So last weekend the AFA finally came out of the closet as the racist bigots we’ve always suspected them of being.
While it is kind of a relief to know them for what they are, how do we differentiate ourselves from them? When I became a Heathen the only word I was aware of to call my religion was Asatru. It wasn’t until I moved back to the States in 2004, that I first heard the words “Heathen” and “Heathenry” applied to my system of beliefs. For the entire time that I’ve been a Heathen, since Yule of 1997, I’ve been aware of the specter of hate-groups misappropriating the symbols of the arch-Heathens to further their goals. You would think we would have matured and gotten past this point, but alas, that is not the case.
One of the things I was disturbed to learn in grad school was that to be a good Medievalist one has to also be good at early Christian history. While it grated on my nerves at the time it has been useful over the years. The reason I bring it up is that looking at the history of early Christianity gives us a good example of how a religion develops. It took Christianity hundreds of years to nail down their beliefs and practices. One book I read once (and I can’t be sure which one anymore even though I’ve spent the past hour trying to look through some of my old papers and googling it) likened Christianity to evolution. We can look at Catholicism as a religion with a somewhat unified orthodoxy and orthopraxis, meaning that most of its adherents share a common belief and common religious practices. That didn’t happen overnight. It evolved over time, slowly and painfully, to be what it is today. The early Church fathers fought bitter theological battles that cost many their reputations, their property, and even their lives. Dozens, if not hundreds, of theological ideas and religious practices that were once seen as properly Christian, became extinct just like the dinosaurs. What we see today is the result of 2,000 years of social and theological evolution.
Modern Heathenry is only 40-odd years old. We are just now teething in comparison to most world religions. We haven’t even completely defined what our common practices are or who we worship. Our ancient ancestors didn’t all believe any one thing, nor did they all practice the same way. I’ve always loved that. I don’t think we need a completely unified religion. I love that there’s kindred/tribal, even regional, thews. But what I do hope is that the racist and bigoted notions that are now being celebrated by the AFA will hurry up and die. Die you nasty old dinosaur! You make the rest of us look terrible!
Many years ago I got a great piece of advice from Kveldulfr Gundarsson. He told me that I should always write my Heathen works under a pen name, because my religion could be held against me by my professors or future employers. The entire time I was researching and writing my book I really debated whether I should write as Alvilldr or as the name my momma gave me. I’m certainly glad I decided to go with Alvilldr since a couple of days before I published my book the AFA dropped their bombshell. I had been ignoring the world for a few weeks as my deadline crept closer, so it wasn’t until after I posted my book being published and available on FaceBook that I found out about the AFA statement.
I certainly don’t want my good name associated with that kind of idiotic crap, nor do any of my Heathen friends. This, it would seem, is going to be one of the defining moments of our young religion. How do we differentiate ourselves from those who would rather exclude many of my most beloved Heathen friends? I’m certainly willing to give up the word “Asatru” if the AFA will give up the word “Heathen.” But is that enough? Is the word “Heathen” now tainted too? I really don’t want to spend the next 40 years of my life trying to define what we are, but as history has shown that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. I had hoped to be putting more of my energy into fighting for gender equality, since that’s something I’m very passionate about. But I’ll certainly fight to differentiate myself from racists and bigots. I’m a Southerner. I’ve been fighting that battle my entire life. Bring it!