A Senior Honors Thesis
Presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for graduation
with distinction in Comparative Studies in the undergraduate colleges
of The Ohio State University
by Damon Berry
The Ohio State University
Project Adviser: Professor Lindsay Jones, Department of Comparative Studies
Preface Page 1
I. Introduction Page 1
II. Methodology Page 3
III. Sources Page 8
IV. Terms Page 8
V. What is Asatru? Page 13
VI. Trajectory Page 14
VII. Christ ian Ident ity Page 17
VIII. Asatru’s Development Page 17
IX. Hermeneutic of Recovery Page 19
A. Belief Page 20
B. Ethic Page 22
C. Ritual Page 25
D. Appeal Page 29
X. Hermeneutic of Suspicion Page 32
A. Discourse Page 32
B. Practice Page 40
C. Community Page 43
D. Institution Page 46
XI. Conclusions and Recommendations Page 50
XII. Works Cited Berry 1
This is a study about a particular expression of Asatru otherwise known as Odinism. This
is a neo-Pagan revival of ancient Norse traditions drawn primarily from the Eddas and Sagas.
What is important to mention before reading this study, as I was reminded by a Pagan I met at a
recent conference, is that not all people who follow this path of expression are racially motivated
or oriented. This is a particularly sensitive point for many Pagans who are already a religious
minority. The concern she had was that Pagans may face further discrimination if people see
them as racists. The differentiation between racialist and non–racialist Odinists will be
expressed in the body of the paper. But for the benefit of those who may be sensitive to the
comments about Odinism/Asatru that I make in this work I am exclusively dealing with racialist
Asatru, which is clearly not representative of all Asatru. It is not accurate to think that racialist
Odinists are representative of all Asatru just as it is not accurate to think that racialist Christians
are representative of all Christianity.
Since the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City there have been more
than 60 terrorist plots from the “extreme right-wing” within the United States that have been
uncovered and investigated by federal and local law enforcement. Some of these plots have
involved little more than stockpiling of fire arms. Others have involved attempts to obtain or
manufacture biological and chemical agents and explosives for the express purpose of using
them on targets within the United States (Blejwas 46). Some say this is symptomatic of a revival
and radicalization of neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist activity worldwide since the 1980’s. One
indicator of this radicalization, according to author Matthias Gardell, is that there is a shift in the Berry 2
radical racialist community from a Christian based mythology to that of a revived Norse
paganism called Asatru or Odinism.
This assertion is the thesis of Gardell’s book Gods of the Blood. He says that this
construct of Asatru does more for the “Aryan activist’s” reality that they make for themselves in
the sense that it appeals to both racial survival and a warrior mythology that promotes and
justifies dramatic action and that activists are attracted away from the older Christian narrative
resulting in a more radical and dangerous movement (Gardell 1-2 & 333). For Gardell, the
attraction to this “religion” parallels that of the beginnings of National Socialism in Germany in
the early 20
century (Gardell 343). The inference is clear: this movement– and he does see it
as a global movement– is dangerous.
Is this the case? Does this revivalist tradition represent or engender a more radical point
of view of ethnocentricity and consequently inspire more dangerous behavior in the white power
community? Further, what can be done if that is the case? In this paper I will examine and
attempt to understand the phenomenon of Odinism/Asatru as an expression of a white power
racialist world-view that informs, constructs, motivates, and justifies behavior, ideals, and
community. The implications of what I may find or interpret are meant to be more than an
existential exercise in hermeneutical theory. Beyond the their academic value, the findings and
conclusions in my study are to be applicable to the way policy writers and law enforcement,
including local and federal agencies, respond to those who may identify themselves as Odinist.
That said, this will not be, nor is it intended to be, the definitive understanding. This study is a
contribution. My fullest intention is to begin the exploration of this phenomenon, not to bottlecap the discussion. Other studies must be done on this issue from many disciplines for a full Berry 3
understanding of it and effective policy in the future.
I am approaching this phenomenon through a strategy of hermeneutics. By this I mean
the method of social philosophy in which one is concerned with the investigation and
interpretation of human behavior, speech, and institutions as these are revealing of motivations
and desires (Flew 146). There are several influences in my approach. There are also many tools
that each contributor adds to the richness of a study. One of the primary influences among these
is Max Weber via one of his more well known followers– Clilfford Geertz. Geertz continues
Weber’s ideas with respect to the notion of “meaning” as central to what and why people do
what they do by adopting the strategy of “understanding” the meaning of specific ideals,
attitudes and values as the way we begin to explain what is going on in culture (Pals 239).
Geertz states, “Cultural analysis is not an experimental science in search of a law, but an
interpretive one in search of meaning (quoted in Pals 233).” He calls this effort “thick
description”. Geertz borrows this idea from English philosopher Gilbert Ryle as way of arguing
that one ought to not only describe what happens in a simple description but to go further in
describing what was or may have been intended. The goal for Geertz is not just to describe
structures and behavior but also to discern meaning from what he observes about these structures
and behaviors (Pals 240-241).
This emphasis on meaning and is very attractive to me in this study and very useful in an
understanding that may lead eventually to policy and action that can deter and/or counter racially
motivated crime and violence. For this reason the hermeneutics of Hans-George Gadamer,
Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Carl Hemple are useful as well. Gadamer had Berry 4
assumed that all people were hermeneuts, interpreters of their world and the phenomena in it,
and what he needed to do was to refine and apply this natural inclination in a way that is more
informed and focused (Howard xxi). Schliermacher and Dilthey used hermeneutics in
conjunction with the effort to find an epistemology for the data with which social scientists were
working. The goal of this effort was what they called in their native German “Verstehen”, or
understanding. This was different than the explanation that was, and in many cases still is,
offered by social scientists (Howard 1). This hermeneutical understanding was to be more than a
collection of facts but, as Schleiermacher put it, an understanding of the “inner dynamic” or
motivations of the actions or words of the subject (Howard 9-10). Hemple added a way to do
this that still makes social scientists cringe at the thought of a hermeneutical approach to the
study of culture– what he called the method of “empathetic understanding”. What he meant by
this is that the hermeneut tries to get inside the subjects head, so to speak, and see the
phenomenon through the sympathetic eye of the participant. The objective is to try to see an
inner logic in the mind of the subject and not simply dismiss what they do as nonsense (Howard
A difficulty that this approach will present in a study such as mine, beyond a theoretical
subjectivity issue, is the possibility of being considered too empathetic. Is it possible to
empathize without condoning? Can one successfully adopt the point of view of someone who’s
ideas are a pariah in society and the continuation of an ideology of oppression, slavery,
colonialism, and violence without becoming, at least in eyes of others, what they are? This
complexity in mind, I am also influenced by Paul Ricoeur. He said that an empathetic approach
is necessary for a full understanding. He made this point clear when he said, “To make one’s Berry 5
own what was previously foreign remains the ultimate aim of all hermeneutics (Ricoeur 91).”
However, he changes the dynamic of this adoption or empathy by suggesting a supplement to it.
He said, “…the concept of appropriation is in need of a critical counterpart… (Ricoeur 92).” Thus
he has a two part inquiry into phenomenon which he calls “disclosure” and “appropriation”
(Ricoeur 93). Giles Gunn in The Culture of Criticism and the Criticism of Culture describes this
notion of a two-part inquiry as the “hermeneutics of suspicion” and the “hermeneutics of
recovery”. In suspicion one “problemetizes” the phenomenon by posing critical questions, in
Ricoeur’s terms disclosing facts and structures. In recovery one then empathizes with the
subjects to develop an understanding of what could be called in Schleiermacher’s terms the
“inner dynamic” (Gunn 194). The complimentary aspect of hermeneutics is not new. It was
recognized early on by Gadamer who said, “Fundamentally in our world the issue is always the
same: the verbalization of conventions and social norms behind which there are always
economic and dominatory interests (quoted in Heckman 138).” This compliment was recognized
by Ricoeur as well who suggested that ultimately critical theory and hermeneutics are
complimentary approaches (Heckman 138). This is what I do in my research. I use different,
even opposed, theories as complimentary forces for a thicker description of phenomena and a
deeper understanding of Asatru.
Accordingly, the question becomes, what is the best way to problematize the empathy?
Marxist, neo-Marxist, Durkheimian and Weberian approaches are all well suited for this task.
One person that sufficiently brings these influences to bear on contemporary issues for me is
Bruce Lincoln via the ideas he puts forth in his books Discourse and the Construction of Society
and Holy Terrors. For example, he problematizes myth as that which makes the “contingent” Berry 6
appear to be “eternal”. Ritual is for him a means of reinforcing patterns of behavior set out in
the discourse. And taxonomies are a means to reinforce social structures and classifications
taught in discourse and reinforced in ritual (Lincoln, Discourse and Construction 5&6). It is
demonstrated in his work that mystification of existing structures and ideas via myth has political
aspects in so far as it elevates a particular ideology from the level of an historical thought to
something true in itself and outside of history (Lincoln, Discourse & Construction 32). Then
there are myths which are not about the past, but rather are set in the future. These, like the
myths of the past, are formed in the present about the present, set around contemporary concerns
(Lincoln, Discourse & Construction 38). Thus myth, ritual, and taxonomy are demystified to
demonstrate the present power oriented concerns of whomever is adopting and telling them.
This then forces questions such as, who benefits from these constructions? Who is in charge or
wishes to be in charge by these constructions? Why do the followers choose to follow these
constructions? This is exactly the direction that the critical counterpart to empathy or recovery
needs to go. This approach problematizes the basic assumptions of the community allowing one
to see deeper into the construction of the community itself.
In his book Holy Terrors, Lincoln goes further in that he offers a structure for this
problematization via his understanding of how to determine if something is properly “religious”.
He does this by looking at four “domains”: discourse, practice, community, and institution (5-7).
Discourse he defines as the “…concerns that transcend the human, temporal, and contingent and
claims for its self a … transcendent status (5).” Practices he defines as that which has as its goal
“…to produce a proper world and/or proper human subjects as defined by a … discourse to which
these practices are connected (6).” Community he defines as group in which “…the members Berry 7
construct their identity with reference to a … discourse and its attendant practices (6).” And
institution he defines as “…that which regulates … discourse, practice, and community,
reproducing them over time and modifying them as necessary, while asserting their eternal
validity and transcendental value (7).”
