In Defense of the Folkish View
Stephen A. McNallen
Biology, culture, and spirituality are all intimately connected, and any attempt to separate them is doomed to frustration. The ancestry of the group, what the group does, and the spiritual perception of the group are not three different things, but only aspects of a greater whole.
This Folk-centered essence of Asatru often comes under attack from those who are new to our ancestral ways, or who have not shaken off the conditioning of modern culture. The idea that religion, culture, and biology are in tertwined runs against the political dogma of our day, and is sometimes labeled "racist" by those who do not understand the deeper truths involved. Sometimes, those who consider themselves Asatru are the first to criticize the Folkish view. Since these are people who, like us, follow the Aesir and Vanir it is all the more important to respond fully to their objections.
Their criticisms take several fairly predictable forms. I have summed up some of their arguments in the paragraphs that follow, and provided some possible answers.
1. "The Vikings spread their seed far and wide on an equal opportunity basis, with no regard to race, religion, or culture."
First of all, this is not really true. The Viking colony in Greenland left many skeletons which have been exhaustively studied by
scientists who marveled that the Greenlanders seem not to have intermarried with the natives. Back home in Northern Europe, it is true, Nordics and Celts married and intermingled rather freely, and the genetics of Iceland shows very strong Irish intermixture. However, the Scandinavians and the Celts are two very closely related branches of the Indo-European family. Biologically and culturally, they are very much kin.
Secondly, the Vikings are hardly ideal role models for Asatru. The Viking Age is very late in the history of the Germanic people. It was a time when our traditional culture was being eroded by outside forces, a time of change and cosmopolitanism. To judge Asatru by the behavior of a Viking adventurer in Byzantium, for example, makes as much sense as judging Christianity by the actions of an American sailor on port leave in Manila. Neither is likely to epitomize the religious values practiced in Norway or Nebraska, respectively. A fire in the loins should not be mistaken for spiritual enlightenment.
2. "All men and women are descendants from Ask and Embla, the primordial man and women who were found, as tree trunks on the strand, by Odin, Hoenir and Lodur and given life. Thus, Asatru is the legacy of all humans."
This is part of the lore of the Northern people. There are thousands of such stories told by cultures both ancient and modern, from the Old Testament to the interior of the Amazon today.
Humans in their tribal state were extremely ethnocentric, and often their various groupings bear names that mean something like "the true people" or "the real human beings" to distinguish themselves from their neighbors. Likewise, their creation myths tend to be ethnocentric and to pertain only to themselves - not to all of humankind, with which they are not particularly concerned.
To argue that all humans are descended of Ask and Embla is to say that the myths of every other native culture are wrong, and that only ours is right. From the Australian Outback to the depths of Africa, groups have their own explanations for how they came to be. It is the height of arrogance to assume that our stories apply to them, and that the sacred tales of their own people are false. Unless we assume that their lore is inferior and inaccurate, we are forced to the logical conclusion that each group is right - so long as it speaks to its own people, and no other.
Indeed, to say that our creation story is the only true one is to deny the existence and validity of other peoples' Gods - for it
imposes Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur upon these other folk, shoving their Gods rudely out of the picture and negating their own religious explanations for the nature of things. Most Asatruar would not support such religious imperialism. To say that ours is the "one, true" story of human origin smacks not only of religious intolerance but...well, racism!
3. "The Gods and Goddesses have sex with all sorts of beings - dwarves, giants, and the like. This is more evidence that discrimination, particularly in the realm of relationships, sex, and marriage, has no basis in Norse culture!"
The stories of our Gods and Goddesses are written down in the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. The Eddas are valuable resources, but they are symbolic, not historical. Their contents were subject to all sorts of factors that affect the way we use them religiously - human interpretation and bias being the main ones!
Nothing in our lore suggests that the Eddas are meant to be taken literally, and to do so puts us in the same category as those
fundamentalist Christians who take the Bible, word for word, as the exact and infallible word of their God. To take the tales of our Gods and Goddesses as lessons urging us to mate outside our kind (or outside our species!) is as wrong as the Christian who argues that the Genesis creation story should be taken as scientific truth. Myth is bigger than that.
4. "Asatru is a religion, and joining it is no different than becoming an Episcopalian, a Muslim, or a Wiccan. Asatru is no more 'European' than Islam is 'Arabic' or Buddhism is 'Asian.'"
This is a modern fantasy. No indigenous group really believes that its religion is just a set of practices and abstract concepts,
separate from membership in the community, to be adopted or set aside at will by outsiders. People may decide to become a Baptist or a Lutheran, but no one looks in the mirror while brushing their teeth in the morning, and thinks "Hey, I'm tired of being a Catholic. I think I'll become a Lakota Sioux."
Native religion is not something apart from the life of the tribe. Religion, politics, economics, values and customs are all part of one thing. There is no real separation among them. Taken as a whole, this aggregate is the "Way" of the group; religion becomes one particular fraction of "the way the tribe is in the world, and what the tribe does."
Some religions, in contrast, are not based on the experience of a particular group, but on abstract philosophy or a revelation divorced from any tribal or national group. The monotheistic religions are the best examples of these. One can drift from Methodism to Mormonism, or from Catholicism to Islam, based on abstract reasoning or emotional attachment. It is here, not in indigenous belief, that the proposition of our critics finds its natural home. Those who attack Asatru because of its Folkish basis still carry with them the mental assumptions of Christianity and the other philosophical, universalist sects.
Shedding the Psychic Remnants of Christianity
Most of the lore-based arguments against our Folkish worldview are based on the four presented above. In general, they show a common thread - namely, Christian thinking!
First, the idea that all humans spring from Ask and Embla may be appealing from a simplistic viewpoint, but it implies the non-
existence of other peoples' Gods and thus reflects the same religious imperialism we find in historical Christianity.
Likewise, to propose that the Aesir and Vanir have sex outside their "race" (species?) is to use the Eddic texts in the literal way
that fundamentalist Christian uses the Bible.
Finally, to suggest that religions can be chosen in the same way one chooses a hat or a new car is to divorce the group of people from their Way, which is characteristic of the monotheistic religions.
Those who reject the Folkish viewpoint often accuse us of not really being true to the Aesir and Vanir. Ironically, though, a closer look shows their arguments against us to be much more in line with Christianity than with the inherently tribal and ethnocentric nature of indigenous religions!