Jefferson Calico Talks Heathenry with Ethan Doyle White

Click over to Ethan Doyle White’s blog, Albion Calling,  to read a new interview with Jefferson Calico, author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America.

Since I acquired this book for Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series, I am happy to see it praised by an astute writer on Pagan history like Doyle White, who called it “one of two important works on American Heathenry that have appeared over the past decade.”

A little bit about Calico’s scholarly journey is interesting:

Many of us have experienced paradigm shifting moments during our educational journeys— those moments of discovery that unfold for us along new and unexpected paths. These moments arise from all sorts of stimuli—disciplined reading, insights from our teachers, and from seemingly random “aha” moments, to name a few. In my own journey, one of those moments came for me in reading Carole Cusack’s Invented Religions (Routledge, 2010) . .  The cumulative effect of that book rescued me from a previously dismissive attitude about new religious movements and opened a new world of scholarly interest. I had entered my PhD program initially intending to pursue research on Islam. However, a conversation with my supervisor—strangely enough about the 1994 Olympics hosted by Norway—caused me to re-evaluate and drew my attention to the growing presence and influence of Paganism in the contemporary world. As I discuss in the introduction to Being Viking, an offhand question in a graduate seminar stirred my initial curiosity about Heathenry and led to it becoming a major interest. A chance conversation with a friend, Dr Thad Horrell, while walking to an American Academy of Religion (AAR) venue in San Diego led to a new line of inquiry and research that helped me to better understand the tributaries of American Heathenry.[1]You don’t get these experiences on Zoom. Rather than one over-riding passion, my interests and work have been nudged along by these sorts of important and transformative experiences.

Read it all here, including the part about being an “outsider” researcher at Heathen events.

Notes

Notes
1 You don’t get these experiences on Zoom.

Great Review for Calico’s “Being Viking”

I was happy to see Being Vking: Heathenism in Contemporary America get a good review in Reading Religion, which is the American Academy of Religion’s online book-review site.

Michael Strmiska (currently teaching in Latvia) writes,

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

Being Viking

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Heathenism, to use Jefferson Calico’s preferred term for the modern Norse Pagan movement in America,  is a form of modern or contemporary Paganism that endeavors to create a workable contemporary version of pre-Christian Norse Paganism as was once practiced in Iceland, Scandinavia, and Germanic Europe. Being Viking is the product of many years of participant-observation fieldwork research that Calico has conducted among Heathens in the United States and informed by extensive reading in the literature of NRMs in general and Modern Norse Paganism in particular. He builds on the previous work of such scholars as Jeffrey Kaplan, Mattias Gardell, Jenny Blain, Jennifer Snook, and myself.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

The universalist conception holds that Modern Norse Paganism should be open and embracing to any person anywhere regardless of ethnic or racial background who feels a sincere spiritual interest in Norse Pagan gods and traditions. The folkish perspective holds that membership in the religion should be mainly—or even exclusively—limited to people of European or Germanic descent. Calico also provides valuable discussion of the problematic “metagenetics” theory propounded by Stephen McNallen, a pseudo-scientific attempt to ground Heathen spirituality—and folkish exclusiveness—in European genetics.

Calico juxtaposes the historical development of each topic while also providing colorful sketches of particular Heathens and their life-situations and religious practices. The author traces the lineages of different organizational structures that have undergirded the development of American Heathenism such as the Ring of Troth, more commonly and simply known as the Troth, and the Asatru Folk Alliance (AFA) pointing out their differing attitudes toward both religious practice and preferred practitioners, with the Troth being the more open and inclusive structure and the AFA the least, with a pronounced emphasis on ancestry and ethnicity that many observers have reckoned a thinly masked form of racism, or at the very least, very attractive to racists. Calico uses the metaphor of a river into which tributary streams feed and swirl as a means of explicating the different intellectual, cultural and social “streams” of influence that have fed into American Asatru, and this is an effective and intriguing manner of conceptualizing the internal diversity, dialogue, and conflict in the religion.

