Strange and Curious Sects: Asatru

I once wrote an essay for Ebon Musings, “Parting the Parthenon“, that was a semi-serious debunking of the ancient Greek gods. I wrote this as a reply to Christian apologists who accuse atheists of singling out Christianity for criticism, but also to show how many similarities there are between these ancient myths and the modern religions still believed by millions, and to implicitly ask what makes one more worthy of belief than another.

So far, I haven’t received any outraged letters from believers in Zeus or Poseidon. If there are any still around, I haven’t heard of them. But surprisingly, even in the 21st century, not all the ancient paganisms are dead and gone. One of them that’s made a fairly respectable comeback is Asatru – the worship of the Germanic deities, such as Odin and Thor.

Asatru in its modern form began in the 1970s, principally in Iceland (as one might have expected), although there were significant early advocates in the U.S., Australia and England. It’s still a small fringe movement, even in Iceland and the Scandinavian countries where it’s officially recognized – few estimates would put the number of followers even as high as 50,000 worldwide, although the number is larger if Asatru followers are grouped with other self-identified pagans in surveys of religious affiliation.

Asatru beliefs are polytheist, even close to animist. In addition to the traditional Norse gods and goddesses – the primary ones are Odin, Thor, Freyr, Frigga, Freyja, Skadi, Ostara, and Loki, although there are many others – it also includes a whole pantheon (see also) of lesser supernatural beings from myth and folklore, including nature spirits (Landvaettir) and elves (Alfr).

Whether followers of Asatru literally believe in these beings seems to be a point of some contention. As one devotee’s FAQ explains:

Yes, [the gods] are real. However, just as most Christians do not think their God is really an old bearded figure sitting on a golden chair in heaven, we do not believe Thor (for example) is actually a muscular, man-shaped entity carrying a big hammer. There is a real Thor, but we approach an understanding of him through this particular mental picture.

But a different site says:

There are those of us who nearly atheists, believing the Gods and Goddesses to be manifestations of pure Nature, and preferring to trust in their own might and judgment entirely. For these folks, Asatru provides a context for their culture and it’s continuity. Others are literalists, believing the Eddas and Sagas to be divinely inspired, and believing the gods and goddesses to be literal physical entities.

Aside from Norse gods, Asatru, like many modern paganisms, includes a grab-bag of other beliefs and principles. Belief in magic, supposedly accomplished through runes, is a recurring element. The Asatru afterlife is less clearly defined than in most religions, although there seems to be a general consensus that everyone will be in some way punished or rewarded as their deeds merit (and this FAQ reassures us that it’s not necessary to die in battle to get to Valhalla, so you can take comfort in that). They also have their own holidays and traditions, some of which – like the blót – sound genuinely fun. How could you not enjoy an outdoor barbeque with home-brewed mead?

But even cheerful pagan religions have their darker side, and in Asatru’s case, it’s that the religion has also been adopted by some prominent neo-Nazis and other white supremacists (this strain is often called “Odinism” or “Wotanism”). These tend to be people for whom racist movements like Christian Identity aren’t radical enough; for the most part, they view Christianity as hopelessly tainted by Judaism, and consider their version of Asatru to be a more pure, more “Aryan” faith. White supremacists associated with these groups have even been convicted of attempted domestic terrorism.

Unfortunately, none of the websites I consulted, whether racist or egalitarian, answered the question I was most curious about: What persuades one of the truth of Asatru? How do you genuinely become convinced that Odin and Thor are real?

I suspect the answer has to do with the demonstrable antiquity of these beliefs. It does seem to be true that in religion, it helps to be old and venerable; it lends the beliefs a gloss of respectability (Judaism was tolerated in the Roman Empire for just that reason). The allure of reconnecting with the past, carrying on heritage and tradition, is an attractive prospect that few cultures can ignore. That this tendency leads to renewed belief in Odin and Thor is one of the stranger contingencies of human society.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Asatru beliefs are polytheist, even close to animist. In addition to the traditional Norse gods and goddesses- the primary ones are Odin, Thor, Freyr, Frigga, Freyja, Skadi, Ostara, and Loki, although there are many others – it also includes a whole pantheon (see also) of lesser supernatural beings from myth and folklore

    With Douglas Adams as the messiah I assume?

    More seriously, having been previously married to a Wiccan I kind of see the appeal of pagan religion. Many wiccans I have met really only use “the goddess” as a metaphor for a holistic world view, magic is a kind of positive thinking technique and no deities are actually belived in. The Norse pantheon is as good a source of archetypes as any to use in this way.

  • Grimalkin

    I hesitate to admit this, but I’ve often been tempted to convert to Paganism. Not in the sense that I would actually believe in any of the BS, but more in terms of having ready-made (and, of course, alterable) festivals and traditions. That’s something I’ve missed since deconverting.

  • Betsy

    @Grimalkin: You don’t have to be a pagan to observe the cross-quarter days when the season changes, or to acknowledge the solstices and equinoxes with their traditional activities, foods, decorations, etc. You can just buy a book and adapt wholesale the things you want (parties, bonfires, crazy hats) while discarding the things you don’t believe in (magic, athames, crazy hats).

