Coming Soon — Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America

What do I like about Being Viking beyond Mark Lee’s arresting cover design? It is that author Jefferson Calico can move beyond rehashing the folkish-universalist issue and look at some things not normally talked about, such as social class.

Americans will talk you to death about race and ethnicity, but then turn around and pretend that the high-level university bureaucrat with a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard and the guy making a lot of overtime pay in a Texas oilfield are both earning “middle-class salaries.” While the English divide social-class issues with a microtome, we pretend that we all aspire to the same thing.

That is just one way that Being Viking moves beyond the radical politics-obsessed approach taken by authors such as Jennifer Snook in American Heathens or Mattias Gardell  Gods of the Blood. (If you look at Gardell’s publishing history, he jumps from one sensational topic to another.) Calico is strong on history, ritual, polytheism, and the social side of American Heathenry.

So I am delighted this book is now being published in Equinox’s Contemporary and Historical Paganism series, for which we are always seeking new titles.

You can pre-order the book now or recommend it to your university library by clicking the buttons on its Equinox web page.

Heathen Soldiers Can Wear Beards Now

This is interesting: Sikh men in the US military had gotten permission to wear beards as part of their religion. (Normally, beards are not allowed except, for instance, for special operations personnel in the Afghan back country who want to blend in, or something like that.)

Comes now a Norse Pagan soldier with the same request (I never knew they were required in Heathenry, just popular), and it looks like the Army is giving it to him.

Does Anyone “Own” the Vikings? The NY Times Wants to Know

Jasper Juinen for The New York Times

Some years ago — the late 1990s? — I had a Swedish freshman student in one of my classes. Looking over his shoulder as he was typing at his computer station, I noticed that he had a silver Mjöllnir (Thor’s hammer) pendant on a thin chain around his neck.

Naturally, I wondered if he was following Norse religion or just proud of his heritage. I complimented him on the pendant, and he told me that he was interested in the Viking Age.

“But if I wear this at home,” he said, “they call me a Nazi.”

I told him that I did not think he had to worry about that in Pueblo, Colorado.

Now here comes the New York Times plodding down the Nazi/Heathen trail — in Sweden.

Amid a boom in Viking-related TV shows and films — and a corresponding surge in Viking-inspired tourism and advertising campaigns — there is increasing political tension and social unease over the use of various runes, gods and rituals from the Viking era.

Watch a group of Swedish followers of the old religion deal with the usual tired questions: “Who Owns the Vikings? Pagans, Neo-Nazis and Advertisers Tussle Over Symbols.”

Here is another way of approaching such reportage from a leading establishment media voice. Maybe it’s not about “Nazis” at all, except that is the insult of the moment, a way to dismay something disturbing to the materialist world view. These elites are good at dismissing Christianity — it is all “fundamentalist crazies,” “deplorables,” and people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

Religion is dangerous. The people in power have always realized this. Either they must tame it — make it all about how King Zork enjoys the Will of Heaven —or keep a heavy, cast iron lid on it.

The trouble with religious people is that they are not always loyal enough — to the king, to the government, to the Party, to the corporation.

Nowadays Paganism(s) is growing. You can’t call the Pagans “deplorables” or “bitter clingers” or “fundamentalist crazies.” Those insults just don’t fit.

But you can call (some of) them “Nazis” or “racists” as a way of marginalizing them, a way of making it clear that no bien pensant, “woke” or “progressive” person would want to have anything to do with that experience that they are offering.

As a commentator on law professor Ann Althouse’s blog wrote, “[Christianity, in this case] is simply the enemy culture. It has to be disparaged and reduced in social status.

Or when they say that your Olympic ski sweaters “raise alarms” about neo-Nazis, that’s a warning shot too.

Heathens in the Grange

newgrange

How the hof will look after it has been Norse-ified.

The Asatru Folk Assembly recently concluded a successful crowdfunding campaign to buy an old Grange hall in the Gold Rush country of California.1)Yes, I contributed and got a T-shirt in one my favorite colors. Like Ben Franklin, I give to variety of different groups. AFA founder Stephen McNallen chose this time to step down as alsherjargothi (high priest) and go out on a high note.

Welcome to the joys of hof-ownership. How is the roof? Septic system? Water? And wildfire mitigation — don’t forget that! I know what it is like to see air tankers coming in low over my hof, I mean house, to make a retardant drop. I see conifers in the photo background — check your gutters!

What makes me chuckle is the fact that the building used to be a Grange hall — a meeting place of  a 150-year-old organization, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, that while smaller than it used to be, has not died out completely.

