Ásatrú in the United States

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Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor, is one of the major symbols of Ásatrú.
The Valknut symbol.

Ásatrú (from Icelandic for "faith/belief in the Æsir", pronounced [auːsatruː], in Old Norse [aːsatruː]) is a form of Germanic neopaganism which developed in the United States from the 1970s. It focuses on historical Norse paganism of the Viking Age as described in the Eddas, but proponents also take a more inclusive approach, defining it as "Northern European Heathenry" not limited to a specific historical period.

Terminology[edit]

Ásatrú is an Icelandic (and equivalently Old Norse) term consisting of two parts. The first is Ása-, genitive of Áss, denoting one of the group of Norse gods called Æsir.[1] The second part, trú, means "faith, word of honour; religious faith, belief"[2] (archaic English troth "loyalty, honesty, good faith"). Thus, Ásatrú means the "faith/belief in the Æsir". Even so, today, Stephen A. McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly maintains that Asatru means "belief in the gods",[3] "those loyal to the Gods",[4] or “those who believe in the Aesir and Vanir”[5] as does Edred Wodanson (E. Max Hyatt, 1948 - January 21, 2010) of Wodan's Kindred and the Wodanesdag Press.[6]However, in the past, and as early as 1982, McNallen defined Asatru as meaning, "faith of the Aesir".[7] Why and when he decided to change his perspective of the meaning is unknown.

The term is the Old Norse/Icelandic translation of Asetro, a neologism coined in the context of 19th century romantic nationalism, used by Edvard Grieg in his 1870 opera Olaf Trygvason. The use of the term Ásatrú for Germanic heathenism preceding 19th century revivalist movements is therefore an anachronism.

Ásatrúarmaður (plural Ásatrúarmenn), the term used to identify those who practice Ásatrú, is a compound with maður (Old Norse maðr) "man".[8] In English usage, the genitive Asatruar "of Æsir faith" is often used on its own to denote adherents (both singular and plural).

Some adherents will use "Ásatrú" as synonymous with "Odinism",[9] others will reject an equivalence between the two terms,[10] while others use it synonymously, interchangeably, and also debunk those that have a conviction the two are completely separate.[11] Some who use the term Odinism see no difference between the two terms, but as Odinism is historical established, other modern terms have met with limited success.[12] In addition, some see it as synonymous with Wotanism and Wodenism also, while others object to this.[13] Some put a curse on those that are folkish.[14]

Differences from Scandinavian and German usage[edit]

There are two main strains of contemporary Germanic Paganism known as Ásatrú, originating near-simultaneously in Iceland (Ásatrúarfélagið, 1972) and the USA (Asatru Free Assembly, 1974). While the Scandinavian branch emphasizes polytheistic spirituality rooted in medieval and contemporary Scandinavian folklore, the American branch postulates a "native religion of the peoples of Northern Europe" reaching back into the paleolithic.[15] In Germany, the term Asatru is used in the wider sense of Germanic neopaganism.

As Ásatrú implies a focus on polytheistic belief in the Æsir, usage of the term in Scandinavia has declined somewhat. In Scandinavia, forn sed / forn siðr "old custom", Nordisk sed "Nordic custom" or hedensk sed / heiðinn siður "heathen custom" are preferred.[16] In both the Anglosphere and German-speaking Europe, the word Asatru is widely used interchangeably with other terms for Germanic Neopaganism.[17]

There are notable differences of emphasis between Ásatrú as practiced in the USA and in Scandinavia. According to Strmiska and Sigurvinsson (2005), American Asatruar tend to prefer a more devotional form of worship and a more emotional conception of the Nordic gods than Scandinavian practitioners, reflecting the parallel tendency of highly emotional forms of Christianity prevalent in the United States.[18]

Organizations[edit]

Most organized Nordic Paganism in the United States occurs in numerous local Kindreds but there are three large national organizations. The largest is The Troth, followed by the Ásatrú Alliance, and the Ásatrú Folk Assembly.

