Asgard in America

Inventing European Ethnic Identity in a Post-Industrial Pluralist Culture

Thesis (M.A.), 2004

107 Pages, Grade: 1,0



Prologue: Ancient Bones and Current Contention

1. Introductory: Allies of Asgard in America
Overview: Community History of American Asatru
Review: Previous Perspectives and Pretermissions
Preview: Outline of Procedure

2. Kennewick Man, Cultural Pluralism, and the Postindustrial Crisis of Western Modernity
Bones to Pick over Discursive Power
Reorganization and Repercussions of Modernity
Alterternative Geographies, Competing Modernities, and the Reality of Religion

3. Ancestry, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Belonging
Of LLonging and Not Belonging
Of Lost and Reclaimed Belongings
Of Belonging and Borderlines of Order

4. Community, Commitment, and the Practice of Being True
Togetherness and the Motivation to Mastery
Commitment and the Moods of Virtuous Conduct

5. In Conclusion: Rescue Unit Asatru?
Works Cited

Note on Spelling

In discussing the contemporary Heathen revival in the United States, it appears inevitable that I use certain termini and names, mostly borrowed from Old Norse or the Anglo-Saxon language, that are specific to the discourses circulating within the Heathen community. Since the community has not endeavored to standardize its terminology, the spelling of borrowed words in Heathen writings varies widely, quite often even within a single text. Hence, I spell these words at my discretion, choosing an anglicized version of proper names whenever such can be found in primary sources (e.g. Ases, Odin, Midgard) while omitting vowel accents and avoiding foreign characters by transliterating d as dh and p as th in other mythic names and termini (e.g. utiseta, Verdhandi, thurs). However, quotations as well as names of authors and associations will, of course, be represented as they appear in their original sources.

Prologue: Ancient Bones and Current Contention

It shows the plight we're facing in a political climate that is making it increasingly difficult to know anything. I am speaking of political correctness in general: "Just don't talk about the truth. It might offend somebody."

James C. Chatters, forensic archeologist (qtd. in Lee, "One Year")

Some scientists say that if this individual is not studied further, we, as Indians, will be destroying evidence of our own history. We already know our history. It is passed on to us through our elders and through our religious practices.

Armand Minthorn, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Scientific study is, in a way, a means by which this long-dead kinsman of ours can tell his saga and renew his glory.

Stephen McNallen, Asatru Folk Assembly (qtd. in AFA, "Religious Group")

More than nine thousand years ago, a man died somewhere in the area of what today is the Columbia river basin in the State of Washington, USA.1 What is known about this individual's life, may be summarized in one sentence: In spite of several serious injuries, including a skull fracture, a crushed chest, and a stone spear point that had penetrated his hip and remained embedded in the bone tissue, the man apparently was in vigorous health and reached an age of at least forty, perhaps even fifty-five years. Whether his body was buried by his folk according to their custom or accidentally covered with sediments from the flooding Columbia River soon after a lonely death, remains uncertain. But certainly, as a matter of geographical fact, he was an American. Ironically, as we will see, it was owing much more to this one established fact than to all the unsolved questions about this man that his skeletal remains became bones of contention shortly after their discovery.

Having finally washed out from the riverbank, the nearly complete skeleton was found in late July 1996 after two college students had almost literally stumbled across the skull while wading through the shallows along the river's edge near the town of Kennewick. Forensic anthropologist James C. Chatters, whom the police consulted in order to identify the bones, determined that the skull exhibited distinctly Caucasoid features, i.e. did not belong to an American Indian. His initial assumption, namely, that he was handling the remains of an early pioneer, was first shaken by the discovery of the spear point and finally refuted by radiocarbon tests which dated the skeleton at 9,200-9,500 years old. Kennewick Man, as it was named by Chatters, thus turned out to be one of the half-dozen oldest and best preserved human skeletons ever found in the Americas.

The Army Corps of Engineers, who have Jurisdiction over the site where the skeleton had been found, concluded that snce Kennewick Man was a pre-Columbian American, he was Native American and therefore subject to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Passed in 1990 as a belated response to long-standing protests by Indian tribes against the unrestricted archeological looting of their burial sites and the appropriation of cultural artifacts and human remains by museums and universities, NAGPRA legislation requires that ceremonial and other sacred items such as burial objects and human remains stored in publicly funded institutions be returned to affiliated tribes upon request. It further mandates that the tribal authorities be consulted over the handling of Indian remains found on federal lands. Interpreting NAGPRA, the corps called off all further scientific examination of the bones and announced that it would hand them over to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who, together with other tribal groups, had already claimed the Ancient One, as they preferred to call the individual, to be their ancestor and wanted to rebury him.

Of course, while news of the thrilling discovery was spreading nationwide and beyond, professional archeologists and interested amateurs alike panicked at the prospect of such an irreversible loss to the research community. And when a group of eight renowned anthropologists filed a legal suit to obtain permission to study the skeleton, the corps backed away from their first resolution and decided instead to retain the bones as long as the case was pending in court.

Meanwhile, scholars and journalists began speculating about Kennewick Man's theoretical and political implications. As scholarly discourse mingled with journalistic ineptitude, the anthropological term Caucasoid (referring to certain skeletal features) slipped into the more familiar Caucasian (a racial term), which in turn was easily translated as European. Thus it happened that a heretofore rather secluded academic controversy about paleo-American intercontinental migrations suddenly received unprecedented publicity, in consequence of which the sparse factual information on the issue, wherever discriminating accuracy gave way to sensationalism, was embellished with themes of racial competition and genocide. At times fraught with overtones of subtle resentment over the perceived moral privilege of the American Indians, much of the debate centered around questions of who was first to arrive in America and whether there had been previous populations, possibly of European origin, that had been wiped out by the ancestors of today's Native Americans.2

Based on James Chatters' findings, scientists concluded that Kennewick Man had probably been a handsome man by timeless standards—comparatively tall, slender, well-proportioned, and healthy in appearance. Having lived a rough life out in the wilderness of America's West, too, he already had what it took to be regarded as a hero. And when Chatters created a clay reconstruction of Kennewick Man's head, thus providing the man with a human face and, in effect, the media with a more captivating image of their hero, this rendered him all the more appealing to the audience. It mattered little that the sculpture had neither hair nor eye-color lest any particular racial affiliation be suggested; and it mattered even less that the clay face resembled Chief Black Hawk and his son as depicted in an 1833 painting by John Wesley Jarvis. For bald-headed as Kennewick Man now appeared in public, he also bore a striking similarity to another popular person whose image, having been displayed on TV innumerable times, was not only familiar to most Americans but also suggestive of pioneering heroism: Patrick Stewart, better known as Captain Picard from the Star Trek series. In this way, coincidence conspired with fancy to posthumously give Kennewick Man a white Euro- American identity.

