they called the Irminsul. When the Christian missionary Boniface came and cut down the oak, this act of disrespect and sacrilege likely contributed to the strife between the Saxons and the growing empire of Charlemagne, which would ultimately lead to a bloody war that was in certain respects a Holy War. The Saxons burned Christian churches, and the Christians demolished Pagan temples. On one horrific day in 782, Charlemagne had 4000 Saxons beheaded for reneging on an agreement to embrace Christianity. When the Saxons finally surrendered after 32 years of off-and-on war with Charlemagne, the terms of surrender included the death penalty for any further practice of Saxon Pagan religion.

The holy tree of the Saxons, the Irminsul, therefore bears a special meaning for Pagans today as a historical marker of the past suppression of Paganism by Christianity. Taken together with the Norse myths of Yggdrasil, as well as the similar World Trees of other traditions, we have a very good foundation in past tradition for seeing trees as proper objects of worship.

In our current time, when the world faces the possibility of environmental collapse brought on by unthinking human destructiveness, trees have become symbols of ecological awareness. Planting a tree has become emblematic of concern for the environment, and protecting trees and forests are key objectives of modern environmentalism, a form of "conservatism" that liberals, progressives, and even conservatives can get behind.

The World Tree is therefore a wonderful focus for a Paganism that is concerned with global welfare. It is a greater-than-human reality that suggests interconnection and the need to care and protect our world. It cannot be interpreted to support racism or narrow tribal concerns or self-centered individualism, but brings us out of our selves to a broader vision of human life rooted in the natural environment.

For these overlapping spiritual, historical and political reasons, the Tree is the perfect religious symbol for a progressive-minded Paganism. It also connects us to many other religious traditions in their own moments of reverence for nature.

Therefore, let us worship the Tree.

I invite readers to submit other myths and beliefs concerning sacred trees of other traditions.

From the Tribe to the United Nations

It has been very interesting to read the responses that have been posted to my recent critique of the emphasis on tribalism in much of the Asatru/Heathenry/Norse Paganism that has been developing in the United States. While some readers seem to agree with my viewpoint, others are clearly annoyed that anyone would dare question the importance of The Tribe. This dual response brings me back to why I first began this blog: the sense that there was a split in the Pagan community between people of a conservative-libertarian political orientation and others with a more leftist-liberal perspective, with the latter being my own preference, which I felt was in need of greater representation and advocacy. In regards to Norse Paganism, it seems clear now that those who embrace the tribal concept are generally of conservative bent, and those who reject the tribe tend to be the more liberal sort of Pagans.

The recent discussions have further validated my sense that tribalism is a dead end for Asatru and any other form of Paganism; indeed, for modern life in general. While it may provide the comforting sense of a tight-knit community to those seeking the safety of a small, closed circle, it seems to me to often lead to, or perhaps derive from, an "us vs. them" view of the world that comes uncomfortably close to racism and intolerance, and could easily be interpreted to support such hateful attitudes and ideologies.

I believe that a core fallacy of the tribal concept is the notion that the solution to the frustrations of modern life is to retreat into the past. This is perhaps a weird statement for a Pagan to make, especially one drawn to Norse Paganism, since much of Paganism involves a desire to reconnect with and revive portions of the past. Where I differ from those I will characterize as "tribal Pagans" is that I see the past as a place to visit, to seek inspiration from, to learn from, but not to blindly emulate in every instance. I believe we have to pick and choose from past Pagan heritage what makes sense to us and suits us, but not turn off our minds and become unthinking slaves of the past. Tribalism does not make sense to me living in the modern world, and so I reject it.

I believe that tribes did make sense once upon a time when there was no larger social unit or government structure to integrate into or rely upon. But in Scandinavia and in other regions too, people generally formed larger-scale communities that went beyond the tribe as soon as they could. Kingdoms; commonwealths; republics; you get the picture. Also, people began to mix with others as soon as they had the opportunity to travel and interact more freely. The situations where people have resisted forming larger, more mixed and tolerant social units are not especially pleasant places to contemplate: Nazi Germany; Apartheid South Africa; Ku Klux Klan America; you get the picture. The overlap between white supremacist groups and modern neo-Nazis, some of whom claim to be Norse-Germanic Pagans, is all the more reason to reject the tribal model.

While tribalism does not equal racism, and I should note that I know a number of tribal Norse Pagans who are fine people and by no means racists, the ethnic focus of tribalism, coupled with the sense of a closed, insular atmosphere, makes me highly uneasy. Others may not feel the same kind of anxiety about these matters, but for me, having lived abroad in lands where I was a distinct minority, having pondered the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe and the history of racism in the United States, a history which I do not believe is over by any means, tribalism rings bells of alarm. Even if all tribal Paganism, as it exists today, could be proven to be 100% racism-free, it might still provide aid and comfort to those seeking a religious basis for racism, and this concerns me as much as anything else. Unless the definition of tribe can be extended to the point of embracing all humanity, I cannot embrace tribalism.

Today we got to see President Obama and other world leaders addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations. I find this quite inspiring, even the droning weirdness of a Muammar Qaddafi speech. Why? Because it is the most amazing experiment the world has ever attempted in bringing all humanity together to articulate common goals and ideals and address common problems. Perfect? No, it certainly is not. Neither is humanity. There is much to complain and feel disappointed about with the UN; but that again is a reflection of humanity's own flaws and failings. However, the worst part of the UN is when you see naked tribalism on display; someone banging on about their own tribe or nation and denouncing the tribe or tribes they consider their enemies. Somehow, calls to common interest and cooperation tend to make for more inspiring speeches.

How does this relate to Paganism? Well, it so happens that the United Nations has been in the forefront of protecting the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, including their religious traditions, and through the UNESCO World Heritage program, their sacred sites. This is fantastic. Though "Paganism" as this writer uses the term is generally limited to pre-Christian European religious traditions and their modern revivals, these indigenous traditions of other regions are clearly close cousins of the Euro-Pagan religious traditions, and in fact, there is good reason to question making any distinction between "Pagan" and "Indigenous," and that distinction may well go by the wayside in the future; but that is a topic for another day.