The Troth, currently headed by Steve Abell, publishes the "Idunna" journal, which is the most widely distributed Asatru journal in publication. Yearly gatherings of The Troth, called "TrothMoot," usually draws attendance of around 50-75 people. The Troth held its 25th Anniversary Jubilee in 2012.

The Ásatrú Alliance is headed by Valgard Murray, and publishes the "Vor Tru" newsletter, and held its 25th annual "Althing" gathering in 2005.[19]

The Ásatrú Folk Assembly, headed by Stephen McNallen, holds a yearly Midsummer gathering which draws attendance of around 40 people.

A notable regional group is Jotun's Bane Kindred (JBK), headed by Mark Ludwig Stinson.[20] Stinson promotes "regional heathenry" over "Internet heathenry" and formed an active network of "Midwest Tribes".[21] If organized, it would be the largest organization in America. JBK's yearly event 'Lightning Across the Plains' regularly draws attendance of over 250.[22]

History[edit]

In the early 1970s, following the revival of Asatru in Iceland, Stephen McNallen, a former United States Army Airborne Ranger, began publishing a newsletter titled The Runestone. He and Stine also formed an organization called the Ásatrú Free Assembly. Else Christensen's Odinism, which is sometimes identified with the term Ásatrú, originated around the same period.

In 1986, the "folkish vs. universalist" dispute and the dispute over the stance of Ásatrú towards white supremacy escalated, resulting in the breakup of the Asatru Free Assembly. The universalist branch reformed as The Troth, while the folkish branch became the Ásatrú Alliance (AA).

In 1994, McNallen formed a new organization, the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), which some refer to as "the new AFA".

In 1997, the Britain based Odinic Rite (OR) founded a US chapter (ORV).

In 2003 Volkshof Kindred was formed and was the first Asatru Church recognized in the state of Minnesota. They were a driving force in the midwest which resulted in the formation of several Midwest kindreds.

In the late 2000s, former Kansas City police sergeant Mark Stinson formed The Jotun's Bane Kindred (JBK).

The Ásatrú Alliance is the oldest surviving organization.

Beliefs and practice[edit]

Ásatrú groups and the individual Ásatrúarmenn have no universal means of practice. Some general commonalities exist however, as outlined below:

Blót[edit]

Main article: Blót

Many Ásatrú groups celebrate with blóts. Historically, the blót was an event that focused on a communal sacrifice at various times of the year for a number of purposes. Families and extended family organizations would gather to participate in the communal event.

Modern blóts are celebrated several times during the year. Ásatrú communities (kindreds, hearths, mots) have different approaches to the frequency of blóts and their means of celebrating them.

Sumbel[edit]

Main article: Sumbel

A central ritual of Ásatrú is the sumbel, a drinking-ritual in which a drinking horn full of mead or ale is passed around and a series of toasts are made, usually to gods, ancestors, and/or heroes of the religion. The toasts vary by group, and some groups make a distinction between a "regular" sumbel and a "high" sumbel, which have different levels of formality, and different rules during toasting. Participants may also make boasts of their own deeds, or oaths or promises of future actions. Words spoken during the sumbel are considered carefully and any oaths made are considered sacrosanct, becoming part of the destiny of those assembled.

Goðar[edit]

Main article: Goði

A Goði or Gothi (plural goðar) is the historical Old Norse term for a priest and chieftain in Norse paganism. Gyðja signifies a priestess. Goði literally means "speaker for the gods", and is used to denote the priesthood or those who officiate over rituals in Ásatrú. Several groups, most notably the Troth have organized clergy programs.[23] However, there is no universal standard for the Goðar amongst organizations, and the title is usually only significant to the particular group with whom they work.[24]

Kindred[edit]

Main article: Kindred (Heathenism)

In Germanic neopagan movements, a kindred is a local worship group and organizational unit. Other terms used are hearth, theod (only within the Theodism), blotgroup, sippe, and other less popular ones such as garth, stead, church, and others.

Kindreds are usually grassroots groups which may or may not be affiliated with a national organization such as the Asatru Alliance or The Troth rather than the Swedish Forn Sed Assembly or the Odinic Rite. A kindred not associated with any other group is known as an independent kindred, which is more typical within the US than elsewhere.