Read the whole thing.

Being Viking is part of Equinox Publishing’s Pagan-studies book series, of which I am the longest-surving editor, a tale of success, frustration, corporate marriage and corporate divorce, and who knows what will happen next?

Jefferson Calico, Author of “Being Viking,” Interviewed by Angela Puca

Angela Puca, who recently earned a PhD in religious studies while still managing to be a dominant figure in Pagan-studies YouTube, has interviewed Jefferson Calico, author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America, which I consider to be the best new study of Heathenry that is accessible to both scholars and practitioners. But as one of the editors, I am biased.

In case you wonder about “Heathenism” versus “Heathenry,” he gets into that at the beginning.

What Female Heathen Instagrammers Reveal

Instagrammer Helheimen as the goddess Hel.

Instagrammer Helheimen as the goddess Hel.

Another article from the new issue of The Pomegranate on the theme of Paganism, art, and fashion, guest-edited by Caroline Tully.

Hashtag Heathens: Contemporary Germanic Pagan Feminine Visuals on Instagram,” by Ross Downing. You can download the entire paper free at the link this summer. Here is the abstract:

A rising number of young adult females use Instagram, posting pictures with hashtags which alert Instagram users to their specific interests. Heathens have also begun to use Instagram and in order to better understand this new feature of the religious movement I interviewed fifteen Instagram account owners whom I identified by three factors.

1. Their use of three or more of the following hashtags: #norsewitch #heathengirl #seidr #volva #galdr #norsepagan #heathensofInstagram #witch #runes #viking #shamanism #witchesofInstagram
2. Their personal identification as Heathen, Asatru, Norse Pagan, or otherwise expressing spiritual belief in a Nordic mythology.
3. The account had at least 500 followers, indicating the likelihood of having an impact on Heathens, Pagans, and sympathetic individuals.

My focus is to document the processes and dynamics of Instagram as a medium for religious communication from the point of view of producers of religious content: the alpha Instagram account owners. The data shows that these young females apply significant theological thought in their posts and most have a strong sense of responsibility to teach others about Heathenry. The data departs from previous research on Instagram and Heathenry in that the account owners appear to have altruistic motives in the first instance and an affirmative non-political epistemology in the second.

 

Pomegranate 21.1 Published—Table of Contents

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies

Issue 21.1 (2019) table of contents

Articles
Fallen Soldiers and the Gods: Religious Considerations in the Retrieval and Burial of the War Dead in Classical Greece
Sarah L. Veale

Attitudes Towards Potential Harmful Magical Practices in Contemporary Paganism – A Survey
Bethan Juliet Oake

Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism
Giovanna Parmigiani

The Ethics of Pagan Ritual
Douglas Ezzy

“The Most Powerful Portal in Zion” – Kursi: The Spiritual Site that Became an Intersection of Ley-lines and Multicultural Discourses
Marianna Ruah-Midbar Shapiro , Adi Sasson

Book Reviews-open access
Stephen Edred Flowers, The Northern Dawn: A History of the Reawakening of the Germanic Spirit. Vol. 1, From the Twilight of the Gods to the Sun at Midnight
Jefferson F. Calico

Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson, and Peter Åkerbäck, Children in Minority Religions: Growing Up in Controversial Religious Groups
Carole M. Cusack

Ronald Hutton, The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present
Chas S. Clifton

Scottish Academic: Runes are Hate Symbols, also Anti-Celtic

A free download from the journal Temenos: “Pagans, Nazis, Gaels, and the Algiz Rune: Addressing Questions of Historical Inaccuracy, Cultural Appropriation, and the Arguable Use of Hate Symbols at the Festivals of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society”

The abstract:

Although Beltaners – members of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society (BFS) – can trace the immediate origins of their society’s festivals to the collaborative efforts of anarchist performance artists and folklorists reacting against the Thatcherite government policies of the late 1980s, the ritual celebrations they routinely re-enact in the present ultimately derive from much older traditions associated with Scotland’s highly minoritised Gaelic-speaking population, a cohort to which few modern Beltaners belong. Performers at today’s festivals often incorporate runes into their regalia – a practice which does not reflect Gaelic tradition, but which is not unknown among ideologues of the far right. This paper interrogates rune use at BFS festivals, asking whether the employment of Germanic cultural elements in Celtic festivals by non-Celtic-speakers represents a distortion of history and debasement of an embattled ethnic minority, and whether it is ethically acceptable for an explicitly anti-racist organisation to share a symbolic repertoire with representatives of known hate groups.