  • http://timecube.com Oro Mezclado

    If someone sincerely lacks a belief in gods, it seems like it would be too much hassle to keep explaining to people that he’s just in it for the mead.

  • Boudica

    Even as an atheist, I am fascinated with these old religions because of the tie to Europe (my ancestry) before Christianity came in and erased them. I’m surprised more people don’t adopt the religions of their forebears before Christianity (druids!).

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I’m surprised more people don’t adopt the religions of their forebears before Christianity (druids!).

    I’m not!Christianity did a pretty thorough job of (literally) demonising the extant religions everywhere it could. Prior to modern hippy new-ageism, any admission to paganism would be as good as saying you were a satanist.

  • Alex, FCD

    However, just as most Christians do not think their God is really an old bearded figure sitting on a golden chair in heaven, we do not believe Thor (for example) is actually a muscular, man-shaped entity carrying a big hammer.

    Well then what’s the point? If I’m going to bother to worship a god of thunder, I want this to be the last thing my enemies see.

    Although, I wonder, do Asatrists get Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off? That’ll pick up a few converts for you right there.

  • Johan

    “So far, I haven’t received any outraged letters from believers in Zeus or Poseidon. If there are any still around, I haven’t heard of them.”

    They are around in Greece. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenic_Polytheistic_Reconstructionism

    Here is an Asatru site elaborating on why they think that the gods are real: http://www.runestone.org/introduction/lesson_3.html

    The old beliefs are a mirror of the society in which they were believed, a society very different from ours. Therefore, I think it is a little anaxhronistic to try to revive them, even though I recognize the value the tales have as one of humanity’s cultural treasures.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I like the story of Odin giving an eye in exchange for wisdom. It runs counter to the anti-intellectualism so prevalent in Christianity.

  • Polly

    I remember Thor every Thursday by picturing that guy from “Adventures in Babysitting.”

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    Even Christianity has the story about Solomon asking God for wisdom over long life or wealth. I think Christianity’s anti-intellectualism is more of a response to intellect generally leading away from religion these days than anything truly inherent to the religion.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Asatrism can’t be all that bad; it inspired Eric the Viking.

    …but more in terms of having ready-made (and, of course, alterable) festivals and traditions. That’s something I’ve missed since deconverting.

    I just made up my own. I never need a real good reason to barbeque.

  • http://nealjansons.com Neal Jansons

    Interesting questions. I think I might be able to shed a bit of light, as I am one of the few adults who grew up in the modern neo-pagan tradition. There may be others around older than me, but I haven’t met them.

    I am what is sometimes called a “legacy-kid” or “hereditary witch”. This does not mean, as some people with interesting views of both history and genealogy claim, that I am descended from some ancient tradition. Rather, my father and mother were both part of the original American neo-pagan movement and I was raised with it as a part of my life. While I had my grandparent’s Catholicism in my life, I was raised with Sabbats, spells, and magick literally at my mother’s knee. Temperamentally, I was well-suited to this. In other circumstances and eras, I might have been the son sent to off to the Church. I was precocious, artistic, and prone to “visions” (vivid dreams, hypnagogic hallucinations, etc). It became a huge part of my life.

    When I was 18 I became homeless on purpose and wandered the country on what I conceived of as a spiritual quest. At 21 I became the manager of an occult bookstore in my adopted hometown and at 23 the other manager and myself left and founded our own shop. I left 3 years later to go to college. I ended up getting a couple of degrees in philosophy. I am now 32 and work as a writer and freelance coder. I am still very loosely involved in the pagan and magickal communities.

    Now, I know every religious or quasi-religious group says they are different, but in the case of magick in the modern era it is really true. There are many different traditions and philosophical views pursued. While there is certainly an uncomfortable profusion of New Age (rhymes with sewage) people who adhere to no epistemological standards at all and simply accept anything anyone claims (so long as it isn’t a mainstream belief!), that is by no means the rule.

    The best way to understand things is to understand that modern magick actually incorporates two distinct strains of thought. One is the cosmopolitan and practical attitude of what are sometimes called sorcerers or ceremonial magicians. Historically, these systems of magick cared not one whit for religious dogma, per se. This strain goes back to the Greek Mystery Cults, Gnosticism, and many similar groups that sprang up as certain people in the ancient world came into contact with other cultures and recognized that the ideas behind all the different religions had certain commonalities. These people then attempted to apply reason and experiment to the lore and magick of all these different cultures. During this period, roughly corresponding to immediately before the embrace of Christianity in the 3rd Century, it is common to find books of magick with spells calling upon hundreds of different gods from dozens of cultures…Greek, Jewish, Persian, Egyptian, and proto-Christian notions got all mixed in together. These people were still engaged in a form of mysticism, but it was exploratory and philosophical in nature. Schools of thought formed around ideological frameworks rather than gods or revelations. Magicians of this type were divided by notions of metaphysics and epistemology, battling their own versions of Plato vs. Aristotle and (eventually) Hume vs. Kant.