As these structures apply to terrorist activity Lincoln asserts that this discourse creates an
attitude in which the “outgroup” is demonized and presented as “debased, benighted, even
demonic”, transforming what would otherwise be simple disagreements and squabbles into a
commitment of cosmic significance from which there can be no retreat or compromise (Lincoln,
Holy Terrors 74). As this applies to violence from America’s ethnocentrically motivated groups
we will see that this is very much the case. And while I am not looking to prove that Asatru is
“religious”, as Lincoln put it, this structure offers an effective method for carrying out the
hermeneutic of suspicion. What I am doing is demystifying this phenomenon of Asatru by using
Lincoln’s four domains, and then coming to terms with what is discovered there by interpreting
what all that means for those involved. So the hermeneutic of suspicion exercised via the four
domains, and a hermeneutic of recovery (i.e., an interpretation of meaning) work together for this
common goal of a fuller, thicker understanding of Asatru.
There may be some who may say that I don’t appreciate the differences in Lincoln,
Ricoeur, and others from whom I draw in this study. That is something I do not entertain
because my approach thrives on differences. Gunn says that the practice of what he calls
“interpretation theory” is to deal with the “…difficulty of understanding of minds, or the
expression of minds, separated from us historically and culturally (131).” This theory is
particularly helpful in the understanding of the white supremacist community, as one could Berry 8
hardly find a group so closely associated with the West and yet are so far from the mainstream in
the West today. To accomplish so difficult and unusual a task one must use all means that are
helpful to that end.
It is important to understand that there is no singularly revered text or figure that defines
Asatru for all people. As is true for most neo-Pagan movements there is a wide variety of
contributions from many people, both from within and without the community of Odinists. That
said, there are two main categories of source material that I use in my paper: primary source
material and secondary source material. The primary source material is drawn from the
expressions from those who follow the path of Asatru. Gardell makes mention that these are
found in publications, white power music lyrics, and especially on web sites (1). The web is an
invaluable resource for this material. As a view that is certainly not popular in contemporary
American society, mass publication via a reputable publishing house is rarely possible.
Therefore, the Internet is a major source for the words and ideas of those that are self identified
as Odinist. Also, reliable secondary sources from those outside the community are relatively
few. This is a challenging aspect of this particular subject. Thus I draw heavily from those
sources that are available, such as Gardell’s book, among some other works, and publications by
the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
The first term that requires explanation is religion. Wach, Eliade and Otto treat religion
as something sui generis, unique and distinct from all other experiences and expressions. Each
resist reductive explanations offered by Marx, Durkheim, Freud, and the like. Geertz sees Berry 9
religion as a particular aspect of culture, an expression distinct from politics, family, etc., and yet
for him it informs these things. However Geertz recognized a peculiar problem for scholars of
religion. He states in Islam Observed that, “The comparative study of religion has always been
plagued by this particular embarrassment: the elusiveness of the subject matter (1).” When
Lincoln defines, or rather sets up a set of criteria for the discovery of a religion, he says that it
will have at least four “domains”: discourse, practices, community, and institution (Lincoln, Holy
Terrors 5-7). Here Lincoln identifies religion as having certain structures, something different
than a response to something holy (Otto) or sacred (Eliade). And still there is a difficulty. Talal
Assad and Wilfred Cantwell-Smith say that religion is a concept that has a particular application
to the West, and particularly the Protestant Christian West. So the question looms large– what is
religion? The debate continues strong today.
I avoid the problem of trying to define religion by not choosing a side in the debate. My
goal is to understand the community or movement, not to fit them into a preformed box of my
making. This is the purpose of adopting the methodology that I have. This stance allows me to
remain as opinionless as possible so as to allow the community to define itself. What is at issue
is what they think religion is, what it does for them, and how it is manifested for them. In short,
the question that preoccupies me in this study is, what does Asatru mean for them?.
This same concern is why I have used the term racialist or ethnocentric more so than any
other descriptor. It is a term that is used to self identify in the white nationalist community more
commonly than “racist”, which even for many of those who would be defined as racist has a
decidedly negative connotation. They do not think of themselves as wrong. They view
themselves as “racially conscious”, aware of the need and reality of racial difference as they Berry 10
understand it. This distinction is not one I or many others outside the community would accept
or have thought of ourselves, but is a key distinction for a person in the community. To define
what they are doing or believing as a religion or racist in our terms may cause us to miss an
opportunity for a deeper understanding; therefore, I do not use those terms.
Another term that is important to understand is “Pagan” and its alternative, one especially
used in the Asatru community, “heathen”. Both words have been used by Christian communities
to describe those who were not followers of the Church. However, the etymology of these words
is related to location rather than to affiliation. Pagan comes from the Latin paganus, meaning
“rustic” or “country dweller”. The country side was a bastion of the older forms of belief and
ritual in the Roman Empire after the rise of the predominantly metropolitan Christianity, hence
those who were outside the Church were defined as outside the metropolis or civilization.
However, Pierre Chouvin has theorized that the word pagan comes rather from the Latin pagani
meaning “followers of the older religions”. The word heathen has a similar connotation, coming
from the Germanic specifying “ruscticity”; referring to the people of the North who lived in
outlying areas where Christianity was not as strong (Hutton 4). So the term neo-Pagan is a
reference to those who are reviving and redefining the old ways to the contemporary world and
society. As will become clearer as we proceed the new heathens definitely view themselves as
outside the metropolitan society, followers of an older way.
A third term of great importance for this paper is race. I have used the term racialist, and
will do so for the same reasons that I use religion– because they do. What is generally meant by
this is someone who is aware of the “racial struggle” or is “racially conscious”. That said, I will
avoid the term “race” as often as I can where it is not used by the subjects of the paper. And in Berry 11
any case race does not hold for me the fullest meaning of what is going on in the community.
Rather than racist I use the term “ethnocentric” in its place. The term as I am using it originates
with William Graham Sumner. He stated that the term carries two main ideas. The first is that
groups are always in a state of conflict. The second is that peace is only possible within a group
when that group is in conflict with another, giving rise to feelings of belonging and loyalty
(Forbes 22). This Orwellian formulation is particularly appropriate for this topic as it addresses
elements of fascism that linger in the ideology of this community that are better focused upon in
the mind set of group conflict. This allows the discussion of racialist Asatru to transcend the
personal prejudices of the subjects and to think about groups and group relations in the context of
this movement (Forbes 27).
The term terrorism has also been in wide debate. One commonly heard phrase is that one
man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Terrorism is usually defined as a “…strategy of
violence designed to promote desired outcomes by instilling fear in the public at large (Bandura
162).” The victims are not the target but rather society through them (Bandura 163). Terrorism
is, then, a specific kind of violence, calculated and measured to produce a reaction oriented to
specific goals, and is usually differentiated from state violence such as war and police actions of
arrest and detainment.
Terrorism 2000/2001 was distributed by the Department of Justice for the FBI to help
them in their counter-terrorism efforts. In this publication the Department of Justice states,
“There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism.” That said, they define
…the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to
intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment Berry 12
thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives .
And though the FBI considers all acts of terrorism criminal, a distinction is made between
domestic and international terrorism. The publication defines domestic terrorism as,
…activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of
the criminal laws of the United States or of any state; appear to be intended
to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a
government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnaping ;and occur
primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
The primary distinction then between international and domestic terrorism is jurisdiction;
and therefore, the level of criminality involved in the act. Consequently international terrorism is
defined as those acts that “…would be a criminal violation if they were to occur within the United
States…”. Terrorism so defined is then inseparable from concepts of legitimacy and criminality.
Though this definition seems to leave little to question about the substance of terrorism
and how to conceptualize it, terrorism’s origins and the strategies for dealing with it are complex
and varied. Walter Reich states that, “Terrorism is a complex problem: its origins are diverse…”,
and that, “Any attempt to understand the motivations and actions of terrorist individuals and
groups must obviously take into account this diversity.” Thus he concludes, “…no single field of
scholarly study can possibly do that (1).” This complexity is not easily accommodated by a
priori assumptions of any kind. Martha Crenshaw writes in Terrorism in Context that,
Both the phenomenon of terrorism and our conceptions of it depend on
historical context– political, social, and economic– and how the groups
and individuals who participate in or respond to the actions we call
terrorism relate to the world in which they act (3).
Crenshaw also notes that we should not overlook the “[e]qually important… symbolic, or
perceptual, context…”, the aspect she calls the “subjective” which aims at a more full Berry 13
understanding of terrorist phenomena (7). The structure of my paper, employing the two
hermeneutics, is an effort to do just that which Crenshaw and Reich suggest in addressing the
layered complexity of terrorism and those that may perpetrate it.
What is Asatru?
An appropriate way to begin this exploration is to try to offer a definition of Asatru. It is
more accurate to say that this is a presentation of definitions that others have attempted. Asatru
literally means “faith of the Aesir”, describing a loose polytheism practiced in the Germanic
northern regions before the coming of Christianity in the 9
century (Geer 38). However, there is
more to it than that in Asatru today, especially in the racialist community of Asatru. Professor
Gardell defines Asatru as one of many “reconstructions” of ancient European religions, one that
focuses on Norse and Germanic religions from ancient times (31). Further, Gardell describes
this “racist paganism” as the “biologization of spirituality” (17). Racialist Asatru then is
connected to the past, at least an idea of the past; but it is also connected to a concept of
biological taxonomy or “race” that plays a large part in how it is conceived and constructed.
As Asatru is a reconstruction it is important to understand from what the reconstruction
is derived. What we know of old Norse religion comes primarily from the Sagas and the Eddas
scribed in the 13
century by Christian monks. Officially the Northern lands became Christian
around the year 1000 ce., hence the legends and myths contained in these writings are largely the
product of Norse Christian culture in Iceland and Norway. The most famous of these writings is
the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson (d. 1241). There are some archaeological finds that
contribute to this knowledge, but by and large the writings inform views of Odinism today
(Polome 3445-6). Berry 14
The perception from within the community is certainly that they are practicing authentic
Asatru. An Odinist named Ed Fitch, author of The Rites of Odin, describes Odinism as “the old
ways continued and recreated (xxii).” An emphasis is placed on community, or the “folk”, of
those who follow the old ways. If there is a sentence that condenses Asatru from the view of the
practitioner it is that from Fitch’s book in which he states, “We know our Gods and we know our
people (2).” The literature for The Asatru Kindred concurs with this emphasis on the folk. It is
stated in the introduction to the kindred, “…we must work hard to rebuild our ancestral tribes.