When I was a teenager in northern Colorado, I knew of several old Grange halls that sat empty in rural areas for lack of membership. Some high school friends of mine rented one for band practice. They were not a “garage band”  — they were a “grange band” (rimshot).

My impression of the order’s demise was corrected when I was a newpaper reporter in Colorado Springs and covered a Grange convocation in order to hear some speaker — something agriculture-related, probably.

By then I knew Isaac Bonewits’ classification scheme of Paleo-Pagan, Meso-Pagan, and Neo-Pagan, and the Grangers definitely had a slight Meso-Pagan vibe. I lacked the password and handshake to get into the closed, ritual part of the meeting, but there was something mentioned about Demeter, and I saw small silver ritual plows, etc. As the Wikipedia entry notes,

When the Grange first began in 1867, it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry, including secret meetings, oaths and special passwords. It also copied ideas from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible. Small, ceremonial farm tools are often displayed at Grange meetings.

The word grange goes way back, coming from

Anglo-French graunge, Old French grange “barn, granary; farmstead, farm house” (12c.), from Medieval Latin or Vulgar Latin granica “barn or shed for keeping grain,” from Latin granum “grain,” from PIE root *gre-no- “grain” (see corn). Sense evolved to “outlying farm” (late 14c.), then “country house,” especially of a gentleman farmer (1550s).

Newgrange, the famous prehistoric monument in Ireland was named after some farm, I suppose.

It was almost obsolete in 19th-century American when it was revived in the name of the fraternal order, which also sought to promote better farming practices, and mostly importantly to help farmers work cooperatively to promote their interests against the railroads. As the only mechanism to get their grain to market, the railroads always had the producers by the neck.

Following the Panic of 1873, the Grange spread rapidly throughout the farm belt, since farmers in all areas were plagued by low prices for their products, growing indebtedness and discriminatory treatment by the railroads. These concerns helped to transform the Grange into a political force. . . .

The Grange as a political force peaked around 1875, then gradually declined. New organizations with more potent messages emerged, including the Greenback Party of the 1870s, the Farmers’ Alliances of the 1880s and the Populist Party of the 1890s.

The Grange had played an important role by demonstrating that farmers were capable of organizing and advocating a political agenda. After witnessing the eclipse of its advocacy efforts by other groups, the Grange reverted to its original educational and social events. These have sustained the organization to the present day.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Yes, I contributed and got a T-shirt in one my favorite colors. Like Ben Franklin, I give to variety of different groups.

More Links — Hand-Forged Ones At That

Utility seax from Fay’s Forge

• At Fay’s Forge you may buy “knives, swords, and do castings from the Celtic, migration, Anglo Saxon, and Norse cultures.” Support your local shieldmaiden.

Probably it would be more accurate to say that the planned Black Mass terrifies some Christians in Oklahoma. And before you dump on Oklahoma, remember that Harvard University backed down from a similar proposal!

• I have ordered this book: Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East.

With Daesh slaughtering and enslaving Yezidis and Mandeans, etc., “disappearing” may not be an exaggeration. As a long review in The Revealer asks,

Will the funeral pyres of the Zoroastrians still alight the dusks of Iran and India? Will the Copts still maintain the well where Mary and Joseph quenched Jesus’ thirst upon the flight into Egypt? Will the Samaritans still smear the blood of the lamb upon their lintels as their ancestors in bondage did? Will the wooden idols of the Kalasha look out at the unforgiving and cragged landscape of the Kush? What of the Yazidis who believe that God is so benevolent that even the devil can be saved? Or the Mandaeans who whisper secrets in the language of the Magi and the Chaldean wizards?

Odds and Ends: Runic Duct Tape, Ebola, Etsy

• Real Heathens fix stuff with runic duct tape. Or “sticky tape,” direct from Orkney to you.

To save you checking your Futhark, it says “Orkney Orkney Orkney.” I have the matching mug.

• Was the famous plague of 432 BCE in Athens an early outbreak of Ebola?

The Athenian disease began south of Egypt in a region Thucydides called “Aethiopia,” a term that ancient Greeks used to refer to regions in sub-Saharan Africa, where modern Ebola outbreaks have occurred.

Read the rest at Live Science.

• Etsy follows eBay in forbidding the sale of spell kits and the like. (What about rosaries?) I heard a brief slow-pitch interview with founder Etsy Rob Kalin this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. (NPR loves Etsy — just do a site search.) Kalin walzed around the issue of Etsy allowing factory-made items — apparently OK if it is small factory — and the interviewer did not mention magic.

UPG: An ‘Ugly and Misguided’ Term

In a Wikipedia article on Heathenry in Canada, you will read, “The acceptance of such UPG can be a source of controversy among practitioners.”