    Over time, synthetic systems crystallized that brought all of these disparate ideas together. The modern system of the Qabalistic “Tree of Life” is the most common used since the 19th century, but other systems exist and are being made all the time. In the 60s-70s, along came a new set of thoughts, essentially the impact of post-modernism, existentialism, and other modern philosophical schools that rejected certain 18th-19th Century notions that strongly underpinned ceremonial magick at that point, were rejected as outdated Neo-Platonism and Kantian metaphysics. A rejection of these ideas led to an important development.

    At the same time, a cultural revolution was occurring in the religious world, with plenty of people rebelling against mainstream religion as part of rebelling against every other aspect of the establishment. These people created the modern neo-pagan movement, pulling together many different strands of history and thought (some of dubious historical providence, like the claims of Gardener, who really honestly claimed to learn witchcraft from a mysterious old lady in the woods). They come at things from various perspectives, but the basic split is into “philosophical pagans”, like myself, and theistic pagans, like many Asatru. The religious folks are generally trying to get the normal social needs of religion met while still being counter-cultural…structure, shared group-dynamics, parties, and sex.

    Theistic pagans believe that their gods actually exist on some level. They claim their gods are ontologically independent of humanity. The claims about the roles of the gods, their powers and mentalities, and their motivations are usually extracted from historical texts, which are then compounded by personal experience of the devotional/religious aspects of the practice.

    Philosophical pagans usually believe that the gods are Jungian archetypes, names put on abstract concepts, meme-clusters, or similar concepts. I personally conceive of gods as simply being abstractions that cause effects in the world, like the economy, nations, brands, etc. They are “all in our heads”, but so is most of our existence, and they definitely have effects on our lives.

    The issue of magick, which is defined per Crowley and many others as “the art and science of causing change in accordance with will” is one that both unites and divides the two major branches. Some have tried to approach it scientifically and have generally failed, while others put it into the same class as “miracles” (that is, enacted by gods through prayer). Others have the more practical view of “it makes what I want to happen happen” and don’t explore theory too much.

    While, of course, anecdote is poor evidence, it must be stated that almost all modern pagans or magicians have had experiences where their magick has worked. They have also usually had bizarre experiences that have indicated some level of truth to the notion of non-human intelligences, supernatural beings, and so on. I am generally considered one of the most skeptical within the community and subject every claim to extreme scrutiny. My history of growing up in these traditions as well as my intellectual pursuits in logic, mathematics, and philosophy have made me the bane of New Agers all over the Bay Area. Several times I have attempted to leave it all behind as delusion and superstition. However, again and again my personal experiences forced me to re-open the door to that world. While I don’t expect any of you to take my word for it, I have definitely come to the belief that the universe is a very strange place and that when you go courting that strangeness, it courts you right back. I don’t believe in gods (as gods; I leave the notion open of simply differently constituted entities), I don’t claim any knowledge about afterlives or the ultimate nature of reality, but I do claim that shit goes down, yo. It goes down all the time, and while explanations are never really forthcoming (why should they be? this isn’t a story, Dennis Hopper isn’t going to show up and tell us all about the nature of reality), I assure you that if you live in a community of any real size, there is currently an underground of strange people doing strange things and having strange experiences. One of the claims of many reductive materialists (what I see as the default position of many atheists) is that there are no modern examples of supernatural events, that they all went away as people became more civilized and enlightened. Well, that’s not true. We’re here, and if the general documentation is to be trusted at all, we have always been here in some form or another. And shit goes down…none of the explanatory narratives invented by any culture explain the shit that goes down adequately, for sure, but it does happen.

    Also, from the 70s through the mid-nineties, something happened that shook the world of anyone who studies and uses magick. Those post-modern types I mentioned earlier started testing the whole theory of magick (up until then). That theory was that there was a “subtle” spiritual reality that corresponded to normal reality, and that by affecting change there, changes were caused here. Along came a physicist named Peter J. Carrol and a psychologist named Phil Hine. They, along with some others, conjectured that we had the mechanism behind magick all wrong. Carrol put forth theories based on quantum mechanics and catastrophe theory, Hine put forth Jungian theories, but in the end they agreed that the fundamental element in magick was consciousness, not some set of gods and spirits, words of power, sigils, herbs, stones, etc.

    They tested this by replacing the elements of magickal practice in their rituals. Ancient gods of Athens were replaced with Lovecraftian deities, gods made up on the spot, or (later on when things started getting silly in the debates and some factions wanted to prove a point) pop-culture characters from Star Treck, comic books, etc. Herbs, sigils, words of power, barbarous names…all of these got traded out as well. I myself participated in rituals where we replaced the time-honored pentagram, supposedly of ancient providence and subtle correspondences, with a smiley-face. The universal results of these experiments were the same: everything worked. Everything. So long as the basic structures of magick learned by all beginners were followed, ANY gods, symbols, words, and physical foci got results.

