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.