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This letter is a comment to an article published by Garman Lord of Theod in the issue of Marklander Magazine that came out in late September 2001 (#55 = Vol VII, No. 7).
I just read Garman Lord's "Asatru and the Concept of Clergy" in the latest Marklander (# 55, ie. vol. VII, no. 7) and have a number of comments.
First of all, Garman is in a potentially good position to offer good comments and suggestions to Asatru. Theod, his variety of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, is close enough to Scandinavian-rooted Asatru for his observations to be relevant, but distant enough for there to be an outsider's perspective. His views on Asatru could thus offer "the best of both worlds," as it were.
However, he doesn't do a very good job in his article of making friends and influencing people in the Asatru community. Calling a religion a "primitive proto-religion" is hardly likely to get its practitioners to turn a sympathetic ear, or eye for that matter, in your direction. It is a good way to get folks to turn the page and read something else, and I nearly did at that point.
Garman is indeed correct to note that "religion" has its roots in a Latin term meaning to tie together again. He posits that the elements being retied, or perhaps better said having those ties maintained and strengthened since we Heathens don't believe in a primordial fall from grace with our Gods, are the Gods on one hand and the community (of Heathens) on the other. However, he does not offer any reasons that these two elements are the only possible ones. It could just as easily be the individual and the Gods, the individual and his/her patron God or Goddess, or the household and its ancestral spirits (Disir and Alfar in some folk's interpretation of these two terms).
Garman makes much of the idea that the Gods wanting a clergy invoke them. I always get a tad twitchy when people start saying that they are speaking for the Gods. If I had wanted that, I would have remained a Roman Catholic! For my part, I will simply state that I have witnessed powerful blots as a solo practitioner, as part of a small group, and as part of a large group led by a trained clergyman or woman. "Old-Time" Heathenism had solitary (the old Heathen in Vinland on one of the voyages there who gets a whale to eat from invoking Thor during a time of famine), family (Tacitus' account of the paterfamilias conducting a rune casting for his family) and group (the state-run centralized temple sacrifices at Gamla Uppsala in Sweden) worship attested to in the surviving lore, and that hasn't changed in contemporary practice.
Garman seems significantly concerned with the Gods becoming offended at their worshippers if they do not maintain a clergy to invoke them as they wish. Sounds rather childish to me, and I haven't experienced our Elder Kin as petty at all. It's obvious that they can even take a joke! For evidence, just look at the Eddaic poem "Lokasenna"! There is a little booklet out called "The Odin Brotherhood." Much of it strikes me as sheer nonsense, but it has some very pithy statements which contain much truth. One of them is "Beware of Gods who cannot laugh."
When it boils right down to it; the Gods need us about as much as we need them in order to get our respective goals accomplished.. Most Heathens seem to see the goals or tasks of the Gods, and perhaps of Humanity as a whole, as being to maintain the Cosmos and its evolution by postponing Ragnarok and helping Humanity to move forward (recall the Eddaic poem "Rigsthula").
Yes, the Gods can certainly get disgusted and ditch a worshipper or even a group thereof, and may well do so from time to time. That's their business, but I'll bet that when it happens it's not because they didn't like the way those folks set up their liturgies or because they refused to have or acknowledge a clergy. Even Jehovah, that least tolerant of Deities, seems to be just fine with everything from High Mass to Holy Roller revival meetings coming at him from his Christian worshippers!
Additionally, in a religion such as ours, the Gods don't hold all the cards. The dissatisfied worshipper can go elsewhere too! Most of us know of at least one prominent Asatruer who eventually did just that. We aren't monotheists, nor is "our" pantheon the only one around. The relationship between Heathen Folks and the Aesir and Vanir is a two-way street. Both sides can go it alone, but do much better together and each side respects and acknowledges that.
Of all Garman's statements, the one I most strongly disagree with is the one that "the Gods don't usually answer individual prayers, but quite often answer communal ones." Not only my own personal experiences over the past eight and a half years, but also those of virtually every practicing Heathen with whom I have worked closely during that time go completely against this statement.
Nevertheless, I do agree with Garman that Asatru will grow more "communal" over time. When there are more of us, and we are spread less thin than we are now, this will happen very naturally. Despite our fractious nature, and the way we treat each other as a result, we are growing rapidly and I don't see that changing anytime soon. However, there will be more than one Asatru community. We are simply too diverse, not only theologically, but socially, ethically and politically as well, for anything else to happen.
These future Asatru communities will probably also be more stable and peaceful than is currently the case. I've long wondered why there are so many, so frequent, and such vehement conflicts in the Heathen community. While Heathenism has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams I had when I "converted," Heathens at least as often as not have been a decided disappointment. The best answer I've found so far comes from Jenny Blain, and is that we are so few, and so scattered, that when we find co-religionists in our area we get way too close, way too quick. This works for about a year and a half on average, until the "honeymoon" is over and the new of the relationships wears off, then it becomes apparent that in many cases all the folks involved have in common is the same pantheon of Deities, and that isn't enough in the long run. All Hel breaks loose. We longtime Heathens have seen it all time and time again.
As for clergy, we already have them, and have had them for years. Those who need and want clergy will seek us out; others will do fine on their own, with no hard feelings from me at least. While over the past year I decided I no longer want nor need a formal clergy title, I'm still clergy. I led a blot for a group of local Heathens Friday night. That's small group community, with me as clergy. I go to Moots of The Troth, the Heathen group I am active in, participate in its email list, and write for Idunna, its magazine. That's a larger community situation with myself as a community facilitator though not formally recognized clergy. When I visit my kin at Yule, I'll do a blot with them, since several now are Heathen or strongly leaning that way. (YES!) That's family worship, with me as de facto head of the family. Before I go to bed tonight, I'll pour a libation for Frey, my patron. That's solo worship.
I am a godhi, a seidhmadhr, and a runester. While the godhi or gydhja is certainly clergy, sometimes the work of seidhfolk and runesters has clerical applications as well. I don't see any of these as better than the other; in fact, they all dovetail quite nicely and mutually compliment each other.
I'd like to close my musings on Asatru and clergy, with all due respect to Garman Lord, with a quote from William Bainbridge in his article "On Constructing and Deconstructing Heathen Clergy," which appeared in the same issue of Marklander as did Garman's article "Asatru and the Concept of Clergy": "Theodism seems to work differently, but their completely different set of relationships creates a completely different dynamic where clergy is concerned."
Despite the fact we worship substantially the same pantheon; Asatru and Theodism are surprisingly different both theologically and socially. It doesn't surprise me that the relationship between the two faiths has been mostly rocky, but I welcome the renewed contact between them taking place in the pages of Marklander. Like it or not, we are each other's closest kin, so we really can't ignore each other in the long run. Hopefully, this time our contact will be more productive!
last modified 03/13/2004