Related movements[edit]

Theodism[edit]

Theodism, or Þéodisc Geléafa (Old English: "tribal belief") is another form of Germanic neopaganism that developed in the United States contemporaneous with Asatru.[25]

While there are some similarities between the two movements, Theodism derived its origins primarily as a reaction to Wicca. In 1971, Garman Lord and other practitioners of Gardnerian Wicca founded The Coven Witan of Anglo-Saxon Wicca.[26] Theodism is focused on the lore, beliefs and social structure - particularly the concept of thew (Old English þeaw) or "customary law" - of various specific Germanic tribes. The main distinction between Theodism and other modern manifestations of Germanic Neopaganism along with pre-Christian religions, the Theodish are also attempting to reconstruct aspects of pre-Christian Germanic social order (including sacral kingship). In general, Theodish religious festivities are referred to as 'fainings' (meaning 'celebration'). As a rule, there are two sorts of rituals; blót and symbel. Húsel is technically part of blót.[27] Symbel is normally held after the feast, inasmuch as it is custom not to have food present.[28]

Garman Lord formed the Witan Theod in Watertown, New York, in 1976. A few years later, the Moody Hill Theod emerged as an offshoot of the Witan Theod.[29] In 1988 the Winland Rice was formed as an umbrella organization of Theodish groups.[29] Gert McQueen, Elder and Redesman of the Ring of Troth, was successful in lobbying the U.S. Army Chaplain’s Corps to adopt guidelines for recognizing heathen religions and Theodish belief in particular.

The Winland Rice dissolved in 2002. Several groups that have continued to call themselves Theodish. Axenthof Thiad originated in the early 1990s as the Fresena Thiad and part of the Winland Rice.[30] In 2005, Gerd Forsta Axenthoves changed the name to Axenthof Thiad.[31] Eric Wodening founded Englatheod in July 2007, while Sweartfenn Theod was founded, by Jeffrey Runokivi, in December 2007. Both groups practice Anglo-Saxon Theodism, and have members that have belonged to both the Winland Rice and the Ealdriht.[32] In New York, the New Normannii Reik of Theodish Belief was founded in 1997 and is led by Dan Halloran,[33][34] but in 2009 many members split off and formed the Arfstoll Church of Theodish Belief, White Marsh Theod, and Álfröðull þjóð.

One famous follower of Theodism is New York City Councilman Daniel J. Halloran.[35]

Politics and controversies[edit]

Ásatrú organizations have memberships which span the entire political and spiritual spectrum. There is a history of political controversy within organized US Ásatrú, mostly surrounding the question of how to deal with such adherents as place themselves in a context of the far right and white supremacy, notably resulting in the fragmentation of the Asatru Free Assembly in 1986.

Externally, political activity on the part of Ásatrú organizations has surrounded campaigns against alleged religious discrimination, such as the call for the introduction of an Ásatrú "emblem of belief" by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to parallel the Wiccan pentacle granted to the widow of Patrick Stewart in 2006. In May 2013 the "Hammer of Thor" was added to the list of United States Department of Veterans Affairs emblems for headstones and markers.[36][37]

Folkish Ásatrú, Universalism and racialism[edit]

Historically, the main dispute between the national organizations has generally centered on the interpretation of "Nordic heritage" as either something cultural, or as something genetic or racial. In the internal discourse within American Ásatrú, this cultural/racial divide has long been known as "universalist" vs. "folkish" Asatru.[38]

The Troth takes the "universalist" position, claiming Asatru as a synonym for "Northern European Heathenry" taken to comprise "many variations, names, and practices, including Theodism, Irminism, Odinism, and Anglo-Saxon Heathenry". In the UK, Germanic Neopaganism is more commonly known as Odinism or as Heathenry. This is mostly a matter of terminology, and US Asatru may be equated with UK Odinism for practical purposes, as is evident in the short-lived International Asatru-Odinic Alliance of folkish Asatru/Odinist groups.