This writer has participated in international meetings bringing together Pagans of different countries, and there was a wonderful joy and a great spiritual power in these different traditions coming together. Might such interactions possibly water down or "pollute" the purity of each Pagan tradition, by blending elements of each with the other? Perhaps, but this is nothing new. Norse Paganism was influenced by Celtic Paganism and Christianity, and if the Vikings had stayed longer in North America beyond the few summers they spent in Newfoundland, they no doubt would have intermixed with the natives and been influenced by their culture and religion.

In this regard, it is interesting to see the spate of recent films that explore that Native-Norse encounter of a thousand years ago, which seem to be conflicted about how to portray the Native Americans in relation to the Norse explorers. Were the Native Americans enemies, or "noble savages"? Inferior race or potential partners? I do not know a great deal of these films and their filmmakers, and I would be happy to hear from those who are better informed, but I believe that these ambivalent portrayals may show the influence of Pagan tribalism, just as tribal Norse Pagans may form the most enthusiastic audience for such films. Though the encounter of Norse with Native is an exciting topic for cinematic dramatization, there seems to be a wistful nostalgia for the possibility that the Norse might have been able to thrive as a separate people, or perhaps become European conquerors of the Natives, some 500 years before Columbus. Is this tribalism-- or racism? No doubt it can be interpreted in different ways.

Rather than rhapsodize about long-ago Vikings who often resorted to violence in interacting with other peoples, I like to think of modern-day Scandinavians who have often been involved in peace negotiations, aid to underdeveloped countries, and other distinctly non-tribal endeavors. I believe they show the Viking spirit evolving over the centuries to expand the concept of "tribe" to a much bigger community, that of humanity in general. I want to see a Paganism that celebrates humanity, not the tribe.

Perhaps the best symbol for this, from a Norse perspective, would be Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Its roots connect all worlds, and its branches shelter all beings, without favoring any particular race, tribe or species. The more I think about that, the more I like it.

Rejecting Racism and Tribalism

In an interview Tuesday night, 15th September 2009, on NBC news, former President Jimmy Carter gave a courageous political analysis in which he asserted that racism lay at the root of some of the most vociferous opposition to President Obama that has been erupting in recent months in strange,furious and feverish forms, like the notion of some that he is not really an American, has a phony birth certificate, is actually an African, or is actually a Muslim, etc. etc. I have long believed President Carter to be one of the most sincere, intelligent and far-sighted leaders America has ever had, as evidenced by his ability to guide peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt to a successful conclusion back in 1978, and his declaration of the need for America to radically rethink its approach to energy consumption in light of the energy crises of the 1970s. He put in place all manner of programs to promote alternative energy, wind power, solar power, and so forth, charting a course that could have led us to energy independence if such forward-looking programs had not been discontinued by Ronald Reagan and never fully revived by any subsequent president.

To come back to the present time, I think Carter has once again spoken out with characteristic intelligence and insight about a very troubling social problem that continues to plague America: the legacy of racism that never seems to completely disappear, only to go underground and mutate into new forms. Back when many white liberals like myself were jumping for joy that a black American could finally be accepted as a serious candidate for the presidency, many of my African-American friends and colleagues were concerned about what might happen if Obama were to actually succeed in becoming president. Their concerns ranged from fear that he would be assassinated to less clearly defined worries that there would be some kind of backlash against Barack Obama coming from angry white Americans experiencing "fear of a black planet." In the exhilaration of Obama's successful campaign and the afterglow that followed his election, I tended to dismiss their anxieties. Now I understand better what their antennae were picking up on.

As a Pagan, I want no part of this. My anger at these recent eruptions of racism puts steel in my spine to call for any and all Pagans who have an ounce of conscience and any capacity for empathy and self-reflection to take very seriously the dangerous potential for forms of Paganism derived from native European religious traditions to take on racist overtones and become vehicles for racism, even if--ESPECIALLY BECAUSE--this may happen unintentionally and unconsciously.

I am confident that the vast majority of Pagans I have known either in Norse or Baltic Pagan groups or other forms as well are not racists and bear no ill will toward people with non-European ethnic backgrounds. However, the problem of unintentional and unconscious racism arises when Pagan religious groups formally or informally define their religious communities in ways that exclude or discourage people from other ethnic backgrounds from joining in as full and equal members, even if the exclusion is unintentional or unconscious. I would argue that such exclusion includes NOT INVITING people of other backgrounds. In an often racially polarized world, some effort to reach out is necessary if you actually want to form relations across racial barriers and boundaries.

To my thinking, Asatru/Heathenry/Norse Paganism has a special responsibility in this area because the Norse Pagan tradition was--it cannot be denied--used by the Nazis in the past to support their cruel and vicious racial policies. It is true that this was a horrible twisting of Scandinavian and Germanic folklore and mythology, and I am working on a project to specifically denounce this kind of falsification and manipulation, but the fact is, the legacy was established, and now needs to be fully deconstructed and rejected at every opportunity. Assuming the Norse gods have any need at all for anything from humans, I think they would appreciate having their reputation defended more than almost any kind of offering that might be presented to them. This remains an urgent matter today because modern-day far right and neo-Nazi groups continue to make allusions to Norse gods and traditions, and to not fight back against that kind of appropriation could be perceived by the wider public as a tacit or indirect endorsement. I know some Heathens or Asatruar get sick of hearing about this issue, but I think this is truly a sacred duty, which we shirk at our peril.

