Let’s start with some basic groundwork here:
Race is meaningless outside of the identification of remains, missing persons, makeup matching, and in narrow contexts of the medical fields. I won’t deny that it exists, especially skeletally, but it is an indicator, not a divider and skin color is even less identifying.
Heritage is the mix of regional and genetic histories that you have inherited from your ancestors. There’s scientific evidence that it may influence somewhat how you think and how you perceive the world. This the ‘nature’ part of the nature vs. nurture discussion.
Ethnicity is the culture you live in. For many people, the ethnicity they’re raised in is influenced by their heritage, but not all. For everyone, ethnicity is partly influenced by the grander society their family exists within.
When people say that Asatru/Heathenry/etc is an ethnic religion, they’re not wrong, but it rarely means what they think it means. It’s an ethnic religion because each tribe/kindred/hearth/folk/theod/etc has beliefs, practices, and expectations that are unique to them. We are, tribe by tribe, building a new ethnicity to raise our children in. I prefer the term tribal due to the baggage that is attached to the term ‘ethnic religion’ when used to refer to religions that historically spring from Europe and northern Asia.
This definition is absolutely essential to understand as we step forward to discuss the events in the AFA in the last few months and why those actions are becoming increasingly deleterious to those of us who are part of a tribe, managing our own luck through the bonds we build.
Many of us have been well aware for years that the AFA put far more stock into skin color than was appropriate for any organization claiming to represent a nation-wide religion. Even before I began looking into Asatru for myself, when my now-Gythia told me she had become Asatru, I went looking. Who doesn’t worry about a friend when they suddenly espouse a new religion at the same time they seem to be increasingly disappearing? Of course, there are two websites that come up first when one googles ‘Asatru’: the Asatru Alliance’s asatru.org, which was, admittedly, a bit hard to navigate 8 years ago, and the AFA’s runestone.org, which was much easier to navigate then than it is now. And there I found things that made me exceptionally nervous that my first friend upon moving to college had gotten herself involved in racism. I saw statements that Asatru was for those ‘of European heritage only’ and that ‘even though our gods slept with giants, it doesn’t mean we should sleep outside our [folk]’. I was, understandably, concerned. Thankfully, I had an opportunity for her and my now-chieftainess to explain more before we lost contact for several years.
When we reconnected, I had the opportunity to attend an Asatru gathering and found it quite to my liking. Truth be told, I might have wondered why everyone made such a point of saying that people of all races were allowed if I hadn’t had my first experience be so disastrous. In the nearly six years since that gathering, I’ve studied a lot, learned a lot, and had my own crises of faith as is not only expected, but often required as one seeks to take on and understand an entirely new worldview and culture. Enculturation is, by definition, not easy; not even for me as a trained anthropologist.
One thing, though, hasn’t changed: the AFA. Or, truthfully, it hadn’t changed until the last year or so. In my time, the AFA had always been passively racist. As said above, most knew that there was a racial angle, but they couched it well in language about heritage, ethnicity, and their favorite pseudo-scientific concept, meta-genetics.
In the last year, though, something critical changed. In the summer of 2016, Steven McNallen, the founder and long-time leader of the AFA, chose to step down, leaving the leadership in the hands of a council of three Gothar. Many saw this and hoped beyond hope that this would be the start of a new era for the AFA, that the pall that had been cast by this organization over the years might finally be wiped away and with it the dangerous precedent of friends and family, upon hearing that we are Asatru or Heathen, of finding that fateful site and looking sideways. Of them wondering if we’ve just joined a different kind of KKK.
We were disappointed.
In August 2016, the new leadership (Matt Flavel, ‘Alsherjargothi, AFA’. Feel free to send him bags of dicks) made a post that ignited a firestorm among the greater heathen community:
A picture of a family (mom, dad, and two toddlers, very cute) was accompanied by this text:
Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning. Hail the AFA families, now and always!
Many who saw this immediately alighted on the ‘beautiful white children’ comment, called them on their overt racism, and were promptly silenced on the AFA board, their posts deleted and their right to post remove. Within 24 hours, the AFA posted again, lauding the attention they’d been brought, the ‘lack’ of dissenting opinions, and how right they were, which was the most terrifying part of all.
