White supremacists space coopting norse heathen symbols. Must the heathens neglect them? Protest them? produce a new theology?


As white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, the high monk of a pagan faith looked on with horror from Reykjavik, Iceland. That wasn’t simply their racist message that bothered him. It was that their banners bore the icons of his religion: Ásatrú, additionally known as heathenry.

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“I think it’s obscene,” the high priest, Hilmar Hilmarsson, claimed of the means white supremacists are coopting norse symbols prefer Thor’s hammer since they believe the Vikings were a pure white race. This appropriation has actually been underway because that a couple of years—not only in the unified States, but additionally in Sweden, Germany, Canada, and also elsewhere—and that rattling plenty of of those who exercise the Ásatrú faith in its birthplace. “We are absolutely horrified,” Hilmarsson said me.

Ásatrú is a brand-new religious motion that attempts to revive old polytheistic traditions—like the praise of Thor, Odin, Freya, and other gods and also goddesses—from Iceland’s pre-Christian past. The modern revival began with 12 men and women who met at Reykjavik’s Hotel Borg in 1972, and over the past few years it’s really taken off. Ásatrú is now the largest non-Christian religious beliefs in Iceland, and also the faster growing. That counts end 4,000 members, Hilmarsson claimed (the country’s total population is just 335,000). For the an initial time in a millennium, a new temple is being built to accommodate pendant of Iceland’s old norseman religion. It’s set to open following June.

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The faith additionally has a an international footprint. It’s tackled various creates as it’s spread to about 100 countries, v an estimated following in the 10s of thousands. Yet there’s a specific fragility in ~ its core. Together the modern iteration of pre-Christian pagan worship, Ásatrú is a really young religion. And also it’s less a solitary codified faith than a loose cluster the religions: It has no main authority or agreed-upon dogma. Although numerous followers cherish this ideology system openness, it may leave the religion delicate to misappropriation.

It was partially to resolve this worry that a team of heathens convened last month in Germany. Their global conference, Frith Forge, invite inclusive heathens to talk about the immediate questions encountering their faith: What perform we do about the minority of heathens ~ above the extreme-right fringe who adopt racist ideas? What execute we do around the larger number of racists who don’t exercise the religion but do co-opt that is symbols? deserve to we reconcile inclusion with ethnic pride? perform we need to create a brand-new theology?

For karl Seigfried, an adjunct professor at Illinois academy of technology who is also a goði (priest) of one inclusive Ásatrú team in Chicago, the price to the last inquiry is a resounding yes. In ~ the conference, he gave a scholarly synopsis of currently Ásatrú writings before issuing a personal request: the wants civilization to write original theological essays, which he’ll edit and compile right into the an initial international anthology of the public theology that heathenry. Each essay will determine a modern issue, talk about it through the lens that heathen myths, and suggest a solution based on heathen ideals.

Asked if he’s trying to do Ásatrú theology “racist-proof,” the method certain French imams are trying to handmade a “preventive theology” that will certainly make Islam resistant to being coopted by fundamentalists, Seigfried stated he doesn’t think that’s possible. “If someone wants to walk spelunking for superordinary justifications of ethnic superiority, they’ll hit pay dust in the messages of virtually any religious tradition,” he told me through email. “Those who seek validation for hateful views will constantly manage to uncover some passage they deserve to interpret in a means that justifies your bigotry.”

But Seigfried doesn’t desire to permit the racists collection the parameters for just how the heathen religious beliefs or its icons get questioned in the media and also construed by the broader public. His strategy is to expand and also enrich Ásatrú theology so that it tackles many modern-day issues, demonstrating that is wide-ranging relevance. The takes impetus from the social-justice-oriented Catholic theologians of Latin America who created Liberation Theology in the 1950s and also 1960s.

“We frequently say that we are a world-affirming religion, so maybe it’s time that we turn to the world and deal with the issues that face us today,” that said. “What do heathens think around reproductive rights? The duty of government? Climate change? gender identity? … we will never ever be contained in the greater public conversation if us don’t very first step forward and also put our ideas on the table.”

One the several world who’ve expressed attention in contributing come Seigfried’s anthology is Diana Paxson. She prospered up Christian, but, she called me, “I found that ecstatic religious experience to be a lot an ext accessible in paganism than it remained in Christianity. The gods space alive, well, and also eager come party.” A founder the the Alliance because that Inclusive Heathenry, she also spoke in ~ the Frith create conference. Earlier home in Berkeley, she’s considering submitting one essay that provides the myth of Ragnarök—an apocalyptic occasion featuring floods and fires—to offer a heathen check out on climate change. “To fight beside the gods of Ragnarök today means to acquire really associated in eco-friendly protection and also all the political frameworks that support it,” she said.

If Seigfried’s key strategy is theological, Paxson’s is political; she trust in the power of protest. “Before the critical election, us in the U.S. Could insurance claim some liberal moral superiority. This is no longer the case,” she told me. “Ever due to the fact that January I’ve to be attending everything rallies and marches i could and displaying heathen symbols. … We have to be the end there with placards and also slogans and also banners. Every time lock come out through their message, we require to obtain out there through ours.”

“There’s an ext to heathenry than simply the fight against racist groups.”

Paxson’s focus on windy denunciations the bigotry is mirrored by heathen groups and also Viking enthusiasts across the globe. Sweden, for example, is home to Vikings versus Racism, a network of people attempting to rescue old norseman iconography indigenous misuse. They regularly present up in ~ far-right events and other demonstrations. When the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group that uses the old Týr rune together its logo, freshly paraded through the highways of a sweden city, it discovered itself vastly surcharge by counter-demonstrators native Vikings versus Racism.

In Germany, wherein Viking icons were coopted by the third Reich, many heathens are particularly wary the misappropriation today. Ulrike Pohl, a member that the Eldaring, a German heathen group, said me she carefully screens the Facebook page of anyone who asks to join the group, checking to see whether your “likes” betray any type of racist leanings. One more organization, Nornirs Ætt, researches the method heathen ideas as filtered with Nazism manifest us in modern-day far-right groups, which that exposes online v its “Odin’s Eye” project. “I think it’s feasible to take back the really runes, and also to take back the narrative, v education—with brand-new members and with the public,” Pohl said.

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The battle has come to Canada, too. The Soldiers the Odin—a far-right group started by a Finnish white supremacist in 2015—now has actually chapters in about a dozen Canadian cities. Members go the end on street patrols that Muslims and other minorities define as intimidating. But even in ~ the Soldiers the Odin, there’s fracturing over race. In April, the head that the Canadian group, bill Daniels, publicly denounced the Finnish company for “racist, unorganized, reckless wannabe thug collaboration.” He was promptly ousted.

Back in Iceland, Hilmarsson, the high priest, has a lot quieter strategy: It’s just to collection a positive example by performing baby-naming ceremonies, Yule celebrations, and other Ásatrú rituals—and neglect the haters. “We store doing what we’ve always done,” the said. “We don’t try to use logic with world who are completely illogical in the an initial place. That absolutely futile.”