Within the context of such speculations, the Indian tribes' demand for repatriation of the bones not only presented an unwelcome frustration of scientific curiosity, but seemed altogether unjustified. Nor were the Indians the only ones to claim the disputed individual as their ancestor: Only a week after the anthropologists had filed their suit in court, the anthropologists received unwarranted support by the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), an organization whose members practice a modern version of the ancient Norse pagan religion, including polytheistic and ancestral worship. As different claims had come with different names, Kennewick Man, a.k.a. the Ancient One, was symbolically appropriated by the AFA through the bestowal of yet another epithet, the Far-Traveling One, suggesting that he or his forebears may have come all the way from Europe by boat or land bridge. Believing that the Far-Traveling One had been kin to their ancestors, the AFA legally requested that the remains be thoroughly examined in order to determine whether they were genetically linked to northern Europe: Should such a relation be verified, the organization would take custody of the bones so as to ensure their further treatment according to what they thought were ancient European religious values and custom.

Presenting themselves as deeply religious and, at the same time, open to scientific testing methods that would physically damage the revered bones, the Asatru claimants occup ied an interesting middle ground between the opposing sides. On the one hand, their emphasis on the spiritual significance of ancestry and kinship paralleled the Native American view of the issue. Indeed, AFA leader Stephen McNallen repeatedly expressed his esteem and sympathy for the stance of the Indian tribes, pointing out that in spite of their temporary legal conflict, both parties had more similarities than differences as both were devoted to a native ethnic religion.3 He also announced that if the remains in fact turned out to be related to the tribes, the AFA would support their instant repatriation. However, as Asatru was not generally acknowledged as a genuine religion, such declarations of truce remained largely unilateral. But when it was discovered that members of the Umatilla tribes had secretly performed sacred rites with the bones on several occasions, the Army Corps of Engineers had to concede the same religious right to the Asatru believers. As soon as the latter were allowed to visit and pay their respect to the Far-Traveling One, however, they could no longer be ignored by the Native Americans. Thus, although a number of Indian spokespersons voiced their fierce protests against the Asatru ceremony, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation nevertheless sent a representative to attend the observance and make peace with the AFA as a "fellow tribal people" (Lee, "Ancient Ritual").

As for its endorsement of scientific study, on the other hand, the AFA was not solely motivated by the will to win its case in court with the help of undeniable evidence: For since Asatru values include a high appreciation for story-telling as a means of honoring the dead through the remembrance of their deeds, and since no one alive could tell a story of the Far- Traveling One, the Asatru believers thought that scientific research on his remains might do just that for him. In accordance with this belief, the AFA announced that, should it win the case, the bones would be made accessible to specialists for study and only afterwards safely interred in a sacred manner. Yet even though the intentions of the Asatru claimants were compatible with those of the plaintiff anthropologists and in agreement with the public interest in learning more about Kennewick Man, their claim seemed to have never been seriously considered by anyone outside the Asatru community. After all, while their involvement in the dispute over Kennewick Man gained them short-lived notoriety, especially due to the media coverage of their religious ceremonies, they were regarded as a curious sideshow by most observers. Moreover, in terms of the legal side of the conflict, the first question to be decided was not about the religious rights of particular groups but rather about whether Kennewick Man was to be considered a Native American ancestor or merely an object of science, that is, a lonely human fossil bereft of living kin and therefore bereft of the right to be respectfully treated.

The scientists indirectly answered this question in court when they argued that NAGPRA did not apply to Kennewick Man because no relation to any existing Native American tribe had been proved, nor was such relation likely to be provable, and that in order to attempt such proof, the remains would have to be scientificall y examined anyway. Furthermore, the plaintiffs claimed their constitutional rights had been violated by the Corps of Engineers as they had discriminated in favor of the Indians on grounds of ethnicity and religious beliefs, thereby depriving the scholars of their right to pursue knowledge for the advancement of their scientific endeavors and for the benefit of the American public. While the District Court decided that the anthropologists had no civil right to study the bones, the first argument took hold when the scientists filed another court motion citing the rule that civil procedures must not inhibit but rather compel the discovery of true facts.4 As a consequence, Kennewick Man was transferred to the Burke Museum in Seattle—an event ceremoniously attend ed by both American Indians and Asatru followers—where a team of five experts had been appointed by the Department of the Interior to perform a series of tests on the remains to determine whether they were to be identified as Native American according to NAGPRA definition and whether they were affiliated with any modern tribe to which they should be repatriated.

The Department declared that at all times during the procedure the remains would be treated with the respect due to a human ancestor. However, this statement was hardly acceptable to the Native American tribes, who believed that the Ancient One had already been desecrated by the previous examinations, and that any further delay of the reburial was harmful to both the dead man's disturbed spirit and the living. Moreover, they were outraged at what they perceived as a deliberate act of dismantling a federal law that not only was meant to protect their cultural heritage from scientific exploitation but also restored some dignity to their traditional knowledge: For NAGPRA rules that evidence of cultural affiliation may be "based upon geographical, kinship, biological, archaeological, anthropological, linguistic, folkloric, oral traditional, historical, or other relevant information or expert opinion" (sec.7, a.4). As the wording puts it, the evidential value of oral tradition is to be regarded equal to scientific opinion. Correspondingly, Armand Minthorn, an authorized speaker for the confederated tribes, demanded that their oral histories, allegedly going back ten thousand years, be taken for fact.5 Since they knew their people had been created together with the land at the beginning of time and stayed there ever since, the tribes declared that scientific theories about paleo-American migration neither applied to them nor to the Ancient One. Several years later, however, when the tests had been finished and the Department of the Interior had concluded that the disputed remains indeed belonged to the tribal claimants by a preponderance of evidence, the Confed erated Tribes were in a position to adopt a more conciliatory tone in their subsequent press statement: "In the end it does not matter what theory you subscribe to, whether the original occupants of this hemisphere arrived 20,000 years ago, 60,000 years ago or whether they were always here, each is only a theory."

Nevertheless, as the events serve to illustrate, it does actually matter which kind of theory one subscribes to—even though different theories may occasionally lead to identical conclusions. Namely, when the Interior Department finally decided in favor of the Native Americans, this decision was carefully legitimized by a lengthy scientific report that was, of course, an outcome of extensive investigations conducted in scrupulous accordance with standardized methods of scrutiny and reasoning, which themselves had been informed by normative theories on how one must properly proceed in order to attain knowledge of the factual truth. Usually, religious beliefs and spiritual knowledge, including mythical histories, do not qualify as sources of truth according to these theories. To the contrary, they bear the stigma of not arising from established procedures of knowledge and therefore are suspiciously regarded as potential sources of error.