Furthermore, I would argue that the idea among many Pagans, particularly though not only Heathens, that their project of reconstructing ancient, pre-Christian religious traditions should include some attempt at recreating the tribal society of ancient times, is a misguided and dangerous idea that plays right into the hands of hard right racism and neo-Nazism, like it or not. This passion for tribalism seems to be particularly strong in the USA, and I have been less aware of it in my discussions with Northern European Pagans, but I imagine it exists in other places as well. The argument is, the old religion was followed by people living in tribal communities, so we should do the same. Well, I would say, hold on a minute. The old religion was practiced by people who practiced human sacrifice, by people who had slaves, by people who followed a medieval lifestyle without electricity, without plumbing, without computers, electronic entertainment, or pizza, without any number of things that we take for granted, including the English language, and I do not see that it is necessary for us to completely recreate all of that lifestyle in order to participate in spiritual traditions laid out in ancient myths and other sources.

We no longer live in a closed, tribal world, and I believe that most people, including most Pagans, would agree that we are far the better off for it. Our range of social and cultural opportunities is infinitely rich and stimulating, and why would we want to purposely reject that and seek a more insular and limited way of life? What is the great attraction of tribalism? I fear that in some cases, it is....racism. Perhaps unconscious racism based simply on a discomfort with "different" people, but racism nonetheless. The desire to shut out diversity, to be only with "one's own kind," to conceive of and believe in gods that supposedly only care about people of "our" ethnic background.

As I understand old European myths, they are not racially oriented. They speak of cosmic realities, not tribal boundaries. In the Norse tradition, Yggdrasil is the "world tree," not the Norwegian or German tree. It shelters ALL beings, not just certain fair-skinned people with blond hair, blue eyes and a limitless hunger for herring. Odin is called the "All-father;" what is the "all" about? These are just two examples of how there are strands in Norse tradition, as in other European traditions, that suggest a movement toward very broad thinking and universalism even in ancient times.

However, I will acknowledge that it is certainly possible to interpret the old gods and religious traditions in a narrow, tribal way, with respect to the undeniable fact that these old traditions were often only followed within certain regions, among certain groups of people who shared a common language, who had often lived in the same villages for many generations. My feeling, though, is that an originally tribal, medieval religion transplanted to modern times need not remain tribal and medieval, but can and should be adapted to the conditions of modern society, which are globalized and multiethnic.

I know that some of my old Pagan friends and acquaintances may disagree with my desire for a multiethnic Paganism, and I accept their right to have that point of view, and to be as medieval and tribal as they please, but I hope they will listen to the more basic point that unless they are able to intelligently, convincingly and consistently reject racism and explain why their ethnically exclusive Paganism is not a form of racism, the more will they earn a reputation as either actual or at least unconscious racists. Again, I am NOT saying that these people are racists. I am saying that appearances are important, and that when we are called to account, we all need to be able to explain ourselves, and to act in ways that match our proclamations. Simply saying "We are not racists!" means little if it is not matched by actions that counter racism, or if it is obviously contradicted by actions that suggest racism.

I am however determined to develop a different Pagan path, and I am grateful that on this blog, I am meeting up with people who share a similar perspective. I pledge myself to the effort to move Beyond Tribalism and Toward Universalism. Can this be done with an originally European-based Paganism? Yes, I think so, and future entries will explore this, hopefully with the active input of blog readers.

Trans-Atlantic Tensions, Euro-American Reflections

In embarking on the intellectual and spiritual journey of this blog, I have been repeatedly struck by the great distance that divides American versus European forms of Norse Paganism. I am starting to wonder if it is even accurate to consider Heathenry/Asatru in the two regions the same thing, or if it may be necessary to create new terminology to distinguish the "Ameritru" version of modern Norse Paganism from European/Scandinavian Asatru (not to mention other varieties now being created in Africa, Australia and likely other places, too, which is a topic I would love to hear readers' input about.)

This is a highly personal topic to me, as my introduction to Asatru, and indeed to Paganism in general, came in two distinct sets of experiences, one in the United States, the other in Scandinavia. I am probably more inclined toward the European version of Asatru because my meetings with Scandinavian Pagans were from the very first moment pleasant and inspiring, and my first encounter with American Heathens was disturbing and discouraging. Back in the late 1980s, I learned of a Norse Pagan publication being produced by an Asatru association in Florida, whose name I no longer recall. I eagerly wrote to the group for a copy, and received something that was totally perplexing to me. The publication certainly showed knowledge of old Norse literature and traditions, and expressed a dedication to the Norse gods and goddesses, which I appreciated, but this was mixed with racist ideas and language that were totally disgusting to me. Repelled, I gave up on any further contact with this or any American Asatru or Heathen group well into the 1990s, though graduate study of Old Norse kept a small light flickering somewhere inside me.

My interest in Old Norse mythology and religion remained strictly academic for some years, until the mid-1990s when I received a fellowship to study in Iceland, which was a wonderful and truly life-changing experience for a working-class kid who had never been out of his home country before. In Iceland, I was introduced to Heathens who were not only extremely well-versed in Norse Pagan religion, this being after all a venerable part of Icelandic cultural heritage, but also completely opposed to any kind of racist interpretation of their religious traditions. They furthermore showed great curiosity about other religious traditions of the world, with my best buddy in Iceland being a great fan of American Indian culture and religion. Another Icelandic friend involved in Asatru professed to me his atheism, despite being deeply involved in the Asatru Fellowship in a leadership position. For him, what mattered most about Asatru was not believing in Norse gods but understanding Norse cultural traditions and attitudes that he felt were embodied by the old Pagan religion.

For me, this was a revelation. Here was a Paganism that was not a narrow-minded club with racist overtones, but an expansive, open-minded Heathenry, sufficiently well-grounded in its own traditions to not need to be dogmatic or fundamentalist, and knowledgeable and respectful enough about other religions to seek to learn from them. Their attitude seemed to be, "but of course....we are the descendants of the Vikings...we are explorers and seekers of knowledge." I found this an eminently welcoming milieu, and in later years, when I visited with Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Belgian and German Asatru groups, I found much the same attitude and atmosphere: tolerant, open-minded, non-dogmatic, and intellectually curious toward the larger world.

