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


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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.

Would the Vikings Use the Euro?

One of the things I find most fascinating about modern-day Paganism is the attempt to re-imagine and re-construct the spiritual pathways of the European past (note: for my purposes, I define Paganism as pre-Christian European religious traditions and their modern revivals, though this is not to meant to disparage spiritual traditions of other regions), and also to adapt these bygone traditions to modern society. Thus I am blogging on a computer instead of carving a runestone, for example.

With regard to Asatru/Heathenry and the revival of pre-Christian, Germanic-Nordic-Scandinavian religious traditions, something I find very interesting is how many modern day Asatruar in the USA are deeply involved with reimagining and reconstructing the lifestyle and religious beliefs of Viking era Scandinavia, but often seem to have no interest in the further evolution of Scandinavia beyond the Viking era. Now I know one way to explain this is to say, post-Viking, Scandinavia was Christianized, so who cares about it after that? Well, I do.

I have traveled to all the Scandinavian countries, most recently Sweden in spring of 2009, Iceland and Norway in spring of 2007, and also lived in Iceland on a Fulbright graduate student fellowship in 1996. Modern Scandinavia is extremely admirable and impressive, in my view. Strong economies; healthy people; beautiful landscapes; progressive social policies; cultures that retain the old and embrace the new, from rock-carvings to Nokia. It seems to me that the industriousness, imagination and sense of curiosity of the Vikings of the past did not go to waste, in fact never went away at all. These countries have continued to evolve, and the modern-day "Vikings" are just as worthy of respect as the legendary ones of old. I do not know if many American Asatruar share my feeling, and I think part of the reason is politics. In my experience, many American Asatruar are small-town, rural-oriented folks, either by birth or by later in life choice, and they tend toward a conservative, right-of-center political viewpoint that is opposed to the kind of quasi-socialism of the modern-day Scandinavian nations, where "social democracy" (the more respectful term) provides much more security and support to the population than what we see in the USA. I wish we could learn more from the modern Vikings, but I suppose the current health care debate shows how threatened most Americans are by strange, foreign ideas like universal health care. Just call me "Lefty the Viking."

Thinking in terms of heritage, not race

Tonight, let me start by saying I am very gratified by the thoughtful responses my blog entries are receiving. Click on the "comments" button below each blog entry to see these fine contributions. I do have veto power to publish or not publish comments, but it will be my policy to try to publish all comments except those that are vicious and abusive. One respondent queries why I am focusing on the problem of racist or Nazi attitudes within Asatru/Heathenry, as opposed to other Pagan groups with similar issues. This is a valid complaint which I take seriously, and in response I would have to say that first of all, it is beyond my knowledge and abilities to explore this issue in all the different possible varieties of Paganism that are out there. Asatru is what I know best and what most concerns me, but I would hope the author of that complaint understands that I am a supporter of Asatru. I am speaking from "within the family," so to speak, and not concerned with sugarcoating difficult issues to create a more pleasant public image. Future postings will deal with other Pagan groups, I can assure you of that.

As my earlier post explained, in a passage which I fear may have been overlooked, my mind is fixed on the Asatru-Nazi-racism problem these days because I have been working on a scholarly article specifically intended to debunk the association between Asatru/Heathenry and Nazism/neo-Nazism. As my Asatru friends and colleagues are all non-racist and anti-Nazi,to the best of my knowledge, I had started this project expecting it would be EASY to disentangle Asatru from Nazism and racism, but the sticky issue I have run across is that there are indeed a small number of neo-Nazis who purport to be believers in the Norse gods, and that in addition to that, there are many Asatru believers, who are by no means neo-Nazis, who place a high priority on ancestral ethnic identity that in my view is potentially problematic, because it does sometimes seem to walk a line between pride in heritage and a possible unconscious attitude of racism.

