by Ragnar 128!
[Before I start I will make two classificatory remarks, the first relates to the term Ásatrú, the second relates to the conceptual tools that this essay employs.]Firstly, the etymology of the word Ásatrú is not all that relevant to its content - as a word it was applied by individuals outside of the tradition (anthropologist who took an interest in the revival of the Old ways in Iceland) to refer to people who were already engaged in revitalizing their Elder ways and the term has somehow stuck. That the word itself is inadequate to the task of describing the breadth of our tradition has long been recognized, but most significant in this regard is the fact that it only seems to refer to one portion of the mythical family of the Gods, the Æsir. This itself is not entirely accurate as the term Æsir was also loosely applied to all the Gods - hence in this respect Ásatrú does seem to encompass the full range of the Teutonic Pantheon. On the other hand being tru is not just about showing troth to the Gods, it is also about showing troth to one's ancestors, one's tradition and also one's community. Regardless of the etymological debate as a marker of social practice, however, the term Ásatrú seems to serve its function well and so while it must be recognized that in many respects its semantic content exceeds its etymology many have accepted it. Given this premise I will not discuss the etymology of the word in the following essay as when I refer to Ásatrú I will be referring to something that exceeds this terms etymological content. As for my own personal preferences I would rather talk about Northern European Folk Ways or, more problematically, the Northern Folk Tradition or, even more problematically, the Teutonic Folk Tradition.
Secondly, I must point out that in crafting this essay I have borrowed a variety of conceptual tools from various academic disciplines and methodologies. These tools have been deployed to suit my own purposes in this essay and in some places this results in an application of them which is novel and perhaps unfamiliar. Also it must be born in mind that the use of these conceptual tools does not imply any commitment by the author to the discourses in which they have originated - it merely indicates that the author has been able to deploy those tools towards his own purpose. In other words, while I use some of the concepts of sociology - I am not a sociologist, while I use some of the concepts of psychology - I am not a psychologist, while I use the concepts of Marxist critical theory - I am not a Marxist. In fact I am against sociological reduction, psychological reduction and I am definitely against all forms of totalitarian political agendas. These tools are here used as means towards an end.
Many feel that Ásatrú is, first and foremost, a religion. Some may consider it to be a New Religious Movement - like Wicca - and others may consider it to be a revival of a religion that was destroyed through Christian cultural imperialism. Now in my own understanding this is a mistake or at the very least a simplistic reduction - and one that I find particularly limiting. I prefer to think of Ásatrú as a Folk Tradition, and as such I feel that it embraces a far wider field of social action than what we mean when we talk about religion. By referring to Ásatrú as a Folk Tradition one expands the semantic field to that of the full range of cultural manifestations of a Folk - to the full range of social actions of a people. This includes not only religion, but history, art, politics, magic, music and dance; it includes craft techniques, martial crafts and attitudes to child rearing, and so on. As you can see, the field here is far broader than that of religion; in fact, it covers all social action. Ásatrú is not a religion, Ásatrú is a way of knowing, doing and being, it is a way of life which is anchored in a form of cultural consciousness.
Religion is an important aspect of culture - Ásatrú included - and while atheism is common in Western secular society we must also acknowledge the importance of religion to the general social web of modern life. One must remember, however, that depending on the nature of the culture in question religion is not necessarily a discrete phenomenon - that is, religion is not necessarily self-contained and isolatable from other cultural features. In fact some scholars would say that religion is never a discrete phenomenon, but that point is arguable. It can be safely stated, however, that our ancestors were not secularists and it is predominantly in secularized society that religion emerges as a more or less discrete cultural manifestation. This is evidenced in our tradition by the nature of the Goðar whose role was not solely religious but also political and social (our Goðar were not mere priests, and if one where looking for a more accurate analogy to illustrate their role, then the New Guinea tribal term “Big Men” would perhaps be more appropriate). In any case for our ancestors there was no strict division between religion and politics, or religion and education, or even religion and morality. Most importantly, there was no division between religion and magic. Hence, for example, when one considers our ancestral assemblies in a holistic fashion one realizes that those assemblies were not only politico-legal events but also had important religious elements, social elements, martial and mercantile elements and so on - in fact more or less a full range of cultural phenomena were manifested during the period of the summer assemblies.
In most societies that have not undergone a process of secularization one will find that religious elements permeate throughout the range of cultural manifestations. This is not meant to be taken to imply that our ancestors were completely obsessed with religion for clearly they were not, it merely means that at the phenomenological level their world was one that was understood in terms which had some resonance with the sacred. Items such as a spear would automatically and almost unconsciously bring to mind a string of associations that would never reach the level of explicit thoughts; it would be simply understood to be what it was. There would be no need to mention that the spear was the weapon of Odhinn or the emblem of the assembly or the sign of manhood, as all these associations would just be too fundamental to ever become explicit for our ancestors. Those objects that we are most conscious of as the sacred symbols of our folk would have been encountered by our ancestors in a completely different sense for the items were part of a web of meaning and relations into which our ancestors were born. Today, we can hope to internalize the meaning of these symbols but it must be remembered that it is not likely that many of us will ever experience things in exactly the same way as did our forebears. Hence, we cannot and should not hide from the possibility that our relation to the tradition will vary from theirs, that our interpretation will bear the marks of modernity.
