Oak Thorgeir explains Asatru to the Leif Erikson Society
Asatru and Christianity: Similarities and Differences
A Vinland Kindred Special Report by Thor Sannhet and Oak Thorgeir Regarding Our Lecture Before the Leif Erikson Society of New York Provided on Monday, March 25, 1991
William B. Fox
Originally published in
Winter (Runic Era) 2242 (1992) Vor Tru Magazine
under pen name "Thor Sannhet"
(Editor's 2009 note: Many addresses cited may no longer be valid)
Note: This series was originally designed as a written supplement to the comments made by Oak Thorgeir and myself during our presentation to the Leif Erikson Society of New York on Monday, March 25, 1991. A transcript of that talk was printed in the winter 2242 issue of Vor Tru. The views expressed in this article are purely my own personal interpretations and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Asatru Alliance or the personal views of Oak Thorgeir.
PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Both Oak Thorgeir and Thor Sannhet were invited by the President of the Leif Erikson Society of New York to give a presentation on the Viking religion. Since the Leif Erikson Society is a historical society devoted to the study of the Viking Age, a talk about Asatru is relevant to the study of the "Viking culture." We selected the topic "Asatru and Christianity: Similarities and Differences" and our talk was listed as the main attraction on the program bulletin mailed to all Society members for the March 25th meeting. Our presentation was preceded by the one hour video "An Island Called Thule" from the BBC series narrated by the Icelandic scholar Magnus Magnusson about the Viking Age. The video discussed how Harald Fine-Hair's unification of Norway caused an exodus of Norsemen to Iceland, who settled en masse beginning in 874 AD. In 930 AD the pagan Icelanders founded a republic. Later they voted to accept Christianity. The BBC series mentioned a Viking who tried to convert the Christians of Ireland to Odin, an incident played down by Magnus Magnusson in his narration, but referred to by Thor Sannhet in his discussion as being significant. Sannhet also took exception to a vignette in which Magnusson interpreted a hole in the top of a skull to entail some kind of barbaric pagan human sacrifice. As a final note, a tape recorder captured about 60% of the talk, which has been reproduced in this transcript with some editing and embellishment to improve content and grammar. Oak Thorgeir and Thor Sannhet have also reproduced from memory the remaining 40% of what they said during the lecture.
THOR SANNHET: The first time I became aware of Oak Thorgeir, it was through the article that appeared in the [Oct 5, 1990] Westport News titled "Westport Viking worships the Nordic Gods". Although I do not live in Connecticut where the the paper is distributed, I was made aware of the article through a reprint in an Asatru publication called Vor Tru. I thought, "This is really neat!" Having always enjoyed discussing deep philosophical issues with people, I could not resist contacting Oak to explore important elements of our heritage. The problem that I face tonight is that there is so much to talk about. I recently tried to write a two page letter to a person at a Norwegian fraternal organization and ended up writing 26 pages before I decided to cut it short. So tonight I will introduce some structure to this presentation by making three important points, handing the discussion to Oak for him to make his points, and then I will wind the talk up with my last important points prior to opening it up for questions and answers. For those of you who want more information when this talk is over, I would point your attention to the open letter that I wrote to the Reverend Herman Otten of the Christian News [Route 1, Box 309A, New Haven, MO 63068-9568], as well as some brochures titled "Why Asatru?", "What Is Asatru?" and "The Values of Asatru" written by Steve McNallen and published by the Asatru Alliance [c/o Vor Tru, Box 961, Payson, Arizona 85547]. We have enough copies of the aforementioned materials for everyone. We have deliberately excluded some of the information contained in the hand outs from our talk on the theory that you will read these materials.
Sannhet with a mead horn
Asatru is very beautiful to me. The world view inherent in Asatru can help us to broaden our minds and overcome some areas where maybe we have been overly naive, ignorant, or in other ways weak. The Viking religion and philosophy of our ancestors and its modern version is a priceless asset for us both as individuals and as a people. This is true even for those who choose to not adopt Asatru as their religion.
And now for my first thought to share with you. The World Council of Churches has engaged in dialog with pagan Australian Aborigine earth worshipers, as reported in the March 4, 1991 issue of the Christian News. Now if Christians can "dialog" with Aborigines, I will pose a simple question to you. Why can't they also "dialog" with enthusiasts for the indigenous religion of our Viking ancestors? Interestingly enough, the Australian Council of Churches has tried to integrate Australian Aborigine pagans into their organization. Why then can not the official Lutheran Church of Norway integrate Asatruar into its circle of religionists as well? In addition, the World Council of Churches even asked the permission of these pagan earth worshipers to enter the site that they used for their convention! Why then can not we ask Christians to show the same consideration for the sensitivities of Odinists as well?
A second thought. The March 22, 1989 Norway Times reported that a community of 20,000 to 25,000 Muslims now exists in Norway. They not only have their own distinctive mosques and costumes, which stick out amidst traditional Norwegian architecture and habits of dress, but comprise a potent political force through such organizations as the Islam Defense Council. Muslim soldiers in the Norwegian Army insist upon wearing their turbans while in uniform. And remember the furor in the Islamic world over Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses? A Labour Party politician named Syed Bokhari stated publicly that he felt that all Muslims must try to knock off Rushdie in retaliation for defaming his faith. I pose another question to you. If the Norwegian people are not only willing to tolerate such exotic faiths and sentiments, but actually invite such people into their country as permanent citizens, why can't the Norwegians also welcome Odinists who practice the indigenous ancestral faith of their Viking ancestors? In addition, the Norwegian people already tolerate the practice of a different indigenous ancestral faith by a person who is at the highest level of their government. The President of the Storting [Norwegian Parliament], Jo Benkow, practices the indigenous ancestral faith of Judaism. So why can not they tolerate the indigenous ancestral faith of Asatru as well?
My third point. The video "An Island Called Thule" in the Magnus Magnusson BBC Viking Age series talked about how the pagan Viking immigrants to Iceland created republican institutions. In the prior video we saw last month, Magnusson talked about human sacrifice that he linked to pagan practices. I believe that the way this was handled creates some misleading impressions. We must note that science, republicanism, and democracy were developed by the Greeks and Romans when they were PAGANS. They traced their ancestry from peoples who came from the north. The Iliad and Odyssey describe the ancient Greeks and Greek gods as being very Nordic-looking with light hair and light eyes. The Spartan heroes at Thermopylae had golden hair. As PAGANS, the ancient Greeks and Romans came to outlaw human sacrifice. Actually the term "human sacrifice" can be misleading, since it often meant carrying out the capital punishment of a lawbreaker who would be executed anyway under a purely secular system. I learned this while studying the practice of human sacrifice in ancient Polynesian societies and reading discussions about sacrificial practices in other societies as well. I once created a film documentary about native Hawaiians that I will discuss later.
I am not clear about why Magnusson attributes the hole in the top of a skull found in an English burial site to be some kind of pagan human sacrifice. I recollect once reading that certain Celtic or Nordic pagans would sometimes cut a hole in the top of a skull AFTER a person was dead to let their spirit out of their body. That kind of thing, incidentally, was NOT a common or mainstream Asatru practice in Viking times and is no more a distinctive practice of modern Asatru than it is a practice of modern Judaism to sacrifice lambs and goats in the Central Synagogue in New York City. Even if Magnusson were right, and the hole in the skull reflected a religiously motivated sacrifice, I would ask another question. Is this any less heinous than Christian-inspired "witch burnings" at Salem, Massachusetts or the mass tortures conducted under Torquemada's Inquisition?
But let us get back to the issue regarding the ability of pagans to promote real progress. In the chapter "Backbone of the Night" of the book Cosmos, the Cornell-based astronomer Carl Sagan talks about how in the sixth and fifth century B.C. the Greeks developed the self-conscious and systematic methodology for finding truth called science --as PAGANS. Long before the Christianization of Rome, the PAGAN Romans created the Roman Republic, the aqueducts, one of the greatest empires in world history, and a host of other marvelous achievements --as PAGANS. Anglo-Saxons and Viking Nordics developed the trial by jury and parliamentary systems such as the Icelandic Althing as PAGANS. Please recollect that the Magnus Magnusson documentary mentions how a republican system developed in Iceland BEFORE Iceland became Christianized. So please, I know that pagan-bashing has been very "in" for a long time among certain people, but just for tonight can we ask for just a little bit of understanding and open-mindedness?
Incidentally, various Asatru ceremonies have remained as an integral part of the Icelandic social fabric. On March 9th I attended a Thorrablot hosted by the local Icelandic-American Society. This is based upon the pagan ceremony that marked the end of winter. Everyone wore formal attire, feasted on Icelandic delicacies, and danced to a live band. Of course most of the people at the event were Christian Icelanders who are nevertheless very proud of the traditions of their pagan ancestors. A number of Icelanders discussed their favorite sagas with me. It was touching how they could relate to the sagas of their pagan ancestors in such a personal way. An attractive Icelandic female told me that she likes the Laxdaela Saga most of all. Another person told me about how the Icelandic Supreme Court upheld a wedding conducted in Asatru not too long ago. The people of Iceland accept Asatru without being particularly self-conscious about it. It provides a very. beautiful and integral part of the social fabric of a very advanced people. The Icelanders have one of the highest book consumption rates and GNP's per capita of any people on this planet and are a truly modern and civilized people at the same time that they practice elements of Asatru.
