VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1 : THE TROUBLE YULE 2010 02
EDITORIAL: BIRTHING PAINS Talas Pái
THE CONUNDRUM OF BLOODLINES Elizabeth Vongvisith and Raven Kaldera
HARRY POTTER AND THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS Talas Pái
FEAST Maris Pái
LOKI AND HIS DAUGHTER Stacey Lawless
NOT A PAGAN COMMUNITY, BUT A COMMUNITY OF PAGANS Coral Mallow
PERFORMATIVITY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF AMERICAN HEATHEN CULTURE Galina Krasskova
PORTRAIT OF LOKI AS GERALD GARDNER Stacey Lawless
LOKI: CONTROVERSY AND DEVOTION GALINA KRASSKOVA
HUGINN IS A BIANNUAL ONLINE MAGAZINE CREATED, EDITED AND PUBLISHED BY TALAS AND MARIS PÁI OUT OF COUNTY ROSCOMMON, IRELAND. SPECIAL THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO HELPED US THROUGHOUT THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS OF THE LAST TWO YEARS. COVER PHOTO © 2010 TALAS PÁI. ALL CONTRIBUTIONS ARE COPYRIGHT THEIR INDIVIDUAL AUTHORS 2010. ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED. WWW.HUGINNJOURNAL.COM
Editorial: Birthing Pains Huginn is new, something I don't think the world has seen before. While heathenry is one of the most literate religions on the planet, most of the writing on heathenry has been either by Christians, scholars or conservative heathens. Comparatively little has been written by the developing liberal fringe of modern heathenry and Northern Tradition paganism, and less still has been collected and compiled. Huginn is named for Thought, especially thought that goes out into the world and transforms it. Likewise, the voices aired in Huginn are those which heathenry needs most now: of faith, of exploration, of mysticism, of global community, of experience, of experimentation, of radicalism, of aggressive acceptance of those the gods themselves choose. Which is why we need Huginn, both as a vehicle for debate, for new ideas and for progressive theology, and also as a source of affirmation, a nexus for those of us working with and experiencing heathenry in a real, organic, surprising and rewarding way. Huginn is necessary to help create a vital, forward-thinking, forward-looking religion. This issue deals with THE TROUBLE with the various controversies and figures in heathen practice, theology, mythology, history and politics, and examines how heathenry fits into the greater neopagan community. If heathenry actually is more than just a religion, if it does indeed encompass enough to be a 'folkway', then let's blow up that definition. Let's push the boundaries of that folkway until it includes every freethinker, queer, mystic, outlaw, shaman, magician, scholar, poet and dissenter who truly follows the call and does the work of the Northern powers. â€“
Talas PĂĄi Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Conundrum of Bloodlines BY ELIZABETH VONGVISITH AND RAVEN KALDERA
The issue of race is a touchy subject among practitioners of the Northern faiths. Like it or not, due to the visible number of white supremacists within Ásatrú (mostly in prison environments), in the minds of many outsiders, Heathenry and Norse religion have become indelibly associated with racism. However, there are many Heathens who find this objectionable in the extreme, while others believe that “racism” is too strong and loaded a word for what they actually believe. Those Heathens who refer to themselves as “Folkish” believe that one must have some blood tie with the Germanic/Scandinavian peoples who originally worshiped the Norse deities in order to successfully practice what they often term a “folkway” rather than a “religion”. There are even some who have postulated that one’s religious propensities are encoded within one’s genes, and that the best religion for any person is the one which his or her indigenous ancestors followed. This idea is often termed “metagenetics” and its adherents may be very resistant to what they consider “cultural misappropriation,” either by those within or outside the tradition and associated ethnicity. On the other hand, proponents of this theory and of Folkishness in general are often criticized by those who do not believe that race has anything to do with one’s capacity for religious understanding, claiming that Folkism and metagenetics are actually thinly disguised racist attitudes masquerading as ethnic pride. Because the majority of people involved in some form of Norse/Germanic religion are of European descent, this debate, when it takes place between those who count themselves among the faithful, is more often than not squarely in the realm of the theoretical. However, although they are few and far between, there are those who follow the Northern Gods who are not in fact wholly or even partly descended from the ancient Europeans who first called out to Them. We thought it would be interesting to explore the issue of bloodlines from both an “insider” and an “outsider” perspective in terms of racial heritage. While Raven’s background is nearly entirely Northern European and largely Germanic and Scandinavian, Elizabeth is of mixed Southeast Asian, Native American and European descent. Neither of the authors of this article identifies as Folkish or as a Heathen, for that matter. Raven prefers the term “Northern Tradition Pagan” to describe himself while Elizabeth variously uses “Norse Pagan”, “Northern Tradition Pagan” or plain old “Pagan”. Although we do not consider ourselves members of Ásatrú or mainstream Heathenry, we too are affected by the debates about bloodlines, and thus we have decided to explore this topic as a dialogue in the hopes that it might spur others to think more about their own views on the Northern religious heritage, and whether or not blood need be a defining factor for those who seek to reconstruct it or who base their modern beliefs on it. Please note that neither Raven nor Elizabeth uses primary sources as the main basis for our personal practices, and that many of our statements below are based mostly UPG, PCPG (peer-corroborated personal gnosis) or sheer, cussed opinion. RAVEN: I didn’t come to the Northern Tradition with a sense of privilege because of my Germanic and Scandinavian bloodlines. I came with a sense of extreme discomfort. 3
The first problem was that I didn’t choose these Gods, They chose me. I didn’t even know who They were at first – Gods don’t always show up with “Hi, my name is X” name-tags – and when I discovered that these were, indeed, the Gods of my ancestors, I became disturbed. I was (and still am) a Neo-Pagan, and while I am committed to that demographic, there are some strong assumptions there that any spiritual experience should be open to any sincere seeker, and the idea that the Gods might have racial preferences really bothered me. After all, I knew a lot of Pagans who were dedicated to Greek and Egyptian deities who certainly weren’t who their ancestors were worshiping. ELIZABETH: I wasn’t prepared for race to even be an issue when I came into this. I was an eclectic Neo-Pagan for about 17 years before I had any contact with the Norse deities. When that happened, I was mostly ignorant about what Heathenry was about, other than a bunch of guys with Mjollnir pendants around their necks, drinking beer and swearing oaths. I had no idea that race was such a hot-button issue until I began to explore Ásatrú and came into contact with folks for whom blood was the defining factor in who should and shouldn’t be a Heathen. It was a shock to discover that there are some folks who’d say that someone like me shouldn’t be involved in the Northern faiths at all. Then I realized that those beliefs had to have come from somewhere, as pervasive as they seem to be, and when I looked into the primary sources and spoke with some of the deities and spirits, I discovered that it wasn’t just humans who see race as an important factor in how others are treated. RAVEN: When I learned that the Goddess who had claimed me was Hela, the death deity of my ancestors, it made me vaguely worried, and I consoled myself with the fact that I had also had dealings with deities whose original batch of people never (as far as I knew) slid a single chromosome into my background. When I began to research what I could find about the original conquering Indo-Europeans and their religion, I could hardly be unaware of the myths in various parts of Eurasia where the Gods of the conquerors overthrow and demonize those of the conquered, and in many cases also demonize the ethnicity of the conquered people. Class as well as race is seen as genetic in these tales; one can read in Rigsthula where Rig/Heimdall sires the various castes of thrall, freeman, and noble, describing their genetics with a rigidity that seemed more suited to the Rig Veda and the Hindu caste system. The existence of this ancient religious propaganda did not escape me, and I would have liked to have dismissed the racism in Northern Tradition stories as the worst kind of human politicization of divine truths, but there is my experience of the Gods and spirits themselves to deal with. However, before I go on to that, there is the obvious problem that for those who are deliberately looking at the primary sources of this religion for excuses for racist thought, there are writings that can be interpreted that way. ELIZABETH: There certainly are, although honestly I have actually had little experience in having the primary sources held up to me as a reason why I supposedly shouldn’t be messing around with Northern Tradition religion. In all honesty, most Heathens have a bigger problem with me being a Lokean who honors the Jotnar along with the Aesir and Vanir, so my race hasn’t gotten me nearly as much criticism as my beliefs have. However, I have bumped up against those who deeply believe in metagenetics as a reason for why folk should always adhere to the indigenous ways of their genetic ancestors. Funny, though – there’s not a lot in the primary sources that actually refutes the idea of so-called “race mixing.” I mean, half of our Gods are of mixed Jotun and As blood, even Thor Himself, the greatest enemy of the giants. 4
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From time to time I’d ask Folkish Ásatrúar what they’d suggest someone like me ought to do so far as finding my own ancestral folkway. I got various answers. Some said, quite reasonably, that I should pick whichever ancestral path calls most strongly to me. Some said that I should choose the path that goes along with the largest “share” of my ethnic makeup, so that’d mean I ought to be a Buddhist, Taoist or Confucian, I suppose. Mostly I’d get a kind of hostile attitude that boiled down to “you Lokeans are always trying to confuse the issue.” Nobody ever came out and said this to me, but sometimes I had the definite feeling that a few people really wanted to tell me that mixed race people don’t belong in “their” religion at all, regardless of ancestry. It was both amusing and frustrating. RAVEN: I’m a Northern Tradition shaman, and part of what that means is that I speak to, listen to, have conversations with, get trained, by, and am generally bothered by my Gods on a daily basis. They communicate Their preferences to me, and I have to take Them at Their word. 1The issue of genetics is one of the things that most unnerved me when I started training with the Northern deities. Bloodlines matter to Them in ways that feel difficult for me, a modern white American who was raised to be as anti-racist as it is possible. To the modern American sensibilities, one ought to be able to do anything regardless of what's in your genes. Even when we are chided for stealing the traditions of aboriginal peoples, it's stressed that what gives them the exclusive right to those traditions is their upbringing, their enculturation in an environment and a society where those traditions are pervasive, not their DNA. The issue of non-genetic people adopted into aboriginal cultures, and aboriginal people who have not grown up in that culture but who rediscover it later is a matter of confusion and argument. If you look at the magical and shamanic body of work attached to any religious worldview, you can tell a lot about what that worldview values from what sorts of magic are deemed important. The Egyptians, for example, didn’t seem to have any interest whatsoever in any form of bloodline magic. (On the other hand, their death-working magic is complex and well-documented, as can be imagined in a culture so obsessed with one’s existence after death.) In contrast, Northern Tradition spirit-work has a discomfiting specialization in bloodline work, as do its Gods and spirits. We actually have a minor patron Goddess of genealogy and bloodlines – Hyndla, who is consulted as an expert on the matter by Freya in the Hyndlujod. Some people’s UPG is that Farbauti, Loki’s father the Cruel-Striker, actually causes and cures genetic illnesses with His lightning “strikes”. Our deities argue with each other about whose pantheon’s bloodlines are the best. Our Gods even occasionally beget children on mortals – They are often called our “Elder Kin” and it’s more than just metaphorical – and when looking at curses and other bad luck, the first place one is taught to look is the bloodlines. Genetics are everywhere you turn. ELIZABETH: Which is why I found it so entertaining that to Loki and Hela and the other Gods I serve, my actual genetic ethnicity wasn’t very important at all. I do have English and German ancestors, but the rest of my forebears are Thai, Chinese, French, Irish and Osage-Kansa. None of that mattered to Loki when He showed up to claim me, and indeed, there are other reasons why I was called to take up a Norse-based faith six years ago. Those aren’t relevant to this dialogue, but they haven’t got a lot to do with who my grandparents were. One thing that affects the Northern Tradition race issue and that doesn’t get brought up very often is the breach between those who came to Heathenry or Norse Paganism 5
