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Are the Norse Gods Racist?

Today I was chatting with my colleague Ochani Lele (who will be appearing on Wyrd Ways Radio on June 5), author of "Sacrificial Ceremonies of Santeria: A Complete Guide to the Rituals and Practices," "Diloggun Tales of the Natural World," and several other books.  We were discussing our respective Holy Powers when he asked me a question that made me stop and, after answering it, ask him if he'd mind me using it as a question here.   During the course of our conversation, he said to me: 

"You know . . . having Jewish blood, I've always been a bit afraid of Norse religion. Just out of curiosity, how do you think your gods would react to someone with Jewish blood taking up their worship? Would they respond? Would they accept? What about an African, or an African American? How would the Norse gods respond to such a person? Are they beyond racial boundaries, like the Orishas? I'm assuming they would be . . . but assumptions often get me in trouble. What are your thoughts on that?"

 

This isn't the first time someone has asked me this and it always hurts my heart a little when I realize how the attitudes of certain fringe elements within the Heathen community might be driving people away from the Gods. I'm going to say right up front: racism has no place in Heathenry. If you are using ancestor veneration as an excuse to indulge in racist thoughts and behaviors you're doing it wrong. 

I think this highlights oh so clearly that there can sometimes be a chasm between "religion" and the Gods. The former often gets entangled and corrupted by human faults and errata; the latter exist on Their own well outside of what is all too often a simmering morass of human confusion and foolishness. This is not to say that Heathenry is racist. I don't think, overall that it is, but I do think that in some sub sections --blessedly small--- that element persists. It does so to our shame. The majority of upstanding Heathens eschew such garbage and recognize it as a corruption of our faith, our practices, our folkway and we openly condemn it. 

As to someone of Jewish blood coming to Norse religion, or an African American: it's been done! Many times! I firmly believe that the Gods are well beyond racial boundaries. "Race" is a very human construct. What's more, it's very much a product of a post-Doctrine of Discovery world. Our ancestors may have recognized differences of phenotype, culture, language, and religion, but the idea of 'race' in the ancient world did not carry with it the charge and terrible weight of harm and hurt that it so often does today.  Moreover, even in the surviving stories, the lore that is given such pride of place in so many Heathen hearts and devotional lives, we have Gods marrying and wandering all over the place. Race in the sacred tales was a non-issue. Our ancestors certainly had no problem with it. They had trade routes everywhere and while I'm too lazy to look up the requisite academic sources right now, there's no evidence whatsoever for the type of racism and xenophobia that characterizes certain branches of the contemporary religion. This is a modem corruption. 

Beyond that, as a spiritworker and priest, I've seen up front, first hand that the Gods have no problem claiming people of non-northern european descent. In fact, it's happening more and more frequently. I also firmly believe that the various pantheons are in conversation with each other. Certainly it was Odin who negotiated space for me with the Orisha and I am hardly the only one for whom this is so. The Gods have Their agendas and They call whom They call and there's quite often a lot of back and forth between Them. 

 I find that it's only with the human element that issues like racism or anti-semitism arise. I've never, ever, in over twenty years, known that to be any issue at all with the Norse Gods. To return to the original question, what I have seen, is people with Jewish backgrounds getting snapped up or called or feeling a draw to and by the Norse Gods and struggling with it.  The lands in which the Norse Gods were venerated include Germany and there is a terrible ancestral trauma there for those of Jewish descent because of the Holocaust. Add to that the fact that Hitler utilized imagery consistent with some of the more outre aspects of Northern Religion as decorative tropes for His military (note a little known fact, however: he sent followers of the Norse Gods to concentration camps and was adamantly against any restoration of Pagan religion which had actually begun in the late 19th century with the rise of Romanticism. He utilized only the trappings as a folk-binding tool) and all told, it can sometimes be very emotionally and psychologically triggering to suddenly find oneself drawn to Germanic Deities. I have even spoken with more than one person who all said the same thing: I deeply love these Gods and I want to be Heathen but i feel as though I would be betraying my ancestors if i did this.

This is not an issue with the Gods. I want to make that clear for my readers. This is an issue of cultural, social, ancestral, and human wounding.  This may be something that triggers not only the living devotee but their ancestors as well. It is not an insurmountable issue though. What it may require is a process of delicate negotiation with one's ancestors. If you are Jewish and finding yourself drawn very strongly to the Norse Gods, that's ok. I would suggest doing two things. First, I'd say set up an altar and get down to the business of developing a devotional relationship with the Gods in question. Secondly, I'd advise beginning to honor your own ancestors. I would also likely counsel (and this would depend on the situation and would be handled on a case by case basis) the person in question to either have a long sit down conversation with their ancestors explaining things, or to seek out an ancestor worker, diviner, or spirit worker who can help facilitate this so it does not come as a shock to the dead. If the Norse Gods did not object, I might also suggest not abandoning all the family rituals of Judaism. If you light sabbath candles, for instance, I would maintain that ritual. If you cover your head, either in prayer or as an act of modesty, I might continue that. These are simple examples and the first that come to my mind, but the purpose is the same: Let your ancestors know that this is not an abandonment of them or a rejection of their lives and deeply ingrained beliefs for which some of them may have died, but that this is --in addition to all that---where you are being called spirituality. You have an obligation to answer, an obligation not only to the Gods but to your own soul.