    This pretty much screwed the original theory of magick. Those that were honest had to abandon vast amounts of what we once thought was important lore, lamenting years spent poncing about in black robes and waving bits of colored rocks at the night while babbling in dead languages. Most of the community, however, made up of the New Agers and the counter-culturists pining for the trappings of religious, either doesn’t know about this development because they learn from their own and read the books written by their own. There has, so far, been no theory forthcoming that actually explains our experiences and, sadly, very few people in the community seem to care…they are too busy going to Burning Man and having polyamory drama (oh yeah, lots and lots of poly pagans, lots and lots of drama).

    So…to answer how Asatru become Asatru: pagans don’t get convinced of the “trueness” of a particular path generally. The epistemological standard is different. Since there is no specific consensus on what gods are, what they have done, or what they want (or even if they exist separate from humans!), most pagans and mages fall into a default henotheistic meta-theology. Most belief that, to whatever extent any gods “exist”, whether as abstractions, meme-clusters, Jungian transpersonal constructions within mass psyches, or real honest-to-goodness gods, they believe that all of them are essentially equally valid. Most pagans simply resonate strongly with certain pantheons, myth-cycles, or specific gods and goddesses, taking them as “patrons” and trying to explore and live out their “mysteries”. Some, but very few, theistic pagans believe their pantheon is somehow exclusively “the” pantheon; it’s just “their” pantheon.

    To be fair, prior to the Abrahamic takeovers, this was the pretty much the default religious view. All gods “existed”, all of their “mysteries” were real, and people followed the gods of their ancestors, cities, families, and sometimes even idiosyncratic gods they just liked from other cultures entirely. Remains of settlements in northern Europe during the early days of Christianity’s spread include birthing charms that name both Mary and Freya, and blacksmith’s molds have been found with both Christian crosses and Mjolnirs (Thor’s hammer) in the same mold, used to mass produce both to meet an integrated demand by both. It was the imperialistic nature of Rome that decided on “One World, One God, One Church” and remolded the attitudes of those within their reach. Prior to this, a certain pragmatic religious cosmopolitanism was the norm.

  • http://www.montgomeryfreethought.org/ Jeremy

    I’m one of the mythical athiest pagans, but not Asatru. I know some Asatru and I find that, for the most part, they are the least open and accepting amongst pagans. I don’t see a lot of the racism with the Asatru in my area, but I do see an extreme level of sexism, and a lot of the “we’re right, you’re wrong” mentality that I find so obscene in Christianity.

  • J

    *How could you not enjoy an outdoor barbecue with home-brewed mead?*

    Easily: Mead tastes really bad. At least, it tastes really bad if you’ve grown up drinking beer made with hops. Compared to the dry/bitter taste of modern hops beer, mead and ale (the original stuff that was just fermented barley with some herbs, not “modern” ales that have hops in them as a bittering agent) are sweetsweetSWEET. To me, mead mostly tastes like cold, skunky herbal tea with too much honey.

    Seriously: Having had mead, I’m liable to get down on my knees and thank the wonderful people of Flanders for introducing hops into the world.

  • M.

    There are many people who are functionally atheistic, but use archetypal images of pagan religions (especially among the Asatruar, and among the Slavic pagans). I somehow managed to run into several, and I don’t move in ‘pagan’ circles, so they have to be more numerous then one may think.

    There is no actual belief in actual Gods, or actual magic; the Runes are used as symbols of secrets yet to be found, and laws of the world; and the Gods are used as symbols of personal aspirations or principles (Odin, for example, as the eternal wisdom and knowledge seeker; the “Glad-of-War” and other such things are simply ignored in this context). One think I particularly like is the concept of Orlog, the “eternal law”, which even Gods have to obey; actions have consequences, and no entity may act with impunity.

    Then there is the literal kind of believers, of course. But they are just silly. :)

  • Argentum

    I was not raised in any religious tradition. My family celebrated holidays as secular traditions, not holy days. Religion always made me very uncomfortable as a kid, especially Christianity, but I was always fascinated by mythology and ancient cultures. When I got to college, I was surprised and amazed to meet modern pagans who actually believed in ancient gods and sought to incorporate elements of those ancient cultures into their lives. I got hooked, and quickly picked Asatru out of the cornucopia of woo as my path of choice. I studied runic theory and Norse mythology for a few years, but eventually moved on to other focuses, and now consider myself a Humanist.

    I don’t know if I was ever truly convinced Odin and the other gods/beings were real. I wanted them to be real… I have a great deal more admiration for them than I do for the Judeo-Christian/Muslim god. And I convinced myself that I felt their presence or “channeled” them in some way during the few rituals I tried. But in retrospect I realize that in all likelihood it was the exciting idea of “living the myth” that fueled my interest and generated those feelings, not to mention my own imagination. I never knew any of my grandfathers, and Odin felt very grandfatherly to me. I’m sure it’s the same for Christians who see their god as a father figure. I wanted to feel connected to something ancient and noble… Ebon is certainly right about the venerable antiquity factor.