Some groups identifying as Ásatrú have been associated with neo-Nazi and "white power" movements.[39] (See Wotanism for more details.) This was notably an issue in the 1980s, when the Asatru Free Assembly disintegrated as a result of tensions between the folkish and the non-folkish factions[citation needed].

Today, the three largest US American Ásatrú organizations have specifically denounced any association with racist groups.[40][41][42] A dividing issue is whether a person is "Folkish", meaning that an emphasis on ancestry and ancestor worship is a part of their belief system.

Discrimination charges[edit]

Inmates of the "Intensive Management Unit" at Washington State Penitentiary who are adherents of Ásatrú in 2001 were deprived of their Thor's Hammer medallions.[43] In 2007, a federal judge confirmed that Ásatrú adherents in US prisons have the right to possess a Thor’s Hammer pendant. An inmate sued the Virginia Department of Corrections after he was denied it while members of other religions were allowed their medallions.[44]

In the Georgacarakos v. Watts case Peter N. Georgacarakos filed a pro se civil-rights complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against 19 prison officials for "interference with the free exercise of his Ásatrú religion" and "discrimination on the basis of his being Ásatrú".[45]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Zoega (1910): "one of the old heathen gods in general, or especially one of the older branch, in opposition to the younger ones (the Vanir)"[1]
  2. ^ Zoega (1910)
  3. ^ McNallen, Stephen A., What Is Asatru, published by the Asatru Folk Assembly, 1985
  4. ^ McNallen, Stephen A., Asatru… The Way of Our Ancestors… Calling Us Home
  5. ^ McNallen, Stephen A., ‘Asatru: What Does It Mean?’
  6. ^ Asatru: The Hidden Fortress, first published in 1995 as The World Tree, revised in 2006 and published as Asatru: The Hidden Fortress, with a second edition in 2008.
  7. ^ McNallen, Stephen A., Preface, note 1, 'An Odinist Anthology: Selections From The Runestone', Asatru Folk Assembly, Grass Valley, California, 1983. Preface written in 1982, in Denair, California
  8. ^ Irrespective of sex. [2], see Mannaz.
  9. ^ Asatru' - The Hidden Fortress by E. Max Hyatt (Edred Wodanson) - updated 2009 edition Wodanesdag Press ISBN 0973842326 and Mark Mirabello. The Odin Brotherhood. Mandrake of Oxford.ISBN 1869928717
  10. ^ Odinism: The Religion of Our Germanic Ancestors in the Modern World by Wyatt Kaldenberg. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011. ISBN 1461003326, Folkish Odinism. by Wyatt Kaldenberg, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. ISBN 1492297348, and Casper Odinson Crowell, Mrs. Linda Crowell Vor Forn Sidr: (Our Ancient Religion) Vinland Kindred Publishing. 2012. ISBN 0985476001
  11. ^ Puryear, Mark: The Nature of Asatru, pages 111-112, The Norroena Society, 2006
  12. ^ Jameson, Osted: Odinism, present, past and future, page 4, Renewal Publications, 2010.
  13. ^ Ingessunu, Wulf, ‘Wulf: The Collected Writings of an English Wodenist’, Black Front Press, 2014.
  14. ^ http://www.ravenkindred.com/nid.htm
  15. ^ "Asatru reflects the deeper religiosity common to virtually all the nations of Europe." (Asatru Folk Assembly); "Ásatrú is thousands of years old. its beginnings are lost in prehistory, but as an organized system, it is older by far than Christianity. Strictly speaking, since Ásatrú is the religion which springs from the specific spiritual beliefs of the Northern Europeans, it is as old as this branch of the human race, which came into being 40,000 years ago." (Asatru Alliance)
  16. ^ "We prefer to refer to our faith as 'den forna seden' (The Old Way) rather than Asatru." (Sveriges Asatrosamfund)
  17. ^ Linzie, Bil (July 2003). Germanic Spirituality (PDF). Retrieved February 2007. 