Since returning to live in America in the last five years, I have found difficulty in locating the same kind of atmosphere and attitude. Some of this is no doubt my own personal psychological difficulty in adjusting to living in the USA after a good many years abroad; a sense of returning-home-but-not-quite-belonging that is sometimes called "reverse culture shock." After living in both Europe and Asia, I can no longer share the easy confidence of many Americans that their country is indeed the best, their society superior; "USA #1," as it often phrased, sometimes in a rather belligerent manner that I cannot relate to at all. There are many things I love about America, but I love many qualities of other cultures as well. To put it in more Paganistic terms, I have walked among the spirits of other lands and received their blessings and guidance, and my sense of gratitude towards those other lands and spirits does not allow me to uphold any kind of narrow, exclusive patriotism.

My style of patriotism is to try to form bridges of understanding between the United States and other countries, even though America really is a very isolated culture and the distance to be bridged is often very immense. I feel my personal spirituality calls me to this, and I would go so far as to say I do not think any really genuine spirituality can be nationalistic in a narrow way, for neither Jesus, nor Odin nor Athena nor any other deities or revelations come to us wrapped in an American flag or any other flag. Even the Flying Spaghetti Monster travels without a passport.

I have always thought that the point of spirituality was to rise above anything as limited and confining as nationalism, but in returning to America, I am struck by how pervasive American nationalism is among Pagans that I have encountered. I had a Heathen acquaintance write to me with a kind of patriotic ultimatum: "Are you American Heathen, or not? If so, good. If not, bye!" I have never in any other context been challenged to produce proof of patriotism in order to be accepted as a Pagan; as some say, "only in America." For me, this ruins the whole point of engaging in Paganism as a spiritual path. If I wanted a religion based on patriotism, I would worship a deified version of George Washington or Ronald Reagan instead of honoring gods out of ancient Europe.

Certainly there are many complex issues of identity and loyalty tied up here. I know that in American society, someone like me who has spent an extended period living in other countries is not exactly a typical person, but a bit of a freak. However, having had that very enriching foreign experience, I cannot simply shelve it in a box of exotic mementos and pretend that all I know and all that matters is what is American. This has been particularly painful for me in reaching out to American Heathens, because here are people who I would expect to be really excited about international linkages and comparisons, being that their spirituality is inspired by texts and traditions out of Northern Europe, but I find that they are often not really very interested in modern-day Europe and Scandinavia, only the Northern Europe of their imagination, of the Viking past that they read about in books.

Of course, it is not anyone's fault if they do not have the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures, but I have the sense that some, perhaps many, are really not all that interested in experiencing other cultures at all, not even those of the Scandinavia that they supposedly revere as their spiritual homeland. This leads to a kind of closed, in-grown quality to some American Heathenry that by lack of knowledge of other cultures, becomes narrowly, tribally American, despite the sincere attraction to Norse Pagan traditions. I also have come to detect an underlying world-view and set of attitudes that is American conservative to the core, and this to me is not a straightforward read-out of ancient Norse traditions, but a distinctly American, conservative way of thinking.

Some of my European and Scandinavian Pagan friends who have read this blog have been scolding me for making such a fuss about politics, which they feel should not be mixed in with Paganism or Heathenry. However, I do not think they realize the extent to which their own form of Asatru is in many ways informed by modern-day Scandinavian social and political attitudes, just as the conservative American form of Heathenry largely reflects the dominant, conservative political viewpoint of American society. Looking at this, I realize that what is eating at me, and what is indeed a further symptom of my "reverse culture shock," is that I am hoping to find in America more of what I have known in Scandinavia.

This is more than a mere matter of personal taste, however. I find the modern Scandinavia of today just as spiritually inspiring as the Viking Scandinavia of the past, and I want to be part of a forward-looking Norse Paganism that can change and adapt with the times, rather than an exclusively backward-looking or retrospective Paganism with tendencies toward fundamentalism.....which will be the topic of my next entry.

Updating the Viking Hero

The author of this blog is receiving interesting responses to his proposal to explore developing a more liberal-leftist oriented form of Asatru-Nordic Paganism. Some people seem to like the idea; some seem to think it is absurd, even laughable. The father of a Norwegian-American friend opined, "I read the blog. Isn't the Norse ethos one of masculine strength and heroism rather than of concern for the weak? Somehow, I never thought of Odin as a liberal. Those virtues certainly imply a heroic ideal." I think this reaction honestly reflects the fact that beginning with Richard Wagner in the 19th century, we have all been fed a steady diet of Viking warrior imagery that leaves little space for consideration of more peaceful and non-macho aspects of Norse Pagan tradition. The author's attempt to swim against this tide would seem to be a distinctly minority position, but that does not mean it is hopeless. The author invites those with interest in this to submit their own selections and interpretations of Norse lore that suggest a kinder, gentler form of Asatru spirituality.

As a contribution to that enterprise, the author wishes to return to the topic of the earlier entry, "Would the Vikings Use the Euro?," to suggest that we need to update the concept of the Viking warrior hero to suit our modern world and conditions, rather than pretend that we can return to a medieval "paradise" where each man, armed with axe, sword and spear, would fight to the bloody death to defend and provide for his family on their lonely Norwegian farm, cold winds blowing through the fjord. Once more, I take inspiration from the modern Scandinavians, who have turned away from war and concentrated on peace and prosperity for a good many years, with excellent results that I would argue show the approval of the gods.