What is important is not to completely mirror our ancestral culture, but to come into an understanding of that culture which reactivates its symbols and its deep values, thus revitalizing the current “modern” way of life. In this way we begin to comprehend that the deep values of our ancestral culture are not dead values, but ones which have been marginalized over a long period of time - and that current values have won their hegemonic status by overwhelming those earlier values. In other words, we become able to question modern values, and to open up our ancestral ways as real possibilities. Through reactivating our ancestral culture, we provide ourselves an alternate way of acting towards the world - one which resonates with our ancestral past. We do not turn the clock back by trying to return to some arbitrary point in the past, rather, we acknowledge that there are other ways forward than the one we have been following for the past few centuries, that discarded possibilities are not dead possibilities, and that in our traditional ways we might find a way of entering into a more adequate relationship to the world and its peoples.
The meaning we give our symbols will possibly never be quite the same as it was for our ancestors. This is a fact that we must accept. For our ancestors, religion was a vital part of the life-world; it was part of the stuff of life, it was not a separate phenomenon. Religion permeated through all levels of life. It was integrated into their culture, not discretely, but as “there,” or present in their world. So even if one was only interested in the religious aspects of Ásatrú, one would still have to make a more holistic study. One would have to gain some sense of how religion extended beyond the Vé and into the life-world, one would have to go beyond the myths and those practices which we today choose to define as religious and into the larger experience of our ancestors. Hence I choose to reject the understanding of Ásatrú which sees it as primarily religious in favor of understanding. It is the Folk tradition of, broadly and inexactly speaking, the Teutonic people. I see our tradition as one that seeks to develop an understanding of our ancestral culture, which in turn leads to a closer relationship to our ancestors and hence to ourselves. I think that I am not only well justified in this interpretation but I feel that other interpretations are inherently incoherent and flawed.
This brings us to the next issue - In what, then, does Ásatrú consist? For me Ásatrú is not just about giving Blotar to the Gods. Blotar are important elements of the troth, but for me a far greater part of the troth is being true to one's ancestral spirit through researching one's ancestral life ways - getting in touch with one's ancestors and their practices. In part this involves understanding that pre-eminent vehicle of culture - language. Here I am not just referring to the ancient Teutonic languages, but also the modern living tongues such as German, Swedish, Danish, English and so on. These to me are just as important as the Elder tongues, since with these languages one can begin to communicate with one's kin throughout the world, forging unity amongst Ásatrúar everywhere.
For me, being Ásatrú is all about understanding the Teutonic culture and thought - not just about embracing Viking and pre-Christian Teutonic culture, but also observing how that culture has expressed itself throughout history in all its manifestations. This includes looking at the way that culture has adapted to change, considering aspects of cultural continuity and discontinuity, and trying as best as one can to understand social, historical and political forces involved in these changes. It involves considering the way that culture adapted to the environmental changes of migration from the old world to the new, and its relationship to the cultures that it encountered in this transition. In other words, I view understanding the way our culture has changed and adapted as an important vehicle to comprehending our culture more generally - the key to cultural understanding is sensitivity to context.
In this regard, one can consider the changes that occur in one aspect of a culture - say, the religious shift of the German people from the Elder ways to Christianity - in light of the different historical and social forces at play in that shift. In the case of the meeting of Christianity and the Germanic world, such a study demonstrates that the process was two-way, and that one is just as correct in talking of a Germanicization of Christianity as a Christianization of the Germans. I find this not only lessens my hostility to Christianity but also strengthens my love for the Elder ways of my ancestors.
This analysis also shows me that in marginalizing one aspect of our culture - our ancestral religion - we closed off a range of possibilities for our culture. The culture still exists today yet it exists in a transformed state, for in taking up certain possibilities we have eliminated others. Let me illustrate: In taking up Christianity we have marginalized our Elder ways, in taking up secularism we have left a more organic and holistic notion of culture, in embracing a scientific attitude to the world we have (as thinkers such as Nietzsche, Weber, Heidegger, Horkheimer and Adorno have shown) taken up an attitude towards nature which is demystifying and reductive. None of the above are intrinsically bad, they are merely value choices. Their cumulative effects, however, are a different matter.