because of a desire to practice an indigenous folkway and to reconstruct what they feel are pre-Christian ancestral beliefs, and those who were, for whatever reason, called more or less out of the blue by the Northern Gods and spirits. As there are so few nonwhite people in this religious movement already, it’s hard to tell if those of us who aren’t of mostly European decent are largely here because the Gods have called us or because of other factors, like academic interest or being involved with someone who’s already a Heathen. Ironically, though, the few nonwhite Heathens or Norse Pagans I know of have all said that they do, in fact, possess some small amount of Norse/Germanic ancestry, as do I… so perhaps that makes more of a difference to the Gods than you or I would like to believe. RAVEN: In The Jotunbok, I explored the UPG of those who work with the Northern Tradition Gods and the way that They do things, and the subtly racist attitude that some spirit-workers have noticed in the Aesir. Although some would consider it rude to say out loud, there seems to be a common understanding among those Gods that Aesir blood is stronger, or at least less malleable, than Jotun blood when it comes to breeding, and thus the children are always more sky-god than giant-god, and accepted as such. This strength of the Aesir (and Vanir, whose blood is equal to Theirs in lack of malleability) bloodlines is used to explain why They and not the far more numerous Jotnar rule the top of Yggdrasil and are worshiped more strongly by the puny mortals of Midgard. (In terms of actual influence over every world in Yggdrasil, the Aesir cannot exactly be said to "rule" or even influence the majority of individuals, however.) In other words, the very core of the Northern Tradition myth cycles turn on a racial conflict and an assumption of superiority by the conquering caste. This has been very, very hard for me to deal with personally... especially as someone who is owned by the main deity of the despised "lower" race and who carries Their blood within me. I look at the fringe elements of the Heathen demographic - the racist neo-Nazis - and although they are few and far between, and most people try strenuously to dissociate themselves from this fringe, the fact that they are there at all seems to reverberate back to the echoes of this ancient racial conflict that still burns today in the Nine Worlds. Of course, if you scratch any religion deep enough, you get to something unpleasant that you'd rather wasn't there, whether it's the Hindu caste system or the rapes of Zeus or Orthodox Jewish men thanking Jehovah that they were not born women, or Luke 14:26. No faith is immune to the bits that make you cringe. ELIZABETH: Unfortunately, a lot of folks are made to feel unwelcome in Norse-based religion for their worship of unpopular Gods, most commonly Loki. Yet at the same time many of those who insist that Loki and His kin oughtn’t to be hailed and that those who do are courting trouble at best or “bringing on Ragnarok” at worst, are often the first to defend the holders of racist views as being acceptable members of the religion. I’ve also read and heard people talking blithely about trying to be frithful with white supremacists, but when others say that they feel that Folkish belief is racism and has no place in Heathenry, they’re shouted down for their alleged intolerance. It angers me that this attitude exists, but it doesn’t surprise me. I feel it’s no coincidence that so many LBGT folks and others who lead unconventional, non-conservative lifestyles, are drawn to Loki or are “grabbed up” by Him, and it’s no coincidence that Loki Himself is reviled by both the Aesir at the end of Lokasenna and by those modern Heathens who consider themselves primarily dedicated to Them. The first time it really came to me about Loki being a member of a “lower” race, i.e. the Jotnar, was when I was first getting to know Him and was reading quite a bit of the 6
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primary sources. And when I read about Loki’s having won Sif a new head of hair (which was fair payment for an offense) as well as numerous treasures for the Aesir (which were gifts), and what happened after, I felt surprisingly angry. The Eddas are written from the point of view that the Aesir are always in the right. But I had a flash of insight then that has colored my view of Them ever since, for better or worse: that They never saw Loki as being an equal, just some barbarian giant that Odin had befriended and kept around for His amusement. So it didn’t matter that He had won fabulous things from the Duergar and given them all away, keeping none for Himself. It was no less than the Aesir felt They deserved for putting up with Him, and He apparently got no thanks. And that bothered me, since I could see no reason for that attitude other than the fact that Loki is a Jotun by birth. Mind you, this is purely UPG, but it made a strong impression on me. After that I started to see the racism in the mortal community with new eyes. It made me wonder whether or not all of those the Aesir call are actually of “pure” Scandinavian/Germanic blood, as some of them like to claim, and whether the nonwhite or mixed-race people like myself mostly belong to the Jotnar (or the Vanir, who don’t really seem interested in the race issue, so far as I can tell.) Then again, there is the issue of descent from the deities Themselves, which adds a whole new wrinkle to this. RAVEN: As a spirit-worker, I feel I need to at least be aware of the popularity of genealogy issues in our cosmology, if only because our Gods play with breeding experiments. What do I mean by that? Many people(s) claimed to be directly descended from specific Gods, and while most people take that either as s metaphor or as a euhemerization of those Gods (assuming that They were once humans whose fame deified Them after death), when I’ve asked the Gods Themselves about it, They told me that Gods and spirits do indeed occasionally share DNA with human beings. This happens when a deity or spirit possesses, to some extent, the body of a human being while they are busily conceiving a child. The deity or spirit gets to be a kind of third “parent”, and alter the embryonic DNA in a way that passes on traits of their own nonhuman nature. This may sound to most people like science fiction, and they may dismiss it as such. However, for me it does explain a lot of genetic patterns that I’ve seen, and several deities have told me flatly that this is what happens. Some, like Hela herself, do it deliberately in order to alter the human race as a whole. But it was those breeding experiments that showed me how to feel better about the situation, actually; I noticed that it wasn’t just people of northern European bloodlines that were being affected. The Gods don’t act in a racist way – in fact it’s quite the opposite. ELIZABETH: Well, they are Gods, after all. They see further and vaster than we mortals can, and They have an edge when it comes to peering into the future along the threads of Wyrd. I don’t put it past any of Them to deliberately manipulate humans in any way They see fit in order to get what They want – which I’d like to believe is ever and always only for the good of the world and humanity as a whole, although as our Gods are also refreshingly flawed, sometimes things don’t always work out the way They envision. I don’t think the Gods are racist when it comes to individual humans. To Them, we probably seem quite alike no matter what our skin color or what part of the world we come from. True, if some of us are descended from the Gods, then it stands to reason that They might have a special interest in those individuals and their particular bloodlines. But as far as who can worship Them, who can learn Their ways, who can study Their myths and learn 7
lessons from them, I’m not convinced that it matters as much as others say it does whether we are descended from Vikings, Zulus or Apaches. Because the Gods can do one other thing we mortals cannot do, and that is to see into our hearts very clearly. They know who’s genuine in their devotion and who isn’t. Having said that, though, it’s been my experience that with those who carry nonhuman blood by virtue of the “breeding experiments” you’ve described above seem to be treated with more noticeable favor or disdain by various Gods, depending on what kind of blood they’ve got. A Jotun-blooded person might not be welcomed quite so warmly in Asgard; someone with a lot of Aesic blood might possibly be in danger if allowed to wander freely in the Iron Wood in Jotunheim. Sometimes race does matter to the Gods, but it seems that only Their own bloodlines matter when it comes to how They treat mortals. And that’s also disturbing and unfair, when you think about it – but entirely in keeping with the issues we’ve been discussing so far. RAVEN: So how do I see the positive side of this? When I say that the "bloodlines matter", I agree, that doesn't mean that our Gods are only interested in people with specific northern European human bloodlines. Certainly, those do interest Them, but sometimes They will also grab someone like you who has none of those bloodlines and work with them, especially when one is talking about the Jotnar. They are very close to Nature, with all its inherent chaos and randomness, and Nature sees diversity as wealth. To Them, finding a worthy person of foreign blood to serve Them is a good way to integrate them and their gifts into the Northern lines. Separatism is in opposition to the natural cycles of both this world and of the Otherworlds. Even among the Aesir, the children of their etin-brides are accepted as heirs to Asgard, and allies who prove their loyalty are valued. Gods understand that our lines are impoverished. If nothing else, a thousand years of periodically killing off people who showed signs of psychic gifts has done a lot to impoverish European bloodlines. From what I’ve seen, They are actively recruiting from other ethnic and racial groups for the good of “Their” people. If this is the case, who am I to argue? ELIZABETH: When it comes down to it, I don’t feel that it’s anybody’s business what my ancestry is when it comes to whether or not I have the right to practice a Northern Tradition faith. It doesn’t matter to Loki. It doesn’t matter to Hela, It doesn’t mater to Bragi or Odin or any of the other Gods I am close to that I’m not even half white. Sure, I have the English ancestors going back to before the founding of the United States, and the German great-great-grandmother, but I never use their existence as my rationale as to why I am not, in fact, committing a so-called act of cultural misappropriation. It’s not that I don’t believe that a person’s ancestors can call someone to a particular faith. I’m sure it happens quite a lot, but the existence of that phenomenon does not negate the experiences of people coming to the same faith from another direction. On the other hand, I think it’s hilarious that so many in Ásatrú routinely scoff at those like us who believe that the Gods and spirits can and do mix Their blood with that of humans, yet at the same time they take pride in being the Younger Kin of the Aesir and Vanir. They say it’s symbolic or metaphorical, but at the same time they look down on the Jotnar and those who honor Them. And these folks don’t appear to recognize that they’re mirroring the attitudes of the Aesir that you and I and others have sometimes picked up from Them and 8
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which you’ve talked about here. I love the Gods, but I also know that They are not perfect. Perhaps what really needs to happen is for folks to accept that if the Gods are not perfect and “pure” there’s no reason for us mortals to have to be, either. Then we can all get on with the business of our lives and leave the race issue where it belongs – in the past.