Hence it was hardly surprising that while the quoted passage from NAGPRA invests oral tradition and scientific information with equal significance, its interpretation by the federal agency effectively reinforced the hierarchy of established vis-ä-vis stigmatized knowledge: For the report, of course, put hard scientific data first, and these data showed that Kennewick Man was physically unlike any known modern Native American but rather bore resemblance to certain Polynesian groups and the Ainu of Japan. On the other hand, the possibility of some distant biological connection to modern Indians could not be excluded. In short, the scantiness of scientific evidence permitted no conclusive judgment for or against an affiliation. Therefore, the agency had to rely primarily on the evidence of geography and tribal oral traditions, including mythical creation stories and the absence of any folk tales indicating that migrating people had superseded and displaced an older population of the region. It goes without saying that these cral traditions had to be analyzed, interpreted, and evaluated not by a practical Native American expert but by an adept scholar who, dedicated to the established procedures of knowledge production, was of course obliged to re-inscribe the stigma of errancy attached to mythical knowledge by pointing to its generic unreliability. As a result, the Interior Department inevitably discredited its own decision by conceding in its final report that "the quality of historical Information that can be obtained from oral traditions is a matter of debate at present" (qtd. in Lee, "Interior Department").

In light of this statement, the Department's decision in favor of the tribes seems to have been motivated not by scientific truth, but rather by certain political considerations, which shall not be further explored here. Consequently, when the case was finally back in court, the federal stance was found both arbitrary and indefensible. Assessing the evidence as submitted in the federal report and committed to an unbiased judgment in view of the 'true facts' therein disclosed, the magistrate judge ruled that geographical and oral traditional evidence was not sufficient for determining Kennewick Man's affiliation with modern American tribes and that, since NAGPRA obviously did not apply, unrestrained scientific study of the bones was legally justified. Of course, this ruling was immediately challenged by both the tribes and the Department of Justice, and another two years went by until the appeals court affirmed the magistrate's decision in February 2004. Considering their dim prospect of success, the tribes have decided to refrain from appealing to the Supreme Court and instead to campaign for an amendment to NAGPRA that would generally secure a better position for Native American tribes in future controversial cases over archeological findings. Meanwhile, as the anthropologists are negotiating a detailed plan of examination to be conducted on the skeleton with the government, the tribes are still litigating to have a legal say in the process of the scientific study and to also ensure that the bones will be handed over to them for reburial once the examinations have been finished.

Thus, more than eight years after his sudden appearance in the American public, Kennewick Man, a.k.a. the Ancient One (no longer the Far-Traveling One, for the AFA gave up their claim after the Interior Department had released their report), is still waiting at the Burke Museum for his true identity and belongingness to finally be determined.

1. Introductory: Allies of Asgard in America

Within the multi-faceted neo -pagan movement in the United States, there have been various efforts to reconstruct pre-Christian Heathen religions based on solid historical sources and archaeological findings. One of these is Asatru, meaning "true to the Ases," which draws primarily on medieval Scandinavian, Icelandic, and English writings as well as Middle and Northern European folklore.6 Rejecting eclectic practices in favor of cultural specificity and meticulously probing the consistency of ritual innovation and individual inspiration with authoritative academic knowledge, reconstructionist paganism seems to have been less attractive to the mainstream spiritual seeker than more syncretistic modern cults such as Wicca, which has received considerable public and academic attention by comparison. Thus, although the Asatru community had been thriving and growing for almost thirty years, they remained mostly hidden from American public consciousness until the late 1990s when Asatruar began claiming their religious rights in American prisons and the military and even came to notoriety for their spectacular involvement in the Kennewick Man controversy recounted above.

Asatru, as understood by its followers, is definitely a non-proselytizing religion. Consequently, its followers usually do not seek public recognition, preferring to be left alone when engaging in ritual practice rather than provoking outside indignation at their deviant ceremonies. Practice includes several rites, most prominently blot and sumbel (pronounced like "bloat" and "symbel"), that are performed to honor Germanic gods and goddesses as well as land-spirits and ancestors at seasonal holidays or at need. Adapting the ancient tradition of animal sacrifice to modern sensibilities, the blot centers around an offering, typically of drink and food, to one or several deities or other beings and is usually followed by a feast. The sumbel is a ritual drinking ceremony in which a horn filled with mead or another appropriate liquid is blessed and then passed around the participants, who take turns in toasting and boasting, reciting poetry or telling stories, giving thanks, and swearing oaths. Besides these and other rites of worship, community building, and passage, many Asatruar also engage in shamanic and magical practices, mostly referred to as seidhr and galdor, which are mentioned yet only sparsely documented in the historical records of pre-Christian Germanic societies and therefore not generally regarded as necessary ingredients to modern Asatru. Another custom described in the Icelandic sagas and sometimes practiced today, especially when a difficult decision must be made and counsel is needed, consists in 'sitting out' Utiseta) in a quiet place, preferably a grave mound or other sacred site, or 'going under the cloak' so as to quest for a vision or to convene with one's ancestors, spirit-helpers, or gods for their advice.

Being strictly polytheistic and featuring neither a holy scripture nor authoritative teachers, Asatru differs from most of the new religious movements in that it does not offer the revelation of a single divine truth; nor does it promise any instant rewards such as salvation or ultimate enlightenment. In fact, in spite of the eccentricity of Norse cosmology (which includes a multitude of non-human intelligent beings, the existence of eight realms beyond this world, and the belief in magic) the Asatru perception of human existence in general appears rather secular and down to earth, with a strong emphasis on the traditional American values of individual liberty, equality, self-reliance, pragmatism, and most of what is commonly subsumed under Protestant work ethic.

Indeed, on the surface, the stance taken by many Asatruar on social and moral issues is sometimes reminiscent of Christian conservatism. Both cherish the family and endorse gender- specific marital roles; both seem to share a deep concern about the perceived amorality and decadence of contemporary American society, promoting a return to a supposedly more healthy state of social and political affairs.

However, a closer look at the debates held within the Asatru community reveals a quite different and perhaps even more ambitious agenda—for the reconstruction of a pre-Christian tribal religion within the contemporary American context entails the construction not merely of a new religious identity, but of a whole cultural matrix within which such an identity can be realized and anchored. This matrix, as I shall demonstrate in this paper, is provided by ethnicity. It is my proposition that by way of inventing a European ethnicity as a catalyst for the construction of individual identity, Asatru introduces a cultural innovation that responds to the crisis of hegemonic Western culture in a pluralistic and multiethnic society. Furthermore, deploying ethnicity and ancestral religion as prime constituents of their identity, Asatruar tackle the problem of how the individual may assert a meaningful existence within an increasingly complex postindustrial environment.