Whither the Viking warrior? The hero of the Scandinavians today is not swinging an axe to bash in his enemies' skulls, but wielding the force of education, knowledge and artistic sophistication. The battles of today's Scandinavia are fought not on a blood-soaked field of combat with ravens hovering overhead for a taste of fallen Viking flesh, but in the boardroom, the research laboratory, the university, the exhibition hall, and the arena of international respect and cooperation. Instead of focusing on narrow tribal concerns, modern-day Scandinavia awards its highest honors to those who further the cause of world peace. The austere beauty of Scandinavian design is respected around the world. Nokia cell phones and Ikea furniture have sailed to all corners of the world and peacefully conquered many hearts, minds and markets, bringing home bounty to the people of Scandinavia as surely as the Viking raiders and traders of a thousand years ago, and providing peace and security in a way that the original Vikings could not. Unless someone wants to assert that the Norse spirituality that we treasure in such texts as the Eddas and the Sagas is completely absent from modern-day Scandinavia, and that, in effect, "the only good Viking is a dead Viking," fossilized and frozen with matching sword, shield and axe, the author would argue that we need to take account of the peaceful evolution of Scandinavia and factor this into our interpretations of Norse tradition, and find the threads that connect past to present.

So the author urges those of like mind to take heart and not be timid. Let us not be mesmerized or intimidated by the stereotyped image of the Viking warrior. The heroic ideal has evolved, like Scandinavia itself. The author would argue that providing peace, security and plenty were always the primary aims of the Scandinavians, from the Vikings to the present. Certainly, the Middle Ages were times when war and violence may have been necessary to achieve those goals, and the stories of those blood-soaked days are naturally gripping and engrossing and always will be, but let's not forget, we are not living in those times. Furthermore, it would be highly ironic if we modern-day Norse pagans were to in any way endorse the stereotype of bloodthirsty, macho thugs created by medieval Christian clerics to forever vilify the Vikings. The medieval Scandinavians were people who valued art, poetry and intelligence to high degree, as their rich medieval literature demonstrates, and spent most of their time farming and fishing, not rampaging on Viking raids.

Odin is above all the god who searches for knowledge, who travels far and wide. He sacrifices his eye for wisdom, not for weapons. In the view of this blog's author, it is Odin the god of knowledge, poetry and wisdom who speaks most clearly to today's world, not the Odin who leads the doomed forces of Ragnarok.

Reflections on Ted Kennedy and the Possibility of a Liberal Asatru

Watching the news coverage of the passing of Ted Kennedy and listening to the reflections upon his life and legacy, the author of this blog was struck by a reminiscence offered by the political columnist E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, speaking on the PBS News Hour program. He recalled how Kennedy was a devout Catholic, and that his personal interpretation of Catholicism was one of the foundations of his concern for the poor and underprivileged. Traveling with Kennedy in the early 1980s, Dionne once asked Kennedy why he was so concerned about poverty in America. Kennedy replied, "Haven't you ever read the Gospels?," meaning that his spiritual faith and his political idealism were one and the same. In a time when most Christian political activism is associated with right-wing, conservative and evangelical versions of Christianity, it is good to remember that there are also liberal, compassionate, and progressive forms of Christian-inspired activism, even if we do not share their particular form of religious faith. Though we Pagans--certainly including the author--can work ourselves up into quite a froth of Christianity-bashing when we reflect on the past history of Christian suppression of native European religious traditions, or when we encounter fanatical and uncomprehending Christian fundamentalism, the example of Kennedy's generous and inclusive perspective and personality, grounded in his Catholic faith even when many Catholics scorned him, is a reminder to be careful to not tar all the members of a faith we may reject with only one narrow brush.

Another aspect of Kennedy's character repeatedly pointed out in today's stream of reflections and recollections was his ability to get along and work well with those on the other side of the political spectrum. That is not always easy to do, and the author has recently found himself in some nasty disputes with American Heathens/Asatru believers, brought about by the author's perhaps naive desire to raise the issue of different political perspectives within Asatru. A joking reference to left-wing and right-wing political perspectives brought down a hailstorm of angry denunciation, none from the left-wing but many from the right, and the author found himself forced to defend and explain himself, while provoking further denunciations requiring further explanations, and so on. Of course, mutual misunderstandings can easily erupt in cyberspace, as the medium does not always allow nuanced communication and matters of tone and attitude can often be misrepresented and misperceived.

Even making allowance for such lapses in communication and misunderstandings on both sides, the author remains shocked by the angry tone of the exchange. It reminded him of nothing so much as the recent health care forums held in various congressional districts, where furious, often badly misinformed mobs would not allow any kind of intelligent discussion to take place, but simply begin shouting angry abuse to shut down any possibility of such discussion. In the case of the health care forums, the shouters would not listen to any rational discussion of health care reform. In the case of the Heathenry forum, the mention of a left-wing perspective likewise unleashed a volley of abuse. The email exchange serves to verify what the author has found through past personal experience as well as the findings of scholars like Jeffrey Kaplan and Mattias Gardell, that Asatru/Heathenry in America generally tends toward the right-wing, conservative side of the American political spectrum, with limited tolerance for the left wing, liberal side of the spectrum.

Ironically, the author of this blog has often published articles and given speeches trying to defend Asatru against associations with extreme right-wing ideologies of racism and Nazism. He now feels a painful duty to reconsider his past perspective.
However, he does not want to make a false and misleading blanket statement that American Heathens are fascists, racists, neo-Nazis. None of the Heathens that the author knows fit that description, and most express clear opposition to such ideologies. In the author's view, most American Heathens are small-government, libertarian, pro-military conservatives, who tend to distrust large government programs and to be concerned with typical conservative issues like gun ownership rights. The author's point here is not to blame or vilify such views, but simply to say that these are conservative views and they do seem to be shared by many American Heathens.

American Heathens also tend to see their Nordic Pagan religion as totally apolitical, but this is where the author feels they are wrong. Their small government, libertarian, pro-military conservatism, or at least, their acceptance of the dominance of such a political perspective, is expressed in their organization of religious activities and their interpretation of mythology and tradition. Most Heathens form "kindreds," tight-knit groups sworn to mutual loyalty and protection, with the sense of a somewhat self-enclosed community. When you add in a general distrust of government coupled with a love of guns and the military, these kindreds might be seen as showing some similarities to anti-government militia groups. However, the author does not want to overstate this point, as Asatru and Heathen groups are not involved in any active or violent opposition to the government, unlike the militia groups and militia-inspired lone wolves that have carried out assassinations, including the recent attack on the Holocaust Museum, and bombed government buildings. The point the author wishes to make is only that there are certain areas of ideological overlap based on common conservative perspectives. If there were leftist militant groups in America carrying out violent attacks, and someone pointed out that there was some commonality between these groups' ideology and that of lefty-liberals like the author, the author would accept that point, while disavowing any similarity between the actions of such a violent group and any actions of his own.

However, according to the FBI report published in spring of 2009, the greatest threat of political violence in the USA today comes from right-wing, militia-type groups, not from anything happening among leftists and liberals, and several recent violent incidents such as what happened at the Holocaust Museum bear that out. In past communications, the author has encouraged Heathens of whatever political stripe to distance themselves from violent right-wingers who claim a relationship to Norse-Germanic tradition, and continues to urge them in this, to avoid Heathenry and Asatru being besmirched with such associations.

Many Heathens follow a set of ethical principles known as the "Nine Noble Virtues." These vary somewhat between Asatru groups, but are often listed as courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance and perseverance. These moral values are not explicitly listed in any ancient text, but are a modern interpretation of Norse-Germanic ethics. The author would argue that these virtues are all in accord with right-wing, libertarian-to-conservative ideology. With the possible exception of hospitality, there is no encouragement of kindness, peace, gentleness, mercy or compassion, as might perhaps be found in a more leftist-liberal set of "soft" virtues. This is instead a rather macho set of tough, hard-as-nails, survival-of-the-fittest, take-care-of-your-own-and-never-mind-anyone-else values that fits in very well with a pro-military, small-town conservative viewpoint; and it is notable that many American Heathens prefer living in small towns and rural communities, which in America do generally tend to be more conservative than urban areas. Therefore the author of this blog would argue that the Nine Noble Virtues are not apolitical. They are, the author repeats, not based on the texts, directly; they come from a certain quite modern interpretation of the texts, which is a conservative, right-wing interpretation. Again, it is not the author's intention to insult or pass judgment, but to describe accurately what he sees as the underlying political viewpoint. The author believes that this is in keeping with the universal virtue of honesty.

This is where the author thinks again of Ted Kennedy and his liberal interpretation of Catholicism which motivated his concern for the poor and underprivileged. The author believes that Asatru is not inherently imbued with conservative political ideology but is open to interpretation and re-interpretation, like any other religion, and the author truly hopes to make common cause with those interested in a liberal-leftist interpretation. As opposed to thinking of Asatru in terms of closed communities and macho values, the author advocates creating an Asatru that celebrates the Norse gods, but reaches out to the larger society, and honors humble virtues like kindness, peace, compassion, and mercy. That is what Ted Kennedy did with his Catholicism, and this is what can be done with Asatru.

The author accepts that many American Heathens are happy with a somewhat conservative version of Asatru/Heathenry, and applauds them for forming communities that give them happiness, spiritual fulfillment and a sense of security, but he feels called in a different direction, and knows he is not alone. He hopes to someday have the wisdom, humor and generous personality of a Ted Kennedy that will make it possible to disagree but still be civil and friendly with Asatruar of the right, and hopes that they will also wish to interact in the same spirit.

The author would very much like to hear about other Pagan communities and their political viewpoints and debates.

Once again, the blogmeister calls on readers to remember that insulting, incoherent, unconstructive and abusive comments will not be published.

Petition to Save the Hill of Tara in Ireland

There is an ongoing campaign to try to prevent the government of Ireland from developing a highway in the vicinity of the hill of Tara, seat of ancient kings, prominent in Irish myth, and of especial significance to Irish Pagans. I am using this space to promote the campaign, which comes from .

I encourage readers to visit the site and add their signature of support.

Thanks to Brian Walsh for informing the Blogmeister about this.

UN Must Save the Hill of Tara from the M3 Motorway


The Hill of Tara, Ireland's premier national monument and internationally renowned cultural icon, is being desecrated by construction of the M3 motorway. The works are in breach of international law, which protects this site for humanity, and the United Nations must intervene now.

Lying 30 miles north of Dublin, it was Ireland's capital for millennia; where over 142 kings were crowned, dating back to 3,000 BC. Since then, hundreds of monuments were built on the slopes and in the surrounding landscape. Today, the cultural landscape is defined by the remains of a number of defensive Iron Age hillforts which surround the Hill, lying approximately 2-3 miles away.


The M3 motorway is being built by the Irish Government, in public private partnership with Siac and Ferrovial construction companies, through the centre of this landscape, and a 50 acre interchange is being built 1,000 metres from the summit. Already, dozens of archaeological sites within the landscape have been excavated and demolished, and construction is due to be completed in 2010.


The campaign to save Tara, and re-route the M3 motorway has reached a critical point. Celebrities such as Bono, Seamus Heaney, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Gabriel Byrne, Colm Toibin , Louis le Brocquy and Jim Fitzpatrick, supported by hundreds of international experts in Irish history, archaeology and mythology have spoken out against the M3 route. National surveys show that the vast majority of Irish people want Tara protected, and made into a UNESCO site.

Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney said:

If ever there was a place that deserved to be preserved in the name of the dead generations from pre-historic times up to historic times up to completely recently - it was Tara. I think it literally desecrates an area - I mean the word means to de-sacralise and for centuries the Tara landscape and the Tara sites have been regarded as part of the sacred ground.


The World Monuments Fund, Smithsonian Institution and Sacred Sites International have placed Tara on endangered sites list, and others such as the International Celtic Congress, the Archaeological Institute of America, the Landmarks Foundation, the City of Chicago and the Massachusetts Archaeological Society have issued statements condemning the M3 route.


The European Commission is currently taking a lawsuit against Ireland in the European Court of Justice against Ireland, for illegally demolishing the Lismullin national monument, which was discovered in the pathway of the M3 in 2007, after being voted on of the Top Ten Most Important Discoveries in the world in 2007 by Archaeology magazine. The Irish authorities refused to heed the Commission's demand that demolition be halted, and construction is proceeding despite the EU legal action.


The Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, has delayed nomination of the Hill of Tara to become a UNESCO site, until the M3 motorway is complete. UNESCO has stated that it cannot intervene, until Ireland completes the nomination, which was due to take place at the World Heritage Committee Meeting in Seville, in June 2009.


It is clear that the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage protects all sites of outstanding universal value, even if they are not on the World Heritage List. Other UN agreements, such as the UN Global Compact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both human rights Covenants, and the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples also require that Tara receive the highest level of protection possible.


The only body that can now intervene and save the Hill of Tara is the United Nations. This petition is directed to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and asks that you intervene in the Tara crisis, and begin a problem-solving initiative, which will protect Tara and allow the M3 to be completed.

The UN must intervene now and enforce UN law, on behalf of the people of Ireland, the Irish Diaspora, and both the global community.



Please forward this petition to:

- all of your friends

- local and national Irish cultural groups

- historical and archaeological organisations

- political representatives

WE MUST REACH OUR GOAL OF 1,000,000 signatures by Dec 31, 2009


TaraWatch Web Site

Hill of Tara UNESCO public consultation site, hosted by TaraWatch

TaraWatch Facebook Cause

TaraWatch Facebook Group

TaraWatch USA Facebook Group

TaraWatch Twitter

TaraWatch Yahoogroup


Suite 108
The Capel Building
Mary's Abbey
Dublin 7
Republic of Ireland

War and Peace in Paganism

As a dedicated peacenik and staunch foe of militarism, which I consider one of the greatest curses of modern life, but also a Pagan, I have often pondered how the ancient European Pagan traditions had gods of both war and of peace. Obviously, then as well as now, war was sometimes an unavoidable necessity, and then as now, it had an economic dimension as well, in that "to the victors go the spoils," to which we might add modern-day reflections on the military industrial complex and how much profit and employment is wrapped up in the war biz. The greater the number of people who depend on the military-industrial complex for their employment, education, housing, health insurance etc., the harder it becomes to cut back any aspect of the military, as it has become an ever-expanding social welfare program for soldiers and their families as well as all the people who work in military-related industries.

In the Pagan religious traditions I am closest to, the Norse-Germanic Asatru/Heathen tradition and the Baltic-Lithuanian Romuva movement, I have seen that what often seems to attract a certain number of men to these religious movements dealing with the Pagan past is the opportunity to play and pose with swords and other medieval weapons and imagine themselves great warriors of the distant past. A lot of this is just testosterone bluster in honor of the Gods of War, but I worry about how this kind of thing may drown out an appreciation of the Gods of Peace.

I cannot help but relate this to modern American culture, with its endless images of war and violence that are drilled into our heads 24 hours a day. I do understand that boys will be boys, and that they often do love to play with war toys. I had my toy soldiers as a boy too, and enjoyed my share of make-believe combat. But I do worry at how this ties in with our modern, post-9/11 military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, because it seems to me that in this last decade, war and the military have gained a sort of sacrosanct status, as something sacred that cannot be questioned but must only and always be obeyed. We are all pressured to "support the troops" rather than to THINK about what these wars are based upon and what they are actually achieving or not achieving.

I find the Gods of War a pretty scary lot. Even Odin, one of my favorite Pagan deities, is described as sometimes being untrustworthy in his aspect as a war god, giving victory to the undeserving and sacrificing his own followers on the battlefield for his own mysterious purposes, including drafting them into the elite force that will battle frost giants and fire demons in the final battle of Ragnarok, which, according to the Eddic poem "Voluspa," will plunge the whole world into fiery chaos, prior to an eventual regeneration of the cosmos after its total destruction. I think that for many in the Heathen or Asatru community, the mythology of Odin, Valhalla and Ragnarok is seen as a straightforward glorification of war and warriors. I see darker, more ambiguous meanings here. Odin's shiftiness on the field of battle seems a perfect metaphor for the horrible uncertainty of war; the destruction on both sides, never knowing who will live or die, and in the aftermath, the grieving for the dead and the wounds both psychological and physical, the broken limbs and shattered minds that even the victors will carry home from the battle, and the possibility of renewed war in the near or distant future as the losing side nurses grievances and dreams of vengeance. Not exactly a good time for all. Not the great fun of "The World of Warfare" video game.

And, Ragnarok is a failure, an absolute disaster for the gods. All the combined efforts of Odin and the other great gods like Thor and Freyr to protect the worlds of gods and of men are all in vain. Odin is swallowed by the great wolf Fenrir; Thor is slain by the Midgard Serpent. The other gods go down in defeat as well, and the fire-demon Surt runs wild, in what seems a medieval version of a nuclear holocaust. There are obviously different ways to interpret this, and my thoughts here are strictly my own. I read this as actually suggesting a weariness with war, a sense that war only leads to greater and greater destruction. Others may view this as prophesizing that some kind of all-destroying conflict (Israel versus Iran in the Middle East? India vs Pakistan? Yankees versus Red Sox? soccer versus football?) is inevitable, and that we should all sharpen our axes, shine our shields and prepare to go down fighting.

However, the peacenik in me finds other threads to follow in the Norse myths. When Odin gains mastery of the magical runes in the poem Havamal, one of the abilities he acquires is the ability to make peace. So he is not a 24/7, bloodthirsty war god who only knows how to rhyme "war" with "more." He knows the value of peace, when possible. There is also the tale of the battle between two families or tribes of divine beings, the Aesir (including Odin and Thor) and the Vanir (fertility gods all, sea-god Njord, brother and sister fertility deities Freyr and Freyja). It was the "first war in the world," and neither side could win. So they arranged a truce, exchanged prisoners, and Freyr and Freyja came to dwell among the Aesir. This truce, unlike the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok, was a success. Peace worked, at least in this case.

Elsewhere in the mythology, a minor episode that I also find significant is that Freyr, in the course of wooing a maiden of interest, gives away his sword, and when the battle of Ragarok comes, he is without a proper weapon, and has to make do with the horn of a stag; we might jokingly say, Freyr has to "go stag" at the worst possible moment. He gave up his weapon for love. Now, this didn't end so well for Freyr, so it is not necessarily an argument that this was the best move to have made, but I find it expressive of Freyr's primary nature as a fertility god, who was often worshipped in the form of a giant phallus. He seems to have been a "make love not war" kind of god.

Therefore, I think that a cogent case can be made that the Norse tradition is not wholeheartedly pro-war or pro-military. There are also anti-military, pro-peace dimensions that deserve contemplation. Stepping back to our modern society, I think that pro-peace voices need to be bolder and louder. For too long now, the worship of the war god has dominated our political discourse. To be anti-war is seen as wimpy, traitorous, un-American. On the conservative side of politics, there is the strange, ironic coincidence of "pro-life" and pro-war points of view. I think that being truly pro-life should extend to opposing war, or at least being very cautious and reserved about the hellish mass murder that war is, and not celebrating it as if it were a big happy football game for the whole family to watch and cheer. In the Pagan world, I would personally like to join forces with other Pagans who feel that their spirituality calls them to promote peace and denounce war. I will stand with you. There was once a "Pagans for Peace" organization in the late 1990s, but I don't think it survived the Bush years. Perhaps it is time to try again?

Spiritual Indecision...Or Do You Call It Pluralism?

A fair number of comments to this blog have raised provocative questions and heartfelt concerns about the linkage between ethnicity, including the problematic concept of "race," and Pagan spiritual traditions in much of modern-day Paganism or neo-Paganism. This is something I have also struggled with, and I am not yet sure who or what has won the struggle!

I have divided loyalties between two different European Pagan traditions, the Norse or Nordic Paganism of Iceland and Scandinavia, and the Baltic Paganism of Lithuania and Latvia. I have Czech and Lithuanian ancestry, but was exposed to Norse mythology at an early age--I am not ashamed to admit it was through the comic book "The Mighty Thor!!"--but always felt a great curiosity about Lithuania, from dribs and drabs that my mother would relate to us, based on her mother's recollections of her childhood in Lithuania in the early 20th century. In undergraduate college, I did a research paper on Nazi appropriations of Norse mythology--highly ironic as I am now working on a somewhat higher level research paper on the same topic that I hope to publish in a scholarly journal like "Nova Religio" or "The Pomegranate." When I started graduate school in the mid-1980s, I made Norse Mythology one of my areas of study. This carried on with study of the Old Norse language at the University of Wisconsin at the end of that decade, and led me to obtain a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Iceland in the mid-1990s, which led to participation in Asatru Fellowship activities in the Reykjavik area, and continuing connections with Iceland and Asatru.

However, the same year that I went to Iceland, I also went to Lithuania, where I came to know Jonas and Inija Trinkunas, the husband and wife leaders of the Lithuanian Pagan group Romuva. This led to further visits in 1998 and 2002. A bit later, after teaching in Japan several years, I scored a second Fulbright Fellowship to teach at Siauliai University in Lithuania from fall of 2004 to spring of 2005, and was once more highly impressed by Lithuanian spirituality, but also frustrated at my inability to learn the Lithuanian language, which was really necessary for me to fully participate in Romuva.

I came back to the USA in 2005 with a pragmatic sense that I would henceforth concentrate on forging links with people involved in Nordic Paganism, largely because it was more accessible with most of the materials being translated into English, with several generations of Asatru in America having developed a workable American version of Nordic Paganism. However, I still feel connected to Lithuania and Romuva, and do not by any means renounce my ties to them. (Hey, what's the point of being polytheistic if you can't be pluralistic?) I see the traditions as kindred branches of the Indo-European spiritual tree, anyway, with Perkunas being the Lithuanian version of Thor, and Velnias being the Lithuanian version of Odin, and the Lithuanian World Tree being no less of a vivid symbol of interconnectedness between mankind and nature than Yggdrasil in Norse mythology. In many ways, I see myself as an Indo-Europeanist, which also allows me to feel at home in other related spiritual traditions like Hinduism.

However, I am such a shameless spiritual slut, or religious eclectic, anyway, that I cannot really accept being walled off from other traditions that appeal and make sense to me. Having lived in Japan from 1999-2004, I am very appreciative of Shinto, which of all religions I have known, is the one whose closeness to nature has most impressed me. When I pray to my various gods, spirits and ancestors, I often bow and clap my hands twice, Shinto-style, and I do not imagine that Odin or whoever else I am addressing feels slighted by this elegant and respectful gesture. Furthermore, my analytical mind tells me that all names and forms of the "divine" (or whatever you want to call It) are just provisional place markers to help the human psyche reach out to something beyond yet deep within itself; however, I find certain god-images and personalities emotionally moving. And, at the risk of sounding ridiculous--and I can assure you I am not saying this in a flippant way--I like the fact that in religion, we can return to the child in us who enjoys playing with dolls and toy figures. I think that play is actually highly significant.

An acquaintance of mine in Sweden made a very pertinent point about this kind of eclecticism. He told me that he likes to worship the Scandinavian goddess Freyja, and has also taught his daughter to do the same, but that if she were to decide to instead worship the Greek goddess Diana, he would not have a problem with it, as he sees them as ultimately meaning very much the same thing. However, he would PREFER that she worship Freyja, as this would be more in keeping with their particular cultural and ethnic context, but he would not insist on it. I think that is a lovely attitude, and I am grateful to hhm for sharing that.