This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. It’s the first one for the letter G, and it’s late again (I usually post these on Fridays).
Originally, I even wanted to skip this week’s post entirely because I didn’t feel inspired enough about any of my G ideas to actually write something about them (I’m saving gender for next week because Friday is a public holiday here, which means “time to write all day”). But…
— And here I need to interrupt this entry before it has even really started for the disclaimer that I’m still very new at thinking about this in any systematic way, so I may lack even basic knowledge about established terms and concepts. Please assume that this is a piece of my thoughts in progress, and that I’m happy to learn from you about thoughts and/or articles that are worth examining. —
…as I was browsing pictures of other people’s altars today, I came across one that (according to the information on the original website it came from) seemed to be from some German Heathen group, from roughly the same area where I live. Hmm, interesting…? I followed another link from there and came to a German Asatru website. It looked harmless enough at first, but I got suspicious very quickly. You see, calling almost every single part of a website by a German name is highly unusual over here. I mean, we all know what a “link” is because half of the computer-related terms we use in German are either the same as in English or slightly Germanized versions of English terms anyway. So it stands out if someone explicitly uses a German term. (Maybe I need to also tell you that people who passionately fight to keep the German language free from all the “unnecessary” English words we’ve been adopting tend to lean towards a strange concept of “purity” that comes with all the baggage you can imagine. Sure, sometimes a German term would do just as well (or better) as an English one, but I don’t get the panic about “German dying out” when everybody has gotten used to originally French, Latin, Greek, or Yiddish words just fine in the past and most of us don’t even know they’re not “originally” German… But I digress.)
At any rate, I looked around a bit more on the website to see if my suspicions were justified. And, oh yes, were they ever! I found the most obvious clues on the “humor and satire” section of the website. It had several entries that made fun of the association of Asatru/Heathen groups and racism/extreme right-wing politics as if that was something so absurd that it was only good for satire, not for any serious discussion. As if there weren’t any problematic associations of the two in reality. And that, my dear readers, is something that just doesn’t happen when it’s important to you not to be associated with old or new Nazis and related ideologies. Not in Germany. Not as Heathens/Asatru.
Mind you, I’m not saying that the members of this group are all militant Nazis, but there were enough hints in the wording of their descriptions that made it quite clear that they see a direct connection between one’s ancestry, the land/country (the word is the same for both in German), and the religion one is supposed to follow. And to me that’s basically the same shit in just slightly more “spiritual” packaging than saying outright that “us German(ic)s” and “them members of different ‘races'” are fundamentally different by nature. (Despite typing this heavily quotation-marked for distance it still makes me want to spit out in disgust.) And that is what we call racism in my world.
And don’t anybody start claiming that religion/belief/spirituality doesn’t have anything to do with politics! How can’t it, when both are based on some ethical principles and specific worldviews?!
Well. I went back to the image hosting page and looked at a few more pictures. And it really doesn’t feel good to know there are organized groups of those kinds of Heathens/Asatru out there doing their thing in the same area where I live… Call me naive or ignorant, but it did make a difference to see visual evidence for this instead of just intellectually knowing they probably exist here, too. I immediately felt the wish to spiritually “take back the territory” from them. And I’m not even a Heathen/Asatru/Northern Tradition anything! In fact, I’ve barely just started learning a little bit about these Pagan traditions because, well, I do live in Germany, and I do own a German passport, and I do have plenty of German ancestors. And it’s certainly not like I feel like embracing everything that I’ve learned so far.
But still. This hits home closer than reading about “folkish” Asatru somewhere in America or cissexist rituals by Dianic Wiccans or any other problematic politics happening under the umbrella of “Pagan spirituality.” Maybe it’s just because those people have been to places that are literally less than ten minutes away from the house I live in. Or maybe I’ve started to identify a little bit with Northern Tradition Paganism by now. I’m not sure.
I just know that experiences like this make me want to do two contradictory things at once:
a) Run away and not even touch anything Heathen with a ten-foot pole. Instead, develop a Pagan practice with another cultural background (which would then bring up the problem of cultural appropriation, but that’s another kettle of fish).
b) Become a Heathen/Asatru myself and be as out and loud about my anti-racist and anti-Nazi politics and my constructionist and very queer worldview as possible.
As it is, I don’t think I’ll do any of these just now. But the fact remains that I still can’t shake the impression that Heathens/Asatru with beliefs about the “natural” connection between one’s ancestry and one’s spirituality that can be described as at least incredibly naive/ignorant are actually in the majority here in Germany. No, I don’t have any numbers to prove that impression. I don’t even have any noteworthy connections to Heathen/Asatru people in this country (with the exception of an acquaintance who is most decidedly anti-racist). But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stumble across this kind of German Asatru/Heathenry practically every time I try to find out more about Northern Tradition Paganism in my native language. I know there are exceptions but they seem few and far between. Mainstream Heathenry (if that’s not a contradiction within itself) over here seems to have way too many ties with racist ideologies of the kind I just described – or at least not enough explicit dissociation from them.
And I can’t pretend that this isn’t majorly influencing my openness to even looking into Heathenry for purposes of information, let alone adopting anything Heathen as my own spiritual worldview and practice. Because I’m really not keen on coming across disgusting stuff like that all the time, especially not when I’m already having to translate everything I read into “queer-speak” to find out if I’m actually included in terms of gender and sexuality or not. (But the latter really is stuff for next week’s post, except for the bit I’ve already written about here.)
To conclude this (for now), I wanted to post a couple of links to websites of people who haven’t just started thinking and writing about this like me. I found them during a very cursory Google search, so they may not be the absolute best material that’s out there, but they looked good enough for a start:
“Racism in Asatru”, and the follow-up article “Responses to Folkish Heathens”, both by Wayland Skallagrimsson.
And here are two links to Heathen/Asatru organizations that are explicitly working against racism, because they do good work and deserve backlinks and support for it:
Heathens Against Hate (in English) and Nornir’s Aett (in German).