    I’ve met people that seem to believe the gods are real, but it’s hard to tell if they really believe that, or they’re just really caught up in the mystique of the subculture. Their experiences are analogous to those cited by believers of other faiths: visions, serendipitous events, the apparent answering of prayers, etc. You see what you want to see, and remember things as you want to remember them, until you learn to take the blinders off.

    In general, I think Asatru appeals to people for many reasons. It offers a cultural identity and philosophy to Americans of European descent that feel out of touch with their ancestral roots and reject the Judeo-Christian mindset. It is diametrically opposed to Christianity in many ways; the Norse gods issue no commandments, there is no real concept of sin, there is no “savior” in the Christian sense (though Baldur is similar in character to Christ), etc. It always seemed more organized, better-conceived and internally consistent to me than Wicca. Taken to the extreme, you get bumper stickers that read “My god wields a hammer. Yours was nailed to a cross. Any questions?”

    That being said, the idea that it is a faithful resurrection of the old Norse religion is laughable. It’s been heavily influenced by other woo traditions like Wicca and hermetic magic, and art like the Arthurian legends, Wagnerian opera and modern fantasy. I will say that many of the books I read on it back in the day (mid 1990s) were well-researched and cited from an archaeological/historical perspective, but since then every hack woo author has tried their hand at repackaging the same stuff, or just plain making shit up. After I grew out of it, I learned that one of the principal architects behind modern Asatru thought and practice, Stephen Flowers (aka Edred Thorsson), is also a hermetic magician in the Crowleyan sense, and was a high-ranking member of the Temple of Set, an offshoot of LaVey’s Church of Satan. Let’s just say his writings within each context are mutually incompatible… kinda makes it hard to take him seriously on anything.

    Oh, incidentally, the mead a friend and I brewed once was quite good… but we let it ferment for 18 months before bottling, filtered it, and brewed it dry, not super-sweet. It’s tricky to get good mead, and bad mead is usually VERY bad. Sorry for the long comment.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Fascinating! I have a friend who is heavily into Viking Metal; I think I’m gonna have to do some evangelizing.

    Oh, and mead tastes awesome when you heat it and add mulling spices. To me, anyway. But then, I also like hot buttered rum and I’ve liked whisky since I was twelve, and I hated champaigne at the time. (My family has a tradition of a collective drink at birthdays and holidays.)

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com Mavricky

    You bring up an interesting topic here in drawing a comparison between belief in these other gods and the Christian God and posing the question “what makes one more worthy of belief than another”. You may be surprised to learn that there are numerous references to other gods in the Bible, the most famous of which is the first of the Ten Commandments, with others in Exodus and Deuteronomy. It could be argued then, from a Christian perspective that “other gods” indeed exist based on the interpretation of scripture – so discounting the likes of Thor or Odin (or whatever names they go under) might not be the best foundation to begin discounting the existance of Yahweh. Secondly, to answer the question “what makes one more worthy of belief than another”, the answer may lie in the fact that the Bible makes numerous references to these other gods and expressly denounces putting them before Yahweh. As goes the first commandment: “You shall have no gods before me”, so the spead of Christianity was the death knell for the worship of other (pagan) gods, as it was the first religion to demand exclusivity of worship.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    So these gods still exist but are playing to an empty hall? You mean, kind of like Iron Butterfly?

    Really?

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com Mavricky

    I don’t know whether these “gods” still exist or not, that depends how the scripture is interpreted. But one thing scripture is crystal clear on is the existence of demons. So my opinion is that the “real and quick results” reported by the devotees who swear by the rituals of paganism, wicca, satanism, voodoo and other practices, are actually achieved by the intercession of the demonic – an extremely dangerous engagement from a Christian perspective; hence the very first commandment! I know this perhaps sounds very farfetched, but if anyone has ever spoken to a practitioner of wicca, then you’ll perhaps know what I mean. So to answer your question, these “gods” may not be playing to an empty hall, but playing to anyone who practices the (very dangerous) rituals of paganism/wicca/voodoo etc. And from a theological viewpoint, a reason for these supposed “quick results”, is that these practices bypass God’s Will; in that when you pray to Yahweh you get your answer in his time (thus you must employ the virtue of patience), but when you appeal to the satanic, God’s time is ignored and His Will bypassed.

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    Neal, if “[unexplainable] shit went down” all the time, then it would be reported by more than just a bunch of like-minded individuals after performing some frenzied hour-long ceremony. And with video. And audio. From multiple viewpoints.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    And the difference between this and eating magic crackers is…?

  • http://canterburyatheists.blogspot.com Paul from Canterbury Atheists

    Interesting post.

    The Church of Odin reared it’s ugly-head down here in New Zealand in the 80′s.

    More here: http://canterburyatheists.blogspot.com/2008/12/new-zealand-church-of-odin-1980-1983.html

    Cheers.

    Paul

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    So my opinion is that the “real and quick results” reported by the devotees who swear by the rituals of paganism, wicca, satanism, voodoo and other practices, are actually achieved by the intercession of the demonic – an extremely dangerous engagement from a Christian perspective; hence the very first commandment!