The Kindred is vital to our survival as an indigenous people (Murray).” On Odinic-rite.org this
emphasis on the “folk” is given more detail. It is stated on their article “What Is Odinism?” that
all “peoples” have their own “natural religion” and that of the “Indo European peoples” is
Asatru. This is seen by them as the “path” that is “…ideally suited for [their] folk.”
Asatru is also for them is a “living religion”, one that is changing and evolving. On
Odin.org there is an article in which the author states that all “religion” is “natural and ancestral”,
that “genuine religion” comes from the “…pre-history of a particular people or race
(Wodanson).” The site for the Asatru Folk Assembly, Runestone.com, continues to emphasize
the connection to one’s “Germanic” ancestors. Asatru in the ethnocentric community of Odinists
as it is presented on web-sites, as well as Fitch’s book , is concerned about the Aesir, but always
in conjunction with the people they represent or are connected to. This is something expanded
upon later, but it is important to understand that Asatru as it is largely defined in the ethnically
oriented circles is largely about the people or the “Folk”.
Though I do not use the terms religion and race, they are nevertheless intertwined in the Berry 15
history of the United States. The use of religion in the sustenance of ethnocentric division and
even outright hatred has likewise been a part of this trajectory. The story of “racist religion”
actually begins in England with the development of a theology and pseudo-history that ironically
started as an expression of affinity between Anglo-Saxon Christians and Jews. This theology was
called “British Israelism” or “Anglo-Israelism” (Barkun 3). This was the belief that the British
are the lineal descendants of the ten “lost tribes” of Israel. Its roots were in 17
puritanism in England by those who felt a connection with, though not yet a biological
connection, the “chosen people”. They felt because of this connection that British Christians
would play a central and essential role in the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and thus
initiate the return of the messiah and the 1000 years reign of Jesus on Earth (Barkun 4-5).
However, as the British empire grew this theological position began to change.
The movement from a theological view to a pseudo-historical view within this belief
began with a book called Lectures on Our Israelite Origin, written by John Wilson, the self
educated son of an Irish weaver, in 1840. He claimed to have discovered that the origins of the
Northern European peoples lay in the migration of the ten tribes of Israel, who moved from the
lands of their captivity to the North lands and intermarried with the original inhabitants of those
lands. As proof for his claim Wilson used biblical prophecy, history and British place names.
Besides the British peoples Wilson also included Slavs, Germans, Swiss and the French as
descendants of Israel. At this point no one was suggesting that the Jews were not a part of “The
House of Israel”; however, they would still need to convert to receive salvation. At the same
time Thomas Carlyle was developing racial superiority claims relating to the expansion and
preservation of the British Empire, something that began to influence British Israelism very soon Berry 16
after the publication of these works (Barkun 6-8).
Within a few years this movement in its more theological form reached the United States
via New York and the belief that the United States, not England, would play the vital role in
placing the Jews in the Holy Land began to take shape (Barkun 17-18). This ideology had a
profound effect upon many of the religious movements in the United States from that point on.
The Apostolic Faith, Pentecostalism’s Azuza Street Revival, and even the Mormons were
inspired by this notion of a new Israel in America (Barkun 20-21). This general attitude is
expressed nicely by a quote by the famed author Herman Melville in which he said, “…we
Americans are the peculiar, the chosen people– the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the
liberties of the world (Barkun 20).” One sees in this a transition from a focus on relocating the
Jews in the Holy Land to seeing America as the new holy land, and the American people,
particularly those of Anglo descent, as inheritors of the promises and blessings of God.
The idea that America was the new Israel and its people the true Israelites was no where
more clear than in the use of this theology and pseudo–history by members and proponents of
the Ku Klux Klan. In 1921 an Oregon clergyman with deep connections to the KKK by the
name of Reuben Sawyer published a series of articles blending this “Identity Theology”, as it
came to be called, and right-wing political causes. The jews came to be no longer identified as
co-Israelites, but as usurpers and frauds. They were no longer idealized but rather demonized.
In his writings, Sawyer drew the distinction between “authentic” and “inauthentic” Jews. AngloAmericans and Europeans were now the only true Israel (Barkun 23-25). Other writings to this
effect began to appear. One of the most famous, or infamous, of these was that by a British
Israelite believer and journalist William S. Cameron, which was published by Henry Ford, called Berry 17
The International Jew. This publication is one example of the popularization of the image of the
demonic, world dominating Jew as it sprung from the minds of American Identity thinkers. An
image which began to influence many in the United States and started a theological movement in
its image (Barkun 33).
From these ideas came a uniquely American form of racialist theology blended with
“right-wing” causes that has been known since as Christian Identity (Barkun 47 & 49). In this
theology the Jew is something more than a pseudo–Israelite. He is the very spawn of Satan, the
result of the mating of Eve with the serpent in the garden. As the statement of belief the Aryan
Nations affiliated Church of Jesus Christ Christian states:
“We believe that there are literal children of Satan in the world today. These
children are the descendants of Cain, who was a result of Eve’s original sin,
her physical seduction by Satan… We believe that there is a battle being fought
this day between the children of darkness (known as the Jews) and the children
of light (God), the Aryan race, the true Israel of the Bible (Barkun 189).”
This is the culmination of the development of Identity mythology and ideology. Out of this
came many of the major groups of the racialist Christian community such as Aryan Nations,
Covenant Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA), and Posse Comitatus that today continue to
oppose the “Jewish conspiracy” to control Anglo-Christian America, which they call the Zionist
Occupied Government, or ZOG (Barkun 69-71 & 107).
The development of racist paganism or heathendom began not in the theological circles
of England and America, but rather in the esotericism of Central and Northern Europe. In 1930’s
and 40’s Germany, occult notions of ethnicity were driven to the heights of power and Berry 18
destruction in the coming to power of the Nazi party in Germany (Googrick-Clarke 1-2). The
origin of this movement lies in 19
century Germany in which many people there were
concerned with a “religion” that was connected with the land. Many sought a religion that was
somehow unique to the Volk, or German people, and pre-dated the coming of Christianity.
From the early 1880’s the old gods of the north became popular subjects in both fiction and
scholarly works. In 1893, Viennese folklorist Guido von List began to write about the ancient
priesthood of Wotan, or Odin, in an attempt to understand and reconstruct, in a sense, the old
religion from the Norse sagas. He furthered this effort by creating the High Armanist Order, and
then a few years later in 1912 a similar group called Germanenorden. These were quasi–
Masonic orders that put in the place of deity the Norse gods of the old mythology (GoodrickClarke 257-258 ). Other orders and groups followed along these same lines in the following
years and into the Weimar era. One of the most influential of these groups was Die Nordigen,
founded in 1924. This group saw religion as an inherited aspect of one’s life and identity. They
felt that one’s gods were like one’s ancestors who could not be discarded for new ones at whim.
Realizing that a full revival of Norse religion would not be possible, the group favored a blend of
Norse and Icelandic mythology with the German Idealism of Kant, Schelling, and Fichte
(Goodrick-Clarke 258 ).
The modern revival of this attempt at a reconstruction in America really began in the
1960’s and 70’s with the promotion of a specifically racialized form of Asatru propagated by Else
Christensen in her newsletter The Odinist (Goodrick-Clarke, 259). This marks a time in
American history of revolutionary change. And along with this came explorations into
alternatives to the Christianity of the generation before. An interest in Eastern esotericism, Berry 19
Native American and African spiritualities, as well as Paganism in general was explored by
many as an alternative. Wicca and other forms of revivalist traditions were rather open and
liberal, but Asatru was taking a different perspective. There were two organizations that
represented the main thrust if this movement. The first was that of Christensen called Odinist
Fellowship. In this group, Christianson offered a more political and racial interpretation of
Asatru. The second, founded by Stephen McNallen, was called the Viking Brotherhood, which
later became Asatru Free Assembly. His group offered a more “spiritual” interpretation focused
on the ethic of “ethnics” in Odinism (Gardell 137 & 151-2). This marked an early divergence in
the ethnocentric Odinist community that persists today.
From the 1980’s to the present Asatru was seen as separable from the more ethnocentric
aspects, and was seen by some more liberally minded Pagans as a legitimate Pagan path. Asatru
Free Assembly was established in the mid-1990’s, in some sense, to counter this non–ethnic
view of Asatru (Gardell 152). I am compelled to say that however powerful the racialist
camp may be in spreading their interpretations of Astatru there is much representation by those
who are not racialist. There are over 100 “kindreds”, or organized groups of Asatruers, who are
not racialist in motivation. Examples of which are Ring of Troth founded in 1987 and Raven
Kindred founded in 1991 (Gardell 162). However the legacy of Christianson, McNallen, and the
other more ethnocentrically motivated Odinists looms large over the web sites and publications
on Asatru today.
Hermeneutic of recovery:
The first thing to mention is that there is difficulty in presenting this diverse and complex
subject matter with only a few sources. Also, as I mentioned, there is no single text that all of Berry 20
the tradition draws from to inform their beliefs, ethics, practices. The material that I have chosen
to include represents in a sense the more well spoken versions of what seems to me to be
commonly held ideas of what Asatru is and what it means to those who adhere to it. Again I am
not considering all those neo-Pagans who admire and practice “the old ways” derived from the
Norse and Germanic influences, only those who may be considered racial activists and/or writing
on this ideology’s behalf. Also, in this section it must be remembered that there is a specific
kind of exercise that I am doing to begin to understand what is going on inside the Odinist
community. Like Weber, I am not looking for essences, but rather the “conditions and effects”
of this social phenomenon. In this case I am not seeking to understand Asatru from “external
causes” but the inner dynamic of “subjective experiences” (Weber 1). Through the heuristic
categories of belief, ethic, ritual, and the appeal of this to those who follow it that is what I will
Belief– In a sense belief is a hidden matter but it follows that basic idea of the inner
dynamic. What I mean by belief is that which is valued as an idea or ideal. In some sense I am
thinking of this as I do myth. That is to say myths as they represent the interpretation of the
world and the phenomena therein reflected in the mores and perceptions of the world around the
believer. It is important to understand that when I say myth that it is clear that this is not how the
subject sees it. To them their construction of interpretation is the world seen as it really is.