Harry Potter and the Twilight of the Gods BY TALAS PÁI
Recall, if you will: death and betrayal spark off a terrible war, the beginning of an inexorable prophecy. The heroes are led by a wily old man, whose shady background and vast knowledge serve only to reinforce his commitment to his side. His opponent – brilliant, ambitious, yet cast out from the halls of establishment power – raises an unearthly army. Despite the old man's untimely death, his companions and children continue to fight against the destructive army of death, shapeshifters, giants, snakes and wolves. Despite terrible losses to both sides, eventually the heroic children – including the old man's quickly-trained young champion – triumph over the enemy. The older generation is mutually eradicated, but life goes on much as before. A heartwarming triumph! Lift a horn to dead heroes! Three cheers for the Aesir! Actually, that's the overall plot of Harry Potter. The overemphasis on Ragnarök within modern Heathen theology is crippling the religion's ability to grow and evolve. We need to move away from 'Harry Potter religion' towards greater unity and a more mature expression of our core mythology. Focusing on an 'Us versus Them,' Aesir versus Jötnar, internecine conflict as the basis of so much interaction – both with deities and with each other – is both ahistorical and illogical. Setting aside the literal existence or potential of Ragnarök, we must examine the conditions under which our only extant accounts of it were recorded. Like the rest of the fragmentary 'lore', the descriptions of Ragnarök were recorded by Christians after the conversion. Völuspá (of the Poetic Edda) is the oldest account and varies somewhat from manuscript to manuscript; most scholars date it to between the 10 th and 11th centuries, but the oldest copy is in the Codex Regius, circa 1270 CE. Given the variation between versions, we can assume that the general content of Völuspá predates its formal composition, but by how long we don't know. Nor do we know how much of or to what extent the eschatological prophecy is influenced by medieval Christianity. Like other early medieval poems – Beowulf, most notoriously – the completeness or intactness of any of the accounts of Ragnarök is hotly contested. Ragnarök prophecies also feature elsewhere in the Eddas (Vafþrúðnismál and Gylfaginning) and were likely always a facet of Northern mythology, given their similarity to other Indo-European eschatological myths. However, I submit that Ragnarök's prominence within the mythological canon is a late period development. Besides the textual references to Ragnarök, which were most thoroughly articulated by Snorri, a 13 thcentury Christian scholar, most graphic depictions of what are likely Ragnarök themes on runestones and other other monuments date to the 10th and 11th centuries and are accompanied by Cruxificion and other Christian imagery. This highlights the similarity between heathen and Christian apocalyptic myths and the syncretic influence upon Ragnarök accounts and interpretation that Christianity exerted. Medieval Christians recording the prophecies of Ragnarök would have been influenced, both stylistically and in content, by the religious, social, political and historical milieu of 10th- to 13th-century northern Europe. The most dramatic influence would have been the Book of Revelation, thanks to the power of the medieval Church. Indeed, portions 10
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of the völva's prophecy in Völuspá (for example, stanza 41) have been altered to match Revelation (6:12) in a way that contradicts her earlier predictions. The poetic descriptions of Ragnarök also bear a similarity to the 9 th-century epic poems Muspelli and Heiland: both are Christian epics dealing with a fiery Armageddon, using similar descriptive terminology to that used for the nominally-pagan Ragnarök. Political instability would also have been a particularly potent influence: while the decline of the Western Roman Empire may have been a faint cultural memory by the time poets were describing the fall of the Aesir, northern Europe was rife with war and shifting alliances. The Norman invasion of 1066, the shifting claims to the kingdoms of Scandinavia, the Christian conversion, and the unclear pressures which led to the Viking Migration all contribute to an atmosphere of uncertainty and transition which poets would have sensed. The appearance of Halley's Comet from 837 CE to 1222 CE may also have contributed to a sense of divine threat; it certainly influenced Christian writers throughout the period. The 837 CE appearance would have been particularly spectacular and distressing, as the comet passed exceptionally close to Earth and stretched across the sky. Scholars suggest Ragnarök accounts are also influenced by the settling of Iceland. Hilda Ellis Davidson observes destructive fire, as in Völuspá, is similar to volcanic eruptions such as those which trouble Iceland; parallels to both Ragnarök and eruptions are likewise found in the 13th-century Bergbúa þáttr. Could Ragnarök already have occured? Short of the literal ending of this world, most of the conditions of Ragnarök were met during the Middle Ages and perhaps medieval Scandinavians would have understood the mythic reality of Ragnarök to have been realised. After several centuries of a comparatively warm climate, between 1250 and 1300 CE Europe's climate began to cool off. Harsher winters and greater pack ice in the northern seas made it more challenging to eke a living from Icelandic, Greenlandic and northern Scandinavian farms or to trade with other peoples. Three years of torrential rains between 1315 and 1317 and the resultant total failure of crops sparked the northern European Great Famine, the worst in European history, which killed 10-25% of the population and led to “extreme levels of crime, disease, mass death and even cannibalism and infanticide.” (Wikipedia) Three years of cold, wet summers which prevented crops from ripening, punctuated by punishing winters, would have reminded the survivors of Fimbulvetr. Volcanic eruptions in Iceland would have been relatively common, some of which had more than a trivial impact on the livelihoods of the homesteaders there. Like the 'Year Without a Summer' (1816), where extreme volcanic activity coincided with a low in solar activity to produce a cold wet summer and a bitter winter, the 'Little Ice Age' was likewise probably caused by low solar radiation and volcanic winter. The Black Death followed on the heels of the Great Famine, reaching the British Isles and Scandinavia around 1350. Arguably, the triumph of the Catholic Church in converting the heathen tribes allegorically reflects the overthrow of the Aesir during Ragnarök. And like the prophecies of Ragnarök, eventually the weather improved, the fires and waters receded, the survivors emerged, and even the gods were once again recognised. Assuming for the moment that we are not living in a post-apocalyptic world, the atmosphere during the Germanic Romantic movement also deeply influenced how modern heathens consider Ragnarök. From the beginning of the Romantic movement (tied inextricably to nationalism and hence to a variably xenophobic worldview), Ragnarök was seen as a wonderfully tragic end for a group of noble, doomed warrior11
gods. It was an easy and common step to read Ragnarök as not destruction due to internal conflict but as the Germanic gods being destroyed by a savage, chaotic people, an interpretation useful to Romantic anti-Semitism. The Romantic nationalism of the 19 th century led seamlessly into the establishment of anti-Semitic political policies as part of a wider 'aesthetic revolution' led by the Nazi Party, which sought to not only rid Germany of 'inferior races' but to also reestablish a powerful national mythology and a sense of the heroism of the pagan past. New artists were commissioned and artists of the earlier Romantic period were appropriated. Richard Wagner, himself a notorious anti-Semite and composer of “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” an opera rooted in Romantic Germanic nationalism, found new popularity within the Nazi Party. Ragnarök, with its dramatic clash of warring races, was a natural choice for these artists. The nationalism of the Romantic movement developed towards a neopagan mysticism that embraced the importance of the 'folkway'. In defining their 'authentic' national group, each culture naturally underwent an exclusionary process – those who did not fit the new definition of 'authentically German', etc. were now in an outsider position. As many countries in Europe revolted in favor of self-rule or warred against conquerors during the 18th and 19th centuries, including Germany and Norway (unsuccessfully), Ragnarök would have gained a new importance. The potent imagery of a heroic people overcome by outsiders would have fired the imaginations of revolutionaries, both liberals seeking self-determination and conservatives working to purge the 'undesirables'. Despite the progressivism of some early adherants, Reconstructionist and Traditionalist neopagan movements (like Wicca and Ásatrú) were grounded in an inherantly conservative, anti-industrial background. This developed over time within heathenry into a workable religion combined with widespread collective narcissicism. All cultures in transition or instability obsess over apocalyptic or eschatological myth and imagery like Ragnarök, from the recording period of the 'lore' in the early Middle Ages, to the Romantic revival of the 18th and 19th centuries, to the beginning of the neo-heathen revival in the early 1970s. It is common for any culture to imagine themselves as the pinnacle of development and civilization, therefore any future decline or distress can be interpreted emotionally as a dramatic fall, or even the end of the world. Many heathens convert to paganism from a background of Protestant Christianity and the acculturation of Christian myth can be difficult to shake. The similarity between the descriptions of Armageddon and Ragnarök have been apparent since the medieval period. Accordingly many heathen converts seem to transfer their strong emotions regarding the Christian apocalypse, rooted in the strict good versus evil conflict adopted from Zoroastrianism, to the comparatively complex Ragnarök event. In a delicate reworking of the nationalism and narcissicism of the earlier Romantic period, Ragnarök continues to foster collective narcissicism along religious lines due to the fact that the modern heathens form a small demographic, especially in comparison to any mainstream Christian denomination. Fearing persecution, mainstream heathenry instinctively and preemptively shuns those who do not fit its 'authentic' mold: casting themselves as the noble Aesir on guard against the forces of destruction, Ragnarök satisfies the group's narcissism with a symbol that both aggrandizes and highlights their separation from 'the others'. Instinctively turning to an 'Us versus Them', Harry Potteresque narrative in response to all perceived threats stifles diversity and debate, and not only discourages a healthy heterogenity but begins to tear the greater group apart.
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The original view of Ragnarök was likely deemphasized in comparision to modern readings. There is no way of knowing how central it was to the general cosmology, since only a damaged fraction of the mythological canon remains, but it was likely viewed more along the lines of a tribal war. Like the Aesir-Vanir war of the mythological past, Ragnarök fails to encompass the entire mythological population: among the Vanir, only Freyr actually takes part in the conflict. I have to ask, if Ragnarök is such an exceptionally important event, leading to the total destruction of the nine worlds and the near annihilation of the population, where are the Vanir? Surely they cannot remain philosophically neutral towards the end of the world? It seems eminently possible to me that Ragnarök is not a single catastrophic event, but perhaps a periodically occuring cleansing destruction followed by a new cycle of creation. The etymology of the word, at least in Old Icelandic, suggests this: Ragnarøk, twilight of the gods; Ragnarök, the origin of the gods. There exists a great deal of people and creatures throughout the nine worlds who seem to predate the creation of it, from Surtr to Odin and Audhumla; perhaps they are all antiques from before the last Ragnarök. Perhaps the end of the world has happened before. Therefore, I have to ask: even if we imagine ourselves faithfully allied with the Aesir, are the Jötnar really their or our enemies in any meaningful way? Ignoring the occasional personal grudge given vent during the battle, the Ragnarök prophecy takes on a certain inevitability when viewed as cyclical. The Aesir are commendable for attempting to preserve that which they and we love, the worlds which they created and in which we all live, but preserving a relic whose time has come is unsustainable and unnatural. The Jötnar are commendable for supporting the cycle of the greater apparatus and ultimately warring on behalf of nature. The Vanir notably step aside during the battle and Njördr returns to Vanaheim, which seems to go untouched in the ensuing apocalypse. Their neutrality suggests a certain acceptance of the necessity of Ragnarök and a refusal to waste time warring against it, logical for a pantheon so tied to the cycle of sowing and reaping. It is a curiously fundamentalist Christian idea, to imagine Armageddon as a date to jot down on a calendar, an event that may literally occur during one's lifetime. Christians have been anticipating the imminent end of the world since the first century CE; to transfer this same literalism to Ragnarök seems silly. Given that the internal timing of Ragnarök is in the mythic future and impossible to definitively place within the Gregorian calendar – “Ragnarök will happen next Wednesday” is ridiculous – it may be more valuable to heed the prophecy as an allegorical warning. Ragnarök is an immanent threat as opposed to an imminent threat. Given that a utopian age of comfort and plenty follows the eschaton, perhaps Ragnarök is less a threat and more a comforting promise. Therefore the over-emphasis upon Ragnarök serves as a smoke screen to divert debate from the bigger, more productive questions that modern heathenry faces. The divisiveness and taking of sides is an illogical remnant of an outmoded philosophy and a narcissistic worldview. Let's not bicker and argue over who killed whom. If we are going to continue to discuss Ragnarök, we should use the prophecy as a weapon to prevent itself. The catastrophic natural disasters of Ragnarök highlight our own relationship to and damage of the environment. The long grudge match that constitutes the final battle should prompt us to seek greater internal unity and acceptance of pluralism, if not drive for productive interfaith dialogue, to prevent such a useless feud. Putting Ragnarök at the
centre of our mythology makes as much sense as waiting for Harry Potter to be summoned to the field of Vigrid. We – as a religion – need to grow up and think beyond the end of the world. Talas Pái is a well-traveled Odinsman and editor of Huginn (email@example.com). An American expatriate, he lives in west Ireland with his wife and two cats. His father-in-law says he looks like Harry Potter.
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Feast BY MARIS Pﾃ！
The corpse has been picked clean; what remains, remains for baser creatures. Memory struts along what was once useful, fluttering black feathers content to linger awhile, digesting. Replete Thought grows restless, opens his beak and croaks: the sound echoes. Somewhere, an Old Man smiles. Maris Pﾃ｡i, Huginn's assistant editor, is the Hermione to Talas' Harry and a devotee of Frey & Freyja.
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Loki and His Daughter BY STACEY LAWLESS
I tend to think of Loki as a force for creative destruction and necessary change; and as an embodiment of the Other â€” any group a given society doesn't like and tries to lock out, push aside, or destroy. I chose to dress Him in Harriet Tubman's clothes because she was a thief (of enslaved humans), a terrorist (friend of John Brown), and a rogue undermining the institutions (well, one â€” slavery) of her society. The horse-skull on the pole is a reference to the nithing-stang, but also to Sleipnir (death at the crossroads), and the Welsh Mari Lwyd, a Yuletide symbol of renewal; and the little girl may be Hela, or may be one of the Ghedes, the Voudou spirits of death and transformation. Who is Loki's daughter? I leave that up to the viewer to decide.
