These Heathens Reject “Garb”

Next comes shoe polish, gentlemen! (Photo from The Runestone).

I have heard complaints from some Heathen groups about too many people trying to copy the movie-Viking look of Ragnar Lothbrok, Brjorn Ironside, and the rest of the Vikings TV seriies.

Now Matthew D. Flavel, Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly, makes it official. No garb!

There was a period during the early days of modern Asatru where it was the norm for folks to wear Viking reenactment garb for events and rituals. There was an idea that by trying to recreate the look and feel of the Viking age, folks could better connect with our Gods and more “authentically” practice our religion. Perhaps that was a necessary stage in order to reject what folks were used to and embrace something that was very different. Perhaps folks felt better connected to an idealized time, a better time for our folk’s spirituality, by attempting to imitate the dress of that period. Happily, our religion has grown and developed over the last 50 years and, in the AFA, we no longer feel the need to reenact something dead, instead, we enact something living and vibrant in our own day and in our own real lives. Just as the Vikings did not dress up as cavemen in order to be more spiritual, we do not need to dress up as Vikings to be pious.

I was wondering about the appeal of “dressing like the ancestors” some years ago.

In the Wiccan world, I have gotten mixed messages over the years. There is the definite priestess-y fashion statement that involves auburn hair and flowing garments. I have no problem with that — in fact, I married one of them, although I have not seen M. in flowing garments for years. She turned out to be a boots-and-jeans type of gal, which is fine with me.

But against the Renn Faire Wicca stereotype, there was the Denver old-guard/Gard HP who told me during a festival around 1990 that “You can tell the elders. They’re the ones in blue jeans.” Of course, the old guard/Gard types don’t wear jeans in ritual, except maybe at mountain festivals.

So I have often wondered if “dressing like the ancestors” takes you out of the mundane world, but simultaneously if it is not also an obstacle.

Paganism(s) Grow in Costa Rica

Carrying on Ronald Hutton’s observation from some years back that Wicca (whatever exactly Wicca is) has become a world religion, here is an article on Costa Rican Wiccans, Druids, Asatruar, and other Pagans. So they are are “world religions” now.

Costa Rica’s indigenous communities have long practiced animism, but it was only in 2010 that the first formally organized pagan group, Kindred Irminsul, was formed. At least six more such pagan groups formed in the following three years. Since 2012, the multiple pagan groups have banded together to form broader partnerships. There’s the Asociación Ásatrú Yggdrasil de Costa Rica, a group self-described as “dedicated to ancient Nordic and Scandinavian religious practices.” Its membership has grown by 60 percent since 2013, says 31-year-old Esteban Sevilla, the group’s president. There’s also the Pagan Alliance of Costa Rica, which consists of Asatruar, Roman Reconstructionists, Wiccans and Druids. .  . .

 

Petitioning the government for a formal religious status is not cheap. There’s the cost of hiring lawyers to read over the paperwork, and the fees of submitting applications. Sevilla notes it could cost his group $1,000. “We’re working on it,” he says, “but it’s expensive.” The review process is long and bureaucratic. Sevilla and his colleagues need to prepare a statement detailing their activity, get a minimum of 50 member signatures — but the more signatories, the greater the likelihood of approval — and then draft and present the religious organization’s statutes. The government can then take its time vetting the request.

Read the whole thing.

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.

Central American Pagans, Wicca and #MeToo, and Good Writing

• Costa Rica now has a Pagan presence: Asatru, Witches, and Druids:

Think paganism [sic], and you probably don’t think of a conservative, Catholic-majority country in Central America. But Costa Rica, with its beautiful beaches and tropical charm, is emerging as an unlikely base for a growing pagan movement battling stereotypes and discrimination to assert its distinct identity. Denied the status of adhering to an official religion, pagans here have long been pushed to the fringes of society. Now, they’re pushing back, and publicly.