Based on data derived from fieldwork consisting chiefly of participant observation and on the consultation of relevant academic literature, this paper evaluates the potentially problematic nature of BFS ritual performers’ rune use and related behaviours by analysing the intentions that underlie their actions, the consequences that have resulted from them, and the historical interaction of runes, ethnonationalism, and the occult that has shaped perceptions of runic meaning among those who use runes in modern times.

The runes may be part of your spiritual practice, or maybe you enjoy their literary history, but watch out: Adam Dahmer thinks that they are “problematic.”

Sunne [feminine], Light of the World

At one time, we had a book on the Sun as feminine (as in much of the old Germanic tradition) in the pipeline for the Equinox Publishing Pagan studies series. That did not work out, for complicated reasons. Meanwhile, enjoy the video, which is especially interesting if you are used to the Father Sun/Lady Moon dichotomy.

And I have been listening to Wolcensmen a lot of late. Here is their YouTube channel.

Publishing Thoughts after AAR-SBL 2018

Nothing gladdens an editor’s heart like seeing an author with his new book. Here Jefferson Calico talks about Being Viking: Heathenisn in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, who also presented a paper in a Contemporary Pagan Studies session.

I got so busy with the “Season of the Witch(crap)” series that I wrote nothing about last month’s joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.[1]The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

The meeting this year was in Denver for the first time since 2001. Although I live in Colorado, I visit Denver only once or twice a year, and when I do, I feel like a country mouse in the urban canyons. There was a time when I sold print advertising up there once or twice a month and was pretty familiar with the central areas, but so much has changed, that my memories are palimpsests, and I have to learn its geography all over again. That restaurant that I remember as moderately priced is now more expensive, and they don’t have any tables available.

That said, if you are a meeting planner, Denver’s convention center is easy to navigate, is withing about four blocks of thousands of hotel rooms, and also within a short walk from many restaurants, so that 10,000 hungry intellectuals discharged into the city center can find places to eat lunch.

And you can take an Amtrak train (or a commuter train from the airport) into the city center and then ride a free shuttle bus into the hotel district. M. and I drove, however, handing our mud-splattered Jeep over to the hotel parking valet for the duration.

But enough boosterism. I was there with a light heart: I am no longer co-chair of the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit, and I had no obligations to anyone about anything, not to mention no obligation to attend the 7:15 a.m. chairs’ breakfast (yawn) or the tense negotiations of the steering committees’ reception, where, drink in hand and shouting in someone’s ear, you attempt to arrange joint sessions for the following year.

Thank you, term limits!

Instead, I went to sessions and talked to authors, coming away with a possible two books for the Equinox series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism and a contribution to an editing collection that is in progress. I will not name these, because I do not wish to jinx them.  The series, I should say, has published more than one book as it has moved from publisher to publisher, but after a merger and a de-merger, we had to re-set the meter to zero. Long story.

I also came away with plans for a guest-edited issue of The Pomegranate  on
Traditionalism and Paganism. I had always though of Traditionalism as concerned mainly with esoteric approaches to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but there is also Pagan or Pagan-friendly version, largely traceable back to the French philosopher Alain de Benoist.

And then we get into some very tricky territory. Here there be dragons.

Soon I will post all the “calls for papers” for three special issues of The Pomegranate, each with a well-qualified editor, and if you are working in any one those areas, I hope that you will get in touch.

Notes

Notes
1 The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

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.