So at a minimum what Oak and I want to do tonight is broaden your intellectual horizons, and cause you to consider that perhaps there are some other factors involved in progress-oriented, rational, civilized behavior besides the issue of whether one is a Christian or a pagan. If one is into Asatru, it does not mean one automatically has horns -except perhaps Viking horns-- in fact Asatru is already quite "in" among a number of very good, decent, intelligent, and socially conscious people Iceland. Asatru is also "in" among numerous people in England, where an English organization called the Odinic Rite got Asatru officially recognized as a religion over a decade ago. Asatru organizations have also become incorporated as religious bodies in many states in America. There are start up groups in other countries such as Norway. I personally believe that when fundamentally good and decent people develop a full understanding of Asatru, they will inevitably feel that the only decent thing to do is support it, even if they decide to remain Christians or practitioners of some other religion. In fact, I believe that they will feel a moral imperative to act in Asatru's behalf and even provide donations to support the religion of their ancestors. I believe that it is in the best long term interests of all of the Northern European peoples of this planet, and also for that matter all of the other peoples of this planet who are directly or indirectly dependent upon Northern European-descended peoples, to support Asatru. On that note, I will broaden the discussion by turning it over to Oak Thorgeir.
OAK THORGEIR: Oak Thorgeir is my Viking name that I use in connection with my faith. I practice the religion of Asatru, the old Scandinavian religion. I have been involved in it for about five years, but have followed its beliefs or commandments pretty much all my life. The concept of honor and integrity, which were very important in the Viking Age, I have adhered to all my life. In reference to the materials that we have handed out, such as "Why Asatru?" and "What Is Asatru?" and "The Values of Asatru", I must point out that it is a very personal religion. There is not a lot of hierarchy or dogma explaining what you are supposed to believe or not believe. That is a key difference with Christianity. We did not have priests telling us what to do. The priest function during the Viking Age was pretty much held by the heads of households. It was up to the head of the household to conduct ceremonies or what they called blots or sacrifice.
When you hear the word "sacrifice", a lot of people think negatives. Well, the term sacrifice in an agricultural society usually meant an animal sacrifice in which the meat was butchered during a religious ceremony and the meat was eaten throughout the year. The meat was not wasted. We need to get away from the negative stereotypes and get interested in our heritage. We hear about the Greek and Roman classics. As a people, we can become interested in the classics and mythology --or I should say theology because I believe the Gods exist--of our Norse ancestors. In my studies, I feel a level of tolerance, because I also believe that God and Jesus exist, it is just that they are not my native deities. The Norse deities predate Christianity and are the ones I feel most drawn towards.
Some examples of similarities, and why the pagans were able to convert to Christianity. The pagans had three main Gods: Thor, Odin, and Frey. They felt that the three Gods were very important for a well-rounded society. They were able to convert, because to them Odin, Thor, and Frey could be set up into God The Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Although they converted to Christianity, their minds were still set up in a polytheistic religion. To their way of thinking, and no disrespect intended, they could see similarities in their polytheism and the elements of Christianity. You have the Trinity. Furthermore, the saints were performing miracles. You had angels. You had the apostles. Very important religious leaders with healing powers. To their way of thinking, the Christian entities were very close to the pagan demi-Gods and minor Gods, such as the God of Harvest and Thor's wife. Their thinking could be converted very easily. All they had to do was simply change the names of the Gods they believed in. But their religious instincts remained the same.
Their emblems often had the ability to cross over as well. For example, during the pagan times the Vikings carried the hammer symbol of Thor's hammer, Mjollnir. All they had to do was stretch out the top of the hammer a little bit once Christianity came along to get a cross. So it was an easy transition for them. A lot of misconceptions have come about because of Thor's hammer. A negative symbol is an upside down cross and some Christians call it a Satanic cross. But it actually was not a Satanic symbol. The hammer hanging upside down was a Thor's hammer. But Christians called it Satanic, because to Christians at the time the other Gods do not exist, they are just some form of Satan. This is a good example of an intolerant and narrow-minded mentality. What you can see in the film by Magnus Magnusson is the museum specimen of Thor's hammer found in Iceland. I have a copy of it here tonight. I am wearing one right now made in silver that I had a friend make up. Iceland, which had the purest Viking culture, most removed from Europe, did convert to Christianity in 1000 AD, but a law went on for at least the next eight years, that pagan practices could still be carried on in the privacy of ones own home. So they made the transition much more smoothly than in other areas [such as Norway where pagans were ruthlessly tortured and murdered as part of a systematic forced conversion program by "Saint" Olaf and others].
During the first surge of Christianity in the Northern areas, the Christians had a ceremony in which they would insist that pagans had to undergo it in order to trade with them. It was not a baptism, but was called a prime sign, done so that Christians could deal with pagans. As the Christian Church became more powerful, the persecution of the pagans started. It was not until a later date that the paganism started to thaw. [The Swedes at the pagan temple at Uppsala were among the last to convert towards the end of the Viking Age]. The structure of the Viking religion, Asatru, lived on, however, such as in the search for knowledge. Magnusson, in the video, touched upon the high literacy rate in Iceland. The people of Iceland created a wealth of saga literature. The search for knowledge was a predominant Nordic belief. The southern Christian churches did not promote this. They did not want the public to understand too much so that they could stay in control. Something that the Norse Christians inherited from their ancestors and old culture was that thirst for knowledge and desire for reading that was innate in them. That is why Iceland was one of the first countries in Europe to have a high literacy level. In the rest of Europe, mass literacy came much later.
Another very forward development for the Icelandic community was the elimination of slavery. They got rid of it around 1100 A.D. They decided to rule it out at their Althing. This was due to their love of freedom and desire to give rights to the individual. You should be born free, and be able to make your own decisions. That was part of their upbringing. Their children were free thinking and made their own decisions. The women were granted many more rights than women elsewhere in Europe. In the U.S., as recently as one hundred years ago, a wife was considered property. But in Iceland, women were heads of households. They could divorce, and were the rulers of the households. That is why they carried the keys. Apparently they had a lot of rights. They could own land. They could be a person of stature in a society that existed over a thousand years ago. The pagans had goddesses, and the goddesses were important, because they allowed women to have a lot of rights. In contrast, during the early Christian era, the priesthood was very male-oriented.
Oak Thorgeir displays replica Viking jewelry
In addition to the Thor's hammer, I have brought such Viking relics as this Viking helmet. It is an authentic reproduction that weighs about fifteen pounds. It is extremely solid. Feel free to pass it around, but you should be careful not to drop it on your toe! The helmets had padding on the inside to prevent them from bouncing around. This helmet was made by Kirby Wise, who created the Hammersong tapes that we gave out during the raffle prior to the beginning of this lecture. Please note that it does not have horns, which were considered too cumbersome to wear into battle. Obviously if you wear horns a sword blow could easily knock the helmet off your head. What we consider to be horns were reserved instead for religious or ceremonial use.
Another relic that I brought with me was this Viking drinking horn. This one is sacred to Thor. It has Thor and His chariot on one side, and on the other side has three symbols of His power: His hammer, His gauntlet, and His belt of strength. I had this sanctified at a ceremony about two years ago. I use this in all of my religious practices. I will pass this around as well. The craftsmanship on it is really nice. A great piece of work.
The next relic is my pride and joy. Bought from the Franklin Mint. This is a copy of a true Viking sword. It cost about five hundred dollars. It is made of sterling silver and gold. This sword is a reproduction of a sword that is in a museum in Sweden. They call it the sword of Sigmund of the Volsung Saga. You can see it in the pictograph on the sword. During the last meeting of the Leif Erikson society, we saw the Magnusson video on the lengthy process and superb craftsmanship that went into making the Viking sword. It involved combining bars of metal and twisting and pounding them together at just the right temperatures.
One last piece that I brought was this Viking dagger from the Franklin mint. You can note the tremendous craftsmanship of the Vikings that was shown in their work.
I will pass it around. It is not sharp.
I would now like to pass the discussion back to Thor Sannhet. All I can say is that I thank you all for having me! [Applause from the audience]
THOR SANNHET: For starters, I would like to point your attention to the books that I have brought with me tonight. You might be surprised at how inexpensive it is now to buy a complete set of saga books in paperback form. I have Njal's Saga, Laxdaela Saga, Egil's Saga, and the Eyrbyggja Saga here tonight as examples of what is available from Viking Penguin books based in New York City. Viking Penguin puts out an outstanding book catalog that also includes great classics of ancient PAGAN Greece and Rome. The values of the Romans of the Roman Republican period and the Greeks of the classical period were actually quite similar to those of the Norse peoples, and physically they were also quite similar. Some physical anthropologists refer to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Nordic peoples; others call them semi-Nordic peoples to account for various Celtic, Alpinid, and Mediterranean admixtures. No matter where you come out on the pedigree issue, the Roman and Greek classics have an important place in Asatru, because people like Polybius, Livy, Thucydides, and Plutarch demonstrate the same rationalistic "Western" mind-set in their writings that our people demonstrated in the saga literature and still possess today. This is an important feature that distinguishes the literature of Western Civilization from that of other peoples and civilizations.
I mentioned how I attended the Icelandic Thorrablot. Asatru is certainly much more of a part of the social fabric of Iceland today than it is in Norway-, where it was ruthlessly rooted out at the end of the Viking Age. In fact, Asatru was not only tolerated at the close of the Viking Age in Iceland, but one of the reasons for the impressive literature that came out of Iceland during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was this tolerance. The literary output was a reflection of a surviving pagan spirit, especially since the sagas so freely discuss the pagan era, typically in sympathetic terms.
An outstanding example is the Heimskringla, also referred to as The Lives of the Norse Kings. According to an article that appeared in the April 1988 Sons of Norway Viking Magazine, the Heimskringla is the most widely owned book in Norway after the Bible. It was written by Snorre Sturlason. Where? In Iceland. He gets into the pagan period, particularly in the Ynglinga Saga that comprises the first chapter of the Heimskringla. Here Sturlason talks about Odin. For a time the complete Heimskringla with the beautiful illustrations commissioned by the Norwegian publisher Stenersens Forlag in 1899 was available only in a leather bound version that cost $380.00; today it is available in paperback for about $17.00 [published by Dover Publications, Inc., 31 East 2nd Street, Mineola, New York 11501]. The Sons of Norway Heritage Books catalog also carries the paperback version of the Heimskringla [1455 West Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55408].
