Asatru/Asafalse is a companion piece to Tony Looker’s essay Hammer Forged.
Asatru / Asafalse: Fabricating a Tradition
My fellow ex-Steward Tony and I finally swapped views on our experiences recently, having both held our silence, even from each other, since departing the RG [Rune Gild]. We were both appointed Regional Stewards of the Gild by Edred around 1990, and both left the Gild after 10 years as regional leaders. Tony was Steward of UK, and I was Steward of the South Pacific Region.
Throughout that decade we communicated on a friendly level. During a few months in London in 1993, I had time to get to know him in person. Then in late 1996, we caught up with each other at Edred’s house in Texas for a few days. During this whole period we never discussed our deep misgivings. Although we left RG under different circumstances, and followed different roads since then, when at last we exchanged views frankly, we found them to be remarkably similar.
Tony had written Hammer Forged a year ago, intending to submit it for publication in an Asatru journal, but thought it best to withdraw it after realising that it would not be well received. He sent me a copy of Hammer Forged after receiving a copy of the Runic Primer. We both felt some relief to know that we were not alone in our conclusions.
At first reading, Tony’s essay may look like an attack on Asatru, but closer inspection reveals a fairly accurate summary of the state of things thus far. His tone is perhaps less optimistic than mine, but this is understandable as I have had the advantage of my positive experiences with Rune-Net, AET, and Northvegr. However, he makes the point that “All those who are genuinely and honestly engaged in this endeavour deserve our wholehearted support and appreciation”. He then goes on to question the health of much of Asatru in its current manifestation.
At the heart of the problem lies the fact that we are building on very tenuous sources. This is not necessarily a problem in itself. I am sure the early revivalists were quite aware of their limitations. However, after three decades, a great deal of questionable dogma has crept in. Worse than this, the leading personalities, having given themselves grand and outlandish titles, have come to believe their own press releases. I suspect that it started to go wrong in the early days of the revival when the focus was on creating a church-like hierarchy. I wrote on one of the early e-lists in 1992 that Heathens never had a church structure and I wondered why they wanted to go that way. Lew Stead replied that he could not see why I would even ask the question, as the whole point was to create a Heathen church.
After many alternative hierarchies, splits, alliances, and ideological battles, we are gradually moving toward a more satisfying tribalist model. This gives me cause for optimism, as we can now see a way to settle into a more natural network of groups, each with its own subculture inspired by the ancestral traditions. We need not descend into New Age eclecticism to achieve this, but we must be honest with ourselves. There are no real authorities, despite the self-proclaimed prophets still desperate for followers. As Tony points out, we must accept that much of Asatru as it stands is not verifiable as ancient, it can only ever be at best an educated and inspired interpretation of the limited sources.
In the early 1980s, I was roundly attacked by Wiccans for questioning their claims of being an old religion, let alone “THE Old Religion”. In the 1990s very few Wiccans were still pushing that myth. Unlike the Wiccans, we can argue that our chimera is at least cobbled together from a reasonably consistent cultural source, and that of our own ancestors. But, Asatru has not yet undergone the reality check served to the Wiccans in the 80s. Perhaps it is time to admit that there is more scope for variety in the Northern Traditions than the pedants would have us believe.
Another problem has been the influence of armchair philosophers and ideologues. Philosophy is perhaps good exercise for the mind, and formal logic is a useful skill, but it has been of precious little practical value to Asatru thus far. Too often philosophy has served to replace action rather than to inform it. Too often it has been little more than a tool to persuade the more gullible into rather distorted views of the world. This pseudo-intellectualism is another trend we must be wary of. It is doubtful that our ancestors would have been impressed with the bombastic conceits of the ideologues.
The issue of personality cults is undoubtedly that which both Tony and I find the most disturbing, having both had some experience with such. Some leaders give themselves outrageously grandiose titles and gather a group of followers around them. There is always an element of paranoia involved: “us against the world”, “they will not understand us”, etc. They set themselves up as prophets of a divine revelation of the elder gods, and demand complete authority. Any who question this insanity are themselves accused of having an unsound view of reality. Often the politics of personality are mixed with other unhealthy political agendas. Such groups, with their potential for extremism, are the greatest threat to the relationship of Asatru to the wider community.
No doubt some of those who read these essays will be outraged that we seem to cast doubt upon cherished notions. But if we want to claim superiority to the fantasy New Age “traditions”, we really need to take notice of how much fabricating is going on in our own camp. The problem is not that there is innovation, but that inventions are pushed by their authors as “authentic”, and often with their own agendas in mind. We need only take a look at the rubbish ranging from New Age escapism to Neo-Satanic mumbo-jumbo being peddled as “runic knowledge” today. I agree with Tony that we will never have a genuine reconstruction, too much has been lost. But we can have an authentic revival, provided we are honest, and apply the ancestral imagery to our modern lives. The only authentic tradition is a living one.
Some personalities will have more influence than others, but this should not be taken as authority. Perhaps it is time to break away from the self appointed gurus, and their narrow doctrinaire approaches. The traditions will evolve and adapt, or they will die out and return to the history books, but the ancestral symbolism will remain in the psyche to manifest naturally within our culture. Asatru has been through the construction phase. There is plenty of material to work from. Now we need to move forward and make it real, as individuals, as groups, and as a cultural movement. We can not live in the past, as such escapism will relegate us to a fringe curiosity. We need to honour the ancestors from where we stand now.