Not a Pagan Community, but a Community of Pagans BY CORAL MALLOW
I was surrounded by people easily a decade younger than me. When I entered the room, they asked me what my path was. I thought to myself, What an unconsciously loaded question. I smiled and said, “I am a Blue Lady and Ordeal Path Worker. I am currently studying with the deities of the African Diaspora.” As we went around the room, there were the ubiquitous Wiccans of varying paths, Buddhists, Hellenists, Norse traditions, Heathens, Druid Reconstructionists and a large helping of 'I have no idea, but I think it might be here'. As I sat through the meeting of my college's Pagan students group, I started to wonder what this group could offer me and what was the point of my being there. I am, after all, not a Pagan. This led to my current thought that Pagan is a completely useless term. You might as well just go around saying you are not of the Abrahamic faiths. It would be easier. It would be more accurate, especially as 'Pagan' comes from the Latin paganus, meaning villager or rustic, which itself comes from pagus, referring to a rural district. The same goes for 'Heathen' – dweller by the hearth – and is usually reserved for followers of polytheistic Germanic faiths. I am an American city dweller. I'm not sure I could spot a hearth if logs weren't burning in it – which doesn't happen often in an apartment. Most of us live in cities or at least the suburbs, so that would make us civitas... Oh. That makes us citizens. How mundane. Many Pagans do not want to be 'mundane'. They suffer in as great a measure from a misguided sense of superiority as any of the other religions. Every path has people in it who believe that theirs is the only TRUE way to do it. From deconstructionist to High Ceremonial, from Ifa to Feri, they are all, of course, right in their righteousness. The one thing they all agree on is that they are not members of misguided normal 'sheeple' that shamble about in the day-to-day. I have heard many conversations where private practitioners who live quietly were considered cowardly traitors, afraid to be themselves and stand up for who they really are! Pagans! How disturbing is this train of thought? How can you claim superiority when those of us who supposedly worship the earth continue to live using very non-sustainable practices in our daily lives? What about those of us who only have a community online because talking to actual people is too intimidating? Or this weird new trend of Pagans not being accountable for their actions? Or paths such as Ásatrú being highjacked to become platforms for white supremacy? At what point do we get to point at someone else's faith and beliefs and treat them as we demand to not be treated? We don't. That doesn't make you a true Pagan; that makes you a bad person. No amount of silver symbol jewelery or dead animal skins can cover that up. This is not about being a special little snowflake. This is about having a spiritual practice, a set of truths that you adhere to. Long ago, people had to band together for the sake of survival and the resulting practices that came about were relevant for them. If we are coming together again as Pagans, we need to ask: what kind of community do we 18
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have? What are its needs? What practices are relevant for us as a whole? This is important, as we have a smĂśrgĂĽsbord of deities and practices to choose our own adventure with. Where does private practice fit in? Because every member should have their independent path. Strong people lead to strong communities. Which brings me back to the original questions: what was the point of sitting in a room of people who were not my peers in experience, age or practice? What could they offer me? They could offer me a community. They could offer me a place to be the student, the girl, the mother, the comic book geek, whatever I needed. I knew that I could offer them myself, a person of varied experience, knowledge and perspective; group spiritual practice as a means to build a strong community that encourages and fosters growth, education and health; a place to practice the tenets of respect, accountability, responsibility, integrity and mutual growth which were brutally pounded into my head as a Paganlet. The group is starting to assess what it does, to figure out how to provide positive impact rather than just bitch about the system. We have at least 14 different faith paths in a Pagan group of 25 people. I have to say, watching the transformation from a Pagan student group to a community of different Pagan paths is exhilarating. No one in this group is a Pagan, but we keep the word because it is a recognizable banner for people to gather under. So maybe Pagan isn't useless as a word. Now let's just get to the place where Pagans aren't useless and pay attention to their words. Coral Mallow is a Blue Lady, Ordeal Path worker, educator, artist, body pride advocate, activist, model, gamer/comic geek, mentor, and current student. She is an all-around meddling manifesting Goddess of Doom specializing in facilitating the greatness of others. Coral can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Performativity and the Development of American Heathen Culture BY GALINA KRASSKOVA
Contemporary Northern Tradition paganism or Heathenry is a body of religions in the midst of tremendous flux. Ideological debates over theology, self-definition, and the role of personal gnosis in general and liminal practices in particular (including but not limited to ecstatic mysticism, deity possession, shamanism, and even such common activities as prayer and devotional practice) have, since 2006, come to dominate public discourse within these religions.1 This ongoing discourse has served to highlight the major ideological fault line within Heathenry: the conflict between a body of scholarship that Heathens term ‘the lore’ and the validity of personal gnosis. At the heart of this battle lies a deeper issue: the power of the actual performance of religious rituals in transforming the structure, accepted orthodoxy, and ritual expectations within this body of religions. This article will explore the impact of ritual performance on the development of devotional practices and mystical traditions within the greater Northern Tradition. It will also examine the influence of such performativity on the aforementioned primary ideological fault line within Heathenry: the authority of written sources versus the authority of personal gnosis. At the time of this writing, there has been almost nothing written within the academy about modern Heathenry. The three exceptions to this are Gods of the Blood by Mattias Gardell, an article that appeared in the October 2000 issue of Nova Religio titled “Nordic Paganism in Iceland” by Michael Strmiska and the latter’s book Modern Paganism. The first examines Folkish Heathenry, the minority branch of the religion that emphasizes ethnicity and ancestry and its sometime connection to white supremacism. The second article examines the growth of Heathenry in Iceland, where it was proclaimed the second state religion in 1973. Strmiska further discussed Heathenry in his book Modern Paganism. Heathen ritual dynamics and their influence on the development of orthodoxy have yet to be explored at all, be it in academic or popular press. Throughout this article, I utilize Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of habitus, ritual, and bodily hexis to frame my argument that it is the active performance of ritual that has not only transformed the American Heathen community, but also challenged the very foundations upon which its dominant orthodoxies are based. 2 In Outline of a Theory and Practice Bourdieu writes:
2006 saw the performance of a ritual blót (sacrificial rite) that included the sacrifice of a sheep to the goddess Angrboda. Angrboda is one of a tribe of gods called the Jotnar, who are associated with primal power, chaos and destructive forces. Whether or not they should be honored within the modern religion is a point of intense controversy and contention. The performance of this blót and the following public accounts of the experience brought this particular ideological controversy out into the open in a way that has polarized the community. 2006 also saw the publication of a book advocating worship of the Jotnar and replete with personal gnosis: “Jotunbok: Working with the Giants of the Northern Tradition” by Raven Kaldera, Asphodel Press, MA. 2
Throughout this article, any reference to Heathenry, Ásatrú, or the Northern Tradition refers only to the American communities. The issues and controversies that frame the European and Icelandic communities are, in many cases, completely different.
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Understanding ritual practice is not a question of decoding the internal logic of a symbolism but of restoring its practical necessity by relating it to the real conditions of its genesis, that is, to the conditions in which it functions, and the means it uses to attain them, are defined (Bourdieu: p. 114). Essentially the body itself is not just something upon which politics and theology happens, rather the body is a means of registering the world without verbalizing. Ritual is an extension of that experience. Bourdieu further notes that: Rites take place because and only because they find their raison d'être in the conditions of existence and the dispositions of agents who cannot afford the luxury of logical speculation, mystical effusions, or metaphysical anxiety (Bourdieu: p. 115). In other words, rites and rituals can establish mimetic relationships between objects, processes, and key elements of the cosmology but at the same time, they can also challenge those self-same structures. Within Heathenry, the ritual structure is largely predicated on extant accounts found in the Icelandic sagas. One of the most thorough descriptions of a ritual involving sacrifice can be found in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla: It was an old custom, that when there was to be sacrifice all the bondes should come to the spot where the temple stood and bring with them all that they required while the festival of the sacrifice lasted. To this festival all the men brought ale with them; and all kinds of cattle, as well as horses, were slaughtered, and all the blood that came from them was called "hlaut", and the vessels in which it was collected were called hlaut-vessels. Hlaut-staves were made, like sprinkling brushes, with which the whole of the altars and the temple walls, both outside and inside, were sprinkled over, and also the people were sprinkled with the blood; but the flesh was boiled into savoury meat for those present. The fire was in the middle of the floor of the temple, and over it hung the kettles, and the full goblets were handed across the fire; and he who made the feast, and was a chief, blessed the full goblets, and all the meat of the sacrifice. And first Odin's goblet was emptied for victory and power to his king; thereafter, Niord's and Freyja's goblets for peace and a good season. Then it was the custom of many to empty the brage-goblet; and then the guests emptied a goblet to the memory of departed friends, called the remembrance goblet.3 The contemporary Heathen ritual of symbel follows this format almost precisely, making as few accommodations as necessary to modernity, and the format of other standard rituals within modern Heathenry is largely drawn from descriptions such as this one found in the Icelandic Sagas and other first- and secondhand sources of the time. In addition to Bourdieu, Sabina Magliocco’s study of folklore and contemporary neopaganism provides useful background information in the examination of the constituent demographic of contemporary Heathenry, particularly with respect to the dominant Protestant Weltanschauung (worldview) that so informs modern Northern Tradition orthodoxy. Saba Mahmood’s insights on the influence and development of invented traditions also help to elaborate the conflicting tensions defining Heathenry 3
Excerpt from Snorri Sturluson's “Hakon the Good’s Saga” from Heimskringla. Published by the Norroena Society, London, 1907 [www.northvegr.org/lore/heim/index.html].
today. Mahmood, in her discussion of issues surrounding embodied practices and invented traditions notes Scholarly arguments are not simply frozen bodies of texts, but live through the discursive practices of both lettered and unlettered Muslims whose familiarity with these arguments is grounded in a variety of sources – not all of which are controlled by scholars (Mahmood: 96). While Mahmood’s work Politics of Piety focuses exclusively on Islam, her insights into the way in which active performance of a faith can contribute to the development of that faith and its prevailing orthodoxies, despite resistance from the formal purveyors of that orthodoxy, are particularly applicable within the frame of contemporary Heathenry as well. It is difficult to speak of any one Heathen community. The Northern Tradition, for which the umbrella term ‘Heathenry’ is the chosen identity of choice for the majority of adherents, is comprised of many different denominations and ideological approaches. It is far more accurate to refer to the Northern Tradition as being comprised of multiple communities that simply happen to share a common core cosmology. Approach and belief surrounding that cosmology may be dramatically and often radically different between denominations, particularly within the United States. There are two primary ritual structures within the contemporary Northern Tradition and these structures are shared by nearly every denomination: blót, which may or may not include animal sacrifice depending on the denomination, and symbel. Only Norse paganism and Northern Tradition shamanism, both of which define themselves as 'Reconstructionist-derived' (meaning that their adherents utilize the surviving lore as a ‘jumping off point’ to personal gnosis) rather than strictly Reconstructionist, practice other forms of ritual often incorporating experiential and even ecstatic ritual elements (personal correspondence with Raven Kaldera on March 31, 2008). The most common ritual of all is the blót. The most insular and orthodox (in that they hold to a very strict interpretation of lore, hierarchical social structure and rigid gender boundaries) denomination, called Theodism, utilizes the term “blót” only for those rituals involving animal sacrifice. Any other Theodish offering rite is called a faining. Outside of Theodism, the term “blót” is utilized for any offering rite, whether or not actual blood sacrifice is present. The format of the basic blót is simple: 1. the folk gather and the space is hallowed. 2. The Gods and/or Goddesses are invoked and all the offerings are blessed. 3. A horn of alcohol, usually mead, is passed around and each person individually hails the Deities in question. 4. If the rite includes animal sacrifice, it occurs at this point and congregants are aspersed with the animal’s blood. If it does not, the remaining alcohol is poured out into a blessing bowl, the Gods are thanked and the offerings poured out in the appropriate place. 5. The rite is then closed by prayer or blessing song. A feast may follow the
blót, particularly if an animal is sacrificed. It is almost inevitably shared amongst the congregants in a sacred feast.