What Christians call the old testament, by the way, is not a monotheistic text. It's henotheistic: it promulgates the worship and veneration of one God over all the Others. Read in the original, it openly acknowledges the existence of other Gods. Think about that for a moment because the first time this hit me (in a class on sacrifice in the Old Testament), it rather blew my mind. On top of that, i've known more than one very devout Rabbi who circumvented the "you shall honor no other Gods before me" prohibition by making an offering or hailing YHWH first, and then going on to honor and hail the other Gods he venerated. Letter of the law is a wonderful thing. I found this creative and amusing.

In the end, if you are in this situation, you will have to decide for yourself and find your own way. Sadly, this is not something that I feel one can depend yet upon the Heathen community as a whole for assistance in sorting. Too many people come into the religion for reasons other than love and veneration of the Powers and quite often they do not challenge their dearly held assumptions and beliefs. That's ok. It will sort itself out in time. In the meantime, there are spiritworkers and diviners available to assist should it be required. 

Ochani Lele, thank you so much for a thought provoking question. I would never have considered giving my thoughts on this particular issue had we not had the conversation we did. Ashe. 

 

Notes:

Check out Ochani Lele's books here: http://amzn.to/14Llba8

and his blog here: http://ochanilele.wordpress.com/

 

Learn more about Wyrd Ways Radio here:  http://krasskova.weebly.com/wyrd-ways-radio.html

 
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 Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, author, and Northern Tradition shaman. She holds a Masters degree in Religious Studies and is currently working toward a PhD in Classics. Galina is the author of several books including “Essays in Modern Heathenry” and “Skalded Apples: A Devotional Anthology to Idunna and Bragi.”
(Photo by Hudson Valley photographer Mary Ann Glass.)

Comments

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Tuesday, 21 May 2013

    Fortunately, mainstream Asatru largely addressed these issues years ago, with the general consensus that "folkish" is not, in fact, the same as "racist". Outright racists are thankfully a rarity in mainstream Asatru circles, and most of those who would describe themselves as "racially aware" or by other similar terms have deliberately moved to other labels to describe their beliefs, such as Ron McVan and his ilk.

    It is, of course, distressing that it comes up at all, but the specter of hordes of swastika-bearing hordes joining mainstream Asatru groups is as fallacious as the specter of hordes of untermenschen doing the same. In both cases, it's a scare tactic used by a vocal minority to cause undue alarm and division, and should be given short-shrift just as you have done here.

  • Alfar
    Alfar Thursday, 22 August 2013

    I will not debate this issue, and I myself am no raving racist. However, I believe we are being simplistic when we attempt to assert the ancient gods ignore race and bloodline. It is a fact, and we cannot simply ignore history to be politically correct as it does not serve the higher good. If the ancient Norse were not racist to some degree, please explain their term "skraeling"? By the same token, most all (even if we chose to ignore it) ancient religions were based on race and bloodline. Your Jewish friend who posed the question, does he ignore that the god of his people, Yahweh, set his people up above all others as a favoured race? Do we therefore accuse Jews of being racist? Did not even the Christian Messiah, Jesus Christ, inform his disciples that he came not for the Gentile, but only for the tribes of Israel? I do not think the fact that the gods look to ancestry and bloodline makes them traditional "racists", it only shows a love for their people, above all others, as our ancient "parents". This does not mean they hate others or wish to harm others, it simply states that they do concern themselves with race and bloodlines. Nordic "reincarnation" was always focused upon return within the bloodline. We should not play politically correct games with the gods and goddesses.... I do not think they appreciate us telling them they are wrong or having us rewrite the beliefs systems to suite our current politics.

  • wayne bates
    wayne bates Wednesday, 30 July 2014

    Due to archaeological evidence , many scholars in the UK believe that the pagan Anglo-Saxon through their trade with the British Celts , absorbed some of their deities and beliefs into their own religious system . They also believe that when the Anglo Saxons took over large parts of the British isles and created what would eventually become England , in a lot of cases they married into and absorbed Celtic clans in addition to the accepted view that they enslaved or pushed them out . This shows that the Anglo Saxons , who were made up of different peoples ( Angles, Jutes and Saxons been the most prominent) had no problem with making outsiders part of their families and tribes . So while bloodlines may have been important , they were still flexible about such things . People change and the Gods change with them . . If the people were flexible , then it stands to reason the gods they followed would be just as flexible . The Gods who were venerated by the Scandinavians during the later Viking age had evolved from the gods they were during the earlier Germanic struggles with the Roman empire and the Gods we follow today will have similarly changed as we have changed

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