Most importantly, by embracing the monoculture of globalism we have in fact embraced the culture destroying, value destroying morass of mass consumerism where the isolated individual is the fundamental social unit. This is a completely different form of individualism from that known by our ancestors. In accepting the monoculture not only we Teutonic folk but also many other peoples have left behind the heart of culture and the capacity to think beyond the basic ego needs of the individual. The isolated individual of modernity is an impoverished one - not the shining product of cultivation, not the highest manifestation of the spirit of the folk, but a narcissistic egotist whose selfish needs are both the product and the target of the forces of mass consumption. Egotism and ego insecurity are a mark of modernity, and so too are those institutions that reify and pamper this egotism - be they magico-religious or secular-political institutions.
Our adoption of the globalist monoculture is also a value choice, much like those discussed earlier. For some reason we seem to have chosen to value mass consumerism, yet in this decision and perhaps also in the others mentioned above, we must ask whether there have been factors at play which have been pushing society in this direction. I think that in our tendency towards valuing consumerist society there have been subtle psychological pressures exerted by forces that seek to benefit from our consumption. The consequences of embracing the above possibilities over those possibilities that have been left behind are, I feel, felt most particularly by my own generation (generation X) and will be felt even more acutely by my children's generation (generation WHY?). But I am digressing.
To return to my topic - I see Ásatrú as a vehicle to reactivate and revivify the ways of my ancestors, and a way to show that in rejecting the cultural possibilities that our forebears offered we have suffered a real loss. Not only this, but I also feel that through embracing the values of my ancestors I am indicating to the mass of isolated and anomic individuals who scurry through the monocultural maze that there are other ways of living. I feel that I am not only pointing to what has been lost due to the marginalization of our old ways, but also pointing out that things have been otherwise in the past and that things could be otherwise again - that there are alternatives to the mono-cultural norm. I want an alternative to this modern junk culture and I see the revivification of our Folk Tradition to be (for me) the most logical alternative. I do not think that one can replace one universalizing junk culture (mass consumerism) with another universalizing junk culture (say global communism or Christianity).
I think part of the reason for modern alienation and anomie is that we live in a society which in fact has no culture at all, a society whose values are controlled by powerful elites who would live off our productivity as we voraciously consume the not-very durable “consumer durables” which are produced and fed to us. The key to the success of the global monoculture is the destruction of discrete culture and community and the reification of the individual consumer - the pathetic isolated modern individual. Discrete culture is not dead, merely living an increasingly marginalized existence in the cracks of modernity, gasping for air under a blanket of homogeneity. It would seem that discrete culture and real community are necessary victims of the benefits that have accrued from modernity, that the price we pay for our television programs and our consumer items is the coherence which community and culture bring. Yet this is not really the case, and the fact that genuine culture and community can exist in a modern world is evidenced by certain micro-communities in Europe and Asia, like the European Alpine culture of my father's people which still today preserves many of its own ways - yet even these hardy folk see their culture as under threat (I digress again).
Now due to the above points, I find that I have developed a certain hostility to eclecticism. I see eclecticism as a particular attitude towards world culture, particularly towards the religions and the various forms of mysticism that are their expression. This attitude sees world culture as something like a salad bar where one is free to pick and choose, mix this with that and combine where one sees fit. It considers the world's cultures as a standing stock of resources to be used when necessary and discarded when not. In fact, I see eclecticism as a mere manifestation of the monocultural values of modernity, having affinities with economic rationalism and other forms of reductionism, akin to consumerism. Indeed, culture today has become something of a fetish item (Here I am talking of something like the commodity fetish of Marxist critical discourse, and not sexual fetish). In this sense culture is analogous to the bright shiny packages that are found in those consumer play pens known as shopping malls: They attract the insecure and feeble minded with their phantasmagoric promises of utopian bliss, the promise of instant gratification and immediate satisfaction - “If only I could balance my Chakras - then I would be happy.” Culture is not a product, the coherence it brings cannot be bought, and as with all fetishes the fetish fades as soon as the package is unwrapped and the promise of happiness disappears with the price tag.
The fetish thus dissolves into one more item of junk that the consumer has picked up whilst trying to spend his way to happiness. Like last season's fashion it is left dormant on the shelf until we cast it off into the poor bin with a dismissive gesture - “Here, this might be of use to you, I am finished with it.” The fetish value of the product seems to disappear as soon as the fetish is gratified, yet it is immediately replaced by yet another fetish item, yet another desperate yearning which must be satiated in a desperate attempt to fill a void of meaning with things, items, ideas. The bookshelf of the New Ager is a junk pile of culture, an endless string of failed hopes and evidence of the void in meaning that typifies modern existence. Each belief system has been superseded, each fad has been used up and the confused mind moves onto the next fetish just like a magpie leaps from one bright shiny object to the next. “It wasn't my Chakras that needed balancing, what I really need is to spend some time in a sweat lodge,” or “If only I could master the runes then I would have powers beyond belief and [sigh] happiness.” My contempt for this knows no limit and yet my sympathy for those in the grip of this plight fills me with despair, as I know it is not their fault. The yawning void in their lives is not an individual phenomenon, but a cultural one - it represents the inauthentic mode of existence of the modern person. Modern life is a mass of isolated individuals existing without meaning and attempting to fill the void of meaning through the cult of our age, consumption.