  18. ^ "American Nordic Pagans want to feel an intimate relationship with their gods, not unlike evangelical attitudes towards Jesus. Icelandic Asatruar, by contrast, are more focused on devotion to their past cultural heritage rather than to particular gods." Strmiska and Sigurvinsson (2005), p. 165.
  19. ^ Murray, Valgard. "AlThing 25 Report". Retrieved February 2007. 
  20. ^ Stinson, Mark (May 1, 2013). "Jotun's Bane Kindred". Temple of Our Heathen Gods. Retrieved September 9, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Midwest Tribes – The Midwest Thing". Temple of Our Heathen Gods. Aug 18, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Lightning Across the Plains". Temple of Our Heathen Gods. Aug 18, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013. 
  23. ^ Information regarding the Troth's clergy program can be found on their official website here: [3]
  24. ^ Murray, Valgard. "The Role of the Gothar in the Asatru Community". Retrieved February 2007. 
  25. ^ Lord, Garman (2000). The Way of the Heathen: A Handbook of Greater Theodism. Theod. ISBN 1-929340-01-X. . O'Halloran, Dan (2005). Thewbok: A Handbook of Theodish Thew. ISBN 0-9777610-0-2. 
  26. ^ Garman Lord, "The Evolution of Þéodisc Belief: Part I" Theod Magazine, Lammas, 1995
  27. ^ Swain Wodening, p. 100
  28. ^ Garman Lord, p. 27
  29. ^ a b Garman Lord, "The Evolution of Þéodisc Belief: Part II" Theod Magazine, Lammas, 1995
  30. ^ http://www.axenthof.org
  31. ^ http://www.axenthof.org/aboutus.html
  32. ^ http://swainblog.englatheod.org/?p=36
  33. ^ Tanner, Jeremy (2009), "City's First 'Heathen' Council Member", WPIX, retrieved 2009-11-24 
  34. ^ Lee, Jennifer (2009-11-02), "Candidate’s Religion Is Point of Contention in Queens Race", The New York Times, retrieved 2009-11-24 
  35. ^ Buettner, Russ; Rashbaum, William K. (2011-01-25). "Evidence Is Elusive on Charge of a Blizzard Slowdown". The New York Times. 
  36. ^ "National Cemetery Administration: Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers". U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 12 May 2013. "55 – Hammer of Thor" 
  37. ^ Elysia. "Hammer of Thor now VA accepted symbol of faith". Llewellyn. Retrieved 12 May 2013. 
  38. ^ Strmiska and Sigurvinsson (2005), pp. 134f.
  39. ^ Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. Duke University Press. pp. 269–283. ISBN 0-8223-3071-7. 
  40. ^ From the Asatru Alliance's Bylaws: "The Alliance is apolitical; it is not a front for, nor shall it promote any political views of the 'Right' or 'Left'. Our Sacred temples, groves and Moots shall remain free of any political manifestations." [4]
  41. ^ From the Asatru Folk Assembly's Bylaws: "The belief that spirituality and ancestral heritage are related has nothing to do with notions of superiority. Ásatrú is not an excuse to look down on, much less to hate, members of any other race. On the contrary, we recognize the uniqueness and the value of all the different pieces that make up the human mosaic." [5]
  42. ^ From The Troth's Bylaws: "Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation shall not be practiced by the Troth or any affiliated group, whether in membership decisions or in conducting any of its activities." [6]
  43. ^ Walla Walla's Suppression of Religious Freedom[unreliable source?]
  44. ^ First Amendment Center: Va. inmate can challenge denial of Thor's Hammer
  45. ^ Georgacarakos v. Watts

References[edit]

  • Strmiska, M. and Sigurvinsson, B. A., "Asatru: Nordic Paganism in Iceland and America" in: Strmiska (ed.), Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives (2005), ISBN 978-1-85109-608-4, 127-180.
  • Kaplan, Jeffrey, "Odinism and Ásatrú", chapter 3 of Radical religion in America: millenarian movements from the far right to the children of Noah, Syracuse University Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-8156-0396-2, pp. 69–99.
  • Rommel, Gundula E., Asgard in America: Inventing European Ethnic Identity in a Post-Industrial Pluralist Culture, 2011, ISBN 978-3-640-94603-7.

External links[edit]