In what ways and to what effect is identity being constructed in Asatru discourse? How does this identity affect the lives of people so identified? And how may the cultural innovation presented by Asatru bear upon American culture at large? These questions shall be discussed in the following chapters of my essay, in which I examine a selection of writings by professed Asatruar that are constitutive to, as well as reflect upon, ethnic/religious identity with regard to both the community and the individual.

Yet before I set out on this exploration of identity as constructed by Asatruar themselves, it is fitting to give an introductory overview of their community and its organizational history as well as to inquire how they have been identified by outside observers in scholarly publications on the subject. Moreover, since these authoritative publications approach the subject of my study from perspectives different than mine, hence arriving at different conclusions, I shall briefly comment on their shortcomings and explain my reasons for taking an alternative approach. Finally, this introduction duly provides an outline of the course of my following investigations, including some remarks on the textual sources from which I draw.

Overview: CommunityHistory of American Asatr u

In comparison to so many other new religious movements and even to other neo -pagan traditions such as modern witchcraft, American Asatru has remained rather understudied. Besides a few scholars whose works on contemporary neo-paganism include cursory discussions of Heathenism,7 only Jeffrey Kaplan and Mattias Gardell have conducted extensive research in this field and published detailed information on the most prominent Asatru organizations, history, ideology, and practice. Since they have done so, it will suffice for my purpose to present only a condensed summary of facts providing the social background for the texts to be analyzed8

The ideational impulses that gave rise to the Asatru movement are of such diverse origin that, since its inception in the second half of the twentieth century, the organized community has been a site of dissension and dissociation. On the one hand, earlier traditions of esoteric mysticism, most prominently nineteenth-century Theosophy, in combination with racialist thinking and a nationalist sentiment for romanticized anachronism, inspired some individuals to create a religious expression of white-supremacist ideology (Gardell 19-29, 165-257). Meanwhile for others, the strenuous reconstruction of a long-lost ethnic religion was primarily motivated by a desire for a spiritual alternative to the Christian and secularized mainstream; for a spirituality that would not repeat the perceived fallacies of the Christian doctrine that have purportedly led to the estrangement of man from his natural environment, from each other, and from himself; and, finally, for a spiritual way of life that was just as authentic and life- affirming as the ways of indigenous people such as the Native Americans a^peared to be.

While such a desire, having manifested itself in so many ways in the counter-cultural protests of the 1960s, has obviously stimulated a whole range of different neo -pagan movements, it concurred, in the case of Asatru, with certain images and ideas circulating in American pop culture through, for example, children's storybook adaptations of Norse mythology, historical novels and movies about the Viking period (Kaplan, Radical Religion 18) as well as fantasy novels, role-playing games and medievalist reenactment (Ringel).

Of course, the glaring discrepancy in individual motives for practicing Asatru religion has in time led to the consolidation of two separate camps which, mostly owing to their different notions about the spiritual and political significance of race, are considered incompatible in terms of membership by most Asatruar. Moreover, since each camp has developed its own distinctive set of creeds and ritual practices notwithstanding their common reverence for the same gods and reference to the same historical sources, they appear also largely incommensurable from a religious studies perspective. Because this paper intends to investigate how Asatru inspires identities that are viable within rather than outside mainstream American socie ty, it will not take into account those who, adopting a religion of Aryan empowerment in accordance with their white supremacist world view, remain largely isolated from the mainstream as well as from the rest of the Asatru community. Instead, it will focus exclusively on the non-racialist community.

Although the dividing lines between these camps were less distinct during the early years of the movement, the division was already perceptible in the different characters of the first two Heathen organization; to emerge in the United States in 1969/70. For whereas the Odinist Fellowship, founded by Nazi activist Else Christensen, was deliberately designed to unite and mobilize the scattered adherents of National Socialism by way of spirituality and ritual, the Viking Brotherhood was originally created by Stephen McNallen to promote the Norse warrior ideals as portrayed, among others, by Edison Marshall in his novel The Viking and later displayed by Kirk Douglas in the film version. As fandom and historical inte rest evolved into religiosity, McNallen began to publish Runestone, the first genuine Asatru magazine to appear in the United States besides Christensen's rather politically oriented The Odinist.

Meanwhile, Norse Heathen religion was also independently rediscovered in England, where the Committee for the Restoration of the Odinic Rite was founded in 1973, and in Iceland by Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, whose Asatruarfelagiö (Asatru Fellowship) was formally recognized by the government in the same year. I mention the Icelandic Asatruarmenn here because, being officially accepted as a religious community with equal status to the church, they have often been held up as a shining example of Heathen emancipation. Within the United States, the Heathen movement ramified to form more specialized groups such as Theodism, the Anglo -Saxon branch of Germanic Heathenry established by Garman Lord, and the Rune Gild, an esoteric order founded by Edred Thorsson in 1980 and dedicated to the mysteries of the runes, a Germanic system of letters that were used for mundane and magical purposes until they were replaced with the Latin alphabet as a result of Christianization.

As the Viking Brotherhood, renamed Asatru Free Assembly (AFA) in 1976, grew in numbers, it suffered mounting tension internally, not least owing to members and sympathetic outsiders who would confuse religion with racial politics. And when McNallen declared that the AFA would no longer tolerate such confusion in 1978, this temporarily alleviated the tension but did not solve the problems arising from the discordant membership. Finally realizing that he could not permanently settle the internal conflicts, McNallen dissolved the Assembly in 1987.

The resulting void was soon to be filled by two other organizations which are still active and thriving today. One of these is the Asatru Alliance, which was established in 1988 by some seventy members of seven kindreds, i.e. local Asatru groups, scattered across the United States. Forming a loose association of independent kindreds and refusing individual membership, the Alliance has found a practicable solution to the problems that had rendered the AFA fragile. In this way, personal conflicts about delicate issues, including ideological questions, tend to be dealt with on a local level and are less likely to affect the organization itself, whose by-laws also prohibit political activities of any kind during its meetings. In accordance with its decentralized structure, the Alliance as a whole restricts its activities to organizing the yearly Althing, a general assembly of kindred delegates, and publishing the magazine Vor Tru Apparently, this strategy has been effective: In the year 2000, more than fifty kindreds from the United States and Canada were allegedly affiliated with the Asatru Alliance.