I see Ásatrú as a path back from the Coca-Cola culture, where instant gratification is demanded by those eager to consume, towards something that I view as more meaningful - the culture of my ancestors. When I encounter eclecticism I am immediately repulsed - my mind flies straight to ideas of Coca-Colonization where quick fixes and quick solutions are given precedence over a slow and careful effort to overcome obstacles, where understanding how and why things were done, and internalizing that knowledge, is rejected in favor of easy solutions through mix-and-match attitudes. Most importantly I think eclecticism is an affront to the spirit of Ásatrú - which from the beginning has been an attempt to regain an understanding of our cultural ways through careful and thoughtful reconstruction. This is the heart of Ásatrú - we are returning to the ways of our ancestors through careful consideration of sources and evidence, based in the understanding that if we are going to find meaning we are best served by beginning the search at home, in our own culture, rather than seeking meaning in the cultures of others or even new religious movements like Wicca. Let's face it: Wicca is a new religious movement, one which has taken the essentially monotheistic framework of Western Esotericism and painted it with a thin pagan veneer. This is fine, there is nothing wrong with this, new religious movements have to start somewhere. I only have two concerns. Firstly, there is the problem that many of its practitioners think that their religion has something in common with pre-Christian European people, when the only commonality is the name of a couple of deities. Secondly, that in adopting the monotheistic framework of Western Esotericism that their teachings have been infected by the notion of universality.
What we refer to as “Wicca-Tru” does this with the Gods of our ancestors - it inserts their names into a context that is derived from Western Esoterica - yet at least they use the sign of the Hammer instead of the pentagram, which is essentially a symbol of monotheism. This sort of “tradition” must be questioned as it is essentially no tradition at all - it is an incoherent polyglot of symbols and discourse. Its elements are forced together, and only offer the façade of coherence. But when this incoherence presents problems or irresolvable conflicts where do its practitioners turn? Straight to the shopping mall of world culture. Conflicts in discussions of life and death are resolved through the invocation of Karma, the notion of sin is equated with the supposedly Celtic notion of the three fold law, and both are connected to the principles of Karma and Samsara. A theological hole is plugged by taking a deity from one pantheon and thrusting it into an alien context - hence it is not unusual to see the deities of the Greek, Roman and Celtic pantheons referred to in one breath as if they were part of the same religion and as if the cultures from which the deities are derived mean nothing. Supposed deficiencies in the attributes of particular deities are overcome by claiming that that God or Goddess in question has a metaphysical correspondence with one from some other pantheon who demonstrates the capacity to overcome the deficiencies of the first. In short, incoherence is overcome through a process that is something like picking through a smorgasbord...a-little-bit-of-this and a-little-bit-of-that, and don't worry about how high you pile your plate, this is an all-you-can-eat-deal.
This has very little to do with Ásatrú. Ásatrú practices have been constructed out of an engagement with sources, with archeological evidence, with sociological evidence and through anthropology. I do not claim that Ásatrú is superior to the new religious movements that have taken to calling themselves “Pagan,” but I do see it as being quite different. The program of the Ásatrúar is quite distinct from that of such groups, and this mark of distinction should be worn with pride - in the same sense that one should see one's cultural difference from others as something to be proud, rather than ashamed, of. Our difference does not make us superior, it makes us unique, it makes us what we are. Ásatrú is not some club that anyone can join so long as they pay the membership fee, it is about researching and reviving a once-living tradition, the tradition of your ancestors. Those who are not pursuing this program are not pursuing Ásatrú, they are pursuing some new religious movement with a pseudo-Teutonic aesthetic. This is what Wicca-Tru amounts to, this is what the books of Fitch, Conway, Cooper and Silver Raven-Wolf-Owl-Bear (or whatever her name is), amount to. They are not Ásatrú and hence they are not following the same project as I and those who I count as my kindred - Ásatrúar world wide. I have no interest in participating in a new religious movement with a pseudo-Teutonic aesthetic, and I certainly have no desire to enter into dialogue with them - at least not any more, as I have bashed my head against that particular wall too often in the past and am frustrated, though empathetic, with those of my kindred who have taken my place in this headache-inducing activity. What I will say against Wicca-Tru and other eclectic movements is that I feel that such movements disrespect the “products” of our culture through their slap-happy use of those products. I am constantly surprised that they never seem to understand why I feel this way. But why should someone who fails to show any cultural sensitivity be sensitive to my cultural sensitivities? Surely I am asking too much. I have no time for their pragmatic “Go with what works man!” nor their utilitarian ways. While these principles have their uses in other fields such as science or economics, whn employed in Wicca-Tru they seem to amount to sacrificing hard work and understanding in favor of quick solutions and quick fixes.