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In the huge majority of groups, the sacrificial blót takes the form of pouring large quantities of mead and alcohol out in offering. Cooked (not sacrificed) food may be offered to both the gods and ancestors and occasionally, as in antiquity, domestic items, jewelry and weapons are given. Within the structure of a blót extemporaneous expressions of devotion, including impassioned prayer, are not encouraged (personal correspondence with Fuensanta Plaza on April 20, 2008). The second ritual commonly practiced within the Northern Tradition is that of symbel. This is a community-building rite that does not commonly include offerings to the gods. Instead, the community members gathered around a table and a horn or cup of alcohol is passed around the table at least three times. In the first round, congregants hail their ancestors, as ancestral veneration is a very important part of the Northern Tradition; in the second round, the gods and goddesses are hailed; and in the third round, gifts may be exchanged to cement both social bonds and hierarchy within the community, oaths may be taken, people may boast about deeds they have accomplished or wish to accomplish, and ancestors or gods may be hailed again. Here, extemporaneous expressions of community bonding, gregariousness, and to a certain limited degree, devotion are considered appropriate (personal communication with Fuensanta Plaza on April 20, 2008). In order to better understand ritual dynamics and expectations within contemporary Heathenry it is necessary to understand the dominant factors driving the cultural development and expression within this body of religions. Heathenry, like other contemporary Reconstructionist paganisms, is unique in that it is self-consciously attempting to reconstruct an ancient tradition drawing largely on extant historical sources. There is an unacknowledged tension within the communities between this conscious reconstruction and what may be the first stirrings of organic evolution. As people have been practicing the actual religions for over twenty-five years, slowly but surely there has been the beginning of a shift in what determines the religions’ evolution. For the first fifteen years or so it was solely concentrated study of lore but as more and more attention has been given to actual ritual practice, the gods have become a far more important idea within the religion. By extension, the past decade has seen a growing desire to develop devotional practices external to what has been recorded in the extant historical documents – which is to say, almost nothing at all. This has caused great conflict within Heathenry as a whole, particularly in the United States. The actual embodied practice of rituals like blót has had the startling and quite unexpected result of moving the religion ever so slowly away from textual authority by virtue of the power of the experience. Essentially, as people begin to actually practice a religion instead of solely studying its history and structure, it becomes impossible to predict where the experience of the sacred will lead them. This tension mirrors the developing ideological fault line currently threatening to tear the community apart: the aforementioned battle between the authority of written sources and the often-suspect authority of personal gnosis. (Personal correspondence with E. Vongvisith on March 3, 2008). Modern Heathenry is a religion largely defined by its hermeneutics. A largely conservative community, modern Heathens regardless of denomination look to lore to define the structure and practice of their beliefs. Lore is comprised of surviving Icelandic Sagas, Anglo-Saxon medical and legal texts, Germanic folk tales, the Poetic and Prose Eddas, and any historical documentation or studies. While none of these texts hold the authority within this religion that the Qur'an holds for Muslims or the Bible for Christians, these writings are accorded weight and carry great normative authority in determining 23
the evolution of religious practice and accepted ideology within the faith. The community by and large resists the development of any overarching theodicy and mystical participation in religious life is viewed at best with suspicion. 'Unverified personal gnosis' (UPG) is treated if not with open hostility, then at best with suspicion, unless it conforms to the boundaries defined by 'the lore.' This affects every aspect of Heathen ritual and religious life and though a countermovement is slowly gaining momentum within the community, to date, lore holds sway above the legitimacy of any personal experience. Personal gnosis is devalued not only because it is unverifiable by the existing textual sources but because it rests on experience, emotion, and non-rational subjectivity. In espousing personal and direct experience with the gods it also presumes an authority that clearly circumvents normative human mores. As noted above, this is the site of the major ideological fault line within Heathenry. It is possible to determine denomination by which side of the debate over lore vs. UPG one falls (Krasskova: p. 12-14). Some modern Heathens of a more ecumenical persuasion have theorized that perhaps this rigid adherence to lore alone is a reaction to the historically inaccurate practices of many Wiccans and other Neopagans, with whom Heathenry is often (to some Heathens' minds) incorrectly classified. Others have theorized that since Heathenry is primarily a religion of converts (only now is the second generation being born and raised in the faith), these converts carry with them a tendency toward fundamentalism, not only as a way of defining themselves within their new faith, but perhaps out of unexamined ideological indoctrination from their birth religions, usually Protestant Christianity. 4 There is no evidence that the pre-Christian worshippers of the Germanic Gods possessed the ideological xenophobia that so characterizes modern Heathenry, particularly the more restrictive and “orthodox” denominations. In fact, there is compelling evidence that, like the paganisms of ancient Rome, the Germanic tribes had an accepting, if not ecumenical, attitude toward different religions. According to Thomas Dubois, the scholarship of recent decades confirms a far more culturally interconnected worldview of Viking Age Europe between the Anglo-Saxons, Balto-Finnic, Celtic, Saami and the Norse cultures (Dubois, p. 12-28). Furthermore, there would have been no need for such orthodoxy: the religion was not in opposition to the dominant culture. The initial attitude toward foreign gods was quite likely not hostile. The difference is that any religion they came in contact with prior to the advent of Christianity would have been grounded in the specific cultures of its adherents providing a logical continuity of cosmological understanding. Such religions would only become a threat once their dogmatic imperative became the dissolution and destruction of other beliefs (Krasskova, p. 18). As Ann Pellegrini and Janet Jakobson note in Love the Sin: the dominant framework for morality within the United States is not simply “religious” or even “Christian,” but is specifically Protestant (Jakobson and Pellegrini: p. 22). While Heathenry draws heavily on antique sources for its inspiration, those self-same sources were, with few exceptions, actually written well after Europe’s conversion to Christianity. There has been almost no examination of the possible “Christianization” of these elder sources within Heathenry. Northern Tradition shaman Raven Kaldera, in commenting on the influence of Christian values on modern Heathenry notes: 4
While no formal studies have been done, it is an acknowledged fact within the community that the majority of members converted from Protestant, often Fundamentalist, denominations. Among more liberal groups, there has been the occasional conversation on the manner in which this impacts ritual construction and expectations, but this awareness is not widespread.
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Most Heathens are coming into Heathenry with Christian values and the familiar values that they seize upon from the cultural writings are the Christian ones, not the Pagan ones. The older Pagan faiths were not generally a source of moral values as these were drawn from the respective cultures instead. Modern Reconstructionist Pagans, having been raised expecting to be able to go to their religions for a clear list of moral rules, find themselves in a quandary when they are suddenly practicing a religion outside of the culture in which it evolved. Instead of examining and picking apart the writings of lore and separating Christian from Pagan influences, they fixate on what is familiar (personal communication with Raven Kaldera on April 15, 2008). For religious scholar Richard King, religion involves “retracing of ‘the lore of the ritual’ of one’s ancestors.” (King: p. 35). The pre-Christian definition of religion, or religio, involved proper ritual practices and proper offerings to the gods but it did not involve a clearly defined and mandated morality. There was no concept of such practices being true or false on a moral level. As King further notes, one could ask if one was faithfully adhering to a particular ancestral practice but one could not discuss its truth or falsity without fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of religio and traditio (King: p. 37). It is precisely this understanding of religion that is absent in contemporary Heathen theology. Modern Heathen or Ásatrú culture is a culture suspended between ever changing and often conflicting social and religious axes. Adherents to this body of religions are involved in the self-conscious reconstruction of a theology and body of social practices that developed in Northern Europe before the coming of Christianity. These contemporary Pagans must tackle the conundrum of attempting to reconstruct a religion in a culture radically different from the one in which that religion initially evolved. The development not only of religious orthodoxy but also of a coherent, homogenous “folkway” is of utmost importance within nearly every branch of this religion. 5 Subtle and sometimes not so subtle social pressure is often placed on practitioners to adhere to thew, or unspoken cultural rules, in a manner that is seen as acceptable to the majority. 6 Nothing expresses cultural values more intrinsically than common religious practices. Emile Durkheim, in his seminal work The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, points out that: Religion is something eminently social. Religious representations are collective representations that express collective realities; rituals are ways of acting that are generated only within assembled groups and are meant to stimulate and sustain or recreate certain mental states in these groups. (Durkheim, p. 11). Ásatrú or Heathen culture is fundamentally focused around creating a culture of the sacred that utilizes those commonly shared religious concepts to define their social identity. This ongoing process of religio-cultural synthesis presents the researcher with several unique difficulties, the most pressing of which perhaps is that there is no clear 5
“Folkway” is a loaded term that has come into common usage within the Heathen community to indicate the organic fusion of culture, social mores and structure in addition to religion. It is not uncommon to read posts in online Heathen forums wherein the writer comments that Heathenry is ‘more than just a religion, it’s a folkway.’ 6
“Thew” is a word commonly used in American Heathenry, particularly in orthodox Theodism, which is the most hierarchical and socially rigid branch of the religion, to mean tribal or communal law and/or custom. These are not laws that are written down but rather are understood from exposure to and integration into the community’s Weltanschauung.
agreement amongst Ásatrúar about what precisely constitutes the clear boundaries of their community or the culture they seek to create. Indeed, many would argue that there is not any such thing as “Ásatrú culture,” only to follow that statement by describing several clearly defined cultural markers by which they recognize themselves and others as Heathen. (Personal communication with Brian Smith on September 9, 2007) Realistically, when examining the growth and development of a Heathen culture (or cultures, given the often extreme denominational differences) it is also necessary to study the dominant cultural paradigm from which the majority of modern Heathens are coming – in other words, 20th-century North American religious culture. It is a reality for modern American Ásatrú that not only is it still a religion predominantly of converts but the overwhelming majority of those converts come from working- to middle-class Protestantism (interview with Raven Kaldera on April 5, 2008). This latter fact is particularly important when one examines the expectations the majority of Heathens have regarding their religious culture and the rituals that define it. In her study of modern Neopaganism, Witching Culture, anthropologist Sabina Magliocco discusses this particular aspect of Heathen culture. In an interview with priest Laurel Olson, one of the women responsible for helping to begin the reconstruction of Heathen oracular and magico-religious practices in the United States, this exact issue comes to light. Dr. Magliocco, in speaking of Ms. Olson notes: She believes that Heathenism appeals to [Heathens] because of its textual basis in the Norse and Icelandic sagas and the Eddas – a textual focus that recalls the biblical literalism already familiar to them through their birth religions. She also remarked on the formal, rather staid nature of many Heathen rituals, relating it to their general discomfort with loss of control and expression of emotion. (Magliocco, p. 77). This, perhaps more than any other factor, has dramatically impacted the development of this religious culture and the expectations of its adherents, as evidenced by the growing schism within the religion between the majority who accept the textually-based orthodoxy and those who seek to grant moral supremacy or at the very least equal weight to mystical gnosis, moving beyond the normative authority of a written body of lore. It should be noted that the written materials constituting Heathen 'lore' were never intended to be utilized as religious material. The Poetic Edda, the primary text utilized by contemporary Heathens, was written in the 13 th century, 200 years after Iceland had already converted to Christianity. It was written by politician and statesman Snorri Sturluson largely as an aid toward the training of skalds and poets. This emphasis on textual sources is common to all Reconstructionist Paganisms, yet it is particularly dominant within the Northern Tradition.7 In speaking of Hellenismos, the Reconstruction of ancient Greek polytheism, Drew Campbell notes An important note on sources: Scholarship and intellectual honesty are very important to us, and Reconstructionists of all types emphasize the importance of distinguishing carefully between different sources of knowledge. In particular, we
Reconstructionist paganisms like Heathenry, Romuva (Baltic Paganism), Hellenismos (Greek Paganism), etc. use the term 'Reconstructionist' because of their focus on reconstructing pre-Christian beliefs. It is this author’s belief that the term is also used to differentiate themselves from other Neopaganisms, religions that are more eclectic and do not have such a singular historical or textual focus.