Eliade states in Myth and Reality that the foremost function of myth is to “…reveal exemplary
models…”; that is it offers a paradigm for human action (8). The goal of this section then is to
understand what the interpretations of the Odinist are. What do they value as ideas or the ideal?
Through this I will understand to some greater degree what it is they believe, and consequently Berry 21
something about what is happening in the inner dynamics of Asatru.
Put most simply the belief in the gods of the Norse pantheon, called the Aesir, is the
defining factor of what defines one as an Odinist. But there is a strong and pervasive sense that
these deities are deeply connected to the Folk. However, there is much more tied into this belief
in the Aesir and their connection to the folk than mere fact of existence. There are aspects of this
belief that speak to a certain value placed upon racial integrity and survival which is often stated
as one in the same. For the racially oriented Odinist the value and ideal of race and racial
preservation is carried into what it means to follow the Aesir. This is one of the central factors to
ethnocentric Asatru belief and ideology. On Odinist.com, Edred Wodanson comments that the
core of Asatru is that one is to be, “…true to the Ancient Gods and Goddesses of Northern
Europe.” He also states, “We believe that religion is natural.”, and that true religion comes from
“…the ancient, pre–history of a particular people or race.” The principle is that all peoples have
an ancestral connection to their racial deities. Wodanson says so much when he states, “we are
descended from an ancient pantheon of gods and goddesses.” At the end of this particular article
Wodanson states, “We must look to the past if we are to secure the future.” The key to the future
of Odinists and indeed all Europeans can only be secured by the wisdom and guidance that their
racial deities can provide them. Loyalty to the gods then is equated as loyalty to one’s people
and heritage. This loyalty is believed to be that which will secure the future for them.
This sentiment of racially oriented deities continues from the early days in Central
Europe to today among ethnocentric Odinists. Another expression of this is found on the website
for Asatru Folk Assembly. In an article called “Asatru– A Native Religion”, the relationship
between Northern Europeans and Asatru is compared to that of “Native American religion” and Berry 22
Native Americans. It is “tribal”, a unique expression of that particular people. It is said in the
article that Asatru is, “…a native European religion… developed by the German people from the
very essence of their soul.” This is contrasted with other “expressions” that they feel were
“imposed” upon the folk by an outside, alien force. It is no secret that they are referring to
Christianity which is seen by many Odinists as the most pervasive alien belief imposed upon
Northern Europeans. Again it is stated that there is a connection between “spirituality” and one’s
ancestry, one which cannot be ignored without a price.
These concepts of the racial orientation of the gods and the danger of alien beliefs and
ideology imposed upon the folk are not exclusive to the spokesmen of Asatru. Rather these
sentiments are expressive of the point of view of most ethnocentric Odinists. On a popular blog
called Heathen.net, a particular Odinist entered a blog in which he stated that Christianity was a
“judaic cult” that imposed a foreign ethic of “absolute moralisms”upon the people of Northern
Europe. Odinism is more pragmatic in its beliefs than to hold killing as always wrong, or sex
before marriage as always wrong. For them belief is about one’s orientation to the rest of the
community or folk. All beliefs are measured against this one standard before any other. It
follows that the belief in the ethnically centered deities and their connection to a particular ethnic
group are central to the ethics of the community of ethnocentric Asatru. Concern for the
preservation, integrity and security of the folk are the most often repeated and widely preached
aspect of contemporary Asatru and is consequently the main ideal from which Odinists derive
their ethical view of the world.
Ethic– As the connection between the gods and the folk is key to Odinist beliefs that
paradigm is expressed as the highest Odinist idea. Thus that paradigm guides the mores and Berry 23
actions of those in the community. In other words, this belief informs and guides the ethical
position of ethnocentric Odinists. The concept is that belief begets ethic. Ethic, therefore, offers
a window into the thoughts of those in the community to further explore the inner logic of the
world of racialist Asatru.
In the same post from Heathen.net previously mentioned, the author proclaims, “In our
Odinist Faith Honour is everything.” This ethical statement is put in contrast to that of the
“judaic cult”of forgiveness. The ethic of honor, as described by most Odinists, allows no room
for the offender to see himself as an independent actor in an offense of dishonor. This person
states that one’s personal behavior is in fact connected to that of the entire race and community.
The author states, “To dishonor one’s self is to dishonor one’s folk and race.”
This notion of honor is widely held in the Asatru community. In the “9 codes” of the
Kindred Folk of the Odinist Fellowship the first mentioned code is that of honor. It is defined as
behaving with honesty and integrity in all of ones doings. It is also mentioned that honor is lived
out in a reverence toward all of one’s people and family. This is for them a “… mark of
strength…” as well as honor. This last phrase in which strength and honor are parallel is key to
understanding the ethical position of the racially motivated Odinist. In the following eight codes
is this common thread of strength and honor. They are protect, flourish, knowledge, change,
fairness, balance, control, and conflict. In each case the idea of racial survival is also present,
tied into strength and honor as their goal or purpose. In the conclusion of these codes it is
written, “Win, prevail, and survive.” The ethical position of the Odinist is clear. One is to be
strong and to behave with honor toward the goal of group racial integrity and survival.
This ethical position is certainly supported by the words of one of the most famous, if not Berry 24
infamous, contributors to Odinism, David Lane, who is serving a 190 year sentence in a federal
penitentiary for his involvement in the crimes perpetrate by a group called The Order or The
Brüders Schweigen. He was prosecuted and imprisoned for his involvement in the most well
known of the crimes committed by this group, the murder of a Jewish talk show host Alan Berg
(“Dangerous Convictions”). Apart from this, he has gained notoriety in the white power
community as the founder and, until he turned the position over to his wife Katja, chief
contributor and editor of 14 Words Press. This title is taken from a phrase that has become
extremely popular among white racialist, which is, “We must secure the existence of our people
and the future for white children (“Extremism in America: David Lane”).”
Lane’s writings revolve around the idea of a racial conflict that transcends all other
concerns. In one of his many contributions called “Wotanism (Odinism)” he states, “… the first
and highest law of nature is the preservation of one’s kind.” This theme nature and survival is
repeated again and again throughout his works and is the reason he sees Christianity, even in the
form of Christian Identity, as an alien creed imposed from the outside of the white race. Lane
has an almost apocalyptic concern for the fate of the white race, for which he sees a future in
which white men will be killed off and white women and children will be carried off for sport
(Goodrick-Clark 273). This is clearly seen in the previously mentioned article by Lane, in which
he says that the efforts in which he was engaged were to “… struggle against genocide…”. His
goal in writing about Asatru/Odinism was to develop a creed that would “… stop the mixing and
murder of the white race.” Again integrity and survival are intertwined into the beliefs and ethics
in Asatru, and from this came an ethic for manhood in which honor would play a key role.
For Lane and many other Odinists the protection of their folk meant the formation of the Berry 25
creed of the warrior in line with the creed that Lane mentioned. It would be a creed of strength
and honor. For Lane the best embodiment for this ethic was found in the Odinism of Else
Christensen. For him this brand of Odinism offered a “… religious creed that might appeal to the
genetic memory of the largest body of [their] folk.” He changed the name from the specifically
Norse distinction of Odin to that of the more Central European distinction– “WOTAN”, as he
felt that it served the added purpose of offering and acronym for “Will Of The Aryan Nation”
In this same article, Lane also expresses his feelings of the inefficiency and alieness of
Christianity in no uncertain terms. He concludes that Christian Identity, though it inspired some
in The Order, ultimately could not provide for the needs of the white community as well as
Wotanism could. Indeed, he accused Christianity of being “… the most powerful weapon ever
used against the freedom and existence of the white race.” So as many in the ethnocentric Asatru
community agree, Christianity is less of a solution to the problems of the white race than it is an
alien hindrance to its progress. In some cases Christianity is even viewed conspiratorially as a
plot to weaken the “natural” disposition of the white race as rulers of their destiny and
conquerors. This is certainly the perception of Lane.
To win and prevail is the prime ethic for the ethnocentric Odinist in which an emphasis
on meekness and forgiveness, as they see is the prime ethical concern for Christianity, would
hinder the full exercise of the natural power of the folk toward that end. A belief in the genetic
pre–assignment of one’s deities is justification for the fear that an alien ethical system could
only weaken the ability of warriors to protect the Aryan people. The creed of strength and honor
in Asatru could do more to aid in survival. And as we will see this ethic is reinforced in the Berry 26
ritual behavior of the Odinists in which the folk is elevated to the central focus.
Ritual– This section progresses further into an understanding of the inner dynamic of this
community by looking at outward expressions of belief and ethic. The simplest term for this is
ritual, as it is the most familiar to the non-specialist in the study of religion. The perspective that
I take on ritual in this case is one from Weber’s Sociology of Religion in which he states, “…
religious or magical behavior or thinking must not be set apart from the range of everyday
purposive behavior (1).” In other words, there is some motivation or goal that compels a certain
regulated behavior to produce a desired effect. As this behavior is shaped by a certain mythos,
analysis of ritual can allow one to see something of the desires and concerns of the Odinist by
how and why they engage the deities. Therefore, the rituals express a different way, again, to
look at the inner dynamic of values and concerns of the Odinist.
The festivals and holy days in Asatru correspond with many of that of the general neoPagan community, following seasonal celebrations of solstices and the traditional times of
sowing and harvest. The leaders of group ceremonies are called Godi, translated as priest, and
the female counterpart, Godia. It is preferable that one or both of these rankings would be
represented in a group ceremony, however solitary practice is permissible and even encouraged
(Fitch 40). The seasonal festivals, as mentioned, are scheduled around the ancient times of
harvest, planting and so forth. The rituals specific to this revolve around the myths regarding the
changing of the seasons and the sowing, ripening and harvest of food as they are understood
from the available texts (Fitch 44).