Snorre Sturlason also wrote the Prose Edda, an invaluable source of information on our cosmology and tales of our Gods, available in paperback from the Univ of California Press [2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, California 94720]. Also vital to our .understanding of Asatru is another book out of Iceland: The Poetic Edda. You can obtain an inexpensive paperback edition in English, translated by the late Professor Lee M. Hollander, from the University of Texas Press [P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713. An easier translation to understand was made by adjunct professor Patricia Terry that avoids Hollander's use of archaic English. Titled Poems of the Elder Edda, it is available in paperback from the Univ of Pennsylvania Press, Blockly Hall, 418 Service Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19104].
In addition to tolerance, another reason for Iceland's literary output is the fact that during the Viking Age, Icelanders served as "combat correspondents" and court historians throughout Norway, Denmark, and even the Danelaw areas of England. Although Iceland was never an actual base for launching Viking raids on other lands, Icelanders were found as individuals among Norwegian and Danish Viking expeditions and even as far east as the Varangian Guard in Byzantium. Most of these books that I brought with me tonight can be obtained from the Sons of Norway Heritage Books catalog. Of course the Sons of Norway is a fraternal organization and is no more involved with religion or politics than the Leif Erikson Society, but still it carries the classic works of our people, to include their pagan literary achievements.
The Poetic Edda is comprised of pagan poems called lays that were penned in Iceland. The introduction to the University of Texas edition of the Poetic Edda begins by saying that, "What the Vedas are for India, and the Homeric poems for the Greek world, that the Edda signifies for the Teutonic race; it is a repository, in poetic form, of their mythology and much of their heroic lore, bodying forth both the ethical views and the cultural life of the North during late heathen and early Christian times."
One of the lays is called the Havamal, also known as The Word of Odin. How many of you here tonight knew that there was such as thing as the The Word of Odin? Well, the fact that I see no hands tells me the extent to which you have been deprived of knowledge of your Viking heritage. The Havamal or the Sayings of Har (one of Odin's many names) or Word of Odin is one of the longest lays of the Poetic Edda, containing 165 stanzas. Pragmatic in tone, it offers practical advice. Always stay on guard and use caution; word-fame lives on to inspire future generations for those who live lives of valor; be loyal to your kindred; be proud but not arrogant, be modest but not humble; use moderation and stay in control; courage is the greatest of all virtues; and seek wisdom and learning.
[Editor's belated note: As mentioned later, unlike fundamentalist Christians, most Asatruar such as myself do not take this literature to be infallible and inerrant, but rather simply view it as source material reflecting a particular era that can become valuable when interpreted wisely].
Oak spoke about the thirst for knowledge that characterizes Northern European man. In the first lay of the Poetic Edda, the Prophecy of the Seeress or Voluspa, Odin removes His left eyeball in exchange for the right to drink from the waters of Mimir to gain All-Knowledge. This reflects what modern social writers have called "Faustian Spirit." This term is taken from Goethe's Dr. Faustus who was so totally motivated to gain all-knowledge that he was willing to sell his soul to Mephistopheles. It is supposed to reflect the unique spirit of scientific inquiry of Western man.
When Odin gains All-Knowledge, this knowledge is both profoundly satisfying and thoroughly terrifying at the same time. We must consider that Father Odin has a rational, scientifically oriented brain. A technologically adapted mind set. He has to know in order to attain a logically integrated and coherent worldview. And he does acquire knowledge which gives him a coherent and full understanding of how the world works and how events will unfold into the future. This knowledge is profoundly satisfying to him.
But the terrifying part is that He becomes conscious of the forces of decay. According to the Norse mythology, you have serpents which chew at the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. In addition, the forces of evil will culminate in the last days. Odin must gather all the heroes of Valhalla for the last and terrible battle against evil at Ragnarok. Odin Himself will die. He will be eaten by the wolf Fenrir. He knows this, but rather than throw His arms up in despair, He prepares for the final showdown in every way possible and fights the good fight all the way. In a sense His spirit and personal example have a transcendent meaning that will survive beyond His physical extinction. Somewhere beyond the utter destruction and sacrifice, we are told, there is shining hope that shall arise from the wreckage. The God Baldur, God of Beauty, will return. There will be surviving men and women to repopulate the earth, and Baldur will provide leadership to create a better society than what we know today. They will be able to look back upon the old Gods for inspiration and strength as they forge ahead.
So Odin gains All-knowledge --Yes-- but He gains terrible knowledge, the sure knowledge of His own doom and the destruction of virtually everything He holds dear. But nevertheless, Odin is a God of valor. He can look at the world and see it for what it is and not back off. He would prefer to have all-knowledge, even if it is terrifying knowledge, than to remain ignorant. And so that is the indomitable spirit of valor and the spirit that thirsts for knowledge of the Viking.
I wish to bring to your attention the fact that there has been a scholarly movement that has gained momentum since the 1950's to discover the commonalities of the ancient Indo-European religions, such as Asatru, Druidism [Celtic mythology], Greco-Roman mythology, and the ancient Vedic literature of the Indo¬European invaders of the Indus valley around 1500 BC. They are all descended from a common ancestor, much like modern European languages are descended from a common proto-Indo-European ancestor. The genealogy of European languages is portrayed in the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. I brought a copy with me tonight. This shows how the Germanic, Romance, and Slavic languages, as well as ancient Sanskrit and Latin and Greek, evolved from a common Indo-European ancestor. By comparing languages, scholars can get an idea of what that earlier ancestor must have been like around 4000 BC and earlier. It was spoken by an Indo-European people that probably ranged from Scandinavia to the eastern Russian steppes.
To give you a time scale, I will recite some of the dates provided by the English historian Arnold Toynbee. Egyptian civilization originated around 4000 BC and ended in 1660 BC. The Minoan civilization lasted from 3000 BC to 1400 BC, and the Sumeric civilization lasted from 3500 BC until 1900BC. Scientists, more and more, are finding complex structures in Northern Europe that date from the periods of the earliest civilizations and even earlier still. This attests to very capable people who originated in frost zones and displayed their expertise not only in their frost zone habitats, but also in the balmier lands to the south where they played a vital role in directing and energizing civilizations.
Our ancestors spent quite a lot of time in a frost zone. I have a book at home titled The Prehistory of Denmark, published in 1982, that claims that artifacts have been found in Denmark that date primitive man as far back as 200,000 BC. "Peking Man", who lived in a Far East frost zone, dates back to around 450,000 BC. [cf the Oct 1988 National Geographic article titled, "The Peopling of the Earth" that not only mentions the aforementioned Zhoukoudian, China Homo erectus find, but also depicts on page 436 a Homo erectus at Lantian, China circa 700,000 BC]. Many reputable anthropologists dismiss the recent mitochondrial theory depicted on the cover of Newsweek about a common ancestor in Africa as recently as 200,000 years ago and instead claim that various human gene pools have been separated by at least half a million to a million years, each experiencing .significantly different sculpturing effects by their geographic environments. In just the last 120,000 years, there have been three ice ages, Wurm I, II, and III, that have advanced ice sheets across Denmark and other parts of Northern 10 Europe. When I think of our ancestors prior to recorded history, I think of peoples who functioned in the frost zones just south of the ice sheets. They extended from northwestern Europe into north central Eurasia. They had to be a robust and heroic people to survive harsh northerly conditions, and it is not surprising that they would follow heroic gods.
When scientists compare the family of Indo-European religions, which, as I mentioned, include Asatru, Druidism (or Celtic mythology), Greco-Roman mythology, and early Brahmanic beliefs, they see similarities in various legends and religious practices. An important seminal work was written by the French professor Georges Dumezil in his book, Gods of the Ancient Northmen. The English scholar H. R. Ellis Davidson has analyzed the similarities between Asatru and ancient Celtic beliefs in her book Myths and Symbols of Pagan Europe. Professor Hans Gunther has also written an important analytical work titled The Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans. He points out how the Indo-Europeans tended towards heroic deities with such characteristics as stoicism and independence. The Indo-Europeans tended towards simple --as opposed to opulent --religious observances, often in a natural setting. They tended to relate to their gods as companions rather than as humble slaves who prostrated themselves before divine masters who might zap them for each transgression or "sacrilegious" thought. Perhaps this is what one might expect of hardy, independent, fierce peoples who survived because of their innate robust qualities and technological competence required to adapt to frost zone environments. Roger Pearson wrote in his booklet Early Civilizations of the Nordic Peoples [Noontide Press, 1822 1/2 Newport Blvd, Suite 191, Costa Mesa, CA 92627], "There is nothing unclean about life itself in any Nordic religion, and fasting and celibacy are considered wrong, as obstacles to living, while the care of children and the yearly sowing of crops are objects of special approval. There is to be no shrinking from life, mere good clean living: industry, vigor of mind and body and full parenthood are good, lewdness and perversions are sinful. Here is the industry, simplicity, love of truth, valor and righteousness which is behind all Nordic beliefs ... "
There are four major areas I would like to touch on as briefly as I can. First, I would like to talk a little bit about the great leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. Secondly, I wish to discuss some of the things I learned while making a documentary about Native Hawaiians. Thirdly, I wish to touch upon modern sociobiological and genetic theory. Finally, I will relate what I have talked about to the similarities and differences between Christianity and Asatru.
