From Circle Ansuz
So you folks are spiritual anarchists? Isn't opposition to religion a major tenet of anarchism, as best expressed by the popular slogan, “No Gods, No Masters”?
The slogan “no gods, no masters” is a widely used anarchist, feminist, and labor slogan. Its English language origin comes from a pamