Asatru,as we have recoverd it after centuries of intense Christianisation was a fragmented beliefsystem, in many ways.
First of all, our sources are highly fragmentary. I
magine an antiquarian discovering 1000 years from now a modern Catholic bible. The paper has been attacked by mold, mice have eaten parts of it, and a near mis in a household fire has badly damaged some of the pages. Finaly no modern versions of the religion exist, all branches of the religion have died out. Imagine the copy of the bible he has recoverd is merely a manuscript containing the both genesyses, the story of Noah, Jesuses birth, and crucifiction, some of the letters to the Efesians and Armagedon, but the last part of Armagedon has been badly damaged by mice, and the final parts are hard to reconstruct.
Apart from that bible he has recovered some reproductions of Orthodox icons, a number of apocryfic texts, a copy of the first pages of the Declarations of Luther, some letters of pope Ratzinger and finaly the fragmented texts of the second Vatican consilium. He himselve is a non believing Zen-Boudhist. His mission, describe the Christianity as it was practiced in Western Europe at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century.
A pause can rightfuly be inserted. …
We all realise that this man’s mission might have a result, but it would not quite correspond to the present doctrine in the Catholic church..
This is exactly the situation we face when studying Asatru today. We have fragmented sources, our sources span a large period, and have an enourmous geographic range. Just as the daily practices of Christianity were completely different in the 17th century, compared to to present, Asatru in the 8th century must have differed from the beliefs in the 11th century. Asatru in Anglosaxon England would have been different from the Asatru practiced in Gotland at the same time. This becomes even more evident when we take into account that there was no such thing as a written “biblelike” Edda at the time. The first compilations of the Edda’s actually date from the 13th century and were written down in Christian times, lang after the convertion.
In short , as with our Zen Boudhist before, it is quite improbible we will ever be able to correctly reconstruct the asatru practiced by our forebears at any given time and place in the past. Any attemt to do the such will have an incomplete result.. This doesn’t mean that ther is no sense in trying to recover as much as possible of the old ways. I have the utmost respect for those who devote many hours to the exploration of Asatrus past and the reconstuction of its rites and practices. They resolution has given us invaluble insight in this beatifull relgion. Yet they can only attempt but they will never completely succeed.
Is this a problem, does this mean we should btter give up our religion, does this mean we are living a dream?
Not at all, present day Christians, Muslims, Hindus etc are facing the exact same challenges. None of them can validly claim they still practice their religion as their forebares did 100 or 200 years ago. And those that claim they do, may well believe so themselves, but they clearly don’t, since even their attemps to reconvert to the pure beliefs are coloured by their vision of what must be considered as pure. Just look at the awfull beliefs and actions of some of our contempories. What is even more, the people who claim they have found the only valid interpretation of Christianty etc are likely to be considered extremists or sectarians by society and the other members of their belief systems. History is also though us that, when the essence of a belief starts to evolve around “the only correct way to honor the God at hand, thousands of innocent lifes are lost. THis cannot be the way any of uswished our relion to evolve. At least I sincerely hope so.
Does this mean that reviving an Asatru that is strongly connected to our ancestors is a lost cause?
On the contrary, it is quite possible to revive Asatru. The fact that we do not have the entire mythology needn’t be a problem, since the main though patterns and essential views of the religion have been conserved. And it is the central ideas of a religion that are important not the exact myths or for example the exact was anyone should pratice a bloth.
Furthermore Asatru is one of the best documented revivalist religions, mainly due to the work of those of us who continue to explore the myths and practices of our ancestors. 3 centuries of intense studies have made it possible to dispose nowadays of an enormous corpus of sources and interpretations a wide selection of information to chose from and study.
Asatru also has a certain attraction to young people, since it is very axed on nature and preservation, and because of its heroism. It isn’t organised into a restricting carcan, loaded with taboes or organisational hierarchies. And still, it has a set of values worldview, visions and mythology that can be concieved as a whole, the stories hang together in a logical order. The fact that may largely be because of the work done by Christian authors such as Snorri Sturlison, is not an obstacle to its revival. On the contrary, because most of our target public of “interested souls” has a Christian background, and the structure created by Snorri originates in that Christian background and mode of thought, this renders the whole of the mythology much more accessible to the modern mind.
It would seem nothing can stopAsatru from becoming a vivid and strong religion.
But – as always there are Buts- in order to make this revival a success there are some things that need to be accepted or done by the present asatruar. And I do realsie that some Asatruar or kindreds may firmly disagree with me on these points.
1. Less reconstruction, more building. Whilst I have the greaest respect for those who have reconstucted our religion from the ancient sources, It is time to move beyond that. We have been reconstructing Germanic beliefs for the bettre part of 300 years now.
Most of the time this reconstruction was made by antiquarians who simply wanted to know/ understand
It is only since the 70ies that the veneration of the Gods and the experience of asatru as a religion, started its awakening.
I think that most of the important points and issiues have been adressed since. I believe we may not expect new worldshaking discoveries to be made. It is time to evaluate al the physical, textual etc elements we have and steer the ship of Asatru into an age of practicing.
