Heathenism Odinism

Within the neo-pagan movement are groups that are particularly susceptible to being seen as satamsts and have some attitudes in common with them. These are the Odimsts or Heathens. Although they have been visibly increasing m recent years, they represent a well-established interest m recreating the pre-Christian religion of'north-eastern Europe' or of the 'Norse and Anglo-Saxon peoples'. They may be referred to as Odimsts, after the Norse High God, Odin. The various different groups of this persuasion have developed their own ntuals, symbols and forms of worship although they have some common features. Heathens may be mistaken for satamsts, pardy because their appearance seems to resemble that expected of satamsts. They also raise similar concerns among observers. These are political and social as much as religious, and concern anxiety about the encouragement of interpersonal violence and, more particularly of nght-wmg militant elitism. Heathenism may be seen as resembling the occult interests of some high-ranking members of the Nazis in pre-war Germany. Like satamsm, it does seem to encourage racism, anti-Semitism and an aggressive stance to any opposition among its members. To those for whom these ideas represent the revival of Nazism and hence the greatest evil, there is litde difference between the two. It is important, therefore, to make clear what the differences actually are.

Since Christianity did not become the majonty religion in Scandinavia (unlike the case m Bntain) until the eleventh or twelfth centunes, more is known about the religion it superseded than about other pagan religions m Europe. Nevertheless, the ideas and ntuals of modern Heathens are not accurate revivals of the ancient religions of the Norsemen,10 Anglo-Saxons or Teutons, but select from them in ways that seem appropnate to the modem Heathens, much as neo-pagans have done with other pagan traditions, such as the Celtic or Druidry. The vanous different groups of the Heathen persuasion have developed their own ntuals, symbols and forms of Worship but they do have some common features. These will be discussed bnefly below, both because they clarify what is not satamst and also point to similar areas of political and social, rather than religious, concern.

According to Harvey (1995b) there are Heathen groups throughout Scandinavia and Western Europe, in North Amenca and Australasia. Since

1973 one form of Heathenism has been an officially recognized religion in Iceland; its marriages and other rituals thus have the same standing there as Christian ones. There is no single organization to which all Odinist/ Heathen groups belong but some groups have branches m other countries - for example, the British Odimc Rite has French and German sections -while others have links with other similar groups. Heathen groups are not mutually exclusive and individuals may belong to more than one group.

Odimsts/Heathens have certain characteristic symbols: runes, the hammer of Thor and the swastika. In ancient Scandinavia the runes served as an alphabet but this function appears not to have been taken over by neo-Heathens, who are mainly concerned with their magical qualities. The runes are used in a variety of symbolic ways m magic, fortune-telling and rituals; they are carved on wood to form talismans or charms, or combined, as bindrunes, for use m magic. Some Pagans who do not describe themselves as Heathens also make use of them in magic. The hammer of Thor may be used in rituals to invoke the god whose symbol it is, or, in the form of a pendant worn round the neck, it may serve, like the cross, as a sign of religious allegiance. Government-funded research in Sweden on neo-Nazi groups indicated that similar insignia were being used by some of them (Hélène Lôôw, pers. comm.). The swastika, a former symbol of the sun m Norse cosmology, should differ from the form of it Used as insignia by the Nazis: in the Norse swastika the arms turn in the opposite direction. Often, however, there is no apparent difference and it is therefore this symbol that has aroused most alarm, both among minorities such as the Jews, who associate the symbol with the Holocaust, and among older Europeans who remember the German invasion of their countries during World War II.

Harvey describes Heathen groups as concerned with ecology and shamanism like other pagans. However, another source states that an Odimst magazine reports that 'few are interested m ecology'. Certainly the Odimst magazines read for this essay gave little indication of an interest in modern ecological issues, unlike pagan publications. Where shamimsm is concerned, a tradition of herbal magic that was originally considered morally dubious has been turned into a shamamc means of entering into relationship with the gods. In this, Heathemsm demonstrates clearly that, so far from being a revival of an ancient religion, it is a part of the neo-pagan movement, sharing its love of magical innovation and indifference to authenticity.

Two issues distinguish Odimsts from other pagans: their attitude to gods and to race. Heathens are clearly polytheistic, while there is a tendency among other groups to associate different gods together as aspects of the Goddess. More has been written about the pre-Christian religions of northern Europe, which were practised longer than those of the more southern regions, the latter being first affected by the religion of the Roman Empire and then Christianized at a relatively early stage. The Roman Empire did not include the north and Christianity therefore came late to it. Heathen views on gods and goddesses are consequendy clearer and more uniform than those; in other traditions, where different views may be held within the same group (Harvey 1995b: 66). Heathens acknowledge a plurality of gods, divided into two categories — the Aesir and the Vamr. The former are referred to in the name Asatru - those who honour the Aesir - and some heathens today call themselves Vanatru — those who honour the Vamr.; It is Asatru that is recognized m Iceland. The gods and goddesses are treated as persons with whom human beings enter into reciprocal relationships, which is quite different from the normal semi-indifferent attitude of other pagans to deities that are hazy, remote or seen as forces of nature rather than persons. In this, the influence of the fuller literature on old Norse cosmology can be seen.