Emerging still in the same year when the AFA ended, the other successor organization took a completely different approach to the advancement of Heathenism: For the Ring of Troth, founded in a private ceremony by Edred Thorsson and James Chisholm "with the aim of reestablishing the ancestral faith of the Germanic peoples,"9 was intended to accomplish this aim primarily by the promotion of historically well-grounded knowledge and practice. Therefore, the education and installation of a scholarly as well as ritually competent ordained Heathen clergy was a major objective which, necessarily, demanded a more centralized and hierarchical organizational structure than that of the Asatru Alliance. Moreover, drawing its own conclusions from the AFA experience, the Troth adopted a pronouncedly anti- discriminatory stance, thereby attracting a highly diverse membership from the wider pagan community as well as a number of spiritually inclined environmental activists and leftist libertarians.

Edred Thorsson, holding a doctorate in Germanic languages and Medieval studies and having academically researched runic inscriptions with regard to their magical content under his civic name Stephen E. Flowers, indeed appeared best suited for the task he had set himself. In 1992, however, both he and Chisholm resigned in answer to the controversy surrounding their involvement in Satanist circles, which many Asatruar found incompatible with the idea of Heathenism. The new Steersperson of the Troth, Prudence Priest, was forced out of office only three years later, after which she co-founded the still existing American Vinland Association. Thus, William Bainbridge became Steersman in 1995 and immediately took measures to stabilize the organization in the long term, above all, by opening up his own position and the High Rede, a board of directors, to election by the members. Since then, owing to his prudence as much as to the discreet dedication of many other activists to their common cause, the Ring of Troth has grown to count some three hundred members today and to contribute a great deal to the development of Asatru as a rich and sustainable modern tradition.

Founded upon a serious scholarly ideal and aided by an elite of academically trained intellectuals and literary persons (including anthropologist Jenny Blain as well as acclaimed fantasy and science fiction writers Diana L. Paxson and Stephan Grundy), the Troth not only runs a comprehensive training program for prospective clergy, but also appears to be leading in literary output, which is outstanding both in quantity and quality. Members have produced a large body of writings on ritual and theological issues, published mostly on the internet and in the organization's quarterly journal Idunna, as well as literary fictions that are constitutive to Asatru as understood and lived by most of its adherents regardless of their organizational affiliation. Furthermore, Troth activists are to be credited with the (re)construction of the shamanic practice known as seith, which has become popular among Asatruar but also in other neo -pagan circles as a means of oracular counseling in a communal setting (Blain, Nine Worlds).

In addition to the groups mentioned thus far, there are many independent kindreds of varying size and a number of smaller organizations, most of which came into being during the past fifteen years. Prominent among these are the Raven Kindreds North and South, the Angelseaxisce Ealdriht or Anglo-Saxon Eldright, the Irminsul Ettir, Frigga's Web Association, and the Asatru Folk Assembly, which was formed in 1994 by McNallen to take up the distinctive heritage of the former AFA.10 Although different views on issues such as the significance of race to Asatru as an intrinsically ethnic religion are still giving rise to sometimes sharp disputes among these organizations, the individual members are rather closely connected through the circulation of publications, cross-memberships, and direct cooperation on a local level. In this way, they may be said to constitute a single community.

While a reliable estimate of the total size of this community appears impossible due to its manifold organization and overlapping memberships,11 the case is different for the Heathen prison population for obvious reasons. Seeking freedom to practice their religion within an environment of unfreedom and harassment, probably most, if not all, incarcerated Asatruar seem to have joined the National Prison Kindred Alliance (NPKA), which claims to be catering to over eleven thousand inmates and their families at home nationwide as well as to prisoners in Australia and Europe.12 Founded in 2001 and supported by a number of organizations, including the Odinist Fellowship, as well as individual activists, including Troth members, NPKA is exceptional in uniting Asatruar from both the racialist and the non-racialist camps for a common cause, that is, to improve the situation of their incarcerated co - religionists, to reduce recidivism by means of practical and spiritual assistance, and thereby— implicitly, yet effectively—to raise the reputation of Asatru within the American public.

The question of reputation is indeed a problematic one for the Asatru community and, as a consequence, for many individual Asatruar who wish to express their religiosity with the same casualness as their monotheistic fellow citizens in the neighborhood, at work, or at school. Not only is the very concept of polytheism still, from the perspective of a culture that has been dominated by Christian-influenced thinking for more than a millennium, usually misunderstood as an unenlightened illusion, inherently irrational and primitive. Moreover, as Christian fundamentalists have been gaining ground within the American mainstream over the past few decades, Heathen, and in fact all neo-pagan groups, have been indiscriminately targeted by them as an eradicable evil. While Asatruar are not the only pagans to be frequently misidentified as Satanists by uninformed outsiders, they face yet another difficulty specific to them (cf. Blain, "Constructing"): Calling on Odin or Wotan and using symbols that had also been used, albeit with different meanings and for different purposes, in the German Third Reich, they are also prone to be preconceived as members of the racist neo-Nazi counterculture. As indicated above, such prejudice obviously holds true for a considerable number of Aryan supremacists who identify themselves as Asatruar or, preferably, as Odinists; however, it is certainly false when applied to the movement itself in general.

Nevertheless, even within the non-racialist camp, the aforementioned debates that continue to disunite the community have often been loaded with suspicion and accusations of racism particularly against the AFA as well as a number of kindreds in the Asatru Alliance, whose members profess themselves folkish Believing in the inheritance of cultural contents along bloodlines and thus mostly defining ethnicity in terms of race, folkish Asatruar feel that Germanic Heathenism ought to be practiced exclusively by those of European descent whereas others should be encouraged to seek and restore their own respective ancestral traditions. While some folkish theories such as McNallen's notorious Metagenetics can in fact be analyzed as racist insofar as they posit the existence of a folk soul common to members of a particular race, none of these assert the superiority of any race over another but rather claim to promote the preservation of ethno -religious diversity. Notwithstanding, the idea of Folkism is largely rejected by more than a hundred kindreds, including the Raven Kindreds and those affiliated with the Ring of Troth, the Irminsul ^Ettir, or the American Vinland Association. Aware that the concept of race is an invention of the nineteenth century, their members criticize the folkish exclusivism as an anachronistic distortion of the ancient religion they seek to reconstruct. By contrast, defining ethnicity in terms of cultural affiliation, which some argue may already be established through competency in one of the Germanic larguages, they invite practically everybody who feels so inclined to join their community.