This is very personal to me because my first attempt to reach out to an Asatru group
back in the 1980s introduced me to a white supremacist, ultra-racist version of
Asatru based in Florida that so disgusted me that I avoided all contact with
Asatru or Heathen people for many years. It was only when I lived in Iceland in the mid-1990s and got to know people in the Asatru Fellowship there that I felt reassured that Asatru could truly be a spiritual movement and not a racist one. As some of you know, I am an academic and have researched and published on Asatru in scholarly publications, and in my writings, I have always tried to defend Asatru against the charge that it is racist, and this includes my current research project about Asatru groups' efforts to dissociate themselves from any kind of racism, neo-Nazism, etc.

In another forum, I had an exchange with an Asatru believer who spoke about "having pride in one's own race" as a key element of their interest in and faith in Asatru. In approaching Asatru or other forms of Paganism I would like to express an alternate point of view. I don't see Asatru being about pride in the "white race" at all. I see it as a matter of loving and taking pride in the spiritual dimension of the cultural heritage of Scandinavia and/or Germanic Europe, not the "white race" per se. Being white or Caucasian is not any special achievement; it is just an accident of birth. However, learning about Scandinavian/Germanic heritage,
developing a sense of spirituality rooted in that heritage--now THAT is an
achievement, based on an intelligent thought-process and a personal decision.

I take pride in the people I know who have worked hard to cultivate an
Asatru/Heathen spirituality, but it is not because they are white. If I were to
meet a person of African or Latino descent who had similarly dedicated him or
herself to Asatru/Heathen spirituality, I would welcome them, and I hope you
would too, and I would not think any less of them because of which color womb
they fell out of. I don' t think the circumstances of our birth are really so important, as they are quite arbitrary and beyond our control, unless you believe that our birth-situation is determined by karma or something like that. In my thinking, what is far more important is what we make of ourselves after our birth, through our own effort, intelligence and understanding. I know plenty of white people who are cretins and jerks, and aside from our sharing the same pale skin,I don't really feel all that much in common with them. I have lived in Japan and felt much more in common with people I met there who impressed me with their nobility of character than with many ignorant, closed-minded, self-satisfied white people I meet in America. On the religious level, most white Americans are Christians, as I am sure you have also noticed!, so I also don't feel any particular "white" spirituality that bonds us together. This is why I believe Asatru or Heathenry is best defined in terms of a particular spiritual-cultural heritage, not a particular race.

I see the same applying to other forms of Paganism based on the past cultural heritage of a particular region, such as Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, etc. If you relate well to that heritage, and find that it exerts a spiritual pull on you, then it is well and good for you to develop spiritual practices based on that heritage, even if you are of a quite different ancestry. Of course, if you have ancestry related to a particular region and cultural tradition, that might be all the more reason why you would feel attracted to it, and I know many Asatru believers reason thus. Where I part ways with some is that I do not believe ancestry, or race, should be the key criterion of faith or fellowship. It is just one possible path up a very high mountain.

Certainly the gods, whatever they may be or how we may conceive of and connect to them, are beyond race and narrow tribal boundaries, and I cannot believe they mean for us to be narrow and limited in our understanding of the world and approach to life. The Vikings were all about expansion and connection to other parts and peoples of the world, were they not?

All for now.

Nazism, Paganism and Christianity

In the course of this summer, I have been working on an article exploring the relationship between the Nordic/Norse/Germanic Pagan movement Asatru and the German Nazi regime. Because certain members of the Nazi party like Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler made use of old Germanic folklore, myths and symbols to promote Nazi ideas of racial and cultural superiority, it has often been assumed that all those who express a serious spiritual interest in Nordic or Germanic mythology and pre-Christian traditions "must" also be Nazis or fascists. My original inspiration to undertake this project was my acquaintance with many modern-day Norse Pagans (also called Heathens) who completely reject and deeply resent the idea that their beautiful spiritual tradition from ancient Europe has anything to do with the completely modern form of militarized political insanity that was Nazism. I expected to write a quick study exposing the superficiality of the Nazis' appropriation of Germanic Paganism and the absurdity of associating modern-day Norse/Germanic Pagans with Nazism, but my research took some unexpected turns that I find quite troubling and worth sharing.