Let me talk first about Luther. Some people would interpret the spirit of his rebellion against the centralized Papacy that started the Protestant Reformation as actually an effort to bring Christian practices back in the direction of Asatru. When Christian missionaries first came to the Norsemen prior to Viking Age, the Norsemen simply lacked the types of resources required to successfully defend themselves against the psychological warfare being waged against them by a sophisticated, well-funded, and well manned adversary consisting of the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome. They lacked libraries and educational facilities. They lacked whole armies of missionaries that could be continually flung at a people until they were worn down. They lacked media resources, which is what I view monasteries to have been since they served as document reproduction centers and as staging areas for mobile proselytization teams in support of Christian psychological operations campaigns.
I am not surprised that the opening conflict of the Viking Age was the Norse pagan raid on the Lindisfarne Priory in England in 793, which had been a foremost repository of Christian literature --or propaganda in the view of Viking pagans-- in northern Europe. In a segment of the BBC Viking Age series, If narrator Magnus Magnusson dismissed an account by an Irish priest who described an attempt by a Norse chieftain to convert the Irish to Odinism as "feverish scribblings and wild imagination." I think we need to keep in mind, however, that most of the surviving written accounts of Viking operations were recorded by Christians who were programmed to believe that anything that was not Christian was automatically Satanic and bloodthirsty-barbarous in nature. Although Odinists of the Viking Age relied more on tradition, instinct, and intuition than modern Odinists, who now have the benefit of modern scientific disciplines and comparative religious studies on their side, I believe that there was enough of a perceived difference in worldviews that some Odinists actually did try to "talk sense" to Christians.
Although the Norsemen lacked the kinds of libraries and educational facilities that had been created by pagan Greeks and Romans, they were not totally illiterate or backward either, however. They did have the Futhark, which was the runic alphabet that came in four versions: the Older Germanic, Common Germanic, Later Norse, and Anglo-Saxon. All of the Futharks, with the exception of the Older Germanic Futhark, could phonetically record language just like the Roman alphabet. Over 3,000 grave markers with runic writing remain in Sweden to this day [Magnus Magnusson points this out in the Viking Age series video "Haldan Was Here" about the Swedish Vikings]. The problem was that during the Viking Age the Norsemen had not yet developed the infrastructure to develop sophisticated arguments and psychological warfare countermeasures against the relentless assault of Christianity that continued throughout the Viking Age, gradually wearing the Vikings down and infiltrating their strategic choke points of power. Despite this infiltration and takeover by an alien creed, the descendants of the Vikings went on to develop the most advanced university systems in the world across Northern Europe in the late Middle Ages. This system would later lead to the period of the Enlightenment that gained full momentum by the 18th century. The Enlightenment was the beginning of the intellectual countermeasures that could have preserved the open practice of Asatru for the Vikings if it had only come during their time.
You can argue that Martin Luther attempted to return Christian practices back to the literate tendencies of the futhark era or the Greek and Roman rationalistic literature through his insistence upon individualized study of Scripture as opposed to reliance on Church authority and traditions. Luther also returned political and administrative control of Northern European religion to a more decentralized level by freeing it from the Papal hierarchy headquartered in Rome. Decentralized religion was a key attribute of Asatru.
Martin Luther wanted to get rid of the priestly intermediaries who had stood between the faithful and their God. At that time, the Church even claimed the power to regulate ones tenure in Purgatory based upon indulgences and penitences. In Luther's eyes, each man was fit to approach God on his own without having to go through a priest. This attitude was consistent with the Asatru attitude that rejected a priestly class and emphasized instead a personal relationship with the Gods, consistent with the Asatru focus on self-sufficiency, personal independence, and human rights. So in summary, I perceive that much of what Martin Luther tried to do, even if he himself was never fully conscious of it, was to move Northern European religious practices back towards Asatru. He sought to bring our ancestors half way home.
An important attribute of Asatru is that it is the indigenous ancestral faith of the Nordic people. I would like to talk about my experience with Native Hawaiians for a moment that gave me an important perspective on the concept of the indigenous ancestral faith. I once worked on a documentary film about Native Hawaiian leaders who were trying to pull together the shattered fragments of their indigenous culture and religion as part of a last ditch effort to save their people. Prior to the arrival of Captain Cooke, the Hawaiians populated all of the Hawaiian Islands by themselves. Now they comprise less than 10% of the total population, are still in decline. Their influence in key areas of the economy is negligible. Many complain about having become "servants in their own house." In the view of some activists, when the Hawaiians discarded their indigenous pagan religion of Kahunaism in the early 1800's, they discarded one of their first lines of defense necessary to defend themselves as a distinct people.
I found it quite' interesting to observe the Hawaiian pagan influence In spearheading a "Hawaiian Renaissance" that gathered steam in the mid 1970's. In the late 1970's, Hawaiian activists demanded and created a special branch of the state government called the Office of Hawaiian Affairs that is exclusively devoted to meeting their cultural and other community needs. They augmented their entitlements from the Federal and State governments, which interestingly enough explicitly promote genetic and racial consciousness for Native Hawaiians through pro-Hawaiian legislation. As an example, the Hawaiian Homestead Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in the 1920's, gives land tenure privileges to Native Hawaiians who can prove through genealogical records that they are at least 50% Hawaiian by blood (the legal definition of a Native Hawaiian). Native Hawaiians are now campaigning for sovereign lands on various islands such as Moloka'i. Last but not least --actually first-- Native Hawaiians have demanded respect for their indigenous religion called Kahunaism. They have created heiaus (temples) and halaus (meeting places) on various islands and speak reverently and seriously about their indigenous deities Ku, Lono, Kane, and Kaneloa. During a campaign to recover land from military target practice use, the Native Hawaiians used the slogan, "Every bomb that falls on our sacred land [of our gods] is a bomb that falls on the soul of the Hawaiian people." Native Hawaiians have also promoted open acceptance of their Kahunas. A particularly vivid example is Ms. Momi Lom who retired from a career with the Honolulu Police Department. She was pictured on the cover of Honolulu magazine in a story that described how she is descended from a long line of priests that tended to the Mo'okini Heiau on the Big Island of Hawaii. She continues that caretaker function in her retirement.
It is interesting how the attitude of the Hawaiian Christian community has change"d 180 degrees since the early 1800's towards Kahunaism. In the early period Christians were every bit as as intolerant as "Saint" Olaf of Norway towards Norse pagans. A leader of the Hawaiian community [Editor's late note: the late Dr. Abraham Piianaia, Director of the Hawaii Studies Department, University of Hawaii at Manoa] once told me about how his pagan great-grandmother refused to convert to Christianity despite pressure from her descendants. Her last remarks were, "The Christians did not tell us anything that we did not know already." In more recent years, Hawaiian Christians have come to acknowledge that Hawaiian pagans perhaps did know a thing or two after all, and have participated side by side with them in social protest movements designed to promote Hawaiian rights. They now take the attitude that the old deities of Ku, Lono, Kane, and Kaneloa were every bit as much "Holy Spirit" to their pagan ancestors as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are among the Hawaiian Christian community today. [This sentiment was echoed by the "Come, Holy Spirit, and Renew the Creation" theme of the recent World Council of Churches convention in Australia that honored the pagan Australian Aborigines]. Attacks on the pagan deities are now considered by the bulk of the Hawaiian community to be just as offensive as an attack on the Christian deities. Hawaiian Christians now support Hawaiian pagans in demanding respect for the religion of their ancestors, whose deities have effectively become symbolic of the .survival, soul, dignity, and heritage of their people.
Christians and Odinists have achieved mutually respectful and tolerant working relationships in times past. The Christianization of Iceland proceeded peacefully. The Icelandic saga literature that recorded pagan beliefs were written during the Christian era of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the knowledge of Icelandic bishops. Christian leaders in Norway and Denmark played an important role for Asatru in the 16th and 17th centuries by helping to preserve saga manuscripts, especially since the climate in Iceland became more puritanical and intolerant during that era and outside support for the manuscripts became vital.
I see no reason why Odinists and Christians can not work together today. Host Lutheran ministers that I know are fundamentally decent people with admirable humanitarian instincts and a commitment to social service. We Odinists also have similar instincts, although we may chose to invest our pro-social instincts and charitable impulses somewhat differently based upon our different theology and preference for in-kind ethics as a first resort. To the extent that Lutheran ministers provide a focal point for the Nordic community, aid its cohesion, and help to interpret its religious instincts in ways that promote its intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and even economic progress, they are accomplishing important Odinist objectives. We admire the valuable services many Christian ministers perform to help provide guidance and counseling in people's lives. Many Christian leaders provide valuable moral compass points and rites of passage. We admire the charismatic gifts of many Christian ministers who are able to reach out and empathize with people and provide a sense of loving care and warm support. We too believe in the importance of love and caring within our community. We hope that through dialog, we can work within various existing religious and social structures of the Nordic community that are already positive and play a role that makes the community that much stronger, more enlightened, and self-sufficient.
As Odinists we believe in being broadly educated and in gaining a full knowledge of all religions. We encourage our fellow Odinists to read the Old and New Testament as well as other important religious works such as the Koran or works of Confucius. I have read both the Old and New Testaments. A big problem that I have in sharing Odinism with many Christians is that too many Christians have not even bothered to read their own Bible. They have many misconceptions about its underlying doctrines that come from the highly edited liberal theology that is commonly promulgated in Christian Churches today. I sometimes spend more time speaking with Christians about their own Bible than about Odinism to help overcome their deplorable ignorance. Fortunately most Christian ministers do not have this problem, and often have a depth of religious education that is a genuine asset in our religious dialog.