While chapter 3 of this paper will investigate the discursive construction of ethnic identity in more detail, I may be excused for confining my discussion to those aspects that appear to be generally agreed upon within the Heathen community, for to adequately assess the contrary approaches to this volatile issue is beyond the scope of my thesis. Suffice it to mention that there is considerable dissent among folkish Asatruar about how Folkism is to be precisely defined. Hence, contrary to the impression conveyed by Gardell, the related debates within the community have evidently not created a clear-cut schism, but rather resulted in the formulation of a broad range of interesting middle positions between the loose linguistic and the strict genetic definition of ethnicity.13

Review: Previous Perspectives and Pretermissions

Although both Kaplan and Gardell render a faithful account of the Asatru movement in all its diversity, including the non-racist mainstream, already the titles of their publications, Radical Religion in America and Gods of the Blood respectively, are suggestive of the authors' propensity to confirm the ill repute in which Asatru is held by most outside observers. Indeed, as both studies primarily focus on the racist and occult factions of the movement as their main subject, contextualizing it within the right-wing extremist counterculture of American society, their portrayal of the non-racist Asatru community occurs only as an inomissible by-product of their research. Moreover, within the context given by the authors, this community seems to emerge as an anomaly, an accidentally moderate offshoot of that radical counterculture, rather than being presented as a cultural minority in its own right, having its own roots and branches.

Thus, Kaplan discusses Asatru as part of his comparative study on various revolutionary millenarian movements ("Revolutionary Millenarianism" 197-274; Radical Religion 14-32, 69-99), which had first been submitted as a dissertation before an abridged book version was published under the title mentioned above. While the theme of millenarianism may indeed justify the inclusion of Heathen white supremacists, who perceive the current trends towards globalization and socio-cultural pluralization as a threat to the survival of their race, this leads Kaplan to draw false conclusions about the movement as a whole: For it is, at least according to my observations, neither true that Asatru literature in general would "refer to the contemporary world as the Wolf Age," which, as described in the Prose Edda, precedes the doom of gods and mankind alike in the final battle of Ragnarök; nor would a majority of modern Heathens agree on "the compatibility of the reconstruction of the Norse tradition with the monotheistic apocalypticists who people the radical right wing" (Kaplan, Radical Religion 185n32). Quite to the contrary, rather than speaking of doom, Asatru literature usually portrays the present as a time of rebirth and revival; and far from expecting the end of this world, Asatruar have frequently documented their hope that their tradition may continue and grow with the generations to follow their own.14

Be that as it may, Kaplan nevertheless deserves credit for discriminating between a racist and a non-racist camp within the movement. Referring to the first organizations to emerge, he labels these camps as Odinism and Asatru respectively and establishes a number of significant differences between the two (Kaplan, Radical Religion 15-17): Odinists not only emphasize an aggressive warrior ethic modeled on an idealized image of the Vikings, but also tend to embrace an occult racial mysticism, usually combined with a conspiratorial view of history yet always entailing a Manichean world view interspersed with a number of decidedly Christian topoi, of which anti-Semitism is but the most outstanding example. Asatruar, by contrast, seeking to reconstruct their ancestral religion primarily on the basis of solid historical knowledge, try to avoid idealizations (more or less successfully) and eschew any elements of Christian thinking. Furthermore, in their effort to render the concepts, values, and rites of a pre-Christian culture applicable to contemporary conditions and sensibility, they put a modern interpretation on ancient ideas, thus bringing them closer to America's mainstream culture today. Finally, in view of "the unusual concentration of genuine scholarship with which Asatru has been blessed," Kaplan infers that the community has good prospects for natural growth and long-term survival beyond its first generation converts (70).

Noting that both racist and non-racist Heathens do not always define themselves as Asatruar or Odinists in accordance with the labels coined by Kaplan, Gardell discards the two- fold division as altogether too simplistic (Gardell 152-53). Instead, he classifies the movement into three distinct positions: Radical raast Asatruar regard their religion as the genuine expression of the Aryan soul and a way to Aryan empowerment against the encroachment by foreign races and cultures; ethnic Asatruar, who usually refer to themselves as folkish, take a precarious middle position insofar as they disavow any racialist ideology while at the same time affirm racial exclusivism by way of a racial definition of ethnicity; finally, antiracist Asatruar explicitly foreclose any exclusivist membership policies. Ironically, although Gardell acknowledges that the antiracist group appears to constitute the largest of the three by far, he devotes less than three pages to its history and activities in an otherwise exhaustive four- hundred-page monograph. However, the stated purpose of his work is not to portray a minority religion as it is understood and practiced by most of its adherents, but rather to elucidate the ways in which this religion lends itself to white supremacist interests. Unfortunately, in fulfilling this purpose, the book also creates, perhaps involuntarily, yet inevitably, the erroneous impression that Asatru presents, above all, a peculiarly suitable guise for contemporary racialism—a more en-vogue successor to the Ku Klux Klan and Christian Identity—that is particularly appealing to a new and even more radical generation of neo - Nazis.

Whereas I agree with Gardell's critique of the terms Asatru and Odinism as used by Kaplan, I doubt that Gardell's three-fold categorization is any less arbitrary or simplistic than the two-fold distinction proposed by Kaplan. Of course, since Gardell differentiates the groups with respect to their more or less pronounced political agendas concerning the race question, his categorization may well be justified in so far as it presents an analytical tool that serves the overall project of his research. In reality, however, just like any neat categorization, it does not do justice to the people involved, for Asatruar define themselves as such primarily on the grounds of their religious rather than political orientation. Bearing that in mind, I am inclined to concur with Kaplan in distinguishing two major camps subscribing to each a subtly yet significantly different set of beliefs and rites drawn from partly different sources and according to different interpretations of the lore; and I prefer to label these camps Aryan or racialist Asatru and mainstream Asatru. Concerning the apparent folkish schism within the mainstream, as I have indicated before, rather than causing the community to break apart, it has generated a proliferation of discourse on both sides which, while drawing lines of demarcation between them, still joins them in a constructive dialogue and has resulted in the emergence of a number of interesting middle positions. Besides, since I intend to investigate mainstream Asatru identity as it is discursively constructed, it is only fitting that I consider the discursive community of mainstream Asatru as a whole, irrespective of the possibility that few of its folkish members, being Asatruar, are simultaneously involved in circles that endorse racist or right-wing extremist views.

After all, I premise my following exploration on the fact, acknowledged and yet neglected by both Kaplan and Gardell, that Asatru has evolved into a viable minority religion practiced by adherents who—like those of any other religion—happen to hold a broad range of divergent political opinions. Furthermore, seeing how the current Heathen revival is liable to be interpreted as a repetition or continuation of that nostalgic pagan revivalism which had inspired the fascist and national socialist projects in Europe a century ago,15 I proceed on the premise that the signification of any idea, symbol, statement, or event is contingent on its historically specific social and discursive context. That is to say, contemporary Asatru is to be analyzed first and foremost in its relation to the contemporary circumstances of its emergence rather than by drawing parallels with certain cultural movements which, operating at another time within another context, joined forces with other elements of that context to produce a loathsome ideology. For while an analysis by analogy may indeed highlight some interesting aspects of the subject in question, it tends to limit the scope of observation to that which can be recognized because it is already known instead of spotting the subject's unique and novel features. And while I do not mean to dispute the validity of either Gardell's or Kaplan's specific perspective on the subject, nor to contradict their conclusions in general, I propose that an alternative perspective may yield new insights which, being as valid as those provided by these authors, may contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of that minority and the role it assumes within the American culture today.