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tend to be very critical of those who attempt to pass off personal gnosis as ancient fact or who make historical claims for which they cannot provide any hard evidence 8 It is nearly impossible to study Heathen culture without also examining this earlier, formative influence. Like many Fundamentalist sects of Christianity, Heathenry in general believes very strongly that their beliefs are outside of the dominant culture’s norms. While it is doubtless that many modern Heathens, with their emphasis on self-reliance (enshrined in a common Heathen ethical code called the “Nine Noble Virtues”) would admit to it, this attitude points to a certain feeling of alienation.9 Dan O’Halloran, head of the ultraorthodox Theodish Normanni Theod, comments on this when he says: For better or ill 2007 is a time wherein we have been stripped for over a millennia (maybe two) of our cultural and religious values, and the world has, for the most part, suffered under a Judeo-Christian paradigm. That paradigm has for the most part repressed our faith, contradicted our world view, and attempted to trivialize, destroy, or hide anything that once composed the elder religious systems of the world. It is hard to understand, let alone envisage, the world as our ancestors did largely because of the impact of the Judeo-Christian (post-Roman) worldview that underlies everything from our concepts of time, to right and wrong, morality, existence, self worth, and to even the afterlife (Quoted from a discussion on northeastÁsatrú@yahoogroups.com on October 6, 2007). This sense of alienation from the dominant cultural paradigm that so pervades the Heathen community has led to a fervent desire across nearly all denominational lines to see the development not only of Heathen religion but also of an abiding tradition that will outlast the current generation as a single, powerful and most importantly homogenous whole. Adherents largely see themselves as actively engaged in the process of building a community, a culture and a tradition. There may be no clear-cut consensus on what these attendant cultural markers are, but there is a heated desire to have them. There is also a pervasive sense that this budding tradition needs to be protected both from outsiders and from those within the community who may hold alternate views: Indigenous cultures do not generally allow outsiders free access to the Mysteries. We need to emulate the American Indians and other groups, enforcing what I call “a holy reserve” in regard to the Sacred. That which is open to all is respected by none (Buckley: 216). Bourdieu wrote that “tradition is silent, not the least about itself as a tradition” (Bourdieu: 167). Ironically, as the Heathen communities battle vociferously online and in person for control over the direction in which their tradition should develop, it is already developing around them. Secondly, an overwhelming majority of the Heathen demographic within the United States came to Heathenry in part due to an attraction to or admiration for not only the gods of Heathenry, but also what Stephen McNallen, one of the founding fathers of Folkish Ásatrú, calls “the heroism and vitality of the Norsemen as depicted in popular literature” (McNallen: 205). This romanticized ideal of Viking life and culture has led to, as 8
About Hellenismos, accessed 31 March 2007 [http://www.ecauldron.com/dc-faq.php].
The Nine Noble Virtues are an ethical code common to most denominations of Heathenry. The virtues are courage, honor, hospitality, discipline, industriousness, self-reliance, truth, perseverance, and fidelity.
McNallen himself points out, a dynamic of communication and cooperation developing within Heathenry that is less than ideal. McNallen writes: It was a mistake to focus so strongly on the Norse experience… instead of being Norse centered, we would have done better to use the Germanic tribes as models…the tribes demonstrate a better balance between the needs of the individual and the group, as well as a greater connection to kin and soil (McNallen in Tyr: volume 1 Buckley (editor) : 216). While the past six years have seen a growing interest in Germanic tribes, within mainstream Ásatrú the Norse model is still the dominant cultural model appropriated. It is significant that during the Viking Age so emulated by so much of modern American Ásatrú, the indigenous religion of northern Europe was already in its twilight. 2005-2006 were particularly formative years for Heathenry within the United States. The first public blót, which included animal sacrifice, was performed in 1995. With the founding of New Anglia Theod in 2004, such rituals became common and publicly discussed. The care and attention required in such a rite, particularly in caring for the animal, had the unexpected effect of causing many Heathens to give greater thought to the purpose of such rites. More than ever before in Heathenry, attention began to be directed not to lore, but to the gods themselves (personal communication with S. Oberlander on April 2, 2008). At the same time, the Northern Tradition shamanic community, pioneered by Raven Kaldera, became more organized and publicly active in ways that it had not been before. Several well-known Heathens became publicly affiliated with this movement. 2005 also saw the publication of the first devotional in contemporary Heathenry, Galina Krasskova's Whisperings of Woden, followed by Exploring the Northern Tradition. In the four years since the publication of Whisperings of Woden, numerous devotionals have been published, nearly all of them coming from the Norse Pagan or Northern Tradition shamanic branches of the Northern Tradition.10 A group of practitioners, under the aegis of Raven Kaldera, published a series of books on Northern Tradition shamanism detailing experiential techniques and focused predominantly on the Jotnar deities. 11 Additionally a writer’s collective was formed in 2006 to facilitate publication of these devotionals, which rarely appeal to large scale publishers due to their limited market. Essentially, the mystics, shamans, and those involved in intense devotional practices came into the public eye like never before. They and the doctrine they espoused could no longer be ignored. Northern Tradition shaman Raven Kaldera believes that the aggressive stance mainstream and orthodox Heathens take toward liminal practices and apparent deviations in orthodoxy stem in part from a desire of modern Heathens to avoid a “straw death” and thus to find their way into Valhalla. While the reasoning for this may seem complex to one not versed in Heathen lore, he believes that modern Heathens popularly conflate Valhalla with the Christian Heaven. Since the only way into Valhalla was to die a warrior’s death in battle, and since our modern community no longer provides many opportunities for such a death on a large scale, modern Heathens have substituted aggressive, combative defense of 'lore' and of their developing orthodoxy instead, in the 10
Many (though not all) Norse Pagans and Northern Tradition shamans refuse to use the term “Heathen” for themselves due to the harassment they often receive within the mainstream Heathen community. 11
The second major ideological fault line within Heathenry is whether or not the Jotnar, a family of Deities associated with primal power, chaos, destruction, and initiation should be honored on par with the Aesir, deities of order and justice, and the Vanir, deities of fertility and abundance – or indeed honored at all.
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unconscious belief that this symbolic battle will suffice to earn a place in this honored afterlife (in-person communication with Raven Kaldera in Hubbardston, MA on November 10, 2007). This emphasis on orthodoxy as opposed to orthopraxy, combined with the need to publicly demonstrate worth through contest and struggle, has led to the dominant mode of communication throughout Heathenry being defined by its aggressive, seemingly inhospitable and occasionally hostile manner. In their article The Pentagram and the Hammer, considered seminal in Heathen circles, authors Lewis Stead and Devyn Gilette discuss this particular social trope: Ásatrúar tend to speak in a very direct method using declarative sentences, tending to cite things in a black and white and often simplistic manner. The general method of communication is to state one's position with the expectation that one's opposite will state theirs' and either agreement or argument will ensue. Consensus and compromise is rarely the object. This verbal sparring mirrors the general focus on conflict in the religion. A standoff between strong but disagreeing positions (i.e., agreeing to disagree) is generally seen as preferable to compromise. Face saving is seen to be the individual's own responsibility, to be obtained by demonstrating not only the validity of one's beliefs, but how strongly one holds them. Conversations tend to be fast paced and often in emotional tones. Any conflict and anger brought forth in debate is generally dismissed as necessary to the process and quickly forgotten; although when it is not, it tends to create long term grudges. 12 Stead and Gilette rightly attribute this communication style to a definitive reification of the past that so defines not only modern Ásatrú, but modern Reconstructionist religions in general.13 Like Homeric Greek culture, Norse religionists draw their “personhood, their social identity, from exchange, agonistic and otherwise.” (Beidelman 1989: 6). It may be that the hostility toward devotional practices and other liminal practices may stem from a conflation of the receptivity involved in devotional consciousness with weakness, unmanliness, or submission. Certainly many of the public attacks against Northern Tradition shamanism, deity possession, and ecstatic devotional practices condemn the apparent sacrifice of personal agency and will involved. (Personal correspondence with S. Oberlander on April 20, 2008). According to Bourdieu: the structures constitutive of a particular type of environment…produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures…(Bourdieu: p. 72) What Bourdieu calls habitus is the system of largely unconscious structures that inform the development of attitudes, ideas, and ways of being in the world. It is the filter through which a particular people experience and translate their world. Within Heathenry, the dominant habitus has been created through a number of different but interrelated factors: the Protestant influence on modern Heathenry, the insistent reification of lore, hostility toward the more emotional aspects of spiritual expression, and the romantization of late 12
“The Pentagram and the Hammer,” accessed 10 November 2007 [www.ravenkindred.com/wicatru.html] .
At present, there are Reconstructionist Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Baltic, Celtic and Norse religions. I have heard rumors of Reconstructionist Sumerian and polytheistic Hebraic groups as well but have been unable to confirm or deny their existence.
Viking-era culture. All of these things impact how the sacred is approached and what expectations the people involved have of those interactions. This is particularly apparent in the process of ritual. There is very little formal ritual training offered within the Heathen community even to those wishing to become clergy. While one national organization, the Troth, has attempted to create a clergy training program, the emphasis of this program and others like it lies predominantly in study of lore. Religious rituals are primarily viewed as a means of building community. There is little understanding or desire in the majority of the community for rituals that create a palpable sense of the sacred external to that community building (personal communication with Fuensanta Plaza on April 25, 2008). In fact, it seems likely that the reconstructed rituals of blót and symbel were primarily viewed at first as merely active extensions of the lore, a means of creating a community Weltanschauung. Certainly there is a marked ambivalence in Heathenry toward the gods. In Germanic Heathenry, the only extant book on the modern reconstruction of Saxon-style Heathenry, author James Coulter writes about the process of blót (bluostar in Old High German, the reconstructionist Saxon Heathen’s liturgical language of choice): …one should also know that point when it’s simply ‘too much of a good thing’ – that is, yielding in excess or too frequently. …If one offers overly frequently, it becomes more of an annoyance…than a welcome gift… For every gift given, by either God or man, one is demanded…in return.” (Coulter: p. 154) He goes on to speculate that making too many offerings (more than one or two a year) might offend the Gods, ostensibly because it is incomprehensible that one might give without expecting anything in return. Anglo-Saxon Heathen Swain Wodening describes blót as communion with one’s Heathen friends and family, with one’s ancestors, and the Gods. Blót is not so much a giving to the Gods as it is a way of sharing. It is a way of sharing food and drink in a way to create one big, happy community that includes the living and the dead. According to the Havamal, “a gift always expects a gift,” in exchange for the food and drink we share with them, the ancestors and Gods ensure health and prosperity. (Wodening: p. 127). The order in which Wodening lists the focal point of blót -- community, ancestors and gods -- is not incidental. Greg Shetler in his popular book Living Ásatrú says plainly that “ceremonies are social events.” (Shetler: p. 73). He also notes, again quoting “a gift always expects a gift,” that it is safer and better to “choose a gift up front, a sacrifice, and offer it in exchange for the help requested,” rather than run the risk of the gods actually demanding something of their own selection later. (Shetler: p. 62). The overwhelming majority of modern Heathens choose, therefore, to make not the sacred world of gods and spirits the ‘axis around which the human world revolves’ (Livingston: p. 46) but rather choose instead to make the human world the axis around which the worlds of the gods revolve, utilizing carefully-structured public rituals to keep the sacred at bay. (The exception of course, is the Northern Tradition shamanic community, which focuses primarily on the gods themselves). Additionally, the dominant bodily hexis, the “form of a pattern of postures that is both individual and systematic,” in other words the actual physical embodiment of culture, is largely informed by the prevailing distaste for emotional displays of devotion (Bourdieu: p. 86). Indeed this is one of the primary objections leveled against Northern 30
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Tradition shamans, mystics, and those seeking to establish an overarching ‘devotional consciousness’: it is too body centered, expressive and messy (personal communication with S. Oberlander on April 5, 2008). This is particularly apparent amongst those practicing Northern Tradition shamanism, in which body modification, bodily rituals that incorporate a certain degree of pain, and passionate expressions of religious ardor, both verbally and in print, are the norm (ibid). Part of the argument against such practices stems from the fact that current pain-based ordeal practices are generally adapted from the BDSM and body modification communities, which in turn can be considered part of the “modern primitive” movement that has adapted ancient practices for the modern era (personal communication with Raven Kaldera on April 10, 2008). Since contemporary Heathen ethics are largely informed by Protestantism (and within the United States even the "unstated religious assumptions of U.S. secularism are specifically Protestant"), this also impacts ideas about the body, sexuality, and physical expression (Jakobson and Pellegrini: p. 22). Saba Mahmood discusses the tension inherent in constructing a tradition, noting that the actual devotional and interpretive practices of the people can be markedly different from the arguments of textually-driven authorities. She points out that the tradition can be “constantly lived, reworked, and transformed in the context of daily interactions” (Mahmood: p. 98). Heathenry is, in its own way, becoming more “performatively constituted,” albeit in ways that create often hostile and frenetic conflict with the dominant orthodoxies within the community (Mahmood: p. 99). Mahmood further elaborates on the interstices between tradition and active ritual practice: Tradition…is not a set of symbols and idioms that justify present practices, neither is it an unchanging set of cultural prescriptions that stand in contrast to what is changing, contemporary, or modern. Nor is it a historically fixed social structure. Rather, the past is the very ground through which the subjectivity and self-understanding of a tradition’s adherents are constituted (Mahmood: p. 115). Ritual has also become the arena some contemporary Heathens utilize to enforce specifically contested points of orthodoxy. Connecticut Heathen Patty Lafayvelle, long time member of the Troth, comments on ritual as a means of preserving the community from contamination: Therefore, we should definitely consider just who we share a ritual horn with - and I mean that at *all* times, not just with one group of people or another. In the same way that we all know to be careful with the oaths we swear, we should all know to be careful about those with whom we blot (public email post on the Troth newsgroup on April 4, 2008). Part of this stems from the internal divisiveness between denominations over specific points of ideological debate, but part of it also stems, as Lafayvelle goes on to note, from an understanding of theology drawn from personal practice: Thus, for me...well...I am sworn to Freyja. Her allies are also mine, and her enemies are also mine. Since Surt kills her brother Frey, and burns all the worlds, well...that means he's no friend of mine. And that, by extension, means those who choose to worship him or want to bring his power into Midgard are also not friends of mine (ibid).