There are also less temporally oriented rites in which the practitioner is pursuing
communication of a particular need to the “powers”. These rites can be done as a kindred (local Berry 27
group of Odinists), a household, and/or solitary (Fitch 71, 117 & 141). There are of course rites
that are held around the events of a person’s life as commemoration. For example, when a
From neopax.com (non–racialist site) Berry 28
friendship is solidified between two Odinists a rite of “Bonding of Brotherhood” is performed
(Fitch 193). Betrothal and wedding ceremonies are also held to mark preparation for and
fulfillment of nuptials (Fitch 198 & 201). And there is the dedication of an infant in which the
child is presented to the gods and the folk (Fitch 207). For the growing child in the Asatru path
there are rites for “Coming of Age” in witch the child becomes a full Odinist (Fitch 209 & 214).
There is even a rite for divorce (Fitch 224). And of course there is the “Funeral Rite” for the
passing of the Odinist and to honor the departed (Fitch 227). And there are the “Rite of the
Flaming Spear” and the “Lust Seid”. The “Rite of the Flaming Spear” is a rite that revolves
around the warrior’s practice and ethic, done as a visualization of battle during the ritual
weapons fighting practice (Fitch 245-49). The “Lust Seid”, the ritualization of sexual union of
man and woman, elevates coitus to a spiritual experience of life sustaining power (Fitch 250-
52). The goal of both of these last two rites is specifically the increase of power for the
practitioner, where as the others are focused on the solidification of the community and the
individual within the community of the folk.
In each of these rituals there is not just an attempt to contact and approach the deities but
also to do so to the idealized past. The ethics of community survival and collective honor are
key to those rituals. As one engages in ritual that person engages with the mythical past and the
identity that they derive from it. They also find themselves in a past that is made real for them in
the present– timeless and a-historical. The dress seen in the photograph along with the
instruments used point to this. The practitioner can act in such a way that they feel shows honor
to the gods and community, gives themselves honor as a warrior, or reifies their sense of the
goodness of the reproductive act which perpetuates the community. In each case the beliefs and Berry 29
ethics of the Odinist are reinforced and affirmed.
Though it is unclear how many professed Odinists engage in the rituals with any
regularity there is a practice that seems to be of vital importance for the community of Odinists–
participation in the web blogs and sites of Asatru. What does this participation offer for
Odinists? Certainly it offers a forum like no other in the history of the world for communion and
communication. A forum in which the folk from all over the world can communicate and
commune at the same time. This is key to a community that holds to ethnocentric ideologies that
are unacceptable to say the least to the larger society in which the individuals exist. On these
sites one can find ample opportunity to express views that are otherwise repressed, and in so
doing find community. This is another way in which the Odinist can immerse themselves in a
world of their own making that fits them more than the one offered by general society. On these
sites one can find instruction on the beliefs and ethics of the community and feel a sense of
connection to something greater.
These virtual localities offer community and education apart from ritual. But the
question that emerges from this is, why do they feel the need or desire to do so? Why would
someone be attracted to Asatru?
The appeal– Is there something or a combination of things in ethnocentric Odinism as it
is broadly represented that would bring in recruitment, especially that of young white males?
One certain attraction is the element of myth, which is for the believer a paradigm, a pattern for
the perception of and action in the world. The attraction for the racialist youth may be that
Asatru offers a full and comprehensive world view in which the individual can situate their
racialist ideals and their identity. This certainly is the claim from those that propagate Asatru Berry 30
(“What is Odinism”). It also offers is a sense of community for those who see the world in a
similar way and a place where their minority views. The Internet in particular is a spectacularly
uncritical environment where these views can be told and retold among the registered bloggers
on sites where the concern of reprisal under equal opportunity statutes or racial intimidation
laws. So the main attraction to Asatru is that it offers community and a mythology for the
individual racialist to find his place in the world and justifications for the meaning which he
draws from it. One of the main mythologies that Asatru supports, as we have seen, is the myth
of the warrior. In James William Gibson’s book Warrior Dreams, he discusses how popular
culture created a warrior mythology since the post-Vietnam era of the lone male or group of
males that battle the forces of corruption and injustice in society. The imagery of the warrior
Viking in Asatru as defender of his clan and conqueror of the alien threat goes hand in hand with
the popular culture imagery of Dirty Harry and Rambo. Part of this mythos in both instances is
the atmosphere of the immanency of defeat if action is not taken by a brave few.
This sentiment of urgency is true in the white power movement in general as well as the
Asatru community. Since the 1980’s, the racialist community has perceived a trend toward
multiculturalism as a result in ever increasing globalization and its subsequent results of cultural
liberalism and Third World immigration and migration and the corruption of society (GoodrickClark5-6). In some ways this reflects the similar concerns in late 19
and early 20
volkish movements in Germany and Austria that eventually lent their support to National
Socialism (Goodrick-Clark 257). Young white males may see multiculturalism as a force of
corruption that they can fight and thus find a place in the world in doing so. Asatru in this
equation can provide an ideological paradigm and social group to support this attitude of Berry 31
opposition, more often in rhetoric if not in action.
The discourse of race in our society and within the Odinist community offers another
dimension to this attraction as race is itself a myth, or an “… imaginary social construct…”
(Carroll 141). David Carroll writes that this construction’s “fictive nature” allows it to be easily
molded into a motivating mythos to create a paradigm in which a high priority is placed on
fighting the alien other. Because ethnocentric mythologies are a fiction they are a–historical.
And because these myths are a–historical they can be used to create a new history that conforms
to the views and desires of the Odinist (Carroll 145-6). This aspect of being out of history and
then integrated into an alternative history is prevalent in Asatru, as was discussed in ritual.
Gardell confirmed this when he said, “Odinism offered a new grand narrative…”, through which
members could find belonging in something larger than themselves (“The New Romantics”).
The idea of an alternative history is a repeated theme on the web sites that I examined.
On the site for Asatru Folk Assembly they say about Asatru that it is not a passing fad,
comparing it to how they see many other new religions. They say that it has “ancient roots” that
are deeply connected to specific to people of northern European descent. The site for The Asatru
Kindred says that they offer “… a place for spiritual growth, and a place to share common social
values.” On the site for The Troth it is said that they form community to “… seek to practice the
moral principles followed by our ancestors.” And again on the site for The Odinic Rite, they say
that they are trying to “… reclaim their unique heritage and play a role in heralding a golden
future…”. As is clear, Odinists are calling back to a mythical age of purity and honor, a time
when the warrior was leader and protector of his tribe or clan. Through this ethic and mythos
they hope to bring a time when their values were upheld in their society. The myth is for them a Berry 32
way to conceptualize their past, present and future, and thereby give them meaning.
As I stated, this construction also gives those who feel this way a community to which
they can belong. They have a clan or folk even if it is only a virtual one. Within these
communities they can express their views and even be heard and responded to. By this their
views are given validity which they could never achieve in mainstream society. The individual
who feels out of place in the ever more multicultural world can find a new context in which to
situate themselves. This coupled with a mythology that motivates and informs them about their
own uniqueness and strength is a powerful motivation for one to identify themselves as an
Hermeneutic of Suspicion:
There may be concern that I have been too sympathetic to this phenomenon and forgiving
of the people involved in a “religion” that emphasizes ethnocentric separation and distinction.
Rightly so the scholarly community has to guard against preferential bias and ethnocentric
statements. However we ought not shy away from a deeper understanding of even those things
that are not pleasant or strike us as repulsive. However, empathy is only part of a properly
effectual approach for understanding. In the following section I problematize and query the
discourse, practice, community, and institution of Asartu. This is the section that is less
concerned with the subjective realm of meaning and more so with the relationship between this
constructed meaning and those who are playing the larger parts in its construction and direction
of the meaning and why they are doing so in that way. In other words, the relationship between
this construction and power.
Discourse– Lincoln makes the point in Discourse and the Construction of Society that Berry 33
discourse takes form in myth, ritual and classification; and that these are employed as ways
dominant and non-dominant actors construct society (3). As opposed to the more generous view
expressed in the section of the hermeneutic of recovery, the view of myth that I employ here is
that which says myth is about creating sentiment and using that sentiment to some terrestrial end.
Lincoln states that myth is a “… discursive act through which actors evoke sentiments out of
which society is constructed (Lincoln, Discourse 25).” Dominant groups use it to maintain the
order that benefits them while non–dominant groups use myth to change the order to one they
desire (Lincoln, Discourse 3-4). The order of things, descended from contingent factors of
human action and accident, is mystified into something non–contingent and purposeful, like the
will of god(s). In the words of John Barthes, myth is about “… making contingency appear
eternal…(qu. in Lincoln, Discourse 4-5).”
Ritual and ethic, seen as discourse, follow this same pattern. The common behavior
coming out of sentiment is called ethic. Ritual can be seen as action regulated and specialized
for the discursive purpose of reinforcing the sentiments. The area of classification, or taxonomy,
is likewise about reinforcing social, contingent structures that are mystified through myth, and
therefore cannot be deviated from or questioned. Attitudes of “affinity and estrangement” are
important for the leadership to maintain their position of who is in the group and who is not, who
are the enemy (Lincoln, Discourse 53). In Holy Terrors, Lincoln defines discourse as that which
“… transcends the human, temporal and contingent, and claims for itself a similarly transcendent
status (5).” Put together as a framework for the understanding of what is going on in the Asatru
racialist community the effort is about finding how the temporal interests of the group,
particularly the interests of those who are in control of the discourse as writers and commentators Berry 34
for the community, have been mystified. In a sense I am asking the reductive question, what is
really going on in this discursive behavior?
Carol Swain says that the new white nationalism is different from that of the past in some
important ways, especially in that it tries to inject itself into the mainstream of society,
exemplified by the efforts of David Duke in his political campaigns and the establishment of a
“Euro-American” rights organization in the template of the NAACP (Swain 3-5). Asatru is an
exception to this effort to go mainstream. Odinists not only fall within the minority category of
“New Religious Movement”, but they also hold vigorously to their racially oriented point of
view unashamedly. This is easily demonstrated in the discourse they banter on the internet and
in other forms of publication. On these web sites steadfastness in their beliefs and resistence to
the mainstream is displayed as a virtue, even an obligation. On the site for The Odinic Rite,
there was an article in which the author stated that they are not “universalist” nor are they
nationalist. The article proclaims that nationalism based on state interests is a deluded and self
defeating prospect for their larger interests of an “Odinic nation” (“Odinist Nationalism”). The
site’s contributors also reject the political direction of the white nationalist in an article titled
“True Leadership is Needed”. In this the author proclaims, “True leadership of the masses will
emerge, is emerging, not from the political sphere but from religious and spiritual realms, from
Odinism and the Odinic Rite.” On an ongoing blog from Heathenfolk.net, beginning with a post
from January fourth, 2005, in which Wyatt Kaldenberg, a self identified Odinist and the
administrator for this site, posted that he had no interest in the traditional nationalism. He saw
himself as a “white internationalist”. He sees the traditional notion of national boundaries as
divisive and a hindrance to white international interest. Subsequent responses to this post Berry 35
support this idea that nation states are a problem for true white nationalism.
