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.