    Interesting, Mavricky, but unfortunately it’s not quite correct. The truth is that the Norse gods are the only ones that exist, but Loki, that scamp, occasionally answers prayers addressed to Jesus just to confuse all you Christians. What can I say – he thinks it’s hilarious. I’d be very cautious about offering up any more of those prayers if I were you; the Allfather Odin frowns on people who are devotees of Loki, even if they don’t know it, and is likely to deal harshly with them at Ragnarok.

  • Alex Weaver

    It could be argued then, from a Christian perspective that “other gods” indeed exist based on the interpretation of scripture – so discounting the likes of Thor or Odin (or whatever names they go under) might not be the best foundation to begin discounting the existance of Yahweh.

    The part to the right of the hyphen has no logical connection to the part on the left. If anything, having accepted the other gods as fictional entities, the fact that the Bible refers to them as if they were real undermines its credibility further.

    Secondly, to answer the question “what makes one more worthy of belief than another”, the answer may lie in the fact that the Bible makes numerous references to these other gods and expressly denounces putting them before Yahweh. As goes the first commandment: “You shall have no gods before me”, so the spead of Christianity was the death knell for the worship of other (pagan) gods, as it was the first religion to demand exclusivity of worship.

    So, the fact that your religion is a metaphorical spoiled brat is supposed to make it MORE appealing?

    (I hope that wasn’t too much “name-calling.”)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Interesting, Mavricky, but unfortunately it’s not quite correct. The truth is that the Norse gods are the only ones that exist, but Loki, that scamp, occasionally answers prayers addressed to Jesus just to confuse all you Christians. What can I say – he thinks it’s hilarious. I’d be very cautious about offering up any more of those prayers if I were you; the Allfather Odin frowns on people who are devotees of Loki, even if they don’t know it, and is likely to deal harshly with them at Ragnarok.

    So… what you’re saying is… you’re looking at the same data, but you’ve got a different interpretation in light of your own personal hokum?

  • http://shelter.nu/blog/ Alex

    “Easily: Mead tastes really bad”

    I’m sorry, but you haven’t had real mead, then. I’m a bit of a mead freak, and have have several hundreds of different kinds of mead, from variations in fruits, type of honey, the barley and assorted other grains, and herbs and spices. I think there is a big world that you’ve missed in your vain dismissal of trying a bit of bad mead. :)

    Uh, party at my house, right?

  • Alex, FCD

    Secondly, to answer the question “what makes one more worthy of belief than another”, the answer may lie in the fact that the Bible makes numerous references to these other gods and expressly denounces putting them before Yahweh.

    So, the God of Christianity is more worthy of belief than other gods because He says so?

    I like that argument: nice and circular.

  • Paul

    While, of course, anecdote is poor evidence, it must be stated that almost all modern pagans or magicians have had experiences where their magick has worked.

    And when their magic did not work, did they just assume they weren’t trying hard enough? Surely in one of your degrees you came across the subject matter of confirmation bias.

  • Argentum

    Neal Jansons wrote:

    …magick, which is defined per Crowley and many others as “the art and science of causing change in accordance with will”…

    Remember Neal, in Magick Without Tears, “Uncle Al” gave writing as an example of magick in this sense:

    Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take “magical weapons,” pen, ink, and paper; I write “incantations”—these sentences—in the “magical language” i.e. that which is understood by people I wish to instruct. I call forth “spirits” such as printers, publishers, booksellers, and so forth, and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution is thus an act of MAGICK by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.

    Mavricky wrote:

    So my opinion is that the “real and quick results” reported by the devotees who swear by the rituals of paganism, wicca, satanism, voodoo and other practices, are actually achieved by the intercession of the demonic…

    Oh, but of course, when such results are claimed by Christians (such as those reported by faith healers, exorcists, etc.), they could NEVER be the result of demonic intercession, right Mavricky?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann!)*^

    World of Warcraft forever ruined my ability to take Norse gods seriously. Whenever I see Thor’s name, all I can think is “I remember you… in the mountains…”

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Dunno what happened to my name there. Oops!

  • Justin

    I suspect the answer has to do with the demonstrable antiquity of these beliefs. It does seem to be true that in religion, it helps to be old and venerable; it lends the beliefs a gloss of respectability

    I’m not one to psychoanalyze, but perhaps the revitalization of Norse paganism is some sort of outgrowth of counterculture? Maybe counterculture types who seek alternatives to Christianity find Asatru appealing because it’s rare and off the beaten path?

    On a slightly different note, I thought of something; if the Norse religion was effectively dead for a couple millennia, is it probable that the people who brought it back aren’t practicing it as it was intended? Might nobody remember how the ancients intended worship to be conducted?

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Well, now you’ve gone too far, Ebon. It’s fine to criticize Catholicism and Baptism and Orthodox Judaism and Islam and Hinduism and Episcopalianism. Those are bad religions, and they make wacky claims that any sane person knows aren’t true. But when you criticize Loki… that’s just intolerant proselytization.

    (Sorry. I’m channeling some of my Facebook readers.)

