The role of the gods in Asatru

I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,” said Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods. “We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”

These words were published in the English newspaper the guardian some months ago as the construction of the new temple in Iceland was made public.

Several interpretations of these lines are possible, but wat struck me most of all was the use of the word metaphor. I myselve have quite some difficulty with the use of that specific word, and I read the paragraph over and over again just to make sure I correctly understood the meaning of these words. Does the high priest of our Icelandic co-believers actually declare that he doesn’t really believe in the existence of the Gods. If he poses as an axiom that they are mere metaphors for the forces of nature and the psychology of man, doesn’t he nullify the religious experience inselve. Doesn’t he simply negate the feeling many people share, that feeling that there must be more? isn’t he simply trying to made the religion acceptable to an atheistic audience? And if all of us, Asatruar do share this believe, as he seems to imply, can we stil consider Asatru to be a religion or is it more of a phylosophy, comparable to confusianism?

I do agree with him that I am not looking around for a one eyed man with a broad rimmed hat. As a matter of fact going to work every day in a cosmopolitan city such as Brussels I see that kind of people every day, holding out their hands in order to get a bit of money. I never consider them to be Odin in desguise. But to go as far as claiming I merely consider my God’s to be metaphors? I never really regarded them as such, in a way I can’t simply describe they are very real to me.

I fear the above cited spokesman is trying to be a bit too modernistic and scientific in his approach, perhaps ou of fear of being ridiculed by the so called serious and intelligent people, trying to make him selve acceptable to the atheistic society we live in. His attitude corresponds a bit to that of many present day “half”-Christians. They wish to be baptised, get married in a church, but they publically declare not to believe in Jesuses resurrection. They consider him to have been merely a good person that walked around in Palestine some years ago and had the luck his adventures were written down, so we can still remember them. Perhaps they even like and subscribe to the basic views he proclaimed, but they won’t believe the man had a devine connexion, or his ideas came directly from a God. Furthermore, even though they are officially christians many of them are convinced there is no afterlife at all. In fact their real religion has become science, which most of them accept as the truth, without really understanding much of it. And by any definition in the book that is a religion or at least a philosophy of life.

A stricking example was the preparation of the so-called “first communion” of the 7 year old children in my village. In preparation of this event for his kids I had a conversation with one of the the fathers, a friend of mine. He said, “ I know you don’t believe any of this, and you object to all of this, but you must admit that for the children it is comforting to know that after death they will go to heaven. Of course”, he continued,” we adults know better, but we can handle that knowledge.” And some time later he actually used the word “metafor” I didn’t enter into the discussion that day, but my immediate reflexion was, that the Christian god had in -the opinion of that parent- just become santafied. He had become a kind of Santa Claus or easter bunny, a fun to play role game for kids, with presents and a party. The truth only waiting to be disclosed as soon as the child had grown up. That father had just turned his God into a part of modern folklore in stead of passing on a coherent set of beliefs to his children. Just a few days later he performed a ritual wherein he declared he would pass on his christian believes to his he was supposed to his 7 year old children (he has twins).

Is that what we, Asatruar, are really believing our God’s are? The equivalent of the tooth fairy? Something we don’t really believe in but just use to describe nature and human psychology. If that is the case isn’t modern science better suited to describe these things and if this were true, what is the difference between being an Asatruar and being a spaghetterian, a make believe religion that proclaims the believe in the great spaghettimonster?

All of this brings me back to science. What the well intending parent and Asatruar priest wish to avoid is being considered retarded, or old fashioned by the modern world, and themselves In our scientific world view, which I do subscribe, many people feel true belief en science must end in conflict. Worse of all supporters of both science and traditional religion share this feeling of incompatibility. The great conflict in the USA between creationists and the evolution theorie is an example of this conflict ( a conflict that at present unfortunately is being lost by the evolution theorie) Yet contrary to general beliefs, in the past many great scientists, such as Mendel were religious Men, thus proving that science and faith can coexist.

Science at present doesn’t explain everything, and it never will. Mankind is merely a small compound of the universe itselve. How could we ever expect to completely understand the entire universe? One of the very basic principles of science, the act of neutral observation is impossible, We can never look upon the whole of the universe from the outside of it, and that is exactly what the scientific method demands. Observe your subject in a neutral environnement, in conditions that can be reproduced by any third party that desires to check your experiments or theories. And although science rapidly expands the barriers of its knowledge, in the infinity of the universe a lot remains and always will remain outside of science’s grasp. How could a small cell of our bodies ever hope to leave the body and observe it from the outside in order to understand the body itselve and whence it came.