An important basis of our dialog is the fact that we Odinists often find that many conservative Lutheran ministers practice on a de facto basis values that could be more accurately termed Odinist than pure Christian. This is fine with us. We believe that conservative Lutheran ministers can make a transition from trying to become ever more literal, visceral, mystical, and liberal in their interpretation of Christianity and instead can focus on trying to become more intellectual, rationalistic, and supportive of traditional values and Nordic culture (as epitomized in Asatru). They can do this without significantly ruffling their congregations. I think that in the long run their congregations will appreciate them more for this. As mentioned, many conservative Lutheran churches practice something closer to Odinism than pure Christianity as it stands. We believe that when the Vikings "converted" to Christianity, they simply dressed up their interpretation of their religious instincts in Jewish theological clothes, but their instincts still remain the same today, because biologically they are still essentially the same people. Since we believe that Viking-descended Christians are really repressed Odinists in disguise, we hope that many Lutheran and other Christian ministers will accept our invitation to come out of the closet.
Getting back to the concept of paganism in general, I would point out that it has become an emergent force among indigenous peoples in a variety of nations. In the Sioux Indian Nation, pagans have revived the Sun Dance. In Peru, an intellectual movement has revived the ancient Inca ceremony to honor the sun god. In Ireland, the founders of the Irish Republican Army and Irish Free State revived ancient Celtic folkways, Gaelic, and the study of Druidic religious beliefs. The power of the Catholic Church in Ireland prevented the actual establishment of a separate Druidic Church in Ireland, but a Druidic Church does in fact exist in Northern France. Modern Druids and Odinists have worked together in England as part of a pan-pagan movement to assert religious worship rights at Stonehenge.
There are some peoples who do not have to go to great lengths to recapture their indigenous ancestral faith. This is because their ancestors were wise and strong enough to never let it beyond their grasp to begin with. Two prime examples are Judaism, practiced by the Jewish people, and Shinto, practiced by the Japanese in Japan and by Japanese-Americans [Nisei] in America. Both societies have a level of cohesion and social discipline that translates into high levels of economic and even military power relative to their size. We in Asatru can learn a lot from the success stories of these peoples. All we ask is the right to exercise the same First Amendment Constitutional rights for ourselves that these other groups have demanded and received for themselves all along.
The third area that I wish to discuss involves recent advances in genetics and sociobiology. This is important to Asatru because it is an ancestral faith that focuses upon genealogy and promotes unity among kindred who are related by family ties, be they close family ties or far-extended family ties. I also feel that this is important because the old Norse practitioners of Asatru, as well as modern Odinists, tend towards scientific and rational world views. We consider it cowardly to ignore major new research and ideas in the natural sciences and not integrate this knowledge into our understanding of the world. Finally, as mentioned, we believe that Viking-descended Christians have the same religious instincts as their Viking pagan ancestors, and they need to develop a more scientific understanding of their shared religious tendencies.
According to a number of eminent American scientists such as Dr. Arthur Jensen and Dr. Raymond Cattell, identical twin studies have determined that intelligence is about 80% genetic. According to the April 13, 1987 U.S. News and World Report article "The Gene Factor: How Heredity Shapes Personality" many traits are over 50% genetic: extroversion is 61%, conformity 60%, worry 55%, creativity 55%, paranoia 55%, optimism 54%, cautiousness 51%. We have temperamental traits that are unique to our people that were sculptured as a result of the hundreds of thousands of years that our Nordic ancestors spent in the frost zone areas of this planet. As an example, our light skin gives us a very slight advantage in synthesizing vitamins at northern latitudes; dark skinned people have at least a seven fold greater chance of getting rickets without special vitamin supplements. Conversely, we have about a seventy times greater chance of developing skin cancer in equatorial areas than darker skinned peoples who evolved in our planet's tropical zones.
We are also technologically-adapted in our temperamental traits. To survive in a frost zone, our ancestors had to have the technological capability to create winter survival gear and shelter. One must be able to inhibit oneself and keep working in the spring and summer to lay up enough provisions to survive the fall and winter. Other frost zone survival traits include having the innate wanderlust to be able to cover broad territory in tundra-like environments to search for game. One must also be sufficiently robust to withstand the cold environment, which most survival experts agree is the most difficult environment to survive in on our planet. In the desert, all you need is food and water. In a frost zone, food and water are just the bare beginnings of ones survival problems. People without the traits necessary to overcome frost zone survival problems got killed off by the cruel winters. Winters acted as a Darwinian selective check that prevented the distribution of innate temperamental traits in our gene pool from ever deteriorating below a certain threshold level of basic competence and technological adaptiveness. The basic biological material that makes us up as a people is a result of an incredibly long battle with nature. It would appear totally absurd for us not to value what nature has yielded from such a long struggle and selective process.
Not all Odinists are as attuned to physiological anthropology as I am. The writers of Huginn and Muninn, published out of Iceland, are into such parapsychological phenomenon as telepathy and "morphogenetic" fields that supposedly resonate the vibrations of their ancestors, a more mystical and intuitive approach than my own tendency towards a purely scientific approach. Nevertheless, I support their assertion that our Nordic lands and burial sites have special sacred qualities that we must fight for against certain disrespectful and alien forces that would desecrate them and cause our ancestors to turn in their dragon ship graves.
Some Odinists, such as myself, like to start with purely scientific explanations, go as far as they can with them, and then back into the religious intuition of Asatru. I find that the worldview of Asatru --the deep intuition of my Viking ancestors-¬is much closer to the scientific worldview than any other faith I am aware of, and is certainly closer to the instincts I feel on a personal level that come from being one of the Nordic peoples.
Science can only be a starting point. It can only tell us the "how's" of life. How molecules interact or how the motion of bodies follow natural laws. Through the use of logic and math, science can also rule out absurdities. But science can not tell us the "why's" of life. It can not tell us why we must continue to struggle to live. It can not tell us why we should have children, or why we should support them, or why we should or should not feel concern for our Nordic identity and shared interests as a Nordic people. Our values --the "why's" --are not resident in science, logic, or math. They are found only in our instincts, and ultimately in the values and cultures that have emanated from our genetic make up. The people who feel a life force survive and pass on their genes; the ones who do not die out and do not pass on their genes. What our ancestors have passed on to us is unique, as a result of unique selective processes. For this reason, if we are to preserve the best that is in our culture that emanates from our unique nature, we must also preserve the basic biological material, right down to the chromosomes, that makes us unique as a people.
Let us start with the purely scientific viewpoint that is offered by scientists, and in particular sociobiologists. This viewpoint is as follows: all life forms on this planet are simply complex carbon molecules activated by DNA, that have increased in complexity over the past three billion years as a result of an uphill selective battle to adapt to increasingly demanding niches. Dr. Edward Wilson of Harvard University argues in his book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis that even altruism and spirituality are rooted in our genes [cf also "Why You Do What You Do: Sociobiology, A New Theory of Behavior"; Time Magazine, August 1, 1977]. As an example, on an evolutionary level, it makes sense for a mother to rush into a burning building and rescue three infants even if it costs her life. One group of genes down, but three survive for a net gain of two. That behavior is cost effective in an evolutionary sense. So is altruistic behavior in which parents sacrifice for the survival of their children. People do these things because human groups with such traits have tended to survive, while human groups without these traits have tended to perish and not pass on their genes. Some geographic and social environments select for such genetic traits as altruism differently, however. Our genetic make up, on both an individual and group level, is adapted to the demands of dispersed living conditions in small tribal units in a frost zone throughout most of our evolutionary history.
Another significant area of insight comes from Dr. Elmer Pendell in his book Why Civilizations Self-Destruct [Howard Allen Enterprises, Box 76, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920]. He points out that in the absence of selective factors, all animal populations tend to become increasingly disordered and less functional over time. This is a function of mutations, most of which are maladaptive, and ultimately of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that chemical reactions tend on balance towards greater randomness and disorder in the universe. In the absence of certain selective factors, such as the cruel winters which selected out the less fit among our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of winters, human populations tend to become frumpier and dumpier and less competent over time. This is aggravated by the fact that less intelligent people tend to have more children than more competent people, thereby dragging down the overall competency levels of human gene pools.
The process by which humans evolved from Australopithecines into highly intelligent beings took place over hundreds of thousands of years in extreme geographical environments in which human groups competed on a small tribal basis. According to Mankind Quarterly [Cliveden Press, 1133 13th St., N.W., Suite C-2, Washington, D.C. 20005], an eminent anthropological journal, the main physiological determinants of the level of intelligence include brain size, cerebral folding, a high ratio of frontal lobe area to the rest of the brain [the degree of frontal lobe area correlates with abstract intelligence], and neural density. [Neurotransmitter quality may also be important]. Mankind Quarterly publishes anatomical data that shows significant differences in many of these characteristics among frost zone sculptured peoples of various racial groups compared to tropical or temperate zone-sculptured peoples. Physical anthropologists have observed a steady' "cranial revolution" characterized by increasing brain size in the last six hundred thousand years, particularly among frost zone-sculptured peoples.
According to Dr. Pendell, human evolution towards greater intelligence does not go on forever. In fact, once civilizations are created, evolution tends to go into reverse. Civilizations create niches and specialized roles that shelter the unfit, who then proliferate and drag down the overall competency level of gene pools. This process of deterioration, in which. the unfit outbreed the fit, is called dysgenic decay. Civilizations tend to become increasing liberal over time for a variety of reasons, to include the need to politically appeal to a wide variety of peoples who are required to provide a labor supply for burgeoning industries.