Preview: Outline of Procedure

Having thus briefly reviewed the merits and limits of the research that has been published so far as well as declared my intention to add a new perspective which does justice to the subject by giving due consideration to its current conditions, I should no w proceed to explain these conditions so as to clarify my perspective. To this end, chapter 2 offers an interpretation of the Kennewick Man affair as public drama, followed by a complementary discussion of some aspects of the contemporary cultural and social changes that constitute the background both of the affair and of the Asatru community in general. Reviewing the affair in the context of these changes, the chapter serves to illustrate my previously stated proposition by elucidating what I perceive as a crisis of hegemonic culture in the United States as well as by tracing the innovative potential that Asatru holds within this context. In addition, it introduces the reader to the conceptual framework upon which my following examinations are based.

As I have proposed, the key to Asatru's innovative potential lies in the invention of a novel kind of identity which, as it anchors the members of the religious community in the symbolic matrix of a European ethnicity, assists them in making sense of their experience of life in a post-industrial, pluralist environment. While any identity is, of course, constituted by a multitude of variables—different modes of experience of self and Other, certain patterns of thought and action, various ritual and discursive practices, attachment to and interaction with particular places, communities, and objects, etc.—the scope of my investigation will necessarily be limited to a rather narrow, yet enlightening aspect, namely, the discursive construction of identity as it is documented in writings circulating within the Heathen community. These writings, variously published in print or on the internet, cut across a wide range of genres, including fantasy literature, introductory manuals, theological treatises, conversion and other autobiographical narratives, personal manifestos, and numerous essayistic articles on theological, moral, or political issues.

That the religion indeed responds to the aforementioned cultural crisis is, for instance, suggested by numerous texts which attest their authors' disaffection from hegemonic culture insofar as they reflect on its perceived deficiencies as well as on personal experiences of identity crisis, which typically precede religious conversions. These reflections will be the starting point for my analysis in chapter 3, which presents the main focus of my investigation as it discusses how Asatruar construct European ethnicity by means of a sweeping revision of European history and certain rhetoric devices that serve to establish collective identity and, with it, an a priori ethnic ethos. As for the individual, it is the personal discovery and affirmation of one's own ethnic identity which ignites, yet by no means suffices for, the formation of Asatru identity. Hence, in order to understand how the construction of European ethnicity actually bears upon Asatruar's lives, it is necessary to consider the ways in which the individual is anchored in the symbolic matrix created in Asatru discourse, that is, the ways of religious commitment. The rational motivations and ethical implications of such commitment shall be examined in chapter 4, which, since it is meant to complement my discussion in the previous chapter rather than offering a study in its own right, will be of descriptive rather than analytical character. Finally, besides giving a summary of my findings about the discursive construction of identity in Asatru religion, chapter 5 looks briefly into the specific historical context that gave rise to American Asatru so as to round off my argumentation as well as to address the question of what the community may have to contribute to American society and culture at large.

Concerning the source material of this study, I should mention that, given the vast amount of Heathen writings published so far, my analysis is based on a comparatively small selection of texts. However, since my research largely relies on classical Heathen works by the most prominent authors and primarily considers themes and tropes that tend to recur in a broad range of writings, I dare hope that the result will be fairly representative of the community as a whole—even though I suspect that a majority of Asatruar, who already disagree with each other on numerous issues, would feel misrepresented by me.

Among the book-length publications examined for this paper, Diana L. Paxson's fantasy novel Brisingamen (1984) is outstanding insofar as it not only depicts ritual practices and informal festive gatherings of a modern Asatru group as part of the story, but also treats motives of Norse mythology in the context of a contemporary urban setting and a generation of men traumatized by the Vietnam experience. Comprehensive scholarly handbooks for Asatruar have been published by both Edred Thorsson and Kveldulf Gundarsson under the titles A Book of Troth (1992), which is also the founding document of the Ring of Troth, and Teutonic Religion (1993) respectively. Although obviously written with the same objective, these works markedly differ in their approaches and contents. Thorsson, on the one hand, focuses on Heathenism as a system of phenomenological thinking, outlining the overarching concepts of a new worldview, often by way of contrasting them with prevalent Christian-influenced notions. On the other hand, Gundarsson's book largely dispenses with abstractions and inter- religious comparisons, providing instead very detailed factual information on pre-Christian Germanic practices and beliefs. Remarkably, Gundarsson puts considerable effort in describing the respectable and sometimes privileged role women allegedly had in ancient Germanic societies, apparently in order to render the religion especially attractive to his female readers. A lengthy theological treatise by the same author, Wotan: The Road to Valhalla (n.d.), offers an eloquent critique of contemporary American culture and society, which will be discussed in some detail in chapter 3 of this paper. In addition to these, Thorsson's Northern Magic (1992), although it focuses on magical techniques rather than religion, also contains a few passages relevant to my analysis.

As for the shorter writings cited, many of them have been printed in Heathen periodicals such as The Runestone, Marklander, and Mountain Thunder. While the first of the three is published by the Asatru Folk Assembly and iherefore tends to primarily reflect McNallen's idiosyncratic views, the other two have been issued by individual activists, namely, Lavrans Reimer-Moller and Wilfred von Dauster. Both these independent magazines are particularly interesting because they have provided open platforms for authors to present their divergent opinions and contesting ideas about a multitude of issues, including politically volatile ones. By contrast, Idunna, a journal published by the Ring of Troth and distinguished for its scholarly emphasis, appears to avoid overtly political themes and contains hardly any controversial articles of interest to the subject of this study, wherefore it will not be referred to again. Periodicals of other Asatru organizations besides those mentioned here have not been available to me.

Lastly, a disclaimer is in order: Since my study is concerned with Asatru religion and identity as a contemporary American phenomenon, it deliberately dispenses with any statement regarding the extent to which the practices and beliefs of Asatruar are consistent with the historically verified pre-Christian Germanic practices and beliefs they purport to reconstruct. Indeed, while Asatruar discursively justify their religion as a reconstruction by claiming such a consistency, the truth of that claim is entirely irrelevant to the truth of Asatru religion, for the notion of reconstruction produces real social and psychological effects irrespective of whether the original of the purported reconstruction ever really existed.