What is important with Asautru is that the point of view of many Odinists is that white
nationalism will need a spiritual focus that only it can provide. This places Asatru and its visible
leaders at the forefront of spiritual change within white nationalism, at least in their mind. This
in turn provides a larger place in the mythical future of the world for the leaders of this
community. They are not only to be priests, but kings as well. If this does nothing to place them
actually in that seat it does give them status, at least in their own eyes, as the elite participants in
the making of the new order of things. They then may ensure their place at a table set in their
own honor. They become more than leaders of an amorphous sect on the Internet, but spiritual
guides to the white nationalist community at large.
This is clearly the case for David Lane, whom I have already introduced. He is one of the
most prolific Odinist writers in cyberspace or in print. As the founder of 14 Words Press and a
former, and incarcerated, member of The Order he enjoys a certain clout. He states that a good
part of the motivation for his adoption of Asatru involved this desire to solidify a specific kind of
white nationalism. He said in his “Wotanism (Odinism)” article, of which I have already made
mention, that this was his motivation in seeking out a “religion” that could act as a “vital
weapon” against what he saw was a “genocide” of the white race. For him it offered a “…
religious creed that might appeal to the genetic memory of the largest body of [his] folk.”
Disparaging Christian Identity, non–racialist Odinism, and the “universalist” New Age
movements, he sees Asatru as a means to the end of Aryan empowerment to the highest of
“God’s laws… the preservation of one’s own kind (“Wotanism (Odinism)”).”
Of course this use of “religion” by Lane and others mystifies the political issue of white Berry 36
nationalism, or the desire for the rule of whites by whites in an all white territory, into an
expression of the “Godsense” of the white race. The racialist angle of the discourse surrounding
this religiosity is desperately important in the imagery of the community, even for those that
profess no faith or religion at all. This is certainly the case for Tom Metzger’s White Aryan
Revolution, or W.A.R.. Metzger states plainly on his web site that he understands the use of
religion for a “cultural mythology”, but is concerned that if anyone “…believes in some
spook in the sky…” they may present a problem for the goal of revolution (“Religion”). Yet
W.A.R. does not hesitate to use the imagery of Asatru to create the warrior sentimentality that is
helpful in a revolution the likes of which Metzger and others fantasize about on these sites.
White nationalism is clearly an aspect of how a contingent reality is mystified into a noncontingent mandate that, as Lane states in his article, is in keeping with “Nature’s law” and
therefore the laws of God. However, this is not the only way that transcendent discourse is used
to elevate terrestrial motivations and ideals. The classifications of human beings are obvious in
the discourse beyond that of racial taxonomies. Hyper-masculine discourse is very much a part
of the expression of values and concerns of the community of Odinists. Using David Lane again
as an example of this discourse, it is easy to see the mystification of sexuality and gender roles.
The protection of white women and the role of men as warriors to that end is quite common in
nearly all white nationalist discourse in the United States, and Odinism is no exception. Lane’s
article “Valhalla– Fact or Fiction” serves as one of the clearest examples of discourses on gender
and sexuality. Manhood is defined as a position that requires a choice to be made by the man.
He can be what Lane calls a “thrall”, or a man can become a “warrior”. The thrall is clearly the Berry 37
Above image taken from W.A.R.’s main page on Resist.com. Berry 38
despised of the two, and there are only these two options for male identity. The thrall is the man
who chooses not to fight for the cause of white survival. In Lane’s terms this man is destined for
well deserved scorn by the community and Odin. Their destiny is to be “dissolved” into the void
of chaos in the region of creation called Hel of the Norse cosmology. The thrall is not to breed
nor to enjoy the rewards of Valhalla nor the sweetness of the victory that is to come. The warrior
on the other hand is the fulfilment of the plan of the Allfather for what a man is supposed to be.
For him there is the sweetness of the rewards of Valhalla and the maidens, called Valkerie, that
give untold pleasures to the warrior after his battles. The common theme in racialist Asatru of
natural law, the law of struggle and strength, is reinforced in the warrior ethic. While the thrall
perishes, the warrior wins, prevailing against any foe regardless of death or defeat. This is
because they are reincarnated innumerable times to fulfill the purposes of Allfather Odin. Lane
states, “Allfather created lions to eat lambs, …and the races of men to battle for women, territory,
power and life.” Therefore, the warrior fulfills a “divine command” that, not surprisingly, Lane
sees as encapsulated in his fourteen words.
The expression of an immanency of the demise of the white race plays no small role in
this construction of manhood. The promised peril requires warriors to defend the women and the
community. This construction also bears upon what is expected from and valued about women.
Lane’s article states quite clearly that their value is in the sexual gratification that they can
provide the warrior. That is the function of the heavenly maidens and it is no different for the
terrestrial ones. This is also woman’s “greatest desire”; to be “…desired by a great warrior.”
And as the advancement of a man’s “soul” is in his identity as a warrior, so the advancement of a Berry 39
woman’s soul is in her physical beauty so that she can attract that great warrior. This is her
“greatest happiness” in life and no other pursuit will do.
These sexual and gender constructions are quite common, and are not justified by
anything less than that of the will of the god’s, most expressly that of the Allfather. As a “nature
religion”, Asatru draws its justifications from the world around us. It is commonly stated that
nature decrees these differences in gender and the roles they play in sexuality. But “nature” also
decrees the differences in “race” as well. The same mystification that is employed in the
construction of the gender and sexual hierarchy is employed in a stratification of race. Race is
the most obvious of the constructions that is used in this community, and is arguably the central
one. In the previously discussed “Valhalla” article, David Lane equates the natural distinction
between lions and lambs and the ensuing destruction of the lamb by the lion as symbolic of the
conflict among the races of men. In an article called “No Alliance with Wicca” on Odinicrite.org, it is stated in similar terms that mirror that of Lane. Nature is the ultimate expression of
the will of Allfather, and thus reflects his desire for distinction in the races of men. Unity with
the other races of men is part of the larger conspiracy to bring on the “…destruction of [their]
folk.” This is the connection that many racialists find so powerful with Asatru, as it provides
what they see as the ultimate expression of that difference in a “religion” that is inherently
Discursive mystifications like those just discussed shield preferences from the harsh
questions they would otherwise be subject to if they were not transformed into non-contingent
fact and gives them justification. The discourses in the Asatru community are based upon the Berry 40
mystifyication sexual and hierarchal preferences that allow those who engage in them to elevate
their wishes to destiny and their desires to rights. Practices informed and motivated by this
discourse then ensure that the discourse is activated and perpetuated in a manner that is
conducive to that end.
Practice– Lincoln defines this as ,
“A set of practices whose goal is to produce a proper world and/or proper
human subjects, as defined by religious discourse to which these practices
are connected (Holy Terrors 6).”
Practices are about activating the discourse of the community. How does the behavior of the
members of the community reflect the discourse in racialist Asatru? There is a particular
challenge in this aspect of the investigation of the movement as the direct observation rituals and
daily practices of Odinists was not available due to the structure of the community, which will be
discussed. This is perhaps another justification for the need for further study of this phenomenon
by those with greater time and resources than what was available to me. Nevertheless, there is
ample material to analyze two aspects of common practice in the racialist Asatru milieu and how
they enforce and reflect the discourse of the community. These are the rituals, as defined largely
by Ed Fitch, and the posting of blogs and articles on the Internet.
Rituals are the best starting point as the idea of ritual as a practice may seem less abstract
to the non–specialist in religious studies as a distinctly “religious practice”. As I have already
laid out the major rituals for the common practice of Asartu, I am free to simply analyze the use
of them as it pertains to the discourse in Asatru. It has been seen that nationalism, the warrior
ethic, gender and sexual differentiation, and racial taxonomy are major aspects of the discourse Berry 41
in racialist Asatru. An irony is that the major focus on ritual has been done by people like Fitch
who are not as overtly ethnocentric as are the major contributors to the discourse. This
distinction is noted by Goodrick-Clark who states that some of the more activist oriented
Odinists are less concerned about “spritualities” and “ceremonies” and are more focused on
Asatru as a locus for the perpetuation of ideas of “…aristocracy, power and the propagation of
the white race (264).” There is, for example, less of a focus on ritual in the writings of Lane and
the like than what I expected to find. It can be assumed that the more ethnocentrically oriented
Odinists are performing these acts in a somewhat regular fashion, but there is at this point no
evidence that I can bring to bear on the subject. It is equally likely that the ritual aspect for some
Odinists is not quite as important for them as having a mythos upon which to hang their existing
perceptions of the world.
It can be said that in ethnocentric Asatru, the purpose of ritual is that it touches most
easily the discourse of ancestry and the distinction of being of European descent. Edred
Thorsson writes in the forward to Fitch’s book that in ritual one can find access to one’s
“…inherited spiritual treasures… (xiv)”. Fitch writes in his introduction that a solution to the
problems that plague modern people can be alleviated by a going back the“…the most basic
aspects of life…”, and away from the “… artificial and alien creeds…” that circulate today (xxi).
This is a common retort in the Asatru community, as we have seen– that which is alien is also
destructive. Practicing the rituals is a way in which the Odinist can escape the dangers of these
“alien” influences and get back to the simpler aspects of life, or to connect with the power in
one’s ancestry, as Thorsson pointed out. For Fitch ritual is central to what being an Odinist is Berry 42
about, though others may not see it that way. He states, “We know our gods and we know our
people (2).” Being close to the gods in ritual is about accessing the divine wisdom that is offered
in one’s mind as it is connected to the divinities and ancestors, both of which are peculiar to
In this context it is easier to see that ritual reinforces and reflects a certain point of view
about the alien and what it means to be of the folk. However, to be a part of these rituals,
according to the racialist point of view, is only suitable if one is of this genetic lineage. Asatru
and its rituals are about the “unique folk” to which the Odinist belongs (Fitch 21). Other aspects
of the discourse that are reflected and reinforced by the rituals are pursuant to this central
dialogue of racial separation. But other aspects of the discourse in the community are reflected
as well. The Flaming Spear ritual as reflecting and reinforcing the warrior ethic, and the Lust
Seid reflecting the emphasis on sexuality, are two examples. What is most important is that there
is a ritual or rite available for most every aspect of one’s life, from birth to divorce, and death.