• I was interviewed for this article last January or February. The writer said she was a student at Columbia University, and all that she was interested in was Wicca-as-empowering-young women. (Too bad for the headline that #MeToo has had its fifteen minutes of fame.) Oh well, it’s good to see The Pomegranate name-checked in the New York Times.

• I find The Wild Hunt less and less interesting these days as a venue for Pagan culture — except when Eric Scott’s writing appears in it. Then it’s good. CORRECTION: The piece was by Luke Babb. My error. It’s still good! (I blame the influences of the Undisclosed Location.)

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.

New E-book on Germanic Paganism

Norse Revival:Transformations of Germanic Neopaganism, a new book by Stefanie von Schnurbein (Humboldt University, Berlin) appears to be available as a free download from Brill. (Yes, I am using the words free and Brill in the same sentence.)

Norse Revival examines international Germanic Neopaganism (Asatru). It investigates its origins in German ultra-nationalist movements around 1900, its attempt to gain respectability since the 1970s and its intersections with historical and current debates on race, religion, gender, and aesthetics.

The link worked for me, so see if it works for you. It is a PDF file (4.5 MB).

Academic Work on Paganism in Germany

René Gründer shared a link to a monograph series that includes work on contemporary Paganism and shamanism. Information in English, but the books themselves are available only in German.

His web page also contains links to some articles in English.

Gallimaufry: It’s Traditional

¶ When an ill-informed blogger writes that “Wicca Attempts to Control Life” on a right-wing site, commenters weigh in. The gist: (a) religion has nothing to do with politics or (b) all religions are bogus. It’s nice to see street-level libertarianism thriving.

¶ Maxine Sanders’ new autobiography Fire Child: The life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, ‘Witch Queen’ is on my to-read list. She says the first mid-1990s draft was it badly written, self-indulgent and absolute rubbish. And then she adds something that is true of all memoir-writing:

When I did start work on Fire Child there were details that were not recorded in my magical diary and should have been. However, magical life is often repetitive and would have proved boring to the reader. On reflection, the differences between memory and diary entries made fascinating personal analysis.

Update: Another reviewer discusses some inconsistencies in the book but still recommends it.

¶ Volume 3 of TYR Myth-Culture-Tradition has been published, and I am just starting to read it.

This third issue is a big one, 530 pages, with articles such as Nigel Pennick on “Weaving the Web of Wyrd,” Joscelyn Godwin on “Esotericism without religion: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials,” and Christopher McIntosh on “Iceland’s Pagan Renaissance,” plus many pages of book and music reviews. Impressive.

Dem Bones

American archaeologists have had more a decade’s experience with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). It has also been misapplied, I believe, as in the case of Kennewick Man. Although that skeleton may have been proto-Polynesian rather than European, Steve McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly filed a brief in the court case over who got the skeleton under NAGPRA’s rules. Mattias Gardell (see 29 November post ) makes an interesting point: We know that Norse people visited North America, but if a Norse cemetery were discovered in, say, Maine, a literal reading of NAGPRA would require those bones to be handed over the nearest federally recognized American Indian tribe as “ancestral remains.”

Now similar legal issues could be on the horizon in Europe, as discussed in two stories on Spiked Online, “Battle of the Bones” and “Burying the Evidence.”

“So far as governments are concerned, repatriation strategies have become part of the way in which they attempt to connect with what they perceive as fragmented, divided societies. In the USA and Australia, the apparent failure to integrate indigenous populations had became a particular cause for concern by the 1980s, and with no new solutions to integration on the horizon, the issue became how best to build a relationship – any relationship – with these separate, impoverished groups of people came to the fore.

“Repatriation, in this context, represented a symbolic reversal of conquest – a giving back of what had been taken, a recognition of the value of indigenous culture at the highest levels of government, and an attempt to create, not one national identity, but a new ‘pluricultural’ ideal” (“Battle of the Bones”).

(Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for sending me down this track.)

British Pagan are increasingly positioning themselves as “indigenous religion” and taking an active interest in the management of prehistoric Pagan archaeological sites, so these controversies will only increase.