On Secularism, and the Dangers of Political Distortion in Religion
Firstly, it is important to realise that the goal of every political or pseudo-political sect is political in nature- Whether that goal is election or overthrow is irrelevant. Political groups operate and hope to apply their own vision to a scale larger than they could ever logistically hope to manage or even to sustain. This is one of the primary reasons that throughout history, the passing of empires has come to be seen as inevitable rather than an unfortunate circumstance. It is also clearly visible by even the quickest glance who it is that suffers the most from these inevitable collapses- the citizens. Politicians and the financial elite often tend to vanish into obscurity at the first signs of lost profitability often leaving an already impoverished nation to collapse under its own unmanageable weight.
Secondly it should be noted that throughout history all religions have been bastardized in the name of political influence- or the “greater good” and where these religions could not be effectively distorted to suit the usurpers, they were abolished with every intent of having them wiped, or excluded from the pages of history. We saw this in Ancient Egypt with the transitioning into the 18th Dynasty- A New Pharaoh, a new god, a new capital city. We saw it in the Christianisation of Rome, We watched it happen several times within the Christendom over several different monarchs- most famous of which being King Henry VIII of England and the birth of the Anglican church. In the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel we saw the commissioned defacing or destruction of thousands of pieces of art during the counter-reformation. We saw the excommunication, torture, rape, murder and enslavement of millions of people who had been “mass converted” and refused to abandon their lives and livelihood to an Eastern cult whole worlds away.
On December 15, 1791, the United States Senate was the first to legislate a recognized separation of church and state when it ratified the Bill of Rights- including the first amendment. State secularism however had been a prevalent topic of discussion throughout the better part of the 18th century, commonly referred to as The Age of Reason. It wasn’t however until 1947 that the Supreme Court saw these changes and the visions of intellectuals such as John Locke and President Thomas Jefferson realised at a state level. At present various political states have recognized the importance of maintaining some degree of separation between religious and political branches of society, however the degree of that separation varies widely from one political boundary to the next.
On Identifying Politicized Sects within Ásatrú
In terms of Ásatrú, the threat of political distortion exists in two radical and not so radically different forms. The first and more commonly “outed” is a form of Heathenism practiced by certain Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist sects. These sects latch on to aspects of the Viking era, and exploit them for their own political gains. Rather than observing their purported beliefs in whole and using them to grow and better themselves as warriors and practitioners they distort and censor history until they can only see what they already agree with. Until they have (in their minds) a justification for the way they have chosen to live life. In this group you will see people who believe they are warriors or soldiers for “the white race” against the “evils of diversity.” They then go on to claim that their actions honour the Gods of their ancestors through the taking on of an epic struggle of good and evil - more accurately, they get drunk beyond self-control, use popularized Nazi hand gestures and scream “Hail Odin” or something reasonably similar.
On the other end of the spectrum lies the radical left and what they refer to as “Universal Ásatrú” or basically the application of modern globalism to a faith that so far pre-dates notions of “one world, one people” that it’s as laughable as it is frustrating to see the two merged. Within Universal Ásatrú the practitioners make a point of selling themselves as being “more historically accurate” and will often go so far as to just say that they’re the “right” form of Ásatrú, while anyone who opposes their views clearly must be some sort of “Racist trash”, “Nazi scum”, or some other term that allegedly invalidates any and all arguments that oppose their own. A common but misapplied perception within Universal Ásatrú is that because the Vikings (Literally sea merchants and pirates) were very good at blending into foreign societies for the purpose of trade, and failing that were fairly indiscriminate about who they raped, murdered or enslaved that they must have had some underlying moral compass directing them into the saving graces globalism and multiculturalism.
The frustrating and pathetic part of these politicized sects is that neither party has thought to evolve beyond notions of universal morality. They both very firmly believe in a polarized spectrum of good and evil and despite seeing themselves as being in direct opposition to each other, both groups feel that their philosophies are right and that by default everyone else must be wrong. They both then apply those notions to past societies and civilizations. Acting as judge and jury from their own whitewashed sensibilities, neither taking into consideration that the most common motivations that existed in this era were survival and prosperity- the scope of which being limited to and by their own tribal unit. Not globalism, not racial supremacism.
On Matters of Reconstructionism and Cultural Appropriation
One of the more common issues faced by heathen community is the inability of people to look beyond the fantastical horned helmets of the comic strip Vikings who have come to be recognized as mascots of the ancient faith. To help to put that into perspective, it should be taken into consideration just who the actual Vikings were. In fact the Viking era (793 C.E. – 1066 C.E.) and the Vikings themselves were little more than bands of sea merchants and pirates who, (unlike many of their mainland counterparts) from lack of southern influence managed to preserve their culture, religion and way of life. While impressive and certainly influential- Tribes of Viking warriors are responsible for having established settlements and trading posts across the majority of Europe, and into North America, it seems silly that such a small sample of the people who actually practiced the Old Faith would come to define an entire belief system which had already been in practice for more than 1500 years at the time.
To accurately apply ancient philosophies to any modern society is difficult. Differences in technology, morality, contraception as well as the access and availability of food and resources have all changed drastically from the times when these philosophies were originally derived. Because of this it has becomes extremely difficult for those living in a privileged, modern society to be able to empathize with or understand the logic and thought processes used by their ancestors- a predicament not aided by lack of written documentation from the period. In an effort to counter this and to bring more legitimacy to Ásatrú as an ethnic religion, certain groups of practitioners have taken to removing themselves from their daily routines and from the conveniences of modern life so that they may experience a sample of what life was like for so many generations of ancestors who came before us. These groups, often referred to as “reconstructionists” find a spiritual connection and understanding through the sharing of experiences with their ancestors.