    Seriously… While of course I don’t believe in the Norse gods, I actually do think that polytheism of the Norse/ Greek/ Roman variety are less implausible than the All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All-Good God of standard Christianity. At least with polytheism, you have an explanation for why things often suck: the gods aren’t all- powerful, they’re not that ethical, and they’re always in conflict with one another.

    And I think Justin has a point. It seems like Asatru has a similar origin to modern Wicca and neo-paganism: a desire to reject mainstream organized religion, coupled with a yearning for old traditions and for a religious practice of some sort.

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com Mavricky

    Oh, but of course, when such results are claimed by Christians (such as those reported by faith healers, exorcists, etc.), they could NEVER be the result of demonic intercession, right Mavricky?

    Good point. Yes that’s entirely correct for the case of exorcists “for a house divided on itself cannot stand”. But not necessarily for faith healers! In general the methods by which they obtain their results is very dubious.

  • Argentum

    Justin wrote:

    …if the Norse religion was effectively dead for a couple millennia, is it probable that the people who brought it back aren’t practicing it as it was intended? Might nobody remember how the ancients intended worship to be conducted?

    The Norse “religion” has been effectively “dead” for about 800-900 years. Scandinavia and Iceland were the last regions of Europe to be Christianized; paganism was openly practiced in Iceland until the 1100′s, and pagan folk traditions still survive today. Ironically, modern heathens have more literary sources to draw from when forming their beliefs thanks to Christian monks and historians, who cared enough to preserve the mythological and folk literature in written form.

    But like I said in my original comment, what tries to pass for “the religion of the ancient Norse” today would not impress ancient Norseman. It’s perhaps 20% reconstructing dress, language and customs from mythological, historical and archaeological sources, and 80% winging it. It was never a formalized religion to begin with; there were probably as many ways of practicing it as there were practitioners (so at least there’s something Asatru shares with it). It’s really not possible to be truly authentic anyway, unless you can figure out how to get away with hanging and stabbing people as sacrifices to Odin. There are plenty of Asatruar that realize this, and openly admit it, but some of them are really deluded… usually they’re the ones that never would have beaten the infant/child mortality odds back in the “good ole days.”

  • Argentum

    Incidentally, in Iceland, the birthplace of Asatru, less than 1% of those with any religious affiliation at all identify themselves as members of Ásatrúarfélagið (Icelandic Asatru), while 80% are members of the official Lutheran state church. 23% of all Icelanders identify as agnostics or atheists. These figures are pretty much the same in Scandinavia as well.

  • Argentum

    Greta Christina wrote:

    While of course I don’t believe in the Norse gods, I actually do think that polytheism of the Norse/ Greek/ Roman variety are less implausible than the All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All-Good God of standard Christianity. At least with polytheism, you have an explanation for why things often suck: the gods aren’t all- powerful, they’re not that ethical, and they’re always in conflict with one another.

    I agree completely. This is another reason I found paganism so appealing back in the day… not only did the gods of Indo-European polytheism seem more plausible than the Christian god, I found them less disturbing. No omnipotence for anyone, and plenty of checks and balances!

    These days, I see them as useful metaphors for natural, social and psychological phenomena. Oral traditions had to rely on potent symbols for the transmission of ideas over long periods of time. Thanks to the myths about Thor, for example, we know the ancients understood at least a few things about electricity and geo-magnetism.

  • Peter N

    I engineer and produce CD recordings of classical music. Early in my career I came to the realization that even if an accurate recreation of early music were possible, that’s not necessarily what we should be trying to do. If I could somehow listen to Handel’s 1742 Dublin performance of Messiah, it wouldn’t sound the same to me as it did to that audience. Handel’s audience lived in the 18th century, and had never heard Messiah before, not to mention Beethoven, Stravinsky, or Laurie Anderson. We live in the 21st century, and we’ve heard it a million times. What we have to do is bring back the feeling of the 1745 performance, to make it sound brand new and exciting. That’s what makes classical music performance a living art.

    I think observing an ancient pagan religion is also a form of art — taking real and imagined elements of antiquity, and weaving them into something relevant to people in the present day. If people who do this think it is in some way powerful or meaningful, then I guess it is, if only to them. Come to think of it, practicing Christianity is exactly the same thing. Which was Ebon’s point all along, I guess.

  • Alex, FCD

    Mavricky:

    Good point. Yes that’s entirely correct for the case of exorcists “for a house divided on itself cannot stand”. But not necessarily for faith healers! In general the methods by which they obtain their results is very dubious.

    Now there’s an understatement for you.

    I think you may have missed the point, which is that you’ve failed to clarify exactly how one determines when demonic intercession has taken place*. Saying “when miracles happen to Christians it’s down to Jesus, but pagan miracles are clearly the work of demons” isn’t going to cut it, because you’ve assumed what you set out to prove (if you switch ‘Christian’ and ‘pagan’ in the hypothetical quote up there, the resulting sentence is exactly as well-supported).