The common mistake made by virtually all civilizations is that they become so far removed from the Darwinian processes of nature that they put legalistic egalitarian abstractions ahead of biology. They actually adopt religions and laws that encourage rather than discourage the process of dysgenic decay. When the dysgenic decay process becomes too advanced, the civilization tends to collapse under the weight of massive incompetence. This decay process explains why empires have tended to run through life cycles. A big problem with diagnosing dysgenic decay is that the rate of growth of technological development and other improvements in civilizations tend to build on top of each other consecutively while masking the underlying decline in the genetic infrastructure.
Dr. Raymond Cattell, of the University of Illinois, has written a landmark book called Intelligence and National Achievement [available through Mankind Quarterly] which documents the process of dysgenic decay in America. According to Dr. Cattell, the average IQ of the various peoples who collectively comprise the United States is currently dropping one IQ point in innate intelligence every 20 to 30 years. We are seeing a number of economic and social indicators that give evidence of this decline. According to an exhaustive report on American competitiveness published in 1987 by Harvard Business School professors Scott and Cherington, the United States has been in steady economic decline since the mid-1960's. We also have a documented deterioration in S.A.T. scores and various measures of academic competence across America. Even our space program is becoming increasingly lethargic and geriatric. When the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey came out in the late 1960's, most Americans reasonably expected that by the year 2001, America would indeed have a massive orbital space station around the earth, substantial industrial colonies on the moon, manned outposts on Mars, and a deep space probe the size of an aircraft carrier headed towards Jupiter. This expectation seemed reasonable because we had already landed on the moon. [Editor's late note: There is now substantial evidence that the moon landing was a hoax]. I recollect seeing NASA plans at that time that showed exactly how we could progress to the 2001 Space Odyssey level by the year 2001. But now we have a very different sense of not only our capabilities, but also of national priorities and expectations. NASA is having a tough time simply launching single shuttle missions without suffering major malfunctions. The Europeans and Japanese are already overtaking us in satellite launches and space initiatives. America's decline in exploratory prowess should be of concern to those of us who are proud of such men of the Viking Age such as Leif Erikson, since the exploratory instincts of our ancestors, be they for geographic knowledge or to broaden the frontiers of science in universities, is a vital part of our innate being as a people.
Asatru differs from Christianity in that it seeks to recapture the values shown by our ancestors during the time in their evolution in which they were achieving forward growth in their level of intelligence, both on an innate as well as cultural level. Asatru wants to make possible a civilization that can inspire us to travel across the solar system and literally on to the stars.
Unfortunately I do not have much time tonight to fully explain many of these biological theories, but one in particular that merits mention is contained in Dr. Raymond Cattell's books, Beyondism: Religion From Science [Praeger Publishers, One Madison Ave, NY, NY 10010] and A New Morality From Science: Beyondism [Pergamon Press, Maxwell House, Fairview Park, Elmsford, NY 10523; distributed by Howard Allen, Box 76, Cape Canaveral FL 32920]. Dr. Cattell argues that for a group to be sustainable and grow, it must practice in-kind ethics in which charity begins at home. Other-kind ethics means what it sounds like: charity begins with strangers rather than at home. Human groups that practice other kind ethics for too long either contract or blend out of existence. Sometimes this ends up being bad not only for the group that is dying out, but also for the less fit groups that depend on the productivity of more fit groups for their sustenance. In the long run, the group that practices in-kind ethics as a first resort will become large and strong enough to not only pull itself out of the gutter, but help other groups as well that are less fit. But if a group (or gene pool) practices other-kind ethics for too long, when it goes down, it will take others with it.
Asatru preaches in-kind ethics as a first resort. It has a focus upon maintaining the continuity of our people and strengthening ourselves without a sense of guilt. In contrast to this, Christianity preaches other-kind ethics as a first resort. As mentioned, Asatru attempts to recapture the values of our ancestors that they held during the long period of human evolution in which their innate attributes continually improved, such as during the revolutionary increase in cranial size that took place for hundreds of thousands of years before the retrogressive influences of decadent civilizations. We feel that the ultimate test of any religious system is whether it is sustainable and causes a people to become stronger, more productive, and more in control of their destiny over time. No religious ideology is ever a healthy one if it causes a people to weaken on a military, economic, cultural, or even genetic level over time. We believe that Asatru will work to strengthen our people over time. The concepts actually can help to strengthen any people. The early Indo-European religions proved their worth through the amazing civilization-building achievements of their practitioners both in the Viking Age and in the era of the Roman Republic and Classical Greece. Asatru is a proven religion and has the "right stuff" that we are looking for.
One of my favorite quotes about our people came from an Icelander who characterized Icelanders as, "An egalitarian people with aristocratic tendencies." The aristocratic side of Asatru is connoted in its name. Magnus Magnusson specifically refers to Asatru as the Viking religion on page 55 of his book Viking: Hammer of the North. The term "Asa" means "the Gods" or "the Aesir" or "Noble Ones" and "Tru" means "faith". In the Ynglinga Saga, the Aesir are a tribe of strong, elite Gods who conquer a tribe of Gods called the Vanir. Many of the words in the proto-Indo-European language that begin with "Ar-" or "Ae-" connote nobility, honor, valor, and the high-born. The lays of the Poetic Edda and various sagas focus on heroism, stoicism, valor, and strength. They are rather dry, rationalistic, and austere in tone.
If I were to choose an American President whose life epitomized the aristocratic traits of Asatru, it would be George Washington, the Father of our country. He was a great athlete, a brave and noble military leader, and a person with a judicious and inquiring temperament. He was a gentleman and had the integrity to serve as a far-sighted and restrained statesman. Interestingly enough, Washington's ancestors, who came from the vicinity of York, were descended from Norwegian Odinists [cf "George Washington Was One of Us" in the June 21, 1990 issue of the Norway Times, 481 81st St., Brooklyn, NY 11209]. You might also be interested to know that the medieval writer, Geoffrey. of Chaucer, specifically referred to the Anglo-Saxon invaders from northern Germany who created the foundation of England as Odinists.
If I were to chose a U.S. President who would epitomize Asatru's egalitarian side, it would be Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson liked decentralized government just like the hardy Icelanders who favored the republican Althings. He praised the self-sufficient yeoman American farmer and found him to be the moral backbone of the young American republic. To the extent that the United States was 80% Anglo-Saxon when it was founded, and the Anglo-Saxons are a Nordic people, Jefferson had justifiable confidence in a people who had proven their competence and worth in taming the frontier. He had also seen the American farmer prove himself in the tidewater republican experience of the House of Burgesses of Virginia and the self-governing houses of other colonies prior to the War of Independence. In a similar way, the frost zone-sculptured people of Iceland have demonstrated an unusual level of innate intelligence across all strata of society. It was not uncommon in the Viking Age to see a simple Icelandic farmer who wrote books and composed poetry. You still see it among the so called "common man" in Iceland today. Since Iceland has kept itself homogeneous, Icelanders are essentially the same people today that they were during the Viking age, less some loss in capabilities due to the process of dysgenic decay described by Dr. Raymond Cattell. The innate robust individuality found among Nordic peoples has never made them comfortable with such Marxist-oriented terms as "the masses" that have a southern Asiatic ring to them.
Let us get back to Odinism. The term "Odin" has several meanings, just as Odin assumes many names in the heroic lays of the Poetic Edda. "Odin" signifies the supreme God in the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. To modern Odinists, the name Odin signifies the Supreme Life force that has always existed, preceding the historic Odin, as in stories about the creation of the earth. The name "Odin" has a linguistic similarity to "God" to the extent that it shares the "od" sound in Old German. It is a particular Indo-European way of saying "God" or expressing and giving meaning to our religious instincts and perceptions. We respect and feel an affinity for the somewhat similar conceptions, albeit with different names (eg. the Roman "Jupiter" and Greek "Zeus"), that our Celtic and Greco-Roman and other Indo-European close relatives used to express their sense of ultimate meaning.
"Odin" also signifies a tribal patriarch, in the sense that Abraham of the Old Testament is the patriarch of the Jewish tribe. According to the Ynglinga Saga, Odin had numerous progeny who set up ruling houses in different parts of Scandinavia. Odin also defined and lived a value system, much like Confucius of Confucianism. His value system was that of the robust, hardy, Indo-European war lord from the hard steppes of north central Asia, except he did not show the cruelty displayed by other leaders from similar areas such as Tamerlane and Ghengis Khan. Evidence for the historical Odin is provided in the Prose Edda and the Ynglinga Saga of the Heimskringla, both of which were written by Snorre Sturlason.
The Odinic Rite, a major Asatru organization based in England, has selected 250 BC as the approximate time when the historical Odin lived. The American Asatru publication Vor Tru dates its calendar from this date as the beginning of the "Runic Era". According to the Ynglinga Saga of the Heimskringla, Odin originated "east of the Don" in northern Eurasia. He had attributes that I wish to follow. That is why I identify with Asatru and feel that it comes closest to informing my religious instincts, after I first approach the world with a rational, scientific approach and go as far as I can with that.
For starters, Odin had a thirst for knowledge and passed on runic knowledge and literacy to our people. This is what I wish to do in my educational efforts. He was a warrior-leader and won all of his battles. I too strive to improve my leadership ability and be successful. Odin believed in his people and was willing to harden himself to become a brave man to fight for his people and their survival. He could even contemplate his own destruction at Ragnarok without losing his nerve. I too wish to promote the survival of my people and increase my courage, despite my "terrifying knowledge" from my study of sociobiology and anthropology that Dr. Raymond Cattell is right, the United States is losing on average one IQ point every generation from dysgenic decay and other factors. I see the dysgenic decay problem as being very similar to the serpents who chew on Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It is definitely a strong contributor towards an eventual Ragnarok.
