So there was this: Mark Potok of the “Southern Poverty Law Center” made the following statement about Asatru: “To followers, [the Norse Gods] are big, tough white guys who, when they see a woman they want, grab her by the hair and pull her in the cave. It’s seen as this ultra-male, super muscular religion, which is antithetical to Christianity and Judaism…it’s a comic book religion in a lot of ways.”
We’ve also got Jack Jenkins of ThinkProgress saying, “Today, followers of the tradition are few in number, but represent a notable percentage of violent white supremacists.” Mind you, he doesn’t back that up with any statistics. He just makes the assertion.
Are there racists that profess to follow the Norse Gods? Of course. Just as their are racists who claim to follow Christianity, who claim to follow Judaism, who claim to be Atheists, who claim to follow various tribal religions, or who claim to follow pretty much any religious belief, or lack thereof, you care to name.
In the case of Asatru, claiming that the religion is in some way racist is ridiculous.
Let’s look at one of the biggest organizations, The Troth:
The Troth is open to all who seek to know and to honor the Gods, ancestors, and values of the Germanic Heathen traditions, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation. The Troth stands against any use of Germanic religion and culture to advance causes of racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, or any other form of prejudice.
But there’s also the content of the religion itself.
First let’s look at Potok’s silly idea of “when they see a woman they want, grab her by the hair and pull her in a cave. What do the stories of the Norse Gods tell us about that?
First, there’s the story of Freyr’s courtship of the giantess Gerd. This is where Freyr sees the giantess he desires and grabs… Oh, wait, no he didn’t. Instead he asks his page Skirnir to act as a go between and convince Gerd to accept his suit. The page asks for Freyr’s magic sword as payment. Freyr agrees (thus, being deprived of the sword, ensuring his own death at Surtr’s hands at Ragnarok). Skirnir goes and wins the lady’s affections on Freyr’s behalf and the two are wed. And, in due time, because of this sequence of events Freyr is doomed to die at Ragnarok.
Then there’s Freyr’s sister, Freyja. Once, when the frost giants through one means or another had managed to obtain Thor’s hammer–which was a pretty serious problem as you might imagine–the lead giant Thrymr demands Freyja for his bride as the price for the hammer’s return. When Thor and Loki go to ask her to acquiesce (note: they ask. No dragging by the hair involved) she basically tells them “Nothing doing. If you want the hammer back so bad you marry him.” (I’m translating for you.) And that’s what they do. We get Thor in drag, pretending to be Freyja, selling Thrymr on the idea (Thrymr was not the sharpest ax in the shed) and Thor convinces Thrymr to let him (who Thrymr still thinks is Freyja–really, really stupid giant there) touch the hammer. And, well, once Thor gets his hand on the hammer it’s all over but the dying.
Oh, by the way, not all the valorous dead (usually described as those who die in battle but evidence suggests that it was more complicated than that) went to Valhalla. Half of them went to Freyja’s hall of Folkvangr, where she ruled. Yep, Norse belief was that half of the valiant dead, a big part of Viking “heaven” was ruled by a woman.
Then there’s the sea god Njordr and how he married the giantess Skadi. Did he grab her by the hair and carry her off? Nope. Pretty close to the opposite. Skadi’s father Thjazi had been killed in an altercation with the gods and she came to demand blood price. The price she demanded was one of the gods to marry her. They agreed with the caveat that she had to make her choice of which god by selecting when the gods were standing behind a partition with only their feet visible. She picked the prettiest pair of feet, hoping to get Baldr, the most beautiful of the gods. But while Baldr was the most beautiful overall it was Njord who had the prettiest feet.
So we hardly have this grab women by the hair and drag them back to the cave. Once again, this man isn’t straw, but as ephemeral as smoke.
With these myths as part of their belief structure it is no great surprise that Norse women, able to own property, to divorce bad husbands, to inherit, to keep their children and have their children inherit even after divorcing those children’s father, had far greater freedom and power than other women in Europe and, indeed, most of the world. This was a tradition that remained strong even with the rise of Christianity in Norse lands.
Then there’s this “racist” bit. Again, one looks in vain for support for racism within the Lore itself. Consider, the first God was Buri, unearthed from the ice in Ginungagap by the licking of the cow Audumbla. When Buri wanted a wife, there were no other As to marry so he took a frost giant to wife. The begat a son, Bor.
Bor, half giant, married the frost giant Besla, and the begat Odin and others.
Odin, 3/4 frost giant, got around a bit. But the one that concerns us here is that he got together with the frost giant Jord, who represented the Earth, and begat Thor.
Thor, probably the most beloved of the Norse Gods in antiquity and today, 7/8 Frost Giant.
Ah, but that’s patrilineal descent you might say (Misogyny! The mothers don’t count!). But then you have Loki. Loki has been called “The Son of Laufey” as one of the many ways he was known (“kennings”). But Laufey was his mother’s name. His father, according to Snorri, was the frost giant Farbauti. Yet Loki was fully accepted among the Aesir, well, at least until the Baldr incident but the troubles that followed that were not because of his “race” but because of his actions.
And Njord, Freyr, and Freyja mentioned above? Njord and his sister (unnamed in surviving sources) were part of a hostage exchange that ended the Aesir/Vanir war (the Vanir being a rival race of gods). Njord’s children, Freyr and Freyja came with him. All of them were accepted as equals among the Aesir.
Now, some might make a big deal of “Svartalf” versus just “Alf”. But those were just descriptions. The inhabitants of Svartalfheim were black. Those of Alfheim were not. And, no, it wasn’t a case of “Svartalfs” being bad and “Alfs” being good. Examples of both could be allied with the gods, or opposed to them. It depended on the individual and the situation.
But then, there are mortals. The concept most people have of Valhalla (most people don’t remain ignorant of Folkvangr) and Hel is that those who die in combat go to Valhalla and those who do not go to Hel. Well, it’s more complicated than that (Consider Brynhild’s Hel Ride–where it is stated she, who did not die in combat, and Sigurd, how had, will be together in the afterlife). But you now what’s not a differentiating characteristic of who goes one place or the other? Skin color. Race.
It is our deeds, our courage, our honor that earns us a place before the gods, not the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, or the shape of our features.
What we do defines who we are to the Gods, not our inconsequential physical features.