    *I’m picturing Egon’s blinking thing from Ghostbusters.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I myself participated in rituals where we replaced the time-honored pentagram, supposedly of ancient providence and subtle correspondences, with a smiley-face. The universal results of these experiments were the same: everything worked. Everything. So long as the basic structures of magick learned by all beginners were followed, ANY gods, symbols, words, and physical foci got results.

    Neal, I’m interested to know: When you did these experiments, what was your null hypothesis?

    Seriously: Having had mead, I’m liable to get down on my knees and thank the wonderful people of Flanders for introducing hops into the world.

    To each his own, I suppose. Personally, I love good mead, but I can’t stand beer or wine that’s too dry or too bitter. (I hate Guinness, although I do enjoy Chimay – one of the few dark beers I can drink.) I’ve always had a sweet tooth in that respect.

    Alex (#28): Yes, party at your house. :) Heck, if I’m ever in your area, I’ll have to stop by!

  • Alex Weaver

    To each his own, I suppose. Personally, I love good mead, but I can’t stand beer or wine that’s too dry or too bitter. (I hate Guinness, although I do enjoy Chimay – one of the few dark beers I can drink.) I’ve always had a sweet tooth in that respect.

    I recommend Alaskan Amber. Of course, I always do…

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    To each his own, I suppose.

    S’true, y’know. There’s no accounting for taste. I know because my tastes have changed over time (I hated mushrooms and now I love them; I loved Guinness and now I hate it), and I have no idea why. (“Just ‘cuz” isn’t an idea why, it’s a brute fact; I want further explanation.)

  • Rick

    Greetings!

    I was raised Christian, and attended church regularly until I was 18, and irregularly for a while after that. For personal reasons, I chose to leave Christianity behind and seek out a faith that I was better suited to, and that better suited me. Many would have just fallen out of the practice of spiritual belief entirely, but I felt and still feel that spirituality is an important aspect of a person’s life.

    When I discovered Asatru, I knew I had found my true faith. It fit me perfectly. The teachings, the Nine Noble Virtues, the stories of the gods and their deeds… all of this resonated with me in a way I can’t really put to words. I bought my first Hammer not longer after.

    I fall into the camp of belief that our understanding of the divine is imperfect, and I do not attribute to the gods a human form or human motivations. Rather, I try to further my own knowledge of them through the stories that have been passed down in the Eddas, and I try to live by the code that our faith teaches. I try to achieve more good than evil in my life, and I try to make amends for actions I have taken. I think this is really all any person who wishes to do good can accomplish.

    As for the question, why do I believe in Odin and Thor? I do because their stories speak to me in a way that stories of Jesus did not. I do because my life has been blessed and I have been happy in my beliefs. It’s as simple as that.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Glad you’re happpy, Rick, but this –

    Many would have just fallen out of the practice of spiritual belief entirely, but I felt and still feel that spirituality is an important aspect of a person’s life.

    – is pretty revealing. Although you left Christianity behind, you apparently kept its dogma that spirituality must be supernatural.

  • Rick

    It’s not entirely accurate to describe that as a “Christian” belief, as there are many faiths that view spirituality in that manner. Nonetheless, I did look at other belief systems that didn’t include the worship of a deity or deities, and they didn’t feel right to me. Sure, it’s possible that’s a byproduct of my upbringing. It’s also possible that I just have an intrinsic need to connect to the divine in that manner. No real way of knowing which it is, and I genuinely don’t care. :)

    As an aside, Happy Thanksgiving, all.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    True enough. I stand corrected. Hope your holiday was fun!

  • http://peyre.sqweebs.org/ Leon

    “‘Easily: Mead tastes really bad’

    I’m sorry, but you haven’t had real mead, then. I’m a bit of a mead freak, and have have several hundreds of different kinds of mead, from variations in fruits, type of honey, the barley and assorted other grains, and herbs and spices. I think there is a big world that you’ve missed in your vain dismissal of trying a bit of bad mead. :)

    Uh, party at my house, right?”

    Right you are. Mead isn’t overly sweet when it’s done right–in fact it’s often fairly dry. Most people just assume it’s thick and sweet because it’s made from honey–and commercially made stuff in the US tends to be sweet to cater to the American sweet tooth. They also tend to be kind of nasty in general since they often suffer from poor storage and weren’t very well made in the first place.

    Also, gruit ales (i.e., unhopped ales) weren’t sweet. Those herbs you mention, J, were added mostly as bittering agents. You really should look up the local chapter of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and its local brewers’ guild. Then you can get a taste of real meads, and also unhopped ales if you’re lucky. (Lucky not because gruit ales are so good, but because they’re uncommon even in medieval re-creation societies.)

    So where’s the party, Alex?

  • Katla

    Okay, I’m commenting on a really old article, I know, but I just had to.

    I know Thor is real. Have you experienced the raw power of the thunderstorm and the empowering and exciting effect it has on you? THAT is Thor.
    It depends on how you define what ‘God’ or ‘a god’ is. Maybe god is just our connection with nature, how we relate to it. Or maybe god resides in everything everywhere, and we just have to shift our thinking a little bit to see Thor in the thunderstorm, too, in addition to the scientific explanation of the phenomenon.