Race, Sexual Orientation and Germanic Heathenry: a call for a Moratorium
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I am very aware that divergent attitudes toward the issues of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in contemporary Heathendom have resulted in the creation of two virtually separate Heathen communities over the past decade. In this article, I am going to take the radical step of suggesting that the whole thing has been a ridiculous and destructive waste of time for all sides (there are more than two sides in these matters, please see the Scale of Racial and Cultural Tolerance aka "The Jarnsaxa Scale" by Jarnsaxa-Fálki Geraldsdottir from: http://marklander.ravenbanner.com/jarnsaxa%20scale.html for a detailed exploration of the race and Heathenry issue) and that the whole matter should for that reason simply be dropped and an informal “moratorium” be declared against thrashing it to death any more than it already has been!
First of all, the whole “race” issue has gotten us a ton of badly unwanted and unneeded negative publicity. This makes it all the more difficult for individual Heathens and Heathen households in the process of for want of a better term “coming out” about their religious faith to family, co-workers, community, etc. It has also made things much harder on individuals and groups who come to our Gods in prison (11,000 in North America alone and rapidly growing) and on those of us who in one capacity or another are involved in ministry to them.
In addition, the whole “tempest in a teapot” has been “much ado about nothing” from the get-go. This finally dawned on me a bit over a year ago when I attended the annual Moot of one of the most inclusive, non-discriminatory Ásatrú groups there is. The Moot was about 95% “white” which is whiter than many of us Heathens, even “folkish” ones, at least in Vinland, where people from all over the world have been bedding down together for over half a millennium and where family trees have often been edited for expediency’s sake! The rest of the folks at that Moot were of mixed Anglo ancestry and thoroughly “Anglo” in culture and outlook, and would have not raised any hackles back in the old days, considering how many Scandinavians married funny-looking, acting, and talking Saami women, plus women of widely varying appearances from all over the place that they had brought back in raids.
In any case, in regard to the occasional non-“Anglo” in Heathenry, seems to me that the best thing to do is sit back, chill out and let time tell. Like any other newcomer to Heathenry, these folks will either establish viable relationships with the Gods or eventually go looking somewhere else. Ásatrú is pretty much self-screening in the long run.
The same can just as validly be said for the issue of sexual orientation in Heathenry today. First of all, whatever your opinion on non-heterosexuals in Heathenry, it would be a good thing to take a look at the following articles for a good overview of how our ancestors actually saw things of this sort: http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/gayvik.htm (very scholarly and thorough) and http://www.hrafnar.org/seidh/sex-status-seidh.html (a lore error or two pops up but very insightful and written by a Heathen). This should avoid two extreme and heavily politicized pitfalls: the ultra-left “Frey the Gay” nonsense, which I keep hearing about but have yet to actually find, and the far-right “sink ‘em all in bogs” excuse for violent homophobia. One thing that keeps popping up is that you didn’t necessarily lose esteem from raping another man, but you did lose it if another man raped you. I think the modern idea that there is no shame in being raped but much shame in being a rapist is a decided improvement over some of the attitudes our ancestors held (and that some of our contemporaries still hold).
You’d be amazed at some of the rumors going around on the topic of sexual orientation and some Heathen groups. I remember a few years around that a Heathen college student was advised to avoid a non-discriminatory Moot because it would look like “Gay Pride Day.” What a joke! The gay Heathens there were like me, i.e. non-flamboyant and not wearing their sexuality on their sleeves. Most of them I wouldn’t have known were also gay if I hadn’t known them for years. It was a mellow, jeans and t-shirt event and no overt sexual prowling of any sort was in evidence (contrast that with most Neopagan gatherings)! Again, it was a situation of much bad publicity generated for no real reason.
Yes, that’s the way it really is. There is a small and thoroughly assimilated non-white and mixed-ancestry minority in Ásatrú, and I don’t think that is ever really going to change. This religion due to its historical roots will almost certainly remain an overwhelmingly “Anglo” phenomenon. From the brouhaha raised by the “save the white race and save Ásatrú for it” crowd, you’d think that there were East L.A. and Harlem kindreds with five hundred members each. I wish! The values would probably do them some good. From the anti-gay rants put out by some Heathens, you’d think that half the people in urban gay pride marches had Thorshammers on! It ain’t happenin’, so maybe folks need to relax and chill out a bit. At the same time, from the amount of effort put out by some of the more inclusive Ásatrú groups to wear their policies on their shirtsleeves, you would think that tons of gay and non-white would-be Heathens were out there and unable to find groups, mentors, etc. This of course is equally untrue. There are plenty of non-discriminatory groups and individuals available to help such seekers, which are in any case in very modest numbers.
Of course, this leaves begging the important question of what to do about the fact that Heathens today have all sorts of opinions and comfort levels about non-whites and gays in our religion. What to do? I suggest simply to clearly but politely label one’s group, such as “This kindred does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.” or “This is a kindred for heterosexual, politically conservative white Heathens of Northern European ancestry only.” Display the statement prominently (and proudly) on your website, flyers, etc. Of course, positions between these two criteria are certainly possible. Plain honesty from the very beginning is the best way to go, so that misunderstandings and consequent hurt feelings are avoided. People know what they are going into, and according to Hávamál that’s a fine thing indeed! People running groups can thus practice simple honesty without apologizing for how they view things. While I personally think that trying to keep non-whites and non-straights out of one’s Ásatrú group (plenty of folks in both groups can and do “pass” so there’s no guarantee that you will in fact succeed) is rather narrow-minded, it is still wrong to try to pressure people into bringing into their spiritual space individuals with whom they would feel acutely uncomfortable. This benefits neither the group leaders nor the potential members.
Reality check: most local Heathen groups have fewer than ten members and meet in someone’s living room. If you don’t feel comfortable with having certain people or categories of people in that living room, there is no need to apologize. Your social attitudes and comfort zones are your own business, or more precisely are between you and the Gods. Just state politely the requirements for membership in your group in plain English (or whatever your country’s language may be) and go on from there. No need to go into tirades or insult people with whom you may disagree. You won’t change anyone’s mind that way and surely you can find something else better to do with your valuable time.
This basic courtesy and politeness can go a long way and contribute much to the well-being of Greater Heathenry. If nothing else, by being good neighbors despite the good and at times rather tight fences we choose to erect between us, we are in the position to refer people who would not fit into our group but would in someone else’s. Everyone wins in such a situation!
There are more than enough Heathen wars going on (they seem to peak about every four years), and while snit-fits and verbally sniping at people can admittedly be great fun, the price is just too high in the long run. It has been that way since the “old days” and was one reason that Christianity won to begin with. The Heathens of the time were too busy with their little squabbles to worry about the fact that the Roman church was creeping closer and closer. In the end, the banner of the cross was even flying over back end of nowhere Greenland and there was nothing left to squabble over.
If we Heathens living today strive to not just act like but actually be mature, responsible, polite and honest adults, we will benefit all Heathens everywhere and certainly outdo the various Christian sects, most of which seem to be self-destructing these days. So, make some popcorn, pour yourself some mead, and leave your fellow Heathen with whom you disagree alone so you can both watch the fun and fireworks as the enemies of our Troth enthusiastically rip themselves and each other to shreds. Truly, this is a fine time in which to be a Heathen!
last modified 09/01/2004