UPG here means Unverified Personal Gnosis or Unusual Personal Gnosis or Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis, defined (also in Wikipedia) as “the phenomenological concept that an individual’s spiritual insights (or gnosis) may be valid for them without being generalizable to the experience of others. It is primarily a neologism used in polytheistic reconstructionism, to differentiate it from ancient sources of spiritual practices.”

And as the entry notes, it is a derogatory term.

Heathen/Germanic Tradition writers seem to spend the most time evaluating the idea of UPG, as possibly “worth considering” if certain preconditions are met or as highly suspect unless rigorously examined in the light of “the lore”: “The key is that [UPG] has little to no basis in the lore as we have it. Most assumptions about the Gods, myths, and rites are based on careful research of the lore often involving years of study.”

Based on limited discussion with practitioner-scholars, I see less concern about UPG among Germanic Tradition Pagans in Europe and little concern among Baltic or Slavic reconstructionists, for example. Perhaps this concern is largely a North American issue? More study is needed.

Pagan scholar Sam Webster, in fact, goes farther, calling UPG an “ugly and misguided” label.

Experience is the center of all spiritual and religious life. Text is at best derivative. By creating and using such a term as UPG, “Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis,” we privilege text over experience. (This is a rather Christian move, and those who have been following my writing know how I feel about that. . .) Even more damagingly, by framing someone’s experience as a UPG we dissociate ourselves from the primary data of spirituality.

Good point. But not everyone respects phenomenology, even in religious studies.

Heathenry and the Politics of Postcolonialism

Thad Horrell, Heathen and graduate student, hurls himself against the issue of post-colonialism and reconstructed Northern religion in this article, “Heathenry as a Postcolonial Movement,” published in the online Journal of Religion, Identity and Politics, written by students in his PhD program.

His thesis is “that Heathenry is ‘postcolonial’  in complex and contradictory senses of the term. It both acknowledges and offers resistance to the imperialism of Christendom, while simultaneously trivializing colonialism and making it seem merely a thing of the past.”

I will argue that Heathenry is a postcolonial movement both in the sense that it combats and challenges elements of colonial history and the contemporary expectations derived from it (anti-colonial), and in the much more problematic sense that it serves to justify current social and racial inequalities by pushing the structures of colonialism off as a thing of the past (pro-colonial). Rather than promoting a sense of solidarity with colonized populations, Heathen critiques of colonialism and imperialism often serve to justify disregard for claims of oppression by colonized minorities. After all, if we’ve all been colonized, what is there to complain about?

This trope of resistance is employed in academic writing as well as “insider” writing. It shines through Carole Cusack’s recent Pomegranate article on the emperor Charlemagne’s “jihad” (to borrow an appropriate term) against the Pagan Saxons: “Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages.”

The ideas of invasion, colonization, and resistance were important in the first years of Wicca too, although not so much since the 1950s.

Gerald Gardner played the nativist card as well, implicitly conflating the threatened invasion of southern England by the German army in 1940 with the “Gregorian mission” that brought Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England in the sixth century. (The earlier Celtic-speaking post-colonial-Roman Britain had been heavily Christian as well by the end.)

But the idea of resistance to “invasion” has put down deeper roots in contemporary Norse, Baltic, and Slavic Paganism than in the Anglosphere, I think.

Pentagram Pizza: Should You Print Out These Links?

pentagrampizzaItems that deserve more commentary, but are not getting it today:

• From  MIT Technology Review: When we read books on paper, do we retain more than when we read on a screen?

Re-creating the sound of ancient musical instruments, sometimes with synthesizers.

A review of Apocalyptic Witchcraft, from Scarlet Imprint.

• At The Journal of Hofstadr Hearth, Alfarrin rethinks the blot in terms of Neolithic and Paleolithic, Aesir and Vanir, reciprocity and sharing. With a big shout-out to Paul Shepard!

• Related issues here at “Heathens in the Military: An Interview with Josh and Cat Heath, Part One,” at the Norse Mythology Blog.

Gallimaufry with Distinctions

• Ule-Alfarrin (a/k/a Robin Artisson, if I am not mistaken) lists differences between “New Ager” and “Heathen.” I like this one:

13. Almost no one who in the course of their religious practice, takes a first, middle, or last name which is the same as an animal, a plant, a weather-based phenomenon, an element, a mineral, or a combination of any of those things can speak for me, nor do they likely believe anything like me.

Being a Heathen is often about making such distinctions, ja?

• Anne Johnson discusses building fairy houses. She understands that the fairies are not always cute.

Talking to Unitarians about animism. I have to do something similar later this month.

• Anne Hill suggests two great books on dreams. She should know.