Asatro and racism

- why these two are not compatible -

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This is an article I never thought I would have to write.
Unfortunately there are quite a lot of people who think they are Asatro followers, and at the same time they are nazis, racists and hateful bigots. So this article is for them. I admit that I have a very hard time understanding how people today can connect the old, individualistic, nature-loving, respectful and mindful ways of our Scandinavian ancestors with the mindless, hierarchic, impersonal terror of the nazis. It just doesn't make any sense at all...

For some reason, last spring (2001) I was invited to a mailing list - wotansfolk. Probably because I at that time was the chairman of the largest asatru organisation in Sweden; Sveriges Asatrosamfund.
Anyway, I had to unsubscribe again, since I did not agree with the basic ideas of the list.
It was - shortly - the most bizarre, stupid, destructive mailing list I have ever attended.

But I did stir up the debate a little bit before I left.

This is what I wrote:

Personally I think race and spirituality are two absolutely different matters.
I have no problem with people from other cultures being attracted to asatro.
I myself have in my youth been very interested in Eastern religion, and I have travelled extensively in India, feeling VERY connected to some traditions there.
In other words, skin color has very little importance when it comes to spiritual attraction.
And if Freya speaks to me, I don't check my passport first, before I respond.

But I think that there may be a difference depending on where you are in the world. If you live in a part of the world where asatru has no history whatsoever (Leif Eriksson was a christian missionary), there may be a need to have at least something in common to identify with - and if the land isn't there, one may resume to body - that is, a presumed heritage from ancestors.

The consequence of this reasoning would be that we Swedes are more open to people from other cultures being attracted to our religion. And I think that is precisely the fact.
I know South Americans, a Greek and even a black guy from Africa, that are strongly attracted to our gods and traditions. And I have no problem with that.
It would seem very aggressive if I tried to deny them from being attracted to "my" gods. I don't own Odin, or Thor. Or Frey or Freya.
They can't be owned. Rather - they own us.

Also 1000-2000 years ago the people from our far north were travelling far around the world, bringing home people from the whole world.
Human beings are by nature migrating.
This means that there are NO pure races anywhere.
Everyone on this earth are products of different mixtures. Genetic research proves this also to be a way of survival. We breed the best with people of a very different set of genes. The more similar genes, the lesser the result.

And if we are going to go really far back in history to search for our roots, ALL our ancestors where black and living in Africa. Does that mean we should all move to Africa?
Of course not.

Religion is not static.
There are no religions oon this earth that hasn't been influenced by other religions one way or another.
Asatru, or the Old Path, is also mixed up with all kinds of other religious influences. Since our glorious ancestors were travelling so much, they of course picked up stuff from here and there. And they also spread parts of their own practice.
Our Laps, the Sami people up way north, are a completely different people from the more southern people of germanic/celtic roots, but we have influenced each other for hundreds and hundreds of years. There are elements in southern Scandinavian traditions (asatro and related) that clearly come from the sami culture, and vice versa.
What should we do about that?
Either we try to extract a "pure asatro", excluding all "foreign" elements, which means we end up with veritably nothing, or at least something that never has existed on this planet.
Or we accept the fact that all cultures and religions are mixtures of each other. That consequently means that we have to accept that there are many different interpretations of what asatro is, more or less mixed up with other traditions.

I think that most people would benefit from - at least to some extent - adapting to the spiritual practice in the place they live.
People have always been migrating - that's natural behaviour of humans. And interestingly enough, our Scandinavian ancestors where particularly good at assimilating, accumulating and adapting to the cultures, instead of just conquering and replacing. The Romans where also good at assimilating other cultures, as well as the Christians - although the latter stole cultural elements and claimed them to be theirs.

Assimilation is, in other words, historically speaking just as common among people as conquering and replacing.

So - to claim that Asatru is the religion of the Norse people and in so, for those people only, excluding everyone else, is to me completely bizarre, and absolutely non-realistic.
If your chinese neighbour starts becoming interested in the American Indian traditions, and gets involved with shamanic process work - and during a journey has an incredibly powerful meeting with Odin, what would you think about that?
Would you deny your chinese neighbour the privilege of contact with our gods, when Odin obviously doesn't?

I have heard people claim that if one is not of the ancestry of the Norse, then one honestly can not put to value and to reality the religion of the people, like a Norse decendant can not honestly put to value and to reality the religion of Africans and people of African descent.

And - if you excuse my language, but based on my previous reasoning, to me this is all complete nonsense.

In a sense, I would prefer if christendom would have remained a little jewish sect in the eastern Mediterranean area. But it didn't. And we have to live with that today. We are very biased by the christian culture, whether we want it or not. And this is the same story as always, with migrating people and cultures.


Let's make a hypothesis.
If a Viking merchant brought home to his village in southern Scandinavia, let's say 20 persons from North Africa - what if they became attracted to his gods and goddesses? If they learnt the language, and joined in at the blots and ceremonies?
Would he disapprove?
I don't think so. I even think he would strongly approve.

I would actually go farther in another direction.
I think that the place you live is more important than yout genetic heritage.
It would be more natural for a European who lives in India to accept the Indian culture as his/her own, since he/she is completely surrounded by it at all time, than it is for an American whose great-great-grandparents once moved from Sweden to America to become an asatro believer.
First of all, the great-great-grandparents where most probably very strongly biased towards christianity. And if we would be more humble, sensitive and listening, we would probably
take more inspiration from whoever were there before us.
In other words - I think that people in America should be more inspired by the Native American traditions. Listen to them, learn from them.

Ancestry is not only a question of who gave you physical birth.
Ancestry is also the land, the climate, and (if you believe that to be a fact) also a question of what you bring with you from previous lifetimes.
This is NOT new age stuff. There are many references to reincarnation from most cultures in the world, including the Norse culture.
And who knows what heritage you have in this regard?

Good luck on your path - wherever you go!

Carl Johan Rehbinder 2001
Chairman of the Swedish Asatro Society
(Sveriges Asatrosamfund) 2000-2003

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