The idea that authors such as Conway and Fitch are an avenue into Ásatrú is not really one for which I have sympathy. I do realize that the first encounter with “The Northern Tradition” is likely to be through such authors, but I see this as being no reason for tolerating the cultural ignorance and disrespect I find in their works. People like Fitch, Conway and Cooper, not to mention Raven Silver-Bear-Wolf-Salmon-Owl-Cat, all know of the existence of Ásatrú. Occasionally they even reference our sources in their works, but rather than direct those interested in the “Northern Tradition” towards Ásatrú, they attempt to lure them towards practices with no basis in the Elder Troth. Instead of sticking to Wicca they go off and produce a book that integrates our myths into Wicca. This fact alone is enough for me to feel contempt for these people, for they do not want to help those interested in their ancestral ways to get in touch with those ways - they want to sell books and promote their own systems. All of this is not Ásatrú and no one involved in Ásatrú should ever equivocate on this issue. Our project is different and it has been since its inception. This is a historical fact of the modern revival of our ancestral ways: We are not dressing the Western esoteric tradition - Wicca or whatever else for that matter - in the garb of the Northern mythos, we are revivifying the ways of our folk. This we admit is a difficult task. Those who practice Wicca-Tru are not Ásatrú in any sense. From the perspective of someone who wants to reactivate the ways of their ancestors, the above-mentioned authors deserve harsh criticism and we should make no bones in telling folk that this is not Ásatrú, for it is not. This is not to say that these authors are wrong or that their systems are worthless in the absolute sense, merely that from the particular perspective of Ásatrú these works are next to valueless and serve only as an indication of what not to do.
One of the distinguishing aspects of the religious elements of our tradition is its ancestral component - and due to the relationship of religion and culture in pre-modern society, this implies that there is an important ancestral component to our culture in general. Most Wicca-Tru groups gloss over the ancestral component of the Troth. Even universalist Ásatrú groups have been inclined to only pay lip service to the ancestral elements of our tradition. This is a grave error. It is a bare and simple fact that in many respects one's ancestors are more important to Ásatrúar than the Gods themselves. Yet the distinction is problematic, for in another sense the myths and other sources show that the Gods are our ancestors. It would be a mistake not to call upon the ancestors during a Blot, and indeed we give Blotar to our ancestors in the same way that we give Blotar to the Gods. These facts are given greater significance by the Elder notion of reincarnation. Reincarnation in the Elder tradition is something which happens strictly according to ancestral lines - we are our ancestors born again, we do not return willy-nilly, but always through our ancestral lineage which of course has many branches. I am my ancestors reborn, and in my own offspring I see the rebirth of my line. This is the core teaching about rebirth in our tradition, and on this point no one should ever equivocate. It is wrong for Ásatrúar to talk of reincarnation as understood in New Age groups, as this understanding predominantly derives from Hindu and Buddhist teachings. Similar beliefs are not uncommon in tribal cultures and can be found in North African as well as New Guinean systems. Now with this in mind, the importance of ancestor worship begins to come to the fore - for if we are reincarnations of our ancestors and if the Gods are to be considered as amongst our ancestors, then we are to be considered to some degree to be incarnations of the Gods themselves. I would ask all who have not meditated on these ideas to do so, as they are vital for understanding the mysteries of reincarnation in the Ásatrú tradition.
To me this is essential to Ásatrú - for by revivifying my relationship to my ancestors I am re-awakening my proximity to the Gods themselves. One of the ultimate aspects of our mysteries is to awaken this ancestral consciousness through communication with one's Fetch. The stirring of this ancestral consciousness is the awakening of a God-like consciousness, it is the act of self-deification. This is the fundamental magical act of our tradition and is the ultimate aim of the Vitki and Eruli alike. Those Ásatrú who see themselves as on the path of the Vitki or Eruli, in other words those Ásatrú who have an interest in rune magic, must make this the ultimate goal - the most complete sense of self-knowledge and self-actualization. This seems to me to be a fundamental fact of our belief, and yet as far as I know it is a fact that very few Ásatrúar talk about on their chat sites or e-lists. Nor do I see the articulation of this idea in many Ásatrú publications. Stephen McNallen has certainly discussed this notion, Thorsson has also given this idea due attention. Yet most Ásatrúar fail to take the issue up. Few seem interested in mapping out the specific implications of awakening ancestral consciousness. I think this is due to the fact that it is a conceptually difficult notion, and one that seems to reinforce the folkish nature of our belief, and hence this idea lies like one more discarded possibility. This is a failure to understand the heart of our tradition, for the ancestors are this heart. Even if one does not feel comfortable with the idea of awakening ancestral consciousness in one's self, or with the idea of self-deification, one needs to acknowledge that the ancestral component of the troth were vital to our culture in ancient times. We cannot conceal the fact that ancestor worship was essential to our traditional ways by ignoring it and pretending it did not exist simply because we have a hard time coming to terms with its folkish implications. Ásatrú is not about sanitizing the Elder ways, it is about coming to understand those who have gone before us; and part of this is coming to understand the importance of ancestry to our forebears . In my view, if an individual has no sympathy for the ancestral aspects of Ásatrú then our tradition is simply not the right one for him or her. Any form of Ásatrú that neglects this ancestral component fails to come to terms with a substantial portion of our ancestral ways and hence is not really Ásatrú at all.