For me, though, as bad as the overt racism was, there was something that rang all the more painfully. Read it again: ‘feminine ladies’ and ‘masculine gentlemen’. Not only does this reek of the toxic masculinity that pervades modern heathenry, tainting everything it touches, but it utterly disallows the idea that men who prefer crafting or women who prefer whatever they define as ‘masculine’ tasks. Or, even less accepted in many ways, people like me, who has years of martial arts experience and does other ‘masculine’ activities like chopping wood, but also sews and cooks. Someone who is neither ‘masculine’ nor ‘feminine’.
This post was a stark double-blow to their legitimacy with the greater world. While many said that this was less-than-important: not my tribe, not my problem. But there’s an underlying issue with the AFA that must be addressed in cases like this: They have had a major role at various points in their history with getting recognition and rights for Asatruar in the military and in prisons. Their statement in this post impugns many of our female military personnel as well as implying a potential violation of the Code of Military Justice among members of their group. While I’ve been unable to find an explicit article addressing racism, there are several addressing maltreatment or disrespect of both superior officers and those who receive your orders, both of which are primed to occur when blatant racism is allowed to flourish and if a religious organization is branded as a hate group, it can have an extreme negative impact on affiliated service personnel.
For the next several months, the AFA focused more internally. They solidified their new leadership, they focused on their new ‘AFA Kindred’ program, and they posted a lot about how special their gatherings were. I feel I must, briefly, discuss the AFA Kindred program (ref: http://asatrufolkassembly.org/contact/kindreds.html). In order to be recognized as an AFA kindred, every member of your kindred must be an AFA member. It comes with such lovely perks as being able to display your banner at Newgrange Hall and having to force new members to pay AFA dues in order to maintain said AFA kindred status. AFA dues are a minimum of $60 a year, which would be in addition to any kindred dues one might pay. In contrast, the membership dues for the Asatru Alliance (which are paid by kindred, not by individual) are $75. The Alliance requires a recognized kindred have three adult members, so that is a maximum of $25 per member that goes to the organization. It’s hard not to see a program like this as a money-making effort.
All in all, though, it seemed that the AFA had gone back to business as usual. And then came mother’s day 2017. Though many of us didn’t see it until Monday morning, this is what we were greeted with that day:
A 1950’s-era drawn picture of a blonde-haired woman holding an infant.
The Asatru Folk Assembly would like to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to all of our mothers. You ladies literally birth our future, with every Aryan child you secure our existence and you bring light and hope into the world. Thank you for all tha tyou do.
Hail the Mothers!
The backlash was actually lesser this time, likely due to the way they fed off of the bad press in the preceding August, but that didn’t mean it went unnoticed. Sometime between when I started this article and when I reached this point, the entire page had been removed by FB. I’m told it was reported as hate speech, but I can’t confirm for certain due to how FB manages their processes. It’s hardly the first time they’ve been reported for hate speech, after all.
Just in case I have any readers who are unaware of the history of the term, Aryan is, in fact, a reference to a group of ancient peoples related to the proto-Indo-European migration. It’s also a term Hitler used to talk about his ‘übermensch’ (German for greater people) and the entirety of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ (ghettos, death camps, targeted ethnic, racial, and social groups) was based on the assumption that these first settlers of Europe where blonde haired and blue eyed and anyone else was ‘dirty’ or ‘tainted’. Based on the image provided, I’m pretty sure this post’s use of the word ‘aryan’ means the latter, not the former. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why this is an issue.
This post only compounds the risk to our servicemen and women posed by the August post, crossing the line from clearly racist to overly Aryan Nation or White Power. Thankfully, the most recent round of recognition achieved for Asatru, Heathenry, Theodism, and Forn Sidr came not from the AFA or the Alliance, but from a much smaller, active and veteran military-focused group called the Open Halls Project, which will hopefully help to insulate our servicemembers from any fallout that will result from this leap into the undenaiable.
In an attempt to ensure that I was presenting the AFA as they present themselves, I’ve spent some time on their website seeking to find confirmation or rejection of the viewpoint presented so blatantly in this most recent post. In so doing, I discovered that the site has been almost entirely rebuilt since my last visit. In my search, I have found some gems of AFA policy I would like to share and dissect as icing on the cake of this collapse:
From their ‘Law of the Hall’:
Strive that our Folk shall live forever, though all of the forces of Muspel march against us.
