A Response to the Asatru Folk Assembly's Position on Race and Gender

Two days ago, the Asatru Folk Assembly released this statement on its Facebook Page:

Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning. Hail the AFA families, now and always! - Matt Flavel, Alsherjargothi, AFA

Down-thread, one commenter asked:

Am i misunderstanding the message here or does this mean that if somebody wasn't white or if they were queer they wouldn't be welcome in the afa?

This was the AFA's reply:

You are not misunderstanding. The AFA is not in the practice of policing what people do in their bedrooms but we as an organization are clear in supporting the traditional family. And yes the Asatru is an ethnic religion of European people.

Since then, the AFA has received a great deal of positive response and has posted the following in an effort to counter the censure of the liberal Pagan community:

  1. A link to the GoFundMe account of a member caught in the Louisiana flood.
  2. A set of pictures including one of Newgrange Hall, the organization's recently-completed temple.
  3. A thank-you note for the outpouring of positive response in the wake of its position statement.

Please let me begin with a response to these posts:

  1. Racists and homophobes do contribute to flood relief campaigns. They are still racists and homophobes.
  2. Racists and homophobes build places of worship. They are still racists and homophobes.
  3. Racists and homophobes receive positive feedback for their bigotry from other racists and homophobes.

In short, it is possible to be a racist and homophobe while still contributing to flood relief campaigns, building temples, and offering support for the things one believes in. The AFA is doing this very thing right now, which is why it's so important for the inclusive Pagan community to stand together against the organization.

Racism and homophobia are seductive. Human beings crave belonging to social groups, and one of the easiest ways to create them is to exclude various sub-sets of humanity. Racism and homophobia in Northern European Paganism (also called Asatru, Heathenry, Forn Sed, etc.) comes directly from the most brutal exclusionary effort in modern history, Nazi Germany and its ideological precursors, which twisted certain elements of Germanic Pagan cosmology to suit their own destructive purposes. It's a heady cocktail, this mixture of reconstructed or revitalized pre-Christian spirituality, racial purity, and heterosexuality. It evokes the image of a chosen people struggling to preserve a fragmented way of life by means of racially homogenous marriage and childbearing. Of course people are going to flock to that banner. Isn't it wonderful to have something that belongs to you and just a few others? Doesn't that feeling create community among the people who have it?

However, there are several problems with this cocktail. First, it's a drug, surely as cocaine is a drug. Second, there's nothing in the body of surviving, pre-Christian Northern European lore which supports the notion that pre-Christian, Northern European people practiced a faith that discriminated against any race or sexual orientation. They went raiding, and they took slaves, but deplorable as those things were, they didn't equate to racism or homophobia. Third, and this one is important, we're not them. This is 2016, not 1016. We live in a much smaller world than our spiritual ancestors did, and our modern, spiritual communities must reflect this. Northern European Paganism appeals to people from all races and sexual orientations, and why shouldn't it? I benefit from the teachings of the Buddha and his followers, and I'm grateful for the people who engaged in discourse about Buddhism throughout history, but I'm not from South Asia. The face of spirituality is changing as we gain access to one another's wisdom, and if our spiritual communities are to thrive, they need to maintain a flexible awareness of that change. This means that the Northern European Paganism practiced by those ancient and well-traveled people must now continue to travel well if it is to thrive, and so it needs to be inclusive.

I'm deliberately trying to avoid the racism and homophobia=bad, inclusivity=good argument here, though it is the position of my heart, my hands, and my voice. I'm trying to offer reasons why easy exclusivity is harmful, while the more challenging and colorful path of inclusivity is better for Pagans and ultimately all of humanity long-term. Yes, it's harder to know who your spiritual brothers and sisters are when they aren't color-coded, and it's harder to bracket the definition of family when it can mean so many things to so many different kinds of people. But in the end, that colorful, diverse community is stronger because it hasn't taken a social drug to find its feet. It has answered the call of the Gods and come together out of mutual interest and a mutual desire for authentic companionship. It has laden the table with foods from all over the world, it finds wisdom around that table in every language under heaven, and it loves in every way imaginable.

That's the table I want to sit at, and so I stand unequivocally for diversity in my Pagan community and indeed, in all the places where humanity gathers.