This type of assertion, based on personal gnosis (the idea of being sworn to a goddess as well as the idea that by worship one can cause a god’s power to manifest) would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Attitudes toward personal gnosis have slowly been evolving to accommodate some degree of experience. The past five years have also seen the idea of “peer corroborated personal gnosis” (PCPG) evolving from the Northern Tradition shamanic community and slowly making its way into the mainstream as a means of validating the personal experience (personal communication with E. Vongvisith on April 10, 2008). Essentially, the body of religions that constitute the contemporary Northern Tradition are evolving through the development of ritual, which in itself has begun to evolve through the active experience of its participants. The experience of the sacred and the experience of the community partaking of the sacred has become a powerful undercurrent in the ongoing community battle between lore and UPG, which is at its heart a battle between textual authority, orthodoxy and the authority of personal practice. It is this unspoken and often unacknowledged performativity that is contributing to the ongoing process of culture building within the Northern Tradition and it is the power of this performativity that may come to change the face of the community’s habitus and by extension the community itself. Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, Northern Tradition shaman, and devotee of Odin. She holds a Masters degree in Religious Studies from New York University and is currently working toward a second Masters in Classics. She is the author of several books on Heathenry including Exploring the Northern Tradition, Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner, and Sigyn: Our Lady of the Staying Power.
Sources: 1. Beidelman, T.O., (1989). “Agonistic Exchange: Homeric Reciprocity and
the Heritage of Simmel and Mauss,” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 4, No. 3 (August 1989), 227-259.
2. Bourdieu, Pierre, (2007). Outline of a Theory of Practice. UK: Cambridge
University Press. 3. Buckley, Joshua, (2004). Tyr: Myth, Culture, Tradition vol. 1 and 2.
Atlanta : Ultra Press. 4. Coulter, James, (2003). Germanic Heathenry. TX: First Books Library. 5. Dubois, Thomas, (1999). Nordic Religions in the Viking Age.
Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.
6. Durkheim, Emile, (2001). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
7. Gardell, Mattias, (2003). Gods of the Blood. PA: University of
8. Jakobson, Janet and Pellegrini, Ann, (2004). Love the Sin. Boston: Beacon
9. King, Richard, (2005). Orientalism and Religion. London: Routledge. 10. Krasskova, Galina, (2005). Exploring the Northern Tradition. New Jersey:
New Page Books.
1.1 : THE TROUBLE 11. Livingston, James, (2005). Anatomy of the Sacred. NJ: Pearson Prentice
12. Magliocco, Sabina, (2004). Witching Culture. Philadelphia: University of
13. Mahmood, Saba, (2005). Politics of Piety. NJ: Princeton University Press. 14. Puryear, Mark, (2006). The Nature of Ásatrú. NE: Iuniverse, Inc. 15.
Shetler, Greg, (2005). Living Ásatrú. No further publishing information available (the book was self published by Mr. Shetler and though it is available on amazon.com, it lacks the requisite publishing information on the inside leaf).
16. Wodening, Swain, (2003). Hammer of the Gods. Texas: Booksurge Press.
17. “Hakon the Good’s Saga” retrieved August 2006 from www.northvegr,org/lore/heim/index.html. This essay was previously presented at the Claremont Pagan Studies conference in 2009 and was previously published on Pantheon, the group blog of the Patheos Pagan Portal [http://www.patheos.com/community/paganportal/].
Portrait of Loki as Gerald Gardner BY STACEY LAWLESS
This drawing is based on a publicity photo of Gerald B. Gardner, the father of Wicca, at his Witchcraft Museum on the Isle of Man. I think Pagans in general owe Gardner a debt of gratitude for creating a religion that's brought many people back to the old gods, and carved out a space for Them and us in contemporary Western society. I chose to represent Loki as Gardner because a number of heathens of my acquaintance treat Wicca with contempt and are regrettably oblivious to the cultural impact it has had and continues to have. Also, Gardner just bloody looked like a trickster spirit -- the pair of them seem like a natural match!
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Loki: Controversy and Devotion BY GALINA KRASSKOVA
Norse mythology is rife with dynamic, interrelated families of gods and goddesses; their dramas, exploits and behaviors reflect a curious panoply of conflicting elements that at times seem ambivalent and even amoral. This is especially true of Loki. Perhaps no other being in the Northern pantheon is quite so controversial and compelling as this fascinating figure, whether in the context of the scholarly world or within modern Heathenry. It is fitting, given Loki’s often provocative role in the Eddic lore, that a consensus within the scholarly and religious communities as to his function and nature has yet to be reached. Religious historian William Paden notes that “religions are grounded in mythic language… myth is not a medium of neutral, mathematical objectivity, but a definitive voice that names the ultimate powers that create, maintain, and re-create one’s life.” (Paden, p. 73). Myths shape and define that which is ephemeral and timeless, creating living bridges to the numinous. By their very nature, such myths also reflect the beliefs and world view of those creating them. This makes the appearance of Loki in a mythos otherwise focused around what are known as the “Reginn,” or order-preserving powers, all the more thought-provoking. He enlivens the Eddic tales and serves as a catalyst for both adventure and trouble. He is a friend of the Aesir and their bitterest enemy. He is numbered amongst the Gods and yet at Ragnarok battles against them. One modern devotee of Loki refers to him as a God of “paradox and uncertainty," (personal correspondence with F. Plaza) and that perfectly reflects the startling ambiguity with which he was equally held, not only by medieval Christian authors, who saw in him a Nordic version of Satan, but also by modern Heathens and scholars. This essay will explore the nature of Loki as a figure of controversy and devotion. It will examine both his role in the surviving Eddic tales and also the impact his controversial nature has had on the development of modern heathenry within the United States. Loki’s nature and relationship to the other gods will be considered and the development of a subsection of American heathenry focused around worship of Loki and his kin will also be examined. Despite the fact that Odin himself traces his lineage from the Jotnar, throughout the Eddic tales the Aesir remain in constant conflict with them. Indeed, from the very beginning of Heathen cosmology, the Aesir defined the boundaries of their worlds by the slaughter of the Jotnar, the race from which Loki also sprang. This conflict and violence permeates the Eddas and lies at the heart of Loki’s contentious nature. Scholars argue about the nature of the Jotnar and many differing theories have been advanced. Some consider them personifications of the forces of nature, others an earlier group of gods dispossessed by newer deities and therefore hostile to them (MacCulloch, p. 281). The latter theory is occasionally espoused by followers of the 'Rökkr' movement in modern Ásatrú, which focuses not on worship of the Aesir or Vanir but rather on worship of the Jotnar. Loki is simply the most obvious of the Aesir’s links to the more violent and primal world of the giants, standing “midway between the doomed gods and the hostile powers which ultimately compass their destruction.” (Cawley, p. 311). 36
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According to lore, at some point in their early history, Loki and Odin became blood-brothers. In stanza nine of Lokasenna, Loki reminds Odin: Remember, Othin, in olden days That we both our blood have mixed; Then didst thou promise no ale to pour, Unless it were brought to us both. (Bellows translation, p. 155). This persistent connection to Odin, inextricable as it seems to be, has caused some scholars to dismiss Loki as nothing more than a hypostasis of Odin. (von Schnurbein, p. 113). In fact, that is one of three primary explications of Loki’s nature: Odinic hypostasis, fire god or trickster deity. Additionally, Georges Dumezil considered Loki, falling as he does outside of the tripartite Divine functions, as being an incarnation of impulsive intelligence (ibid). In order to draw any conclusions as to the validity of each of these theories, it is necessary to discuss the manner in which Loki actually appears in the lore. Loki is the child of two Jotnar: Laufey and Farbauti. He is often known as Laufeyjarson and has several other bynames or 'heiti', including Lopt, which means either 'Airy One' or 'Lightening One' (Simek, p. 195), ‘the bound god,’ ‘wolf’s father’ (referring to his siring of the great wolf Fenris), 'Sly One' and “the foe of the Gods” (MacCulloch, p. 147). Some attempts have been made to link him with Lodhur, third in the divine triune of Odin, Hoenir and Lodhur, but there is no etymological basis for this connection. Loki has two wives, as different as night from day to each other. The first is a sorceress of the Ironwood named Angrboda by whom he sired a brood of “monsters”: Fenris, the wolf of chaos; Jormungand, the world serpent; and Hela, who became the Goddess of the Underworld. The Gods were so threatened by these three children that they banished them: Fenris was bound, Jormungand was tossed into the ocean and set to encircle Midgard, and Hela was cast into the land of the dead. Loki’s second wife, Sigyn, was ostensibly of the Aesir, though nothing about her background is known. Her name means ‘Victory Woman’ and every reference made to her in the Eddas (of which there are only three) refers to her loyalty to Loki. After his part in the death of Baldr, he was bound in a cave with a poisonous serpent fixed above his head. Sigyn refused to repudiate him and stood by his side, loyally holding a bowl to catch the venom that the serpent dripped onto him. Loki and Sigyn's two sons also play a tragic role in the binding of their father: Vali was turned into a ravening wolf by the Aesir and tore his brother Narvi apart, and it was with Narvi's entrails that the Aesir bound Loki. Loki is responsible for the Aesir gaining many of their most powerful tools, from Odin’s spear to Thor’s hammer. There are several episodes in the Eddas where Loki functions as a thief. In one of these escapades, he sneaks into the bedroom of Sif, Thor's wife, and cuts off all her hair: this was a grave insult and humiliation in Nordic culture, a punishment inflicted on adulterous women. Thor is, of course, enraged, and in the face of his fury, Loki offers to put things right. In order to do so, Loki travels to Nidavellir, the land of the Duergar, dwarves renowned for their skill in smithcraft. He finagled and bartered and convinced the dwarves to craft new hair out of pure gold for Sif: a wig that when placed upon her shorn head would take root and grow like real hair, more beautiful than the original. He also had them craft other gifts, to make up for his transgression. He goaded two different dwarven clans into a contest, betting his head against the original crafter Brokk, that Brokk would lose the contest. Of course, Brokk did not: the winning 37
gift out of several – which included Odin’s spear Gungnir and Frey’s ship Skidbladnir – was Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor. Loki didn’t lose his head, however, as he pointed out that he hadn’t bet any part of his neck. Brokk had to content himself with sewing Loki’s lips closed instead. Loki was also indirectly responsible for the theft of Idunna’s apples. Idunna was guardian of the apples of youth, for the Norse Gods are neither immortal nor unchanging. On one of his travels, Loki was captured by the giant Thrym and in order to secure his escape, he promised to bring to the giant Idunna and her precious apples. He contrived for Idunna to be captured and only when the Gods began to age did he admit his part in her disappearance and work to gain her return. This he did, by borrowing Freya’s shapeshifting falcon cloak, flying into Thrym’s stronghold, transforming Idunna into a nut and flying back to Asgard with her thus transformed in his claws. However, this led to the death of Thrym and eventually to his daughter Skadhi storming Asgard demanding wergild for her father’s death. Loki helped ameliorate her anger in that instance by debasing himself to make her laugh but ultimately Skadhi was to have her vengeance on Laufey’s son. The role of Loki in modern Heathenry has created an ideological fault line that remains explosive and hotly contested within the United States’ community, for just as scholars often don’t seem to know what to make of this particular figure, neither does modern Ásatrú. Worship of Loki forms one of the predominant ideological controversies within the American Ásatrú community. Ásatrú is a Reconstructionist religion. This essentially means that most practitioners strive to accurately recreate their religion as it existed prior to the Christian conversion, primarily relying on historical texts and modern scholarly and anthropological research, none of which was ever intended to be utilized as religious documents. Additionally, there are numerous denominations within heathenry, based loosely on sociopolitical divisions. It is often the case that one’s stance on the issue of Loki within American heathenry depends largely on where one falls in terms of denomination. The four primary ones are Universalist, Tribalist, Folkish and Theodish. Additionally, there is Northern Tradition paganism, which utilizes historical texts as a springboard for personal gnosis. While comparing and contrasting the differences in denominations would, in itself, require a paper all its own, there are a few specific differences that should be noted. Universalist heathens tend to be more liberal in their approach to heathenry and as such, tend to be the most inclusive. They are not concerned with centralized authority and hierarchical social structure as Theodish heathenry is, nor are they particularly concerned with ancestry, as Folkish heathens are. Their focus is on honoring the Gods and building community and tend to be far more accepting of theological differences, preferring to look for commonalities of practice and belief. Tribalist heathens are primarily focused on rebuilding cohesive, interdependent communities structured around adherence to reconstructed practices. They view the culture in which heathenry originally developed as important, but the ancestry of any single modern adherant as unimportant compared to their ability to acculturate. Family and community are considered the binding forces around which one orders his or her life and Tribalist heathens often develop hierarchical social structures based loosely on the comitatus model of the Anglo Saxons and Normans.