All of life is connected to the ethnic deities, and therefore all of life is lived, for the Odinist, in
the sacralized ethnocentric environment.
The rites and rituals seem to be, as already stated, focused upon by those who are less
overtly politically concerned than people like Lane. More activist individuals, like Lane, seem to
focus primarily on their writing and on–line contributions for the expression and reinforcement
of their views. Here the average racialist follower of Asatru can have a voice as well. Sites like
Stormfront.org, a more generally white nationalist site, and specifically Odinist boards like
Odinist.com and Heathenfolk.net have no lack of posts by those who claim a deep connection Berry 43
with Asatru and often vocalize their opinions informed by Asatru. In this virtual locality
Odinists of various levels of interest, knowledge, ethnocentricism, and radicalization can mingle
and share ideas. Participating in these sites then becomes an important act of the Odinist who is
likely separated in actual distance from an actual community of like-minded people. It is true
that there is an effort to form local kindreds for Odinists, but it is easier for one to simply log on
for advancement in knowledge, discussion, and the expression of ideas. Doing so becomes a
ritual that reinforces the discourse within the mind of the participant. Logging on also becomes a
way to access the thoughts of the community so as to become encouraged and further educated
about the community through the discourses. The effect is then better informed racialists who
now are armed with the latest “facts” about the world and their faith.
How is this consequential? A paper by Professor Cass Sunstein called “The Law of
Group Polarization” is particularly helpful. He argues that people in a deliberating body tend to
gravitate toward predisposed positions on any given issue. That if the people in the group
already have an opinion on an issue, say that Jews are devious, then discussion with people of
like persuasion will produce a more radical position in further deliberation if the original position
is unchallenged in the discussion. The Internet, as is specifically mentioned in the paper, offers
an ideal setting for unchallenged group deliberation. The effect of this is that the discourse of the
racialist community is consumed in the secrecy of the blog and unchallenged by non–racialist
dialogue. The practice of blogging then reinforces the dialogue in a way that is less difficult and
far less localized than is ritual. It is a small wonder that the Internet is the means of choice for
most white nationalists to communicate their message, not just for Odinists but for racialist Berry 44
activists of all kinds and affiliations. In turn a community is created apart from the small
kindreds that may come together in real time and in virtual space that has a broader reach and
appeal for the average Odinist and general racialist.
Community– This describes the general population of ethnocentric Odinists. In Holy
Terrors, Lincoln defines this as made up of members who, “… construct their identity with
reference to… discourse and its attendant practices (6).” The empathetic view expressed in the
section titled appeal does have some communion with this section in that they address identity in
the community. The difference here is that there are seemingly selfish aspects of this use of
discourse that are not revealed in the more empathetic view. The appeal of a racially oriented
discourse may be more than the feelings of anxiety over multiculturalism and immigration on the
behalf of white males and the social forces that compel the adherents to identify with their “white
heritage”. There are other reasons that white males may find a mythos that celebrates white
masculinity attractive. James Gibson makes it clear in his book that many young white males, as
well as many older ones, are in a state of anxiety. They see the empowerment of minorities and
women and feel a sense of competition that was absent in previous American history (Gibson
11). Where white males once enjoyed favored status in American institutions every advance of
equal rights makes many of them feel more threatened. This is likely one of the reasons why
conspiracy theories are so prevalent in the white nationalist community concerning a Jewish plot.
Someone must be behind this diabolical plot to marginalize white men in the “America they
built”. Since it cannot be nature, as white men have been blessed by her, as they argument often
goes, then it must be the evil Jews doing it. This kind of sentiment is easily observed in the Berry 45
words of Wyatt Kaldenburg, who stated in an article called “Death of the White Race” that
whites are in trouble. He points out the declining birth rate among whites as opposed to the
climbing rate among non-whites in the U.S. and around the world as one example of why. This
along with the Holocaust is a carefully chosen field of rhetorical battle for the “racially
conscious” white person. Racial mixing and governmental regulations on access to birth control
and abortion facilities are symptomatic of this battle which ZOG seems to be winning. The truth,
so called, of what is happening is “hidden” from the public by ZOG, who “…doesn’t want the
White masses to find out what is happening…”. The changing demographics that bring so much
anxiety are not the result of natural changes in a world that is easier to move around in, but rather
the targeted effort of a malevolent force aiming to destroy the white race.
The community then is composed of people who create a place where this status of
superiority is restored and counter strategies by those who are “racially aware” can be
formulated. As this community primarily exists in the blogs of the web-sites like those I have
already discussed, what I am referring to is a primarily virtual community. There are groups that
meet in person in their kindreds, but the largest site of community, certainly the more observable
site, is that which is on the Internet. Here the discourse is exchanged and the practice of
blogging contributes to the dissemination and inculcation of the ideas. The result of this is a
virtual community of people that are coming together around these ideas and informing one
another where the boundaries of time and space no longer apply in the same way.
Access to some of these sites, however, can problematic. Though the statements of
belief, articles, and other literature are open to view on the sites, often the blogs and message Berry 46
boards are restricted to those who are members or have registered. The trick is that in some
cases one must disclose one’s “ethnicity”, as is the case for Odinist.com, to join in. The intent is
clear though not specifically stated– only those of suitable “ethnicity” can be in the areas of the
site where one can participate in posting. In this way the community is controlled, and since the
administrator reserves the right to remove any “objectionable” material from the site even if one
were to voice dissent one could be ejected from the site and the post would be removed. In this
discourse and practice are united in the manufacture of community. This is however not limited
to the Asatru sites but is common on other sites as well, such as the ever popular Stormfront.org.
White nationalists of all brands have picked up on the Internet as a tool for this creation of
community since the inception of the Web. The result is a large gathering on the Internet of likeminded people discoursing on the virtues and values of white nationalism, and in part Asatru.
In a sense this community is carefully manufactured and its discourse is carefully
controlled. It is far from completely spontaneous or an expression of different people coming
together as an accident of common opinion. The on-line community is constructed around the
kind of discourse that is found acceptable by those who have the means to manage and maintain
their site. However, it cannot be ignored that many of these sites are managed by those who are
more concerned with the “spiritual” aspects of Asatru and are less concerned with a political
agenda. But the fact remains that the best funded and more easily found sites such as
Stormfront.org, WAR’s site Resist.com, and the sites where one is likely to find Lane’s articles,
are more concerned with white nationalism than Asatru for its own sake. In a sense the
community of Asatru is spread beyond the borders of those sites specifically dedicated to it and Berry 47
into the broader community of white nationalists. Yet the old division that began with McNallen
and Christensen is still present. In some sense there are two kinds of ethnocentric Asatru,
communities that are not necessarily in opposition but defiantly see the issue of white
nationalism from different angles. In a sense this comes from the difference in the leadership in
these camps as well as the leadership that has emerged in the larger community of racialists,
which I will discuss next.
Institution– This aspect of the study is concerned with the who construct Asatru’s
racialist community and discourse. Lincoln states that institution,
“… regulates religious discourse, practices, and community, reproducing them
over time and modifying them as necessary, while asserting their eternal validity
and transcendent value (Holy Terrors, 7).”
The leadership takes responsibility for the direction of the community, and thus drives the
discourse and practices of the community. I have mentioned that the access to posting and
blogging, and by extension to the discourse and indeed the participation in the community, is
controlled by the administrators of the sites. What is also controlled is the public face of the
Asatru community. The Internet has made the access and dissemination of information more
democratic, but as the Napster situation has proven there are limits to this openness. Google
yields 696, 000 references for Asatru and 36,800 for Odinist. Represented in both cases on the
top ten listed sites are those groups that are racialist in nature and those groups, such as the
Southern Poverty Law Center, that oppose ethnocentricity. One can say that the non–racialist
Odinists are less visible by far on the web. This visibility of ethnocentric Asatru can be
attributed in part to the successful efforts of David Lane and others to define Asatru as the new Berry 48
religion of white nationalism. The imagery and community is easily employed for the purposes
of promoting a revolution of white males against a society they feel marginalizes them and
denies them what nature and/or god has given over to them.
This attitude of revolution is apparent in the writings of David Lane. In his article called
“Wotanism (Odinism)”, which I have repeatedly referenced, he wanted to unite and motivate his
fellow Aryans to action by this imagery and sentiment of the Germanic warrior protecting the
Volk. The purpose of this is what he defined as the prevention of the genocide of his people, but
is more accurately defined as a call to white revolution. Lane has a profound presence in the
more radical circles of the white nationalist community and he has used his influence to spread
his interpretation of Asatru. This is how he and those like him manipulate the sentiment of the
community and those who find some sympathy for these views to call attention to their own
and concerns. For a man who is never going to taste freedom again this may be the only status
that he can obtain for himself.
Another case in point is the use of this Viking imagery by White Aryan Resistence, or
WAR. This group was founded by an activist by the name of Tom Metzger to mobilize whites to
confront the same kind of perceived threat of “genocide” to their “people”. As is seen in the
picture taken from the main web page of WAR and the other pics taken from their “gallery”,
there is a blending of imageries. The Swastika and Images of Viking helmets and weaponry are
clearly evocative of the kind of person the proponents of this site wish to be. They see
themselves as berserkers of the old guard and as conquering Vikings, imagery that is also Berry 49
popular in the white power music scene as well. The irony is that neither Metzger nor his WAR
are explicitly Odinist in persuasion. He stated on his web-site that “If Odinism is used as a
cultural mythology I see no harm. But I support no religion if it actually begins to buy into its
own drug (“Religion”).” He is even more explicate than Lane in his ulterior motive for the use
of Asatru imagery and sentimentality. Metzger, as do so many in the more radical circles of
white nationalism, sees Asatru as good rhetoric, but a “White Aryan Resistence” is the point of
The connections among these individuals that are more prominent in the making of the
public face Asatru can be striking. Wyatt Kaldenburg, administrator of Heathenfolk.net, is a
fixture in the ethnocentric Odinist community and has been involved in it since the days of Else
Christensen. While attending meetings of the Los Angeles chapter of Odinist Fellowship,
Christensen’s group, Kaldenburg became acquainted with Tom Metzger. Since that time they
have been associated with each other. Kaldenburg later joined Metzger’s newly formed WAR
and became a regular contributor to the magazine and the later web site promoting his particular
brand of Odinism (Goodrick-Clark 262). Though Lane is not as directly associated with these
two, he too derived his inspiration from Christensen.