Of course it adds to the cachet of a bloth if we to dress up and perform our rituals in a viking style. And I am not saying we should stop doing that, but we must also accept’that this isn’t the essence of our believes, whether your kindred honnours the gods in blue jeans in a concrete building or in a forest clearing in viking age costumes isn’t that important. The main thing is we venerate our gods and the world view and moral ideas they represent.
2. Open up. Only few religions survive when their believers have fallen back to such a small number that they only constitute small non expanding communities. On the other hand, all large religions started out that way. In order to make asatru survive, we have to maintain a viable number of practicioners, and we have to open up. We have to courageously step out into the world and tell the people we meet, what we believe in. We also have to’show them that we act accordingly.
I know one of the dogmas of our religion is that we do not misionnate, we do not actively convert. This is directive born out of the very history of our own religion. We all recognise that our own beliefsystem nearly perished due to the agressive actions from another religion. Nevertheless, this musn’t hinder us to talk to people and at least share with them the knowledge we have. If we wait for them to come to us, they most certainly wont, we have to walk a part of the way. We won’t force our believe upon them, but we can talk to them, get them interested. Again, most of the main religions started ou that way.
3. Don’t consider our mythology to be a closed book. Any living religion needs to encounter the divine over and over again. We must believe the gods still visit us and inspire us today. If we don’t, we must ask ourselves whether we truly believe, or whether we are just playing a reenactment game. This means new lore can be created and must be created, and I am not talking about simply retelling the old stories, I am talking about recording new devine encounters
4. Accept our religion originated in a particular region and etnicity, but if we want it to thive, we must also accept that neither place nor race are determining facts, we cannot exclude a Nigerian from practcing our religion simple because he has African roots. If we accept the world as a whole as well as mankind was created in single act, by Odin and his brothers, this means, that Nigeria and its people are also part of this creation. On the other hand, we can exclude people who do not wish to share the basics of our beliefs and moral backgrounds. This means that the farther away you move from the original geographic center of our religion, the less likely it is that these values and beliefs are shared. We might say that the propensency to adhere to our beliefs is much higher in a NortherE european or Anglosaxon context then in an African context. But suppose our Nigerian was adopted by swedish parents, lives and works among Swedes in Stockholm and never has visited his homeland after his adoption. Who is to say he cannot adhere to our believes since he clearly adheres to our culture. Culture should define adherence, not dna. This doesn’t constitute a political standpoint, don’t interpret this as an invitation to open our doors to anyone. It must be clear that the persons we admit into our mids must adhere to the same worldview, moral and other elementary convictions of our society and religion. We have the right to refuse and stand up to anyone who threathens our very existance or right to live our lives according to our believes.
5. Accept that our Gods must have manifested themselves in other names and myths to people all over the world. Thus myths about Perun or Taranis can easilly be accepted to have been experiences by “Our “Thor. Language and etnicity cannot be essential in determining where our religion ends. The measure of tolerance should be debated upon, but in my point of view much of the Celtic, Slavic and perhaps even Baltic myths could easily be clasified as belonging to the sphere of Asatru.. E.g. the Finishc Horagalis is clearly inspired by Thor. All scolars agree to this interpretation. Thus, in my view, we can add these myths to the corpus of Asatru Mytshs. As strenght lies in numbers and If we wish to grow we must be openminded.
Perhaps that final remark is the most important of all. It remains the final and emost ssential question. Do we wish to grow or are we happy to remaining in the spendid isolation of our own kindreds. Having read and met many neopagans of all kinds of religions, I cannot escape the feeling that many of us do not wish to grow.
Many seem to prefer to remain isolated and small. I can perfectly understand this point of view, I once held on to it myself, but it does strongly deminish the possibility of survical of our religion.
On the other hand, growing doesn’t exlude individuality or local specificity. Our religion permits multiple interpretaions. The fact that every practisioner or kindred is free to develop its own ways is rather a strength than a weakness. Our society is fast becomming avert of grandour or overorganisation. We, westerners, seem to prefer to retire in our own spheres. The fact that asatru permits everyone to do exactly that, might thus become a great advantage in attracting new members, and causing ourreligion to florish once again. It might be the small edge we need.
On the other hand, iIf we remain in a splendid and complete isolation, we risk our religion wil in the end be lost., never to resuface again. Our kindreds would become smaller as other religions take up the niches that our present world offers and that might have beeen filled in by an Asatru, that chose not to fll them. And one day, for the second time, a lonely Asatruar will realise that he is the last that honours the old ways. And I am afraid, we cannot be cerain, the knowledge of our ancestors will survive in order to be relaunched a third time. The fact that it even got to be relaunched a second time is a miracle in itselve, many others never had that opportinity, Just think of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman Gods.
As a conclusion I would state that we have a great religion, with lots of strenghs, allowing it to develop in an important factor, if we jump upon the opportunities that we have been offered. If we don’t I fear we will in the end go the way of the dodo. And since I value our religion to much, that latter isn’t realy the option I prefer.