The second and most important difference between Heathens and other neopagans lies m the former's attitude to race. Their view is that each race* has a particular tradition to which it has some inherited psychic or genetic affinity, so that, for example, Odimsm is particularly suited to Northern Europeans. It is not altogether clear what is meant by race but it seems to mean a physically defined group with a particular culture — an ethnic group in more modern terms. Heathens reject the use of words with Latin or Greek origins as belonging to another, southern, tradition, preferring, where possible, to use terms with what they consider to be a Norse derivation. An example of this is their preference for 'heathen' rather than 'pagan' as a description. Their objection to Christianity is on similar grounds: that it is not part of the Northern tradition. Heathens object strongly to multiculturalism and to pluralism of any sort. In Scandinavia where the governments have accepted large numbers of refugees from the 'South' (a new label for what was formerly the Third World), this attitude can be interpreted as a reaction to recent events. Something similar may be true of Britain too, although here immigration is less recent and was ended some years ago, so that it is hard to see this racism simply as a direct reaction to immigration.

Harvey states that not all Heathens take such a racist view of others. Some see other traditions as 'equally valid for other peoples' and others make clear that they are not claiming racial or cultural superiority (1995b: 65). However, he admits that relations with neo-pagans of other persuasions are not always amicable because of the Heathens right-wing views, their association of power with violence, and their commitment to an old-fashioned view of gender. A brief reading of the Odinist magazine, The Raven Banner, leaves one in no doubt as to its racist and right-wing views, which are brutally explicit. Even so, Odinism in Bntam is much less clearly political than, for example, the extreme group Combat 18, one of whose members was given a prison sentence in September 1997 for distributing abusive literature and inciting the extreme harassment of a black boxer's mother. However, it seems likely that the sympathies of some Odinists and Heathens may lie with such extreme nght-wmg groups and there is a long history of overlapping membership between the two types of group.

It has been noted that the political oudook of members of the Church of Satan tended to be conservative and that LaVey was always against breaking the Saw, particularly where drugs were concerned. As we saw earlier, Alfred describes the membership as consisting of 'mosdy middle-class white people in their forties, thirties and late twenties, including many professionals', which would be consistent with this. The membership of the Temple of Set, classified by Harvey, was slighdy more varied, ranging from a chef to a telecommunications engineer. Although the group's political affiliations are said to include five people who voted for centre and left-wing parties, both the leader of the Temple of Set11 and the founder of the Order of Nine Angles have both been members of a very right-wing organization, the Bntish Movement. An article wntten in The Black Flame by Elizabeth Selwyn, who is clearly an Amencan, refers to fascism as 'the English disease' and seems to consider all Bntish satamsts as likely to be fascists, although she absolves Black Lily, since it has got nd of its founder leader. Odinism has also been associated for at least 20 years with the nse of extreme nght-wmg politics and, as has just been noted. Heathen groups may express very nght-wing, racist views. A Norwegian expert on neo-paganism stated that in Scandinavia young men had been leaving satamsm for the new Norse groups, claiming that both LaVey and Acquino, like their predecessor Aleister Crowley, were too soft and too ready to leave events to magical manipulation. These included the self-styled satanist, formerly known as 'The Count' (possibly a reference to Count Dracula) who was responsible for burning a stave church in Norway and is cunently m pnson for murder. He announced that he rejected his former identity, was no longer a satanist and was renaming himself Fennr, the Wolf, a figure of significance in old Norse mythology (Hartveit, pets. comm.). In Sweden, research on neo-Nazi groups has shown them to be adopting symbols drawn from Old Norse folklore, of which the Viking axe, hammer and the swastika (denved from the Norse symbol of the sun) are the most frequent and disquieting to liberal observers. In the rest of Europe too the nse of neo-Nazism has coincided with the increasing populanty of Old Norse religions. To date, not enough research has been done to establish whether there is a causal link here or even to permit any clear distinction to be drawn between Odimst groups with nght-wing ideas and extreme nght-wing political organizations using symbolism drawn from Norse mythology.

The oldest Odinist Group is said to have been founded in Australia in the 1930s but to have moved to Britain subsequendy — when is not clear. There are thus two groups both named the Order of the Odinic Rate, but one is generally accepted as the older. It is the latter that publishes the right-wing magazine. Raven Banner. Other Heathen groups m Bntam are: Odinshof, Hanimarens Ordens Sallskap and the Rune Gild. The last is represented in America as well and all the groups have connections in Europe, not merely in the northwest but also m France and Germany. In the USA, the Asatrii Alliance, the Asatru Folk Assembly, the Odinist Fellowship and the Ring of Troth are well established. They seem in one respect to be much more successful than other pagans in the attempt to recreate an ancient pagan religion, because they do not seek to combine post-Chnstian learned magic with the religious traditions of an earlier period, but concern themselves with belief and ntuai practice from a single cultural system. They are quite distinct from satamsts, who are dedicated magicians and although some Odimsts may have links with right-wing groups as individuals and may even be members of neo-nazi organizations, many of the Odinist groups seem to be primarily religious in orientation.

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