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Folkish heathens believe that in order to legitimately practice heathenry, one must be either of English, Germanic, or Scandinavian descent. In some Folkish groups, those who are not of Northern European descent may become part of the community by adoption or blood oath. For others, nothing less than such ancestry will suffice. Like Tribalists, there is a strong focus on building a cohesive heathen community. Theodish heathenry is the most orthodox and rigid of Heathen denominations. They adhere to a strict tribal structure based on a particular culture (there are Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Mercian, Frisian and Saxon 'theods') and within that structure each person is bound to the head of the theod by a complex web of oaths. Essentially, this entails an oath of fealty. Theodish heathens are extremely conservative and are not inclusive at all, having a very rigid process by which outsiders may join the ‘tribe.’ (Krasskova, p. 22-24). Ásatrúar may fall anywhere within the above mentioned spectrum, which are as much sociopolitical divisions as structured denominations. While Folkish and Theodish attitudes toward Loki are extremely hostile, Universalist and most 'mainstream' heathen attitudes tend toward the more positive and they are the most likely to view Loki as something of a trickster figure. No other god or goddess provokes such a heated response amongst heathens. Four people interviewed for this article actually felt they had been driven out of the heathen community because of their worship of Loki and, in a very extreme example, one dedicated Loki’s-woman living in Colorado actually received death threats from local Folkish heathens (personal correspondence with E. Vongvisith). However, the majority of mainstream Ásatrúar tend to view Loki with a mixture of respect and wariness. Diana Paxson, a well known heathen author, writes in her book Essential Ásatrú: If you want to start a “spirited” discussion among Heathens, ask whether Loki should be honored in ritual. Some, in particular those who follow the Theodish traditions, abhor him to the point where they will not allow his name to be mentioned in the hall. Others point out that he brings gifts as well as troubles […] (Paxson, p. 72). In fact, this is the primary issue that Heathens have with Loki: according to the Eddas, he rises up against the Ása gods at Ragnarök. Many believe him to be a betrayer, liar and enemy of the Aesir and cannot reconcile honor and worship of Loki with honor and worship of the rest of the Aesir, despite the fact the Prose Edda clearly lists him amongst their ranks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some heathens and Nordic pagans who focus their worship on the Jotnar. They often refer to themselves as “Rökkr” or “Rökkatrú” from an Old Norse word for “shadow.” (Krasskova, p. 97). Many of these people claim experiences of Loki that stand in stark contrast to the image more conservative heathens would present. There are even a growing number of women who have specifically devoted themselves to Loki as servants or spouses, something that has also occurred in modern heathenry with Odin (personal correspondence with E. Vongvisith). Needless to say, those who claim to be Rökkatrú or who otherwise devote themselves to Loki and his kin are not often welcomed within mainstream heathenry. Those who are exploring Northern Tradition neoshamanism also work extensively with Loki and his kin and this has aroused much controversy and hostility within heathen factions. Books like Raven Kaldera’s Jotunbok, which present the Jotnar in a positive light, are often met with vitriol.
Casey Woods, a Tribalist heathen and scholar, describes the conundrum that Loki poses for the average Heathen: The problem in dealing with Loki is something avoided by those Heathens who have reconstructed their practices from Anglo-Saxon sources, because the God does not appear in those sources. For all other Heathens, he is regarded in the following three ways: 1). As the highest villain, and a great abomination against society and the other Gods in Asgard. He should not be honored or even spoken of (especially during holy rites). 2). With a wary respect, only afforded as a means of insurance against either Loki or Odin’s wrath since Loki is Odin’s oath-brother, and it is rude to honor one and not the other. 3). For those few who honor and love Loki, and use not their devotion of him as an excuse for improper behavior, they love him whole-heartedly – although Heathens who view him in this regard, clearly acknowledge that he is a difficult God to work with, because he will not allow them to stagnate, but rather will prod them to new growths and understanding (personal correspondence with Casey Woods). Followers of Loki point out that he has more stories in the Norse lore than almost any other deity and those stories would be the poorer were he to be removed from them. Lokians also often favor the triumvirate of Odin, Hoenir and Loki. Some, existing within the liminal places of their own religious communities (either for their work within Northern Tradition shamanism, which is also controversial in American heathenry; or because they violate gender or sexual taboos; or because they have been forced out of mainstream heathenry for their work with the Jotnar), look to Loki as a role model, noting that Almost every society has been forced to create two ethical systems – an ideal one and a practical one. Pre-Christian Northern Europe was no exception. They had a warrior code of ethics which placed a high premium on honor and honesty: without that, their civilization would soon have descended into anarchy…and yet because they lived in a harsh and violent world, they were sometimes forced to do dishonorable things to survive. Loki’s treachery is more often than not reserved for the enemies of Asgard… Loki brings Asgard some of its most precious treasures, but often he brings them at the price of honor. (private correspondence with K. Filan). In this respect, Loki’s role becomes analogous to his role in the Loka Tattur: he is again receiving ownership over those that fall outside the boundaries of the other ordered powers. He is the god that governs all those things that fit nowhere else (personal communication with A. Kondratiev). It is unsurprising that Ásatrú would find Loki’s nature troublesome. Ásatrú tends to be a very conservative religion, as Reconstructionist religions tend to be. Although more liberal heathens utilize the surviving lore to enhance a spirituality based on their own personal experiences, the traditionalists do not; they utilize lore to define and confine their religious life, looking to an idealized vision of the past to build their modern religion. Loki embodies the principle of change with all its attendant chaos and messiness.
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In a religion dedicated to preserving and restoring the past, it is not surprising to find that his influence is often less than welcome. But what is lost by the rabid exclusion of such a being? Along with change, the stories about Loki demonstrate a creative force and drive without which the tales of the gods would be dull indeed. For a religion that must balance a dedication to the past with the realities of surviving and evolving in the modern world, it seems that Loki, with his skill at navigating the knife-edge precipices between uncertainties, would be more needed than ever. Loki is loved and Loki is hated within heathenry. He commands intense respect and loyalty from those who follow him and yet to others within the same religion, he is regarded as the archenemy and betrayer of the Gods. Scholars find him equally difficult to pin down and he remains both a controversial figure and a fascinating one. Whether he is viewed as villain or trickster, worthy of honor or deserving only hostility, his presence in the Eddas certainly ensures that the gods and the worlds they crossed are anything but static. With Loki in their midst, to scholars and devotees alike, the stories contained in the Eddas can never be frozen or immobile. Rather, they retain the ability to capture the imagination, fire the heart of spiritual devotion and spur, in a manner which would do Loki proud, conflict, controversy, debate and evolution.
Sources: 18. Balme, Maurice, et al. (2003). Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek. New York: Oxford University Press. 19. Bellows, Henry (translator) (1926). The Poetic Edda. New York: The American Scandinavian Foundation. 20. Cawley, Frank Stanton, (1939). The Figure of Loki in Germanic
Mythology. Retrieved October 2006 from http://links.jstor.org/sici? sici=0017-8160%28193910%2932%3A4%3C309%3ATFOLIG %3E2.0.CO%3B2-L 21. Ellis Davidson, H.R. (1964). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. New York: Penguin Books. 22. Guerber, H.A. (1994). The Norsemen. UK: Senate Publishing Company. 23. Kaldera, Raven, (2006). Jotunbok: Working with the Giants of the Northern Tradition. MA: Asphodel Press. 24. Krasskova, Galina (2005). Exploring the Northern Tradition. New Jersey: New Page Books. 25. MacCulloch, John, (1964). Mythology of All Races, Vol. 2. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc. 26. Paden, William, (1994). Religious Worlds. Boston: Beacon Press. 27. Paxson, Diana, (2006). Essential Ásatrú. New York: Citadel Press. 28. Rooth, Anna Birgitta, (1961). Loki in Scandinavian Mythology. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerups Förlag. 29. Sigurðsson, Gísli (translator), (1999). Eddukvaeði. Iceland: Mál og menning. 30. Sorenson, Preben, (1983). The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society. Denmark: Odense University Press. 31. Simek, Rudolf, (2000). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. UK: DS Brewer. This essay was previously published in a longer form as “The Demonization of Loki” on Pantheon, the group blog of the Patheos Pagan Portal [http://www.patheos.com/community/paganportal/].
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Published on Dec 21, 2010
HUGINN is named for Thought, especially thought that goes out into the world and transforms it. Likewise, the voices aired in HUGINN are tho...