The Difference Between Here and There: Some Thoughts on How American Ásatrú Differs from Swedish Asatro

Personal Journal Entry from April 25, 2012:

I recently read an article from a Swedish Heathen’s blog about how they refer to themselves and how very different it is from how American Ásatrúar refer to ourselves and the differences in our practices. Needless to say, I found this very interesting and I have a few thoughts on the matter. The two major points was that the use of Ásatrú is often taken to have a racist connotation by the Left in Sweden and that the most common term is “pagan.” Secondly, American Ásatrú is far more a devotional religion than Scandinavian practices.

As you might imagine, I was a good bit shocked by this first part. I’d say the author did a very good job of pointing out that “pagan” means something completely different in the States than it does in Scandinavia, where Wicca is all but nonexistent. There is little confusion by anyone that “pagan” means Norse gods and customs. Here in the States it means Wicca or some variation derived from Wicca. We need a name, and identity, that is distinct from Wicca. This isn’t meant as some sort of slam on Wicca, only to point out that we have next to nothing in common and are very different religions.  There is, however, and element of identity in the use of Ásatrú for us that doesn’t need to be stated by our Scandinavian brothers and sisters. They still live on the old lands. They still bear the cultural and ethnic identifiers that we, as Americans, have to work very hard to incorporate or hold on to family customs. We need a tie to the old world that they do not, and how we refer to ourselves helps provide that binding tie. Sure, some might use it to exclude others but I see less and less of that as the old “Folkish” argument dies down. We need to cling to what is left of our ethnic heritage because there is so little left for us here and I can see how some might view this in the wrong light. We also have to deal with fundamentalist Christianity in ways they do not and the need for a solid identifier, a name to rally behind, to deal with them is far more necessary here than there. We have to be more blatant about how we are not them than our Scandinavian fellows do.

As for American Ásatrú being more devotional than what the author sees in Sweden, I’d bet he’s completely correct. Let me first start off by saying that I think the ancient customs were far more devotional than modern Scandinavians are. Let’s be honest, there isn’t much in the way of devotional practice left in Europe, regardless of religion. When church pews are all but empty 50 weeks out of the year, is it really any surprise that even our Heathen counterparts are less likely to be devotional than focused on folk customs? I also suspect that American Ásatrúar are more devotional in practice than the ancients were. Lacking the majority of folk customs still alive in Scandinavia we are left with rebuilding the religion side of things more heavily to compensate. Also, it does reflect the nature of American religious history and behavior, for good or ill. It does seem to me that there is a heavier focus on historic practices here than in Scandinavia. It seems to me that we are focused on rebuilding what was while they are focused on doing what is an extension of their current culture and customs. Lacking what they have, our behavior seems very reasonable and logical to me.

Reading about these differences and giving them some very serious thought has given me a new perspective on my own goals and intentions. I am interested in a devotional faith. I am lacking in folk customs and find myself uncomfortable at the idea of aping the customs I do know about. I grew up with some Swedish customs but they are remnants of a recent immigrant heritage more than active cultural awareness. I do see the difference between a folk custom faith and a devotional faith and I see where I am lacking in my own methods. I see the difference in identity as well and I have a better perspective on my own identity. I am also seeing a way forward in my own development and I’m good with that.


The Difference Between Here and There: Some Thoughts on How American Ásatrú Differs from Swedish Asatro — 5 Comments

  1. Maybe I’m biased, due to my geographical location in the World, but I think that this well written post offers many insights, and that the term “Asatro” really has got some bad press of lately, notably from the Swedish left. The word “Hedning” or “Heathen” in our language, also translates as “Pagan” which might lead to some further confusion about what to label ourselves, when and if we need a specific term in order to define our identity.

    The term “forn sed” or ancient custom, which is largely misleading and could mean almost anything or everything is a label I myself would avoid, on purpose. Firstly because the “Samfundet Forn Sed” – once a functioning organisation for Asatro, and nothing else, is largely syncretist, or should we say multi-culturalist, practising almost every known faith (including Christianity) at once. That is perfectly acceptable – of course – everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, but as for me – I am not a syncretist, so I tend to opt out of the whole thing.

    Then we have terms like “folkish” or “identitär” = “identitory” which are seen – by some leftists, in a certain country – as positively right-wing, or even nazi. In fact, I know several people who have been removed from the membership rosters of the organisation I mentioned above. Real membership number stands at around 100, it is believed, but these people claim it’s still more than 300 – all in all estimates on “defined” or “proclaimed” pagans or whatever in Sweden varies, but a fair estimate would be around 3000 perhaps, if we see to all kindreds /groups /organisations or whatnot, which state that they practise “Norse” or “Nordic” faiths in some form.

    Another problem is that the current chairman, the self-proclaimed “Rådsgydja” and another local “gode”/godhi of the organisation I mentioned above are in fact employees of Sensus, a multiculutral organisation headed by the Church of Sweden, Evangeliska Fosterlandsstiftelsen and some other Evangelical Christian groups (evidence is in part available on the net). Again, It is not my intention to slander anybody for their beliefs, but as for me, I find this “double loyality” – being Christian one day, openly co-operating with the Church, and being a self-professed Gode the other day as a little shallow, or not very devotional, should we say.

    Some would perhaps even use the word “hypocritical” but since “hypocrite” is such a strong word, maybe one should avoid this. In any case, I can see several problems with the credibility behind the term “Forn Sed” as far as the situation in my home country stands, right now. Lastly, we also have the fact that “Forna Sidr” only occurrs in a very small number of Old Norse texts, all written in Iceland, at least 200 years after the introduction of Christianity. As such, we have no proof at all that this term was in use during Pagan times, while the term Asatru/Asatruar etc is very well documented throughout, at least in my humble opinion.

    Also, “Forn” in contemporary Swedish stands for something totally obsolete, or nearly museal, as the name “Forntid” (“Ancient times”) or the name “Gotlands Fornsal” (for a Museum in Visby) implies. Therefore, contemporary Pagans of “Nordic” inclination should at best avoid the term altogether, even in a Swedish Context

    • Thank you for the connotation regarding “forn” in modern Swedish. It’s an interesting perspective and gives me some additional insight. I’m very interested in the differences between Swedish and American versions of our faith. I do what I can to tailor my reconstruction efforts to Swedish customs, when I can. I’m “Swedish-American” (we do so love our hyphenated words). My grand parents came over in 1926 an my father was born a few months later in 1927. I only learned a few words of Swedish so it’s been very hard dealing with the language barrier. I’ve taught myself a slightly larger vocabulary but its minimal at best. I look forward to reading your blog, even if I have to abuse Google Translate to do it.

      • Thank you – even if the blog is very personal, erratic and a little controversial at times (to say the least!) I hope it makes for a fun read, and stays entertaining, if nothing else.. also… Swedish is said to be notoriously hard, I find english much easier to learn than for example German.. 🙂

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