Heathen’s Journey | Combating hate through inclusive heathenry part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I discussed the disturbing racist (and recent) history of Norse paganism – in particular the damage done by the Asatru Folk Alliance, the WOTAN Network, and other groups associated with white supremacy.

In my personal practice, I have been called to work with Odin, Freyja, the Norns, and the other Norse gods and goddesses. I come to heathenry kicking and screaming. Almost all of the contemporary examples I’ve seen of heathenry in the media have been connections between hate groups and this faith – and this runs deeply counter to my own central values of equality and social justice.

But these aren’t the only groups out there practicing in the Norse way – and the fact is, the vast majority of Norse practitioners are open and inclusive.

Heathens in resistance

Several years ago, the international organization The Troth released a statement explicitly declaring that they are a welcoming organization. Their about page states:

We welcome all people, whatever their religious, cultural, or ancestral background, physical ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation, who have developed or wish to develop a relationship with our Gods and Goddesses, and would like to know more about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry.

This clearly draws the line between The Troth and racist or folkish pagan organizations. In response, the Asatru Folk Assembly asserted that the gods and collective unconscious of the Norse peoples is only present and usable by those who come from literal Norse bloodlines.

In response, The Troth and other groups continued to push back. Huginn’s Heathen Hof created the Declaration 127, based off of this verse from the Havamal:

When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frið (peace).

It denounces the discriminatory, racist, supremacist values of the Asatru Folk Assembly and WOTAN Network and states that people of any race, cultural background, or sexual orientation are welcome within the traditions of the organizations signing (I have reached out to them to include Northern Lights Witch as a signatory).

Huginn’s Heathen Hof is a reputable organization that provides education and resources to heathens all around the world. Organizers with Huginn’s Heathen Hof created Declaration 127 to isolate bigoted and racist heathen organizations, and highlight Asatru organizations that are inclusive. When McNallen (founder of AFA) announced that he would march in the Unite the Right rally, Huginn’s Heathen Hof published a declaration denouncing his work, the WOTAN Network, and the Asatru Folk Assembly. Within days, over 100 organizations internationally had signed.

Heathen groups have tried to cast the bullshit white supremacists from our midst for decades. And it’s important that heathens speak publicly about our faith. But what happens when everything feels tainted?

Outside of the bullshit, what remains of Heathenry? What can be revolutionized?

The use of this religion for racist aims is wrong. Period, full stop. There is beauty within Asatru that is completely separate from a racialist understanding of Norse or Germanic heritage.

Actively pushing back against what has been published is so important, but what does that leave us with? Where do we go from here, and what do our practices look like?

The Runes. A powerful, ancient language that reverberates with cosmic energy and can be used to great effect in both divination and spellwork. These are messages from the gods that can only be interpreted by the reader.

The Runes are representations of ancient energy, they are a way for the heathen to tap into the greater mysteries. They can be used for divination, but they are far more than that. They can be used in spellwork, in blessings, in shamanistic journeying, and in so many other ways.

Each heathen is called to develop their own relationships to the runes. These powerful symbols are energies that we can work with, that we can name – and the witch who wields them develops their own understanding. Because I am committed to social justice, when I work with the runes I work with them to create sacred justice. This is a practice open to anyone, ANY practitioner can learn the runes no matter their background.

Seidh. Norse, shamanistic, chaos magick. This wild magick spins out into the world, practiced by Freya and the Vanir and by countless women and witches throughout history. Seidh, or seidr, is a form of personal journeying. This is what Freya Aswynn refers to as a “feminine mystery” – traditionally reserved for the wise women of a village.

Seidh can unlock doors we thought were closed. Through Seidh, we can ask questions about how to revolutionize our practices. In teaching seidh and welcoming people of all backgrounds to journey with us, we can tap into the collective wyrd in a new way.

I have been drawn to Seidr ways for some time now, but am still trying to find words to talk about this form of witchcraft. This practice is again separate from corruption, because it is created from within. It is the song of the heathen themselves, it is deeply personal and cannot be corrupted by outside forces.

Ancestor shadow work

Shadow work is confronting the dark sides of yourself and learning to be gentle with them. Without exploring our shadows, we cannot fully know ourselves.

This is the power in connecting to my ancestry: shadow working between myself and my ancestors. When I read a particularly difficult passage in the Poetic Edda or when I am confronted with Norse idealization of battle and strength, I look for ways that these patterns have reverberated through the centuries. I look at the ways this Scandinavian code of ethics was changed and transformed by the forced conversion to Christianity, and I see the echoes of this culture in my family and the Scandinavian families around me.

As a witch with Scandinavian ancestry and a strong Scandinavian-American culture in my family, I need to examine my relationship to family and kin. It’s like having dinner with your racist uncle, but deeper – more existential. There’s a history here that I need to face, to name, to work with.

There is something reductionist in general about trying to reconstruct the exact practices of our ancestors. Not only is it impossible – we will never know how the ancient Norse practiced – but it is also near-sighted. We have evolved so much as a collective humanity that to try to faithfully reconstruct the practices of my ancestors exactly is to miss the thread.