Work for the good of the Folk Within -Asatruar- and the Folk Without -Whites who are not yet true to the Gods- in all ways that are honorable and noble.
There are two inherent issues with this point. The first is the assumption that all Asatruar are of the same Folk. While this seems like a ‘good’ or obvious thing on the surface, anyone who has studied pre-Viking-era and Viking-era Germanic culture is well-aware that they warred amongst themselves. It is patently fallacious to assume, then that all of the people of Germanic descent are of one Folk, that we’re somehow all intrinsically connected and should treat each other as family. This is just pushed even further outside the realms of reality with the second designation (Folk Without). That designation sets out the painfully fallacious premise that everyone everywhere that is of Germanic descent is connected in one big happy family web. Even if I shared blood relations with the likes of John Wayne Gacy or Charles Manson, I wouldn’t call them of my Folk, so the statement that despite a lack of it they should be Folk is not only wrong, but insulting to all of us who choose to not murder people.
Then, of course, there’s the glaring problem: defining ‘Folk Without’ as WHITES who are not yet Asatru. Anyone with a basic understanding of biology knows that skin color is the least-valid indicator of heritage as there is literally no way of predicting the color of the offspring of two people of two different skin colors.
The use of whites in this context can only represent a misunderstanding of the race/heritage/ethnicity trichotomy as defined at the beginning of this article and shows a racial motivation to the actions of the group.
From their ‘Declaration of Purpose’:
The practice, promotion, development, and dissemination of the religion of Asatru:
Asatru is an ancestral religion, one passed down to us from our forebears and thus tailored to our unique makeup. Our gods and our religion have shaped our spirit, individually and as a whole. By our WILL, we not only survive, but thrive, and continue our upward evolution in the direction of the Infinite. Modern Asatru is a reconstructed version of our ancestral practice, adapted to the context of our lives today, but our practice is filled with the spirit of our gods and our ancestors. Today’s challenges differ from those that confronted our ancestors but still require the same code of honor and nobility that molded our forebears’ souls. The Asatru Folk Assembly practices Asatru in the here-and-now, that our People may realize their unique spiritual and cultural legacy.
There are so many issues with this stated purpose that I’m just going to start at the beginning:
While Asatru is a religion of ancestor veneration, outside of a lucky few, it was not passed down to us from our forebears. The forceful conversion of the Germanic tribes in the early Christian era eradicated its source-religion in its Viking-era form, which was even different from its many-varied pre-Viking-era forms
What does ‘tailored to our unique makeup’ even mean? While I am quite sure they mean genetic makeup, based on the following sentence, it doesn’t in and of itself state as much. Taking the following sentence into account, though, it shows a clear belief that the gods somehow made Asatru for those of Germanic descent and only for those of Germanic descent. I see two basic issues with this. The first is the statement that a religion is somehow tailored to someone’s genetic makeup. While being raised in a worldview can certainly help you understand the associated religion, being partly or even entirely of Germanic descent will have no impact on that understanding. That’s the purely practical concern. More ephemerally, I find it exceptionally selfish to believe that the gods created something just for a certain group of people. It implies a deep knowledge of the morals and desires of deity, which is extremely egotistical. It is doubly so to someone who understands the concept of adoption ancient German people’s practiced. Anyone a family considered of worth could be adopted into it as a full family member. Why wouldn’t the gods do the same?
The preservation of the Ethnic European Folk and their continued evolution:
If the Ethnic European Folk cease to exist Asatru would likewise no longer exist. Let us be clear: by Ethnic European Folk we mean white people. It is our collective will that we not only survive, but thrive, and continue our evolution in the direction of the Infinite. All native religions spring from the unique collective soul of a particular race. Religions are not arbitrary or accidental; body, mind and spirit are all shaped by the evolutionary history of the group and are thus interrelated. Asatru is not just what we believe, it is what we are. Therefore, the survival and welfare of the Ethnic European Folk as a cultural and biological group is a religious imperative for the AFA.