These borderlands, these Utgards so to say will always remain the domain of faith. Many scientists are for example eager to declare that there is no life after death, since they cannot prove it.Yet they cannot prove the opposite either.

The fact that you cannot prove or disprove something at present doesn’t mean it doesn ‘t exist, it merely means you can’t prove one or the other at present. That in itselve is a scientific principle. And any scientist who claims there is no life after death has the right to do so, but he must be honest and not make this statement as if it were science, actually he must declare it to be what it is, just another believe. Unless of course he can support his theory by neutral observations, reproductible by other scientists in comparable circumstances.

A good example is the evolution theory. This is a good example of true science. It started as a mere theory, found support in observations made by scientists and stands firm and undisputed.

Does the evolution theorie contradict the existance of god? No it doesn’t , it doesnt even need intelligent design in order to be aligned with religion. The rules of evolution – survival of the fittest and sexual selection, suffice in order to make evolution possible, yet how did these basic rules come into existance, why doesn’t the survival of the most brightly colloured exist as a rule ?

I am not going to answer that question, but I ‘ll get back to the gods being metaphores.

Declaring that the Gods are mere metaphores is trying to prove to the world you take on a scientific worldview, you want to make sure you’re not being laughed at by the ople surrounding you, since science is to be taken serously, and few people make fun of scientific world views. It is a way of making yourself acceptable to the rest of the western world. Yet it takes away the magic of life itselve, the pure miracle that something exists whereas the universe would have had a much easier ride if it simply decided not to exist. This simple fact is inexplicable by science so why can’t we give another approach a chance.

Do the gods exist as they are described in the sagas? Does a red bearded man ride around in a goat pulled cart and does a one eyed man ride a eightlegged steed throug the air? I don’t truly believe so, yet each time the thunder rolls or two crows or ravens cross my path, I bow my head slightly and touch my forehead. I believe our ancestors believed the Gods manifested themselves in that manner, and I believe this representation has a true value. Does this imply our Gods really are like that ?

In February 2004 I was taking a walk in Skaane with a group of friends, we were walking along a path near the coast, but due to the rainy season it had become a true Marsch and some places were flooded up to 30 cm deep. At a certain point we were discussing what to do, should we continue getting wet feet or simply return. At that exact time a large man with two poodles and a ringbeard came walking down the path out of the reeds, and told us that the path got even worse further on. Whilst walking back my best friend spontaniously got into conversation with this man on religion. The man’s first question was, where are you from? From Belgium… Ah so you must be catholics then… . As our paths split my friend asked me : “did you notice, he had a blue and a green eye and was accompanied by 2 dogs? “ Up to the present day I am not sure how to place this short encounter. Yet somehow it feels like we encountered … much more then a metaphore that day. The devine, the essence of the universe tend to show itself to us in manners we can understand. Scientifically any one will be able to proove we just met a very intriging person that day with human dna and two canines with perfectly normal features – as far as you can consider poodles to be normal canines. Yet any scientist can also see that in our brains certain links were made and certain substances released that made this encounter special in or minds.

I can’t and won’t tell you what the nature of our God’s really is, I can’t tell you whether the Gods in reality are merely just one of the aspects of the one device being ( although personally I really believe they are seperate entities) but I can tell you, that to me, they are much more than metaphors and I personally do believe that those that merely consider them to be metaphors of human behaviour are not practicing a religion, they practice – as an atheist- a philosophy with a Nordic orientation, Just as boedhisme in its purest form still is a philosophy origination from a Hindu world orientation.

I will respect anyone who sees Asatru as a Nordic fylosophy just as much as those who believe the Gods are more then metaphors. It just isn’t my personal conviction. And of course both visions can coexist. The only thing we really need to take care off is never to condemn the other vision because of their believes, because that is how schysm are born. And the very last thing Asatru needs is a schism

Mit navn er Pieter Jansens. Jeg er Flamlænder. Flamlændere er det folk som bor i det nordlige Belgien og taler flamsk, et sprog som er tæt belægtet med hollandsk. Vi er hvad man kalder sydgermanere. Vores fortidige guder var ikke Odin og Thor, men deres varianter Woden og Donar. Jeg har været asatroene i næsten 20 år. Jeg er ikke officielt medlem af en blótgruppe, jeg foretrækker at være uafhængig. Men det betyder ikke, at jeg ikke har mine kontakter og jeg deltager fra tid til anden ved blót. Dertil er jeg hobbysmed og tegner. Mine temaer er næsten altid norsk, germansk eller keltisk mytologi. Min uafhængighed er grunden til at jeg gerne søger mine svar “off the beaten track”.