Yes, we learn from the wisdom of our ancestors, but we also learn from their mistakes. We need to continue to grow beyond them.

Odin is always driven by his knowledge that the Gods will die, and be reborn.

And so we, too, must be reborn.

Recent scholars of Norse heathenry have brought us so many ideas, but we cannot continue to practice in outdated modalities. The Gods die and are born again. They are characterized by growth, by change. One of the most beautiful things about these ancient myths is the idea that the gods are fallible – that they are not always right, that they can do wrong, and that they need to learn.

This evolution means not only examining the traumatic parts of our history, but actively working to create inclusive heathenry that welcomes people from all backgrounds and denounces hate.

Let us create an inclusive heathenry that has evolved beyond clannish racism.
Let us revolt within our traditions.
Let us die, and be reborn more beautiful for our diversity.

Further reading and connections to organizations, because there are a lot of people writing important things about this:

Heathens United Against Racism – a great facebook page

Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry is a facebook group that seeks to build bridges within heathenry and with people of other faiths

The Troth

“Rainbow Heathenry: Is a left-wing, multicultural heathenry possible?” at Gods and Radicals

“Asatru’s Racist Missionary: Stephen McNallen, Defend Europe, and the weaponization of folkish heathenry.” by Ryan Smith and Shane Burley at Gods and Radicals

Huginn’s Heathen Hof – blog about heathenism; a great place to learn more about the faith and the creators of Declaration 127

Declaration 127

Read part 1 of this post here.

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  1. Lain says:

    Wow I love these articles. Hats off to you for following and examining your own path, even as it’s co-opted by terrible people. While I’m not connected to the Norse Gods, I am a Jew in the classical music community, and (I hope this isn’t minimizing but) your experiences with claiming and reclaiming heathenry remind me so much of my experiences singing the music of Richard Wagner. Knowing that his Ring cycle and the Gods incarnated in it can be more than just the property of racist antisemites feels deeply validating. Thank you for your perspective.

  2. Katie says:

    Thank you so much for writing this series, and especially these two posts. I came to Norse paganism through an academic exposure to the Icelandic sagas and Old English poetry, and when I went poking around the internet for information, I was horrifically dismayed by the way white supremacists have used these symbols and stories. Thankfully, I also saw quickly that there are lots of folks practicing this tradition who are inclusive–and I’m especially glad to find you and this series, since being on Little Red Tarot pretty much guarantees to me that you’re safe 🙂 It’s very encouraging and comforting to read your thoughts and see how the movement of speaking out against racist heathenry has grown. I look forward to more of your articles!

  3. Nathan says:

    I wonder who is high-jacking whom here?

    The Asatru Free Assembly was racial in nature and was around as the only Asatru group in the US. This was around for a good 20 years or so before Universalists broke off with “inclusivity” and formed the Troth.

    Now if you compare numbers to the AFA (Asatru Folk Assembly) and the Troth there is something around a 3-1 size. (That was when Joe Bloch was in both organizations) We can extrapolate that towards the unaffiliated and there are more Folkish than there are who have your mindset. (That is including the Norse-Wiccans in the Troth)

    So the real question with based on the numbers of Heathens who have racial beliefs versus those who don’t and the founding of Heathenry was based on being Folkish. Who is actually high-jacking whom?

    • Abbie Plouff says:

      Hey! So I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, but your question is super valid. Just to make sure I’m understanding, here’s how I’m interpreting your question:

      “You want your Norse-rooted practice to be inclusive and anti-racist, but the groups and organizations doing this kind of practice are racially-motivated and have been for years, so why do you think you can take the practice a different way?”

      (If that’s not what you’re asking, lemme know.)

      I think the numbers of pagans that belong to organizations are actually really difficult to use. Most of the pagans that I know are solitary, or are aware of broader organizational groups but don’t actually belong to any of them. And I think that, just because the AFA has been around longer, it is bound to have more members.

      I DO think it’s important to interrogate this practice, and I do think there is a beauty in the Norse mythology, in Nordic witchcraft, and in the runes as a tool in both spellwork and divination. I also think that, as I talked about other places in the column, it’s really important to understand the cultural context and history. I live in a part of the states that is actually really heavily influenced by 1800s Scandinavian immigrant culture, right around the time that Norway was going through a huge revival of folk literature and arts. So to me, studying runes and this branch of magic is a really interesting inquiry into understanding more about the white culture I grew up in – and you can’t combat racism without understanding it or its roots.

      I also think it’s really important that solitary heathens speak up now, because if we don’t the racists have won. I’m also decidedly NOT a reconstructionist – I’m more interested in the archetypes that come from Norse myth, and building on the tradition of witchcraft, and then using those in new and unique ways. And showing that it’s possible to practice within/be inspired by the Norse tradition without being a reconstructionist is also very important to me.

      (That was all super rambly, but I hope it made sense!)

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