1 The discovery of the ancient human remains on the banks of the Columbia River near

Kennewick, WA., as well as the ensuing legal, scientific, and political controversies have been extensively documented by the US media as well as by the journalist Roger Downey in his book Riddle of the Bones and the anthropologist David Hurst Thomas in Skull Wars. In addition to these, my account of the events is based on official documents and articles from various newspapers as comprehensively compiled and provided by the following internet resources: Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center; Kennewick Man at the Burke; US Dept. of the Interior: Kennewick Man (URLs provided in my list of Works Cited at the end of this paper).

2 A rich example in the case is provided by the New Yorker magazine, which published a very informative yet also highly insinuative story under the evocative headline: “The Lost Man: Is it possible that the first Americans weren’t who we think they were? And why is the government withholding Kennewick Man, who might turn out to be the most significant archeological find of the decade?” (Preston).

3 Compare, for example, the position paper “Asatru and Native Peoples” or the article “Asafolk and American Indians,” which was published in Runestone in 1995, as well as the related leaflet “Wannabees” (all by Asatru Folk Assembly).

4 According to Downey, the attorney’s argument was based on the case Hickman v. Taylor, 329 US495, 506, 91 L Ed 451, 460, decided in 1946 (Downey, “Bones”).

5 Thus, Armand Minthorn is quoted in the Tri-City Herald as saying: “Our teachings tell us what happened 10,000 years ago. Just because it’s not written down in a book doesn’t mean it’s not fact” (“Clinton Administration”). Compare also his press statement “Human Remains Should Be Reburied” as published on the official homepage of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, from where the initially quoted passage is derived (Minthorn).

6 The Norse term Asatru (n. sing.; adj.), first introduced to the American scene by Stephen McNallen (Gardell 260), does not entirely fit its denotation, for the religion also embraces faith in the Vanes (a group of deities regarded as high as the Ases themselves), the ancestors, and numerous other non-human beings. Nevertheless, the term has been adopted by most of its American followers, who usually call themselves Asatruar (pl. “those who are true to the Ases”). Asatru is also known as Teutonic religion, Norse or Germanic paganism, Heathenism (using a word of Germanic origin to signal cultural specificity as opposed to non-Germanic forms of paganism), the Northern tradition, the Elder Troth, the Regintroth, Odinism , et al. Although there have been attempts both by outsiders and Asatruar themselves to classify the heterogeneous Heathen scene into distinct groups, each having a particular name, these nominal distinctions do not seem to have been generally accepted. Consequently, and for reasons explained elsewhere in this paper, I prefer to use the terms Asatru and Heathenism synonymously to refer to contemporary Norse or other Germanic reconstructionist paganism. At times, however, the term Heathenism will also be used to denote the religion(s) of Germanic peoples in pre-Christian Europe. See also note 35.

7 Harvey 53-68; Adler 279-82; Jones and Pennick 218-19; York 163-64. Schnurbein includes a brief section on American Heathenism as part of her dissertation on Asatru in Germany (129-138). In addition to these, scholarly introductions on the subject have been published by Jenny Blain (“Constructing”) and Stephen E. Flowers (“Revival”), both being Asatruar themselves.

8 Unless noted otherwise, the following overview is based on information provided by Kaplan (Radical Religion 14-32; “Revolutionary Millenarianism” 205-55) and Gardell (152 -54, 162-64, 159-263).

9 Edred Thorsson, whose words are quoted here, describes the ceremony in an interview with Jeffrey Kaplan, 15 April 1993 (Kaplan, “Revolutionary Millenarianism” 231).

10 Researched on the internet, 10 July 2004: <>, <>. Homepages of the organizations listed here may be found under the URLs listed in the appendix of this paper.

11 Kaplan estimates the non-racist Asatru community to have counted roughly five hundred activists and about the same number of less committed adherents in 1993 (“Revolutionary Millenarianism” 207). Considering the increase in organizational activities as well as the improvement of networking opportunities via the internet over the past decade, we may assume that the community has substantially grown since then.

12 This and following information published on the NPKA homepage.

13 A linguistic definition is implied, for instance, by the authors of “Troth and Heritage,” an official document of the Troth/Ring of Troth. Stating that Asatru “as a whole is an ethnic tradition,” the authors declare that because “the English language is still Germanic […], anyone of any bloodline who has been raised in an English-speaking country has a claim to the cultural heritage of the Asa-faith […].” By contrast, McNallen, defining ethnicity in terms of genetic heritage and race, is convinced that “there is a relationship beween ethnos and ethos, between a biologically identifiable group and the religion that best suits them” (“Red Tribes”). This statement also summarizes the basic idea of his controversial Metagenetics, a theory which he first submitted to the Asatru community in an article with the same title in 1985 and later updated in a sequel titled “Genetics & Beyond.” (A ccording to my reading, the Metagentic theory presents a rather clumsy attempt to legitimize the reconstruction of Heathenism by way of a pseudoscientific rationalization.) Alternative approaches to the question of ethnicity are suggested, for example, by Winifred Hodge and Böðvarr. The latter, who professes himself folkish, also provides an insightful critical discussion of both Folkism and its counterpart, frequently termed “universalist Asatru” by its folkish opponents. Thus, in respect of the genetic approach, he keenly observes that: “Science adds nothing to a faith. ‘Because I say so’ or ‘because that is what we do’ are as valid as any scientific study when searching for any ‘why’ in a faith or a culture.”

14 There are, of course, exceptions to the rule such as may be found on the advertising homepage of Wolf Age, a quarterly magazine published by the AFA and dedicated to “the modern warrior.” Publications of the AFA, however, and those by McNallen in particular are outstanding in so far as they oftentimes communicate explicitly political, mostly libertarian, messages that sometimes meet with harsh criticism from the wider Asatru community, but more often appear to be simply ignored.

15 Such interpretation is suggested by both Gardell (18) and Kaplan (Radical Religion 15-16) and largely informs the perspective of Schnurbein’s analysis.

Excerpt out of 107 pages


Asgard in America
Inventing European Ethnic Identity in a Post-Industrial Pluralist Culture
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institut für Angilistik und Amerikanistik)
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Ich danke Herrn Prof. Dr. G. H. L. für die wissenschaftliche Betreuung der Arbeit, meiner Freundin Karen Li-Lun Hwang für ihre geduldige Beratung in Fragen zum englischen Sprachgebrauch, und meinem Mann Peter Brödlau für seine liebevolle Unterstützung in allen anderen Dingen.
Asatru, Neopaganism, Pagans, Heathens, Identity Studies, New Religious Movement, Identity politics, Germanic Religion, Pagan Revival, Religion, Paganism, Spirituality, Ethnicity, Kennewick Man, European Heritage, Nordic Religion, Tribalism, Germanic Reconstructionism, Heidentum, Neuheiden, ethnic identity, ancestral religion
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Gundula E. Rommel (Author), 2004, Asgard in America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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