My exploration of the Nazi period essentially confirmed my earlier view that Nazi usage of Pagan myths, symbols and traditions tended to be quite superficial, mainly oriented toward "proving" the greatness of the Aryan-Germanic race, as was the main thrust of Nazi culture and propaganda. What was surprising was discovering how very Christian many Nazis were, whether we talk about leading figures like Hitler and Goebbels or the rank and file. Though the Nazis did end up persecuting many Christians who refused to cooperate with them, this should not be taken as a sign that the Nazi were "anti-Christian" or rejected Christianity. Not at all! Most Nazis, including Hitler and Goebbels, saw their horrific regime as the logical extension of pro-German-nationalist forms of German Protestantism and the long-running anti-Semitism within both Catholicism and Protestantism. And, while the Nazi attempt to take over and reformulate Christianity in an ultra-German, anti-Semitic manner may be seen as a perversion of Christianity, it must be acknowledged that this perversion was well-rooted in certain forms of Christianity long before Adolf came along. Two books I would strongly recommend in this regard are "The Holy Reich" by Richard Steigmann-gall, and "A History of Catholic Antisemitism" by Robert Michael.

My other surprise was finding out that there are indeed a certain number of modern-day Norse Pagan/Asatru/Heathen groups that embrace ideas of racial superiority that are somewhat Nazi-like. Some of these are openly neo-Nazi, and the question then arises as to whether these are really "Pagans" at all or just Nazis posing as Pagans and manipulating Pagan symbolism, mythology and traditions much as the original Nazis did. I think the truth is that today, while many, and probably the majority of modern-day Norse Pagans completely reject Nazism and its attendant racism and anti-Semitism, there is a certain minority of Norse Pagans who inhabit a belief system that either slightly echoes, or even openly endorses, Nazi attitudes and ideas about race and related issues. My Asatru friends who completely reject all such racism and fascism will have to be vigilant in rejecting and refuting this line of thinking, as it has not gone away, it is still out there.

Returning to the theme of Nazified Christianity, I feel there are very disturbing parallels with modern American politics. Just as Nazi Christians had an unshakable conviction that Germany was a chosen nation especially beloved by God and Jesus, and that Germans had a natural right, if not an obligation, to conquer Europe in the name of Reich and God, I see some conservative Christians in the USA as centering their view of the world around a similar blend of nationalism, militarism, racism and religious conviction. The fear and hatred that is shown to Muslims, to immigrants, to foreigners, all the while saluting the flag and praising Jesus, is something that I think is very frightening. Substitute "America #1" for "Aryan Master Race," and anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant attitudes for the Nazis' anti-Semitism, though anti-Semitism is not entirely lacking here either, and you will see that there is a extremely noxious brew cooking here.

As a supporter of modern Paganism, I am concerned that this ugly mood could also end up being turned against Pagans, for being "un-American," un-Christian," etc. I call on all my Pagan friends to be alert in the months ahead.

On the less disturbing and more inspiring side, my research also exposed how the Nazis really could not find much in the ancient sources of Germanic myth and folklore to support their views of racism and anti-Semitism. When one goes back to the sources, the evidence is very clear: Norse Paganism is not a race-based form of spirituality. The old texts speak of tribal affiliations and upholding personal honor, but there is nothing about race. The gods themselves are known to consort with others such as giants! So, those who want to use Germanic Paganism, Asatru or Heathenry to make a case for racial hatred do not have firm ground to stand on. This is a good thing to note and be proud of.

Welcome to the Political Pagan

Hello. I am a professor of World History in upstate New York, USA, and author of numerous articles on modern Pagan religious movements such as Asatru and Romuva as well as a book, "Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives" (2005). I have decided to start this blog to provide a public venting space for my thoughts on two of my great passions: Politics and Paganism. (Note: I see "Paganism" as a serious religion and so capitalize the name to show respect for it, as is done with other religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, etc.) In some cases, my blog entries will deal just with Politics or just with Paganism, but other entries will involve commentaries on political matters from a Pagan point of view, and also the reverse, political commentaries on Pagan matters. I hope to stimulate discussion of both politics and Paganism, as well as their points of intersection. I look forward to responses from those who share my interests and concerns.