Rather than seek a life of ease by heading southward to balmier lands, Odin headed northward to Sweden and made Uppsala His home. "North" to me symbolizes a tendency towards greater order, the creation of stronger people and higher civilization, reaching for the stars. This is because in the cold North, only these kinds of people can make it there, or at least before modern conveniences made life easy for everyone. I too am oriented towards the North, .and consider various areas of Sweden, Norway, and Iceland to be Holy Ground and well as symbolic sites.
Asatru accepts competition and struggle as eternal realities and does not try to get rid of them. Viking art is filled with restless swirls. Unlike other peoples who would run and shiver when they saw lightening, the Vikings felt inspired when they heard the thunder rip across the sky and attributed it to one of their favorite Gods Thor and identified with Him. They were thrilled by the violent waves of the open ocean. They rejoiced in a world with wide open frontiers, and sought to ever expand their knowledge and coverage of those frontiers.
This stands in sharp contrast with other peoples whose mentalities seek to make the world a more confined and controlled and leveled place of faceless masses in which everything is neatly arrayed around them in the same instinctive manner that a spider neatly casts his web and sits in the middle. Odinists believe that when you mix up and level the world's peoples, you rob the world of its variety. We respect and promote indigenous rights and the cultural survival of all indigenous peoples of our planet --which includes ourselves as a Nordic people. We have no desire to level societies into faceless masses of egalitarian proletarians.
Modern evolutionary theory holds that superior beings can never evolve in complexity to fill more complex niches without aggressive reproduction, conflict, competition, and selection. Modern American free enterprise economic theory holds that competition encourages the development of superior products. Attempts to eliminate competition, such as in Communist systems, have only yielded stagnation and deterioration. Just look at the problems the former Soviet Union is facing today. To not advance and compete is to stagnate and die. Asatru accepts eternal competition. It has no idyllic vision of eternal rest; its fresh and vigorous view of life finds that concept distasteful much like food that has been left dormant to mold and sour.
We Odinists do not have a boredom problem. Valhalla is a much livelier place than the Christian heaven, where those worthy Asatruar who earn their place in Odin's Hall will get to drink mead from ale horns that never run dry, enjoy the company of beautiful Valkyrian maidens, and incur wounds in combat that instantly heal. It is a vibrant and vigorous world view that says "Yes" to life. On that note, I would like to refer back to Oak and open up this discussion to questions.
MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE: This question is directed to Oak Thorgeir. Do you actually believe in Valhalla? Do you believe that you are going to go there when you die?
THORGEIR: Yes I do. I very definitely believe that when I die I am going to Valhalla. This is not to say that I fault Christians who believe in heaven. That is what is real to them. But their Trinity and their heaven are not my Gods or my Valhalla. Valhalla is what is real to me.
I would like to touch on some other similarities and differences between Asatru and Christianity besides what Thor Sannhet talked about. We are aware of how Christian missionaries who were of Northern European descent tended to emphasize writing and literacy. A number of colleges and universities in northern Europe, such as Oxford and Cambridge, evolved out of Christian monasteries. Once the printing press was invented, the mass distribution of Bibles gave many people a major incentive to learn how to read. But then again, let us not forget that today Scandinavian countries have the highest book consumption rates per capita in the world even when the Bible is no longer so central. Perhaps the innate curiosity factor is what really rules here. Perhaps even if there were no Christian Bible, the printing presses would have promoted mass literacy anyway. I also mentioned how the emphasis on literacy also existed in the pagan era. In the Poetic Edda, Odin hangs or suspends himself from the World Tree Yggdrasil for nine days to discover the secret of the runes, which he then passes on to his people to promote their literacy. As mentioned, the Vikings had their own runic alphabet, that could record language and thought just as well as the Latin and Greek alphabets. What they lacked at that time was the technology that supported creating and storing masses of written documents. But this was a technology that the Icelanders soon acquired on their bare island to produce the saga literature.
Oak Thorgeir and society ladies during the refreshment session
Speaking of the World Tree, or Yggdrasil --that is the basis of the Christmas Tree. The Christmas celebration was taken from the pagan celebration period of Yule, since there never was a record of an actual day in which Christ was born. I would also point out that the Church took Easter from a pagan holiday as well and reworked it to suit its purpose. There is a lot of pagan culture that we deal with every day and are not aware of. Many of the days of our week, such as Tuesday for Tyr, Wednesday for Wotan or Odin, Thursday for Thor, and Friday for Odin's wife Frigg are good examples. Despite the fact that Christians tried to totally exterminate the pagan culture, the pagans left many subtle pieces of it in our folkways.
I am not trying to convert people to Asatru. I am trying to make them aware of it and learn it much like people learn Greco-Roman mythology in school. You have home economics classes, well this is the class of the Northern European. Be proud of it and do not let people's stereotypes get in the way. For me it is a way of thinking and a way of life. For other people, well, it is just history. But we need to be aware that the Vikings were not barbarians. They never waged a war for religious conversion. Christianity is the religion that waged the wars of conversion. In the film last month, there were very few cases of the Viking religion trying to convert people, because they had the belief that other people's gods were just not their Gods, and they did not see the need to convert other people to their religion. They believed that other gods exist, they are just not our Gods. So they could leave other people alone in a spiritual way. That is about it, are there any questions?
MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE: How many Gods were there?
OAK THORGEIR: There were twelve principal Gods. The three main Gods were Thor, Odin, and Frey. There were also female Goddesses. This gets to another question about the difference between Asatru and Christianity. People think that Asatru is polytheistic and Christianity is monotheistic. But with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost you are up to three different aspects of a supernatural entity, whereas in pure monotheism you just have one God and no additional personalities. Then add Satan and we are up to four distinctive supernatural entities. Then add Gabriel and other angels. Add the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, and the Saints who can grant prayer if you are Catholic. We are up to seven distinct supernatural entities or categories of entities. Then there are the demons that Christ cast out of the swine. Prophets like Elijah who can ascend to Heaven. Going on nine entities and counting. People also believe that Christianity and Judaism lack idols or supernaturally charged objects. Read the Old Testament and find out about how the Ark of the Covenant was so charged, that if anyone except an anointed priest touched it, they would die instantly. Go to the Vatican today and look at the foot of a statue of a Saint that has been rubbed down from touching by people who believe it brings a blessing. When Christians talk down Asatru as having troubling pluralistic theology and idols, they need to look in their own back yard. Then they talk about our Gods as primitive and fantastic, yet with a straight face talk about an old man in the sky who zaps a woman into a salt pillar, puts all the animals of the world into a big boat and drowns out everything else, and speaks from a burning bush. I mean, lets be fair. Besides, how many Christians literally believe that God looks like the man who appears in Michelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel? Most Christians would simply tell you that this only represents a poetic or artistic image that helps them to interpret their religious feelings. But they do not take it literally. It is an artistic rendering of an unknowable abstraction. All religions, if they are honest, must admit that they are attempts to give form and expression to the unknowable. In fact, with many religions today, a person does not have to believe in the supernatural to still be considered religious. A study of Unitarians showed that a significant number are atheists. Many Buddhists are considered by Western standards to be atheistic while still considered practicing Buddhists. Religion encompasses more than literal beliefs in certain supernatural images. We have a nonliteral interpretation of our Gods in Asatru. Steve McNallen is clear in this in what he wrote in his tract "What Is Asatru?" that we do not consider the myths to be literally true, as history. He writes that, "Yes --we consider our Gods to be real. However, just as most Christians do not think their God is really an old bearded figure sitting in a golden chair in heaven, we do not believe Thor (for example) is actually a muscular, man-shaped entity carrying a big hammer. There is a real Thor, but we approach an understanding of him through a particular mental picture."
Stephen McNallen also wrote a tract called "The Lessons of Asgard." You can get it from Vor Tru [Box 961, Payson, Arizona 85547]. H. R. Ellis Davidson's Gods and Myths of Northern Europe is also good. "The Lessons of Asgard" describes the leadership traits of our Gods. Let us begin with Odin. He loves most dearly those who reach beyond what they have and what they are. His heroes are the achievers, the doers, the dynamic unsatisfied ones who want more and more out of life. Odin epitomizes the search for wisdom. The desire for all-knowledge. Our rational, intellectual nature that puts us on a higher level than jungle animals.
Thor signifies strength, valor, and direct action. He does not shirk life's problems. He reminds us of the importance of the physical. The physical supports the emotional which supports the intellectual. All are interdependent. We must keep ourselves trim physically, especially as we get older, to keep our ability to function in other areas up. Thor is one of my favorite Gods. His name is part of my Viking name. I think of him and feel motivated when I take on tough physical challenges, like mountain adventure sports. Thor was also able to give healthy expression to his instincts. In sagas he could be angry. But that is fine. Anger has its place to beat back enemies and defend our territory. We do not try to deny basic instincts completely, but rather channel them to accomplish the greatest good. In contrast, some brands of Christianity preach complete denial of certain instincts like anger and the sex drive. Thor, incidentally, was the favored God in Norway. Odin was more of the main God in northern Germany and among the early Anglo-Saxons who colonized England.
The God Frey expresses a more sexual and sensual side. He was also in the temple in Uppsala, Sweden, next to Thor and Odin. The site of Asatru that held out the longest was this one. It was not destroyed until the twelfth century. The Vikings were not Christianized all at once. It actually happened gradually through out the Viking Age which lasted from 793 AD until 1066 AD, according to many historians. Anyway, Frey is a fertility God. He encourages us to have babies and reproduce our own kind. That is very healthy. He encourages women to relish their womanhood and motherhood. That is also very healthy. Frey is interesting because He actually comes from the Vanir, not the Aesir like Odin and Thor. The Vanir were a race of Gods who were conquered by the Aesir, and merged with Them in the Ynglinga Saga. The Vanir are more sensual. More into holistic stuff. The Aesir are more the hard warrior types. That may explain why the Vanir lost. Anyway, Frey teaches us that there is a place for pleasure and the expression of our physical and athletic side without guilt or shame. The Indo-European way was to have a wholesome feeling about sex and our bodies. Other pagans like the Greeks and Romans relished physical culture. Just look at the Olympics. Look at the ancient Greek statues. Look at Vigeland's Sculpture Park by Oslo! I have not been there, but I have seen the pictures. The spirit of Frey prevails there as well.