In some ways this is the worst of all. Knowing that ethnicity is linked to the culture in which you live, you can handwave Asatru being a religion of ‘Ethnic European Folk’. European is a bit broad, truthfully, but then there’s the next sentence: By Ethnic European Folk we mean white people. WHITE PEOPLE. I suppose this explains their erroneous belief that the Finno-Urgic native religions have anything to do with Asatru when they are notably different. Even the nearest Finno-urgic group, the Laplanders, are notably distinct from the pre- and peri-Viking religions of the German peoples.
This ‘Purpose’ really just goes downhill from there, sadly. They claim that we ‘evolve’ into our religions and are literally born a given religion. This perspective both completely ignores the vast variety of religions and cultures nation-wide (unless we’re going to say that the dodekatheon is the same as the Aesir and Vanir, which is painfully inaccurate) and don’t even get me started on trying to equivalize the many-varied native African beliefs. I won’t debunk the ‘we’re just born that way’ argument because there’s no way to prove or disprove it, only point out that if they were ‘just born that way’, why couldn’t other (non-white) people be ‘born that way’ too? Especially since there is a not-insignificant number of mixed-race individuals who have a notable melanin content, but are actually of primarily Germanic by heritage.
Issuing a call to all our brothers and sisters of the Ethnic European Folk to return to this, their native religion and way of life:
We call our kin to rejoin the great family of men and women who honor the sacred ways of our holy Gods and Ancestors. Asafolk are not always eager to proselytize; however, we know that our brothers and sisters will all be healthier and happier once they have returned to the religion that expresses their unique cultural and genetic heritage, a heritage that is a part of them as surely as blood and bone. The restoration of our ancient ways, and the building of a secure future for our religion and our people, is our call and our destiny. Let us have an “Ingathering of the Folk!”
This one actually really angers me, in some ways more than the racism. Racism is certainly a bigger, darker blemish on the public image of Asatru and Heathenry, but the call to convert is painful. It is an insult to our ancestors that were forcibly converted against their will during the expansion of Christianity; to our Christian ancestors, of whom we ought not be ashamed; and to our contemporary non-heathens. Who are the leadership of the AFA to decide that someone should be forced to be Asatru? It’s exceptionally egotistical to assume that because someone is white (based on prior definitions of Folk) not only should be heathen, but that they’d be happier as heathens. This call to proselytize disgusts me. I am always pleased to discuss my faith with people, but to press them to convert is wrong.
From their ‘Statement of Ethics’:
The Folk Community Principle
A community based in ancestry and common culture is a better society to live in. We in Asatru hold that our ethnic culture is vital and worthy of protection and promotion. We believe that we each have a personal responsibility to consider the folk good and to assume a personal role in promoting and protecting it. We believe that each of us must work to keep our heritage alive. For the best community, we must:
Work to make justice and law rule among our folk
Express good will towards and cooperation with members of our community.
Work for a better tomorrow. We believe that we have an obligation to create a better future for our folk and to shape a brighter future for our children.
Give back to the community that has given to us.
The Ancestry Principle
We are a community united by descent from common ancestry. We value this unique heritage and seek to maintain a vibrant connection with our ancestors. We each should strive to know about our ancestry and commit to that which defines our common folk community.
The Family Principle
Healthy families are the cornerstone of folk society and its strength and prosperity is derived from them. We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships. We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own. We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged.
In this section, I believe I shall address all three simultaneously instead of breaking them out. Assume there are continued disgusted explanations of the absurdity of assuming that heritage means Folk/kin and that the assumption that anyone who meets their definition of Folk is good is laughable and insulting. The biggest and most glaring issue, of course, comes from the ‘ethic’ 4: “We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships”; “We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children”; “Behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged”; “Behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged”.
What defines a ‘white family relationship’? Really, if anyone knows please enlighten me. Of course, the melanin-based requirement continues to be absurd if the actual concern is purported to be heritage or ethnicity based. What activities support the white family? What behaviors are destructive?
I fail to see how anyone can defend ethic 4 as anything other than racist. If babies must be white, families must be white, etc, that implies not only leaving out people of other skin tones regardless of their heritage but discourages relations or association with them that might in anyway prevent white babies or white families. How can anyone claim that actively discouraging relationships with people of other skin tones is anything but racist?