I wrote this paper a few years ago, and my views may have since changed…
The first great challenge to modern Heathenism has come. Will we dare to overcome ourselves, or will we fall into the death of stasis? Will we dare to overcome ourselves, or will we let our weaknesses, our fears, our baseness, overwhelm us? This is the question I see, more and more, facing us.
The time has come that we begin to imagine ourselves. We need to ask, “Who are we?” No longer are terms like ‘universalist’ or ‘folkist’ appropriate – these have come out of grasping at particulars. At best, they refer to people who believe fundamentally the same things – the terms thus virtually lose their relevance. At worst, they are reactive, fearful stances that choke upon themselves. Therefore, the time has come to do something radical. The time has come for us as Heathens to take the radical step of imagining ourselves. *
Our ancestors were not the isolationist hicks that extremist folkish Ásatrúar want them to be. They were profoundly in tune with the ‘outer world’. From the earliest times, they travelled vast distances. They aggressively incorporated ideas from other cultures that were in essential conformity with their own.
The Elder Futhark is itself a product of this eager syncretisation, a syncretisation that came when a Northern
magician recognised the power of Roman/Etruscan alphabetic language and combined it with the Germanic grasp of pictographic symbolism. In this one move, Rune magic came into its own – too syncretistic for the extreme folkish understanding, yet too true to its inner essence for extreme eclecticism to grasp. No surprise that both of these ‘camps’ in modern times think of the origin of the runes in hobbled and politically circumscribed ways.
Our ancestors did not see the world in the fear-laden terms of separation, the terms that extremist folkists deal in. Our ancestors understood that a thing’s essence is not the sum of its particulars. They understood that their own essence was not the sum of their particularity.
Ásatrú has in modern times been intensely insular, and with good reason, for she was weak for many years. But now she has stabilised. She has regained her grounding. It is time to break open the protective armour of Ingwaz and step back into the world. It is time to cease bickering over academic minutiae. It is time to accept that we are REVIVING, not accurately reconstructing, a tradition. It is time to activate our mytho-poetic imaginations, as much wiser souls than myself have put it.
Ásatrú in modern times has never been ‘pure’. Its major magickal exponents have always brought their influences, usually of the western esoteric tradition, with them. Politically, it has always had elements of its number infected by the contempt-worthy fear that is racism. It has always been infected with those who argue for the ahistorical notion that “each people should be locked away by itself”, a notion which was and will always be the position of apologists for totalitarianism.
This alone reveals the bankruptcy of those who want modern Heathenism to be culturally isolated, or who think that all cultural exchange equates to new age eclecticism. As it happens, these people have already accepted many ahistorical additions to Ásatrú – the foremost being the notion of our ancestors being insular. Sadly, these people have also often accepted the infantile fears of right-wing extremism.
Our ancestors revelled in the wide tapestry of the world, and yet managed to maintain a multitude of distinct and coherent religions and cultures (for truly it is fair to say that the dark age Norse were significantly different in culture and religion to their Bronze Age forebears). Cultural integrity and coherence is not maintained by cultural isolation – history seems to prove this a thousand times over.
We must remove the pedestals we have placed our ancestors upon, and critically engage with them. We must understand that they too made mistakes. In saying this, I mean to say that criticism is the highest form of praise. He that cannot question turns the object of questioning into a sacred cow. May Loki lay low all stodgy spirits of seriousness! Nietzsche was right – we need gay scientists, not dour pharisees.
Our ancestors eagerly innovated. All-too-often we moderns cling to the record of the past. In doing this we obey their example to the letter, not to the spirit. It is time to release a little of Tyr’s academic hold and abandon ourselves to the exhilaration and dread of Woðanaz. The fruits of research need to be interpreted, developed, explored, not taken as pronunciations ex cathedra. If we imprison ourselves within the woefully limited picture we have of the past, we will doom ourselves to stagnation, psychological illness and devolution.
Will we become a tradition of fear, insularity, pettiness, backwardness? This is the danger that now faces us. The challenge is no longer survival. The challenge is to become a living, breathing, evolving – yet still coherent – life tradition.
The time has come to imagine ourselves, to cease pretending that Need impels us to reactivity. We are long overdue in ending our tolerance of the Christian-born instincts of racism and right wing extremism. The time has come to become a living religion, in a modern world.
As Heathens, we are inherently atavistic. We must trust the deep taproots of our ancestors and our gods to protect us as we grow and evolve, and cease clinging to fear. The struggle for the Heathen imagination has begun, and the very survival of our tradition as something other than a series of pseudo-political parties or isolated cults is at stake.
Let us take up this challenge with ecstasy.
(* For more on the idea of Imagination, I can only refer my reader to John Ralston Saul’s masterpiece, On Equilibrium.)