Kaldenburg, Metzger, and Lane each attribute their inspiration to Else Christensen and
her more political brand of Odinism. Their subsequent contributions to Odinist discourse as a
result of this association are unashamedly white nationalist. The result is a public
marginalization of the less political, though still ethnocentric, forms of Asatru. So as racialist
Asatru in general has overshadowed in many ways the non-racialist Odinists, white nationalism Berry 50
has begun to overshadow and even marginalize the less political forms of ethnocentric Asatru.
Further proof of this is in the two major scholarly works that discuss racialist Asatru: Gods of the
Blood and Black Sun. The stars of these particular works are not the more ritually concerned
Odinists like Ed Fitch, but rather those revolutionary minded like Lane and Kaldenburg. It is
likely that the focus falls on them in part because it is sexier to have a personality such as theirs
to make one’s point. However, it is more likely that they become the stars of such works
because they are far more visible. As the community of Odinists often overlaps into that of the
larger white nationalist community, it is the case that the leadership and spokesmanship of
Asatru does the same. As there may be different creeds among white nationalists there is one
thing in which they do feel a commonality, as Wyatt Kaldenburg stated, “The prize is the
survival and advancement of the White Race (“Death Of The White Race”).” The difficulty in
understanding Asatru in general may lie in defining first which kind of Asatru you wish to
Conclusions and Recommendations:
Given the information from the exercise in complimentary hermeneutics, what can be said
about Asatru? First, if we separate racialist and non-racialist Asatru communities and focus on
the ethnocentric expression we still see a variety within that ethnocentric group. The variety lays
in the early division between Christensen and McNallen, between the political ideologues and
those who see Asatru as a spiritual revival for European peoples. The imagery and dialogue are
very similar in these two points of view, however it is the intended use that varies. Odinists like
Lane and Kaldenburg are very clearly using Asatru to further a political stance of white Berry 51
nationalism while men like Ed Fitch seem to be sincere, though ethnocentric, in their pursuit for
spiritual fulfillment. And then there are those like Metzger who are not concerned at all with a
religion whatever the name, but find the imagery of Asatru stimulating and use it, but unlike Lane
Kaldenburg do not profess any sort of belief in it.
What is also clear is that there is a mythology of the past that informs Odinists about their
present and future, guiding the ethics and behavior of the community. This is for many, if not
most, a replacement reality for the multicultural society of equal rights for women and minorities,
and what they see as a decline in white male control. This is connected to a larger phenomenon in
American culture, what Gibson describes as the new warrior myth made popular in American
entertainment. White American males have been raised on a steady diet of movies and books that
project masculinity as defined by the warrior who opposes the agents of corruption in society
whose governors care nothing of justice (Gibson 14). Many find satisfaction for the desire to
become a warrior for a cause in the sentiment of Asatru.
Ethnocentric Asatru then is understood as a particular contemporary adaptation of the
ancient Norse Sagas and myths that enable some European Americans, especially males, to find a
sense of exclusive identity in a world where the old social and geographical boundaries that
ensured white male dominion are continually blurred. This quest for identity then becomes for
some a way of perpetuating those boundaries, if only in a local setting or on the internet. For
others it is a means to gain power or control over a demographic that may be prepared to act to
reestablish those boundaries. The Viking warrior of old is reborn in the minds and adolescent
visions of those who feel no sense of distinction or belonging in the world they have inherited in Berry 52
the era of globalization and diversity.
The question is then, does Asatru represent a radicalization and a consequently greater
danger to America’s multicultural society as Gardell asserts? What I have found in most cases is
that the majority of Odinists are more closely connected to the desire to separate from the
integrated society rather than destroy it. There are elements within the heathen community that
are more militant, but it would seem that there is no more of a propensity for violence from this
movement than in the Christian Identity, Creativity, or any other racialist movement. The point
of fact is that my conclusions are different than Gardell’s. Also, Gardell had failed to adequately
argue the point he was making. This is the conclusion of Mark Pitcavage of the Southern Poverty
Law Center in his review of Gardell’s book. Pitcavage states that Gardell’s assertions are
“…repeated throughout the book, yet not really supported.” The problem he has is that Gardell
“… seems to overstate the extent and influence…” of this milieu. I tend to agree for the same
reason that Pitcavage states, and that is that there is a focus on fellows such as Lane and other
more radical individuals to make a statement that is unsupported in other forms of evidence about
the larger community.
What is also damaging to Gardell’s assertion is that of the attacks since the 1995 bombing
in Oklahoma, itself done by people that had ties to Christian Identity, were done by people
associated more with the traditional white power affiliations like Neo-Nazi and Christian Identity
and not that of Asatru groups. Some examples are the 1996 Olympic bombing and the rash of
abortion clinic bombings all done by men like Eric Rudolph who were connected to the Christian
Identity compound Elohim City more so than to Vahallah (Blejwas 34-46). The Order, or The Berry 53
Brüders Schweigen, are given special attention by Gardell as an example of the kind of
radicalization that he was speaking of due in large part to the self proclaimed Odinist persuasion
of the founder Robert J. Matthews (Gardell 55). However, The Order was a mix of various
ideologies dedicated to the common goal, until some were turned informer by the FBI, of white
revolution. In an open letter from former member David Tate posted on Stormfront.org in
October of 2004 he states he was himself a white Christian separatist and that the majority of the
members were and still are Christian. In addressing the Odinist persuasion of the founder of The
Order Robert J. Matthews, Tate reminds readers that Matthews was continually connected to the
Aryan Nations leadership and remained sympathetic to Christian Identity throughout his activities
in and with The Order. In fact the moto for The Order, Tate reminds us, was taken from the book
of the Bible Jeremiah 51:20, “Ye be my battle axe and weapons of war.” The uniting factor in
The Order was for Tate and others that which we have seen was and is , “…our Race, our heritage,
and all things Aryan.”
In this sense, Swain, who sees white nationalism in general as a threat, is more correct
than Gardell. I have already stated that there is no evidence or reason to believe that Asatru as an
ideology represents a more dangerous motivation for terrorism. There is however very good
reasons to believe that the white nationalist community does. Tore Blorgo of the Norwegian
Institute of International Affairs states that terrorism from such groups has been on the rise in the
last decade, referencing the bombing of the Murrah building and the assassination of a Swedish
labor union activist. He sees a shift in target selection by these groups from the minorities they
despise to the governments and media people they blame for the present power of the great enemy Berry 54
“ZOG”. These are sentiments not exclusively located in Asatru but are more prevalent in the
broader white nationalist scene (“Right Wing and Racial Terrorism”).
The question is then if and when law enforcement has to confront criminality seemingly
informed and or motivated by Asatru, what are some caveats that can be offered from this study?
In her book How the Millennium Comes Violently, Catherine Wessinger discusses her conclusions
reached after many years of working on New Religious Movements and special interest in those
that involve violence inspired by these movements. One of the conclusions that I would not argue
with at all is the assertion that the stigmatic term “cult” should be avoided and the common
practice of demonization of the people involved should likewise be avoided (Wessinger 9&10).
Her other assertion is more problematic. She states that, “Religion is an expression of an
ultimate concern,”, an idea taken from theologian Paul Tillich (Wessinger 5). This means that
there is a thing or ethic that remains uncompromised for the believer for them to remain a
believer. She makes the case for several of these movements through the book that the best way
to advise law enforcement to handle confrontation with similarly motivated groups is to try to
maintain the believer’s ultimate concern. In other words, to avoid outright assault that will cause
the leadership and/or followers to react to a perceived threat from the enemies of their world.
My problem with her conclusion is certainly not that law enforcement must avoid outright
confrontation if at all possible. A peaceful outcome to a warrant service or arrest of parties
suspected of terrorist or other criminal activity is always preferable. However, viewing this
milieu of white nationalism and/or Asatru as having a single motivation or ultimate concern is
flawed. I lean more to Bruce Lincoln’s assessment of how to conceptualize what would Berry 55
constitute a religion, allowing for a “polythetic and flexible” definition of Asatru and an
understanding that is sufficiently “thick”. Through this the variables that may lead to violent
activism from an Odinist group can be understood, assessed, and reacted to as the situation
dictates. Far from being a simple monism of a single ultimate concern there are a plethora of
variables to consider. History of the phenomena, cultural setting of the phenomena, internal
debates that shape discourse, and external pressures that may compel violent action are only a few
of these variables that we could mention.
Possible policies and strategies for dealing with the threat that white nationalism presents
is another question that is addressed by Swain and Bjorgo. I would suggest that those who would
define themselves as Odinists and engage in criminal activity are not motivated by Asatru but
rather use Asatru to justify the criminality. They are motivated by other forces, as the articles by
Lane and the use of Asatru imagery by Metzger suggest. Asatru does not represent a
“radicalization” but rather the variety that is present in the white ethnocentric community today
and in America at large. Asatru represents, however, a significant challenge to our sense of
toleration and religious freedom. Ethnocentric Odinists expect to be assailed by society and
indeed construct their mythology in part around that expectation. Wessinger’s warning about
mutual demonization is poignant. We cannot permit ourselves to feed into the discourse of the
most radical representatives of Asatru by limiting our open dialogues to people we agree with.
Distasteful as it is we must engage these people beyond simply dismissing them as ignorant
racists and allowing their dialogues to continue exclusively on a closed Internet site. Academics
and Berry 56
those who are engaged in policy must confront these people in a spirit of honesty and candid
tolerance if we hope to win “the hearts and minds” of those who are not yet committed to these
ideologies. The greatest weapon against terrorists who wish to assail and destroy our multi-ethnic
and open society is for us not to abandon the principles that make it thus.
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