Freya, a woman Goddess, is also a Vanir. She is a Goddess of Love. She tells us that sexuality is to be treasured as one of life's sweetest treasures. We need to shake off false guilt associated with these pleasures. It lessens the oppressive power of people who want to manipulate us. She also reminds us, along with Frigga, who I will get to later --as well as Sif who is the wife of Thor-- that women are integral to our community. Unlike Christianity, we are not trying to shut out women. Men and women are both equal halves of the human species. We need each other to continue on. While we are very individualistic, we can never be completely whole until we relate to a community of our own kind. Christian monks have historically totally excluded the female side with their celibacy and as a consequence each generation of monks has died out and had to be replenished from outside. We can sustain ourselves from within. Freya also is linked to Valkyries, and shows how we welcome lady Vikings. She definitely has a fierce side. She chooses half the battle-slain. In many ways she can be strong and assertive. Women can be full of fight too. We acknowledge and love them for their strengths. Also Freya is connected to the Nornir who transmit to people their "fate." She has transgenerational properties. This makes sense if there is procreation to continue the family line. Freya insists that, in general, having babies is not only O.K., but it is highly desired.
Tyr is a warrior God who signifies sacrifice and duty. Once the Gods tried to bind one of Loki's offspring, the Fenris Wolf. Each time they tried to bind him, the bindings snapped. The third time they convinced the wolf to try on some shackles only by having Tyr put his hand in his mouth as a hostage. When the wolf discovered himself bound, he snapped off Tyr's hand. Tyr encourages us to get away from the "me-generation" mode of thinking and consider sacrifice for our kin as well as our own selfish needs.
Frigga is the wife of Odin. She suggests many of the pro-family and pro-motherhood values of Freya. She is also mother earth, and gives us a religious incentive to be ecologically sensitive and treat our environment with care.
Baldur is a very handsome, very white, very noble God. He has this tremendous nobility of character to him. Loki manages to kill him through trickery. Baldur is only vulnerable to mistletoe. Loki has a blind man fire a mistletoe arrow that kills him, so He goes to Hel, the land of the dead. The Aesir try to rescue Baldur, and come close, but once again Loki fouls everything up. But Baldur gives us some hope, because after Ragnarok He is fated to return from the land of the dead. Mortal men and women will survive who will repopulate a new earth. Baldur will guide the creation of a new society.
Many kept asking questions after the presentation
Loki is also quite fascinating. He connotes evil, and has an air of perversion and trickery. He will be among the forces of evil, like the Midgard Serpent and the wolf Fenrir, who will also be among the enemies of Asgard in the last days. Loki is a warning that the spirit of vicious and subterranean destructiveness exists among our fellow man. It exists in some individuals and some groups more than others, obviously. We should always stay on guard for the Lokis of this world. But the attitude of the Vikings towards Loki was different than the Christian attitude towards Satan. In a number of tales, Thor and Loki travel together. It is as if the Vikings understood the forces of decay, malice, and perversion, but they were able to deal with these parts of life without fanaticism. They kept cool and under control. They fit the negative parts of life into an overall system of life. They had a pragmatic viewpoint.
Christians never claim that you can learn all that you need to know about Christianity by just reading one chapter of one Gospel. I don't claim that you can see how all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together from my overview. You have to read through the sagas and read the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda, stand back, and sense the forest as well as the trees. Then do like Thor Sannhet has said, let this information inform your instincts and intuition.
MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE: I do not understand how genetics influences theology. Are you saying it is in ones genes to actually believe in an Odin or Thor?
THOR SANNHET: No. I never claim that ones genes necessarily create highly specific behaviors, norms, or attitudes. In psychology there is always an interplay between genetics on the one hand and learning or the environment on the other. The question is what factor has more influence, not whether it is all of one and none of the other. Our genes give rise to general tendencies, but our learning from culture and the immediate environment gives us the detailed instructions on how to fulfill our desires. As an example, my genetic make up predisposes me to want to have sexual relations with someone of the opposite sex, and with a certain intensity at that. But the culture influences how I might dress and the kinds of things that I might say to a woman when I send out signals that I am interested in her. Culture may also define the level of commitment required before the act is consummated.
The tales of the Gods speak to us broadly and symbolically just as Christ spoke in parables. They are voices to us from our ancient ancestors about what they knew to be the most important things in life. This is the voice of the Viking mother who tucked her children in .bed gently at night and gave each of them a fond kiss. This is the voice of the Viking father who gazed over the snow capped mountains of the fjords at the clear star-clad sky and communicated his sense of awe of the cosmos and meaning in life to his son. These voices are agreeable to us because they have the same threads of logic, the same concern for valor, and the same gut repulsion at perversion and decay that we feel in our own guts. We have the same gut feelings because we are directly descended from them and are essentially the same people. This is not the voice of "Greeks bearing gifts", to borrow a line from Shakespeare. There are no sneering, rasping, hissing, dogmatic, or inscrutable voices here of some group of professional messiahs trying to spread a strange new religion among the kinds of people they secretly fear and envy, or are at war with or want to subjugate economically. There was never a mentality here that liked to use words and stories as weapons to disguise and convolute truth rather than reveal it. No, instead of all of that, these are the private voices spoken internally from Norse generation to Norse generation of what our ancestors honestly felt and knew to be true on the religious level. They were talking about questions of ultimate meaning and what science would call "The Unknowable." The poetic and heroic and legendary form is actually more honest than the kind of "religious" approach that reads like straight history but every so often gets chocked full of supernatural events, soap opera sentimentality, and other forms of slick propaganda. When our ancestors wrote history, they tended to write straight, honest history and cut out the supernatural funny business. Sturlason's Heimskringla and the works of classical writers like Livy and Thucydides are good examples. But when they talked religion, they spoke in poetic lays and with legends about their Gods.
But most of all we should not forget that the legends of our ancestors have been passed down to us with love. When I read the sagas and tales of our Gods, I know how much work it must have been for our ancestors to record this priceless heirloom of knowledge, being something of an aspiring writer myself. They felt a love for their pagan lore and the endless future generations who might read their works. They certainly went to a lot of effort to meticulously write long manuscripts and record other manuscripts by hand. That was truly a labor of love. A religious act of love. I can feel that love and caring and wish to pass it on in my practice of Asatru.
MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE: Asatru seems to me to be more of a cult than a religion. Would you agree with this?
THOR SANNHET: I think that we should go to the dictionary to define a cult. Cults generally are considered to be start-up religious groups, limited in membership, and fringe in nature. My response is that all religions start out as cults. Christianity was certainly considered a cult when Christians were persecuted by Nero. Once a religion obtains a certain level of membership, a certain degree of institutionalization, and a certain degree of continuity, then it is considered an established religion as opposed to a cult. Even when a missionary begins a congregation in a foreign land, he can look across the ocean and consider himself part of an established religion rather than a cult because of the institutions that exist back home.
We can look instead across the "sea of time" when Asatru represented the spirituality of self-sufficient, dynamic Northern European nations. Numerous academicians such as H. R. Ellis Davidson, Georges Dumezil, and Hans Gunther refer to Asatru as a religion. Not only are we not a start-up, but I would go a step further. We claim that Asatru never really died out, because it reflects the innate religious instincts of Northern European man. When the Norsemen converted to Christianity, all they did was take their instinctive sense of the Life Force and ultimate meaning and dress it up in Jewish theological clothes, but the underlying feelings remained the same. Odin, Thor, and Frey simply got swapped for Jehovah, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All we want to do is put the Nordic clothing back on to our religious instincts. And as mentioned, one might argue that even the Germanic word "God" is linguistically closer to "Odin" than the Hebrew names of Yahweh and Jehovah to the extent that both "God" and "Odin" share the "od" sound. The image of "Odin" is certainly a lot closer to what I feel within my innate fiber regarding ultimate meaning than the image conjured up by the Judeo-Christian entities Yahweh or Jehovah. And finding the best expression of ultimate meaning that fits us personally is what our First Amendment Constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech are all about.
As mentioned earlier, one interpretation of the Protestant Reformation is that it attempted to return Northern European man closer to his instincts, which had always been personified in Asatru. We Odinists maintain that Northern Europeans never did become fully Christianized because true Christianity is too alien, Levantine, and mystical in nature for any true latter-day Viking to ever really become one. It is not fully agreeable to our stoic, rationalistic, frost zone-sculptured genetic dispositions. In our view, virtually all Viking-descended Christians are really repressed Odinists. Since all of you here tonight are Norwegian-Americans, we know that you are really on our side deep down inside. Hopefully we managed to help bring a few of you out of the closet tonight. I could talk forever, but a number of us have to get up early tomorrow to get to work.
OAK THORGEIR: We want to thank all of you very much for your open mindedness and patience to allow us to come here tonight to explain our ideas. Also, we want to thank you for your attentiveness. You have been a wonderful audience.
Thor Sannhet (in his "Wall Street Odinist" attire) and Oak Thorgeir (holding his authentic helmet) at the "Syttende Mai" 1991 Norway Day Parade in Brooklyn, NY
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William B. Fox is a former Marine Corps officer with experience in logistics, public affairs, and military intelligence. He is an honors graduate of the Harvard Business School and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Southern California. He is also publisher of America First Books at www.americafirstbooks.com
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