My Take on
the "Folkish" Matter
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(First published in "Marklander" Magazine)
I have read with great interest the discussion of "Folkish" Asatru in Marklander magazine. I have given the whole topic quite a bit of thought, and here are my ideas: I'm not sure I qualify as "Folkish" or not. Take a look at where I'm coming from and see what you think! Folkishness tends to focus on why people join Heathenism. Folkish Folks seem to vary somewhat on what reason(s) should figure into the selection of a Pagan religious path. All see ancestry as important. Some think it should be the primary factor. As for me, I didn't pick this religion; it picked me! At the very least the Gods made the first move. They showed up when I was in a Catholic seminary, and I underwent what in retrospect was the Spear Wound and the Hanging on Yggdrasil. I've also heard it described as a "spiritual emergency" and a "shamanic initiation crisis. Within a year and a half I had left seminary, come out of the closet as a gay man, and turned Pagan. Eventually, I dedicated myself to the Heathen path exclusively, after further prodding from the Aesir and Vanir. I had hesitated for years due to some of the scarier fringe elements on Asatru's right wing.
In any case, back to the Folkish discussion. One reason Asatru appealed to me was that I am descended substantially but by no means entirely from Anglo-Saxon English, with a sprinkle of Vikings who settled in Northwest England (village of Pennington) and the Isle of Jersey, and at least one German who settled my home county in Tennessee in the Revolutionary War period. All this added to the appeal of Heathenism for me. However, it was not the only factor. There are a lot of Scots-Irish in the family tree as well. The Scots-Irish are Lowland Scots (read Celt/Saxon/Viking mix, later mixed with "native" Irish) who settled in Northern Ireland in the 17th century and later moved to America. Those who didn't gave rise to Northern Ireland's Protestant community. Add to that a generous dollop of Welsh, and enough Cherokee (well established) and African-American (highly suspected) to make my dad's high school nickname "Gandhi" and you've got: me! Thus, from the point of view of ancestry, Heathenism was one option for me, but certainly not the only one!
Folkishness also values culture. I find culture a great way to enrich my Heathen experience, and tend to focus on foods, brewing, and folk music and dance, mostly from England and Lowland Scotland, with a bit of Scandinavian for variety. Enrichment is not the same thing as necessary to. I find these activities a meaningful way to connect with (some) of my ancestors, but these things are learned, cultural behavior, not expressions of genetics! I'm not sure why so much fuss has been made with the goal in mind of keeping non-Caucasians out of Asatru. It seems like a waste of time to me All other factors being equal, this religion is far more likely to appeal to a Swedish-American than a Chinese-American anyway! That is not surprising and I have no problem with that. The relatively few individuals of non-European extraction who join our religion are probably here for very good reasons. I view them as seasoning for the Heathen pot, so to speak: a source of new ideas and fresh perspectives that will help our religion to be a truly living one and continue to evolve. In any case, Heathenism is pretty much self-screening anyway. Individuals who establish a meaningful relationship with the Gods will stay in Heathenry, even if they just got off the boat from Asia or Africa. Those who fail to establish a working relationship with the Aesir and Vanir will leave, even if they just got off the boat from Iceland! So why create such an ugly mess (and horrific public relations) by trying to keep the ethnically non-European out of Asatru? I understand someone has just started a "Heathens against Universalism." What a tempest in a teapot! I'm not surprised we get some "Native Americans" and "African-Americans" in Asatru. Most members of both these groups have been substantially absorbed into America's English-derived dominant culture. Most by now are partly of Northern European descent as well. I do some Heathen work with a black gentleman here in Kentucky. He is more Christian than anything else, but does some Yoruba and Asatru work. I'm not surprised he finds Asatru appealing. One of his great-grandfathers was a German who moved to Kentucky and eventually married a black lady! He does Freya spells when his love life falters, and they work just dandy; even though he is not only black but gay as well! Hopefully he'll eventually sign on the dotted line with Heathenism. Christianity is the last thing he (or anyone else, in my honest opinion) needs. Yoruba: 20K plus a pile of sacrificed animals; and he'll still hit a glass ceiling because he's gay. He needs to realize which side his bread is buttered on, so to speak! Hispanics? They are partially descended from the Germanic Visigoths and darn proud of it! Everybody else? Most are either partly of Germanic descent or tend to get absorbed into Anglo-America in a few generations. For some of these folks' descendants, that absorption will include joining Asatru!
One thing that SOME Folkish Heathens do that gets on my nerves is try to keep gay people out of Heathenism. That's just plain silly. Most of us MORE than pull our weight. What the community loses by the fact we are less likely to have offspring we more than make up by getting the word out on Heathenism, teaching people, etc. That's a more cost-effective way to crank out new Heathens than reproduction anyway! My own impression of self-identified "Folkish" Heathens is that they vary widely. Some are honest social conservatives. I certainly would not rule out working with individual Heathens just because they belong to a Folkish Heathen group. Others hold some ideas that to my thinking are pretty odd. The whole "Kennewick Man" business simply makes no sense to me. I don't see how it fits into Heathenism at all, at least as I understand Heathenism. Despite a number of very pleasant experiences with Folkish Heathens, I nevertheless must stress that there are some real scary racist types out there who use the label "Folkish Asatru." My understanding that the Incarcerated Heathen population (almost all male) is mostly (but by no means entirely) composed of racists, including some violent ones. One of the little creeps that dragged a black man to death in Jasper Texas is a self-proclaimed "Odinist." If the leftist fringes of Asatru be filled with harmless but embarrassing and annoying fluffy and silly "Unie" (Lavrans' term) types, then the right fringe has its own extremist wackos, many of them physically dangerous or potentially so. I once got a strange letter from an American overseas proclaiming Asatru "a religion for the white man only" and seeking to enlist others to revive the Confederate cause under the banner of Heathenism!
last modified 07/21/2003