Asatru and Racism. (It isn’t.)

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.

 

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9 thoughts on “Asatru and Racism. (It isn’t.)”

    1. I don’t. But if their lies go unchallenged other people will.

      The problem is the asymmetry of bullshit: it takes an order of magnitude more effort to refute someone’s bullshit than it took them to create it in the first place. So I can’t spend all my life refuting their nonsense, but I do dive in from time to time.

    2. There are still any number of people who haven’t learned to see the fnords* in their pieces. Or the heavy-duty dronf (fnord spelled backward) buried in the title “Southern Poverty Law Center”.
      (*Classical reference alert)

  1. I think there are some problems here. Heathenism does not have a theocentric ethics, and it’s a damn good thing. In Skírnismál, Skírnir threated Gerðr with extreme violence. Óðinn raped Rindr. Drawing on Saxo we can also point out that he was outlawed by the Æsir for it, but it happened nonetheless. Sweeping these things under the rug or making excuses for them does us no favors. Now with regard to Skírnismál, on one hand we can point to old European traditions of staged mock abductions as a ritual precursor to marriage, and say probably correctly that the audience of Skírnismál would have had a degree of context that allowed them to process it in a way we can’t. But on the other hand we cannot tolerate religious thought in which entities, god or otherwise, are absolved as a result of their position. Óðinn’s rape of Rindr is presented within the lore as a terrible, condemnable thing and it is not “un-heathen” to regard it as a terrible, condemnable thing. As best as we can say from the sources, Hákon jarl was a heathen king and a brutal, violent rapist who (according to most theory on the topic) cited religious reasons for violating women throughout Norway (something to do with parallelism between human sexual relations and the fertility of the earth). If heathenism is to become a productive, living religion the ability to self-criticize is indispensable. Now, I completely agree with you that the idea that the gods could be racist is completely absurd, and what you are doing in this blog post to show that is absolutely important. But even if somehow it could be demonstrated that they were, I would not suddenly become a racist to comply with them, nor would I suddenly cease to be heathen — I would blaspheme them mercilessly for it. What we do defines who we are, not how the gods feel about it.

    Another thing is that it’s not the task of the SPLC to tell people what the pre-Christian Norse believed, it’s their task to warn people about danger. White supremacy among modern heathens is an existential threat both to their victims and to modern Norse religion itself. Pointing out its complete lack of historical basis as you’ve done here is part of the work that needs to be done to dismantle it and I’m glad that you have contributed to the fight against it, but that is an argument to be submitted to heathens, not to organizations doing their jobs of reporting threats. If we want them to stop characterizing heathenism as hateful, our response should be uprooting that hatred (as I fully acknowledge and appreciate that you are contributing to here). And I don’t care that we are not treated the same way as other religions that also have violent and racist elements; those are not my religion, I am concerned with the social space that I inhabit and will do whatever I can to eradicate hatred from it.

    1. The Gods in Asatru are hardly perfect, nor are they generally held up as examples of perfection. This, I find, more compatible with the highly imperfect world in which we live. Gods that, while powerful, are not omnipotent, with their own flaws, struggling with their own battles and often mutually incompatible goals seems to fit the world we live in far better than an all knowing, all loving, all powerful creator God.

      White supremacy among modern heathens is an existential threat both to their victims and to modern Norse religion itself.

      The problem is that the SPLC doesn’t differentiate. They don’t say that the criminals in prison that they were directly referring to were a splinter group, not representing the majority of heathens. In doing this they give people who give them heed the idea that this is what heathenism is about.

      A sad reality of the human race is that the hateful you will always have with you. They will grab onto anything that they think will serve their purposes. If one is truly inetrested in countering the hate, one will deal not with the beliefs they grab onto but the hateful themselves because the former is an ever shifting target that will end up swallowing everything.

      This is not to say that there are not some beliefs that do teach hatred. But simply pointing at hateful who follow a belief is not evidence of that. One has to look at the actual beliefs themselves

    2. You say it is the job of the SPLC to report threats. If they actually did that honestly, I would have no problem with them. But what they actually do is constantly make up bogus fake threats, with no reliable evidence to back it up, and generally only against non leftists, total political bias and dishonesty.

  2. Hey, again the Potok in this article was expressing this view of a form of Odinism–which is different than Asatru by being a Duo theistic faith Cosmologically, with a Monotheistic Eschatology–that is found in prison gangs. The SPLC actually differentiated in this article, albeit not enough, but Asatru people should not be that offended because not even we differentiate enough between Odinism and Asatru. If you want to stop being lumped in with the Odinist Cult, kick them out of the fold and shun them, like they deserve.

    1. If you want to stop being lumped in with the Odinist Cult, kick them out of the fold and shun them, like they deserve.

      It doesn’t matter what we do so long as people like Potok keep talking like they do.

      You see, yes, I’ve seen the full context and while he’s talking about criminals in prison adopting “Odinism” he does not differentiate that from “mainstream” Asatru. He doesn’t say that these are a splinter group and not representative of the majority of heathens with anything but the softest of sell. So, people hearing his words who are not familiar with Asatru, which would be most people, get the impression that these guys are representative of Asatru, that our symbols are “hate” symbols, that our practices are practices of hatred. The “oh, I was talking about Odinists in prison” is the Motte of a Motte and Bailey argument.

      And it’s not by accident. This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve seen the SPLC do again and again and again.

      kick them out of the fold and shun them, like they deserve.

      What exactly do you mean by that? Are we to forbid them from professing what they claim to believe (whether they actually do or not)? Sorry, but I take that “Freedom of Religion” thing pretty seriously. Anything government can do for you, it can do to you. If it can forbid someone else’s profession of belief for us it could at some other time forbid our profession of belief (or of practice if not belief–my own case is kind of complicated) for someone else. Do we need to go in and physically break up their meetings? Thereby demonstrating to one and all that, yes, we are a violent cult? I mean, I knew a separatist type of a folkish persuasion–Asatru being only for those of Germanic descent and that others should worship their own gods. He didn’t exactly go in for supremacy, just we have our gods, they have theirs, and never the twain should meet–and even that I found uncomfortable. And he did have some friends that did cross the line. I spent some time arguing the issue and eventually I got tired of it and blocked. Most of my Asatru friends do much the same. Is that not “shunning”? Is that not exactly what you’re saying we should do? What more do you think is required?

      Differentiating? Like explaining in a public forum (and thank you, Instalanch for getting a lot of people to see it) that actual Asatru is neither racist nor misogynist? IOW, exactly what I did here? Maybe not as well as some could have, but, hey, I made my effort.

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