Most of those who belittle ancestry in the Troth do so on ideological lines, claiming that it leads to racist notions. The idea that we are descendants of the Gods and that we reincarnate within our line is interpreted as promoting some notion of racial superiority. Itt does not, and the idea that it does arises from a level of consciousness which has not transcended the dichotomy of cultural consciousness - but I am jumping ahead of myself and I will return to more prosaic matters. Many religions have elements which could be considered racist; for example, in Judaism the notion that the Jews are God's chosen people. Taken against the background of the idea that there is only one God, this seems to lock the majority of the world out of a relationship with the Divine. This is not to say that the Jews are racist, it merely indicates the Jewish sense of self. Similarly, the Elder notion of reincarnation claims that we are descended from our Gods; it is a mark of our particularity as a Folk and it is a positive marker of our difference. Yet just as the Jewish notion of being God's chosen people can be interpreted as racist, we must also recognize the same possibility in our own tradition of ancestral rebirth and divine descent.
In a sense, one has to acknowledged the potential for our tradition being interpreted as having racist elements, as indeed ancestral or cultural consciousness can manifest through racist claims of superiority. Yet we should not forget that this is not the only way ancestral or cultural awareness can manifest. If one manifestation of ancestral consciousness is a racist and bigoted sense of superiority, the other extreme is the complete denial of one's ancestors which manifests in a form of self-hatred where one flees one's culture and embraces the culture of others. These are the two extremes of the Ancestor or Culture dialectic, yet, as in all dialectical processes, there is an overcoming of this dichotomy and it is in the overcoming of these extremes that a positive relationship to one's own culture can be found. The dialectical sublimation of the continuum of ancestral consciousness occurs at the level of a sensitivity to, and respect for, cultural difference - what I will call “higher ancestral consciousness.” This overcoming of the lower dichotomy is the realization that one's own ancestral stream is neither superior nor inferior to any other, it is merely the stream that you were born into - it is part of your orlog. Higher ancestral consciousness does not negate cultural difference, it preserves difference within itself whilst taking that difference to a higher level where the limitations of the lower level is acknowledged. Here there is a positive relation to culture which recognizes the potential for racism and self hatred, but which overcomes them through understanding their dialectical relationship. Higher ancestral consciousness, with its cultural sensitivity, preserves cultural difference, unlike the current trend of modernity which negates all cultural difference by integrating people into a monoculture of mass consumption.
I do not need to say much about the kind of ancestral consciousness that leads to racism, as I think that we all agree that this is an abhorrent aberration the ancestral tradition. On the other hand the self-hatred found in ancestral denial, an equally abhorrent aberration, does need some elucidation as we often do not see this as the dialectical opposite of racism. In the end, both of these streams must be healed so that the individual can come to terms with his or her orlog and rise up to higher ancestral consciousness. One of the clearest manifestations of self-hatred in ancestral consciousness can be seen in those people of African descent who try to become 'white' through surgical procedures. Michael Jackson serves as an unfortunate example: He straightens his hair, fixes his nose, has surgery to affect his skin pigment and all in the attempt to deny himself - this is a form of self-negation. A common enough phenomenon, it is an internalized form of racism and it is similar to other forms of self-hatred like internalized homophobia. This is an important part of the psychology of minority groups and in a sense one could easily say that it is a phenomenon that a good psychotherapist could probably help one come to terms with. Yet this statement is a bit deflationary, as one also must recognize the role that racism plays in the development of such attitudes. The reason why a black professional tries to look white is because of the racist attitudes that exist in the work place; this person has been a victim of racial prejudice in the past and understands the prejudice that operates in their society.
The internalized racism which is a mark of self-hatred represents an understanding that in our so-called multicultural society we actually do not value other cultures. In fact, multiculturalism is just a rather peculiar form of racism where we enjoy a variety of cuisine but that is about as far as things go. What is valued is integration into the monoculture. We want a multicultural society, but we want to keep all difference superficial; we want all of its members to affirm the values of the Coca-Cola culture. Multiculturalism is ironic, as those of us who live in multicultural societies have a rather bankrupt notion of what culture is. It is often identified merely with cuisine and the arts, with those aspects of culture which are controlled by the “culture industry.” Hence culture becomes a commodity to be marketed by the industry and consumed by the masses, an exotic curio that one pays a few dollars to experience for a short period of time, after which one returns to the mono-cultural daze. Culture is not lived, rather it is consumed. I personally would love to see a form of multiculturalism which preserves cultural difference and achieves a harmonious social relation between peoples of different cultures, and I believe through rising to higher cultural consciousness this can be achieved. But this is not what multiculturalism seems to be trying to achieve in Australia, where we do not seem to want to preserve any but the most superficial of differences. We do not actually value difference in this society, we value homogeneity.
Minority groups recognize this, and those members of minority groups that have been successful within the hegemonic world soon begin to reflect and affirm its values. This often occurs through an internalized racism which is a manifestation of self-hate. The bigotry of the work place is such that the more a minority person identifies with the values of the hegemonic group, the more likely they are to succeed and so it is a sensible move to do so. Racism breeds self-hatred in minority groups, but this self-hatred is such that it serves the partisans of the monoculture of mass consumerism because it devalues the discrete cultures of minority groups. It provides a psychological motivation for them to turn their backs upon their own culture and embrace the values of consumerist mass society. Alternately it leads to confusion, the individual being readily able to identify those values that have been devalued, but without a sense of what values should be affirmed - and so the individual is set spinning in a whirlpool of beliefs and culture desperately trying to find something on which to cling.
Self-hatred manifests in many forms. One of these is class denial, and thus it is common for the bourgeoisie to deny their working-class origins for the same reasons. They want to identify with what is normative and deny their old minority status through turning their backs upon it: “If the hegemony despises the minority then so must I, despite the fact that my origins lie there; hence I must conceal my origins, I must look like the rest.” This all happens at an unconscious level, where there is an unconscious repulsion from one's self, an unconscious self-negation that leads to inauthentic existence. My thesis here is a psycho-social one, the causes of self hatred, which in this case is manifested in the rejection of one's own culture and the identification with another, are essentially sociological and psychological - they relate the individual's psychological response to a sociological phenomenon, namely racism.
Yet self-hatred has many causes, not just racism. It can also stem from guilt. This has occurred in many nations and cultures around the world, and like the kind of self-hatred that is caused by racism this form of self-hatred also serves the monoculture of mass consumerism. Self-hatred through guilt constantly negates any positive relation to one's culture because of the wrong doings of that culture in the past. The British settlers in Australia and their genocidal interaction with Aboriginals, the European settlers in America and the American Indians, the German genocide of Jews, the Jew's against the Arabs in Israel, and so on. Now one must recognize the misdeeds of one's ancestors - especially from the point of view of an Ásatrúar. Yet one must avoid allowing these misdeeds to negate all positive relation to one's culture. A culture must learn from its mistakes.
It is my ancestral consciousness that makes me feel my own stake, my ancestors' actions, more acutely than I could otherwise. If I consider myself to be only an isolated individual, then I conceive of myself as the victim of historical forces rather than the agent of historical forces. But if I consider myself to be not only a product of my society but one who in previous lives has shaped and guided this culture, a being who in this life will continue to contribute to this shaping and guiding process for a future that I will one day see - then I begin to overcome my isolation. I become a social being who is intimately linked to his cultural past and future.
There are facts of history that we cannot and should not deny. We have a responsibility to accept and be accountable for the mistakes of our ancestors yet this should not lead us towards some kind of self-hatred. For instance, in America the European fixation with American Indian culture and religion is a form of self-hatred, and a form that is beginning to annoy American Indians. The Anglo-Saxon preoccupation with the practices of the Indian sub-continent is another manifestation of self-hatred through guilt. All this is a manifestation of the idea that our culture is bankrupt and has nothing to offer. Yet no matter what the form self-hatred takes, one has to realize that it is an inadequate response to the facts of one's existence.
Self-hatred on the one hand and racial superiority on the other are inadequate responses to orlog, and while we recognize that there are important social factors involved in these manifestations those social factors will take a long time and great effort to change. Yet, they can be changed. The best thing that one can do for those who are experiencing self-hatred is to acknowledge their self-hatred for what it is and not pander to them. One also needs to recognize the social sources of self-hatred: racism and guilt. It is the social circumstances of this twisted modern world that causes some people to deny themselves, and in my opinion the best way for them to come to terms with these social circumstances, in the short term, is psycho-therapy. I think they need to find ways of dealing with their self-denial other than by identifying with what is “other” to the self. In the long term I would suggest that the only way to overcome this self-hatred is to defeat the alienation, anomie and cultural dislocation caused by the imperialistic junk culture that is the current manifestation of mass consumerism. The best way to overcome self-hatred and racism is to rise up to a higher form of cultural and ancestral consciousness which preserves difference, whilst allowing a positive relation to one's own culture and ancestry. Yet dialectical processes work through history, and I fear that we are still locked into the lower level dichotomy of racism and self-hatred. This is evident in much of the discourse that surrounds our tradition. But higher ancestral consciousness is beginning to awaken, the vanguard of a new cultural revolution is beginning to shake off the constricting paradigm, and so there is hope for a future where discrete cultures and communities could live side by side and respect difference rather than try to negate it.
But if one cannot have immediate success in resolving and overcoming the dialectic of racism and self-hatred, then at least psycho-therapy might help people to accept that they are white Europeans and not American Indians, or that they are Anglo-Irish and not Aboriginal, or that one is an American of African descent and not a European neo-aristocrat - indeed to help people to realize that they are modern folk and not tenth century Vikings. We live in different times than those of our ancestors, yet we are the same folk. People may feel that I am pushing a psychological thesis and promoting the benefits of psycho-therapy too strongly; the reason for this is partly rhetorical but I also I have more objective reasons. My point is that at times it is difficult for people to come to terms with their own motivations for the choices that they make. Often we conceal our motivations from ourselves. Indeed there are very few individuals that demonstrate internalized racism who acknowledge this fact, as they conceal the motives for their behavior from themselves. So if someone has no Northern ancestry yet wants to be Ásatrú then they must seek their deep motivations, they must bring these out from concealment, and a very efficient way of doing so is through seeking psychological help. From the perspective of those involved in Folk traditions such as Ásatrú one of the primary dictates must be: “Know yourself and respect yourself. Know your motivations.” Knowing one's self includes knowing where one came from, and knowing where one came from is the key to mapping out an authentic direction for the future. There is no shame in realizing that one's path does not lie with the Northern way; this is in fact a liberating realization as it frees you to be yourself.
We will never have life the way our ancestors had it, yet this does not mean that we must accept the death of our culture and embrace the global junk culture. Now, we can look to our past, we can look to what has been lost through the choices that our peoples have made through history and we can re-evaluate those choices. We can revivify the culture that has been dying a slow and pitiful death over the last one thousand years by understanding that culture and its paradigms. We can chose to revalue what has been devalued and look forward to a future where we can once again feel our culture with pride. We can rise up to a higher level of cultural consciousness where we can embrace our unique particularity within this world of difference without discriminating against other discrete cultures. We can, in short, revitalize our people through our culture. Our folk can once more have a tradition which is non-universalistic - we can have a modern folk tradition. Our past is the key to this modern folk tradition, our past is the key to understanding the present and for understanding the lost possibilities from the past which lie open to the present. Our past can help us map the authentic direction of a future which is radically different from the present, yet showing continuity with our past. The primary motivations of those involved in Folk Traditions are two fold; firstly to fill the void of meaning which exists in the modern world, thus escaping the anomie and isolation of this empty present; secondly to seek to achieve this by coming into a positive relation with one's ancestral tradition.
For me, embracing Ásatrú is embracing the culture of my ancestors. It is acknowledging who I am by acknowledging who I have been, and projecting a positive vision of a future in which I will be. It is my denial of the soul-destroying global junk culture that has done nothing but perpetuate anomie and alienation, and threatens to subsume all cultural difference into the monotony of mass consumerism. It is a rejection of those new religious movements that, whilst displaying a Northern flair, actually resonate with the values of the monocultural mass (despite the best wishes of its proponents). I reject both racism and self-hate as being aberrations of a lower cultural consciousness which must be superseded, and I accept that this can only be overcome by embracing higher cultural consciousness which leads to a positive relation to all cultures - including one's own. In embracing Ásatrú I seek to understand the culture of my ancestors fully; I do not cleave off those sections that suit me from those which do not. I seek full understanding of that culture and in doing so I accept the ancestral component of the Troth: I accept I am a reincarnation of my ancestral line, I accept that my ancestors are the descendants of the Gods, I accept the challenge of awakening a complete ancestral consciousness which is the act of self-deification. The ancestral element of the Troth gives me strength. I am overcome with awe when my mind reflects on the chain of ancestry which has manifested itself in me, and which I have passed on to my children. Even though I only know a fraction of my ancestral line I feel the power of generations linked by a chain of birth and death, a chain which stretches out behind me into the infinite and ultimately to the Gods themselves, and a chain that stretches out before me through my children into the infinite and, again, to the Gods themselves.
Heill to the Gods and Goddesses of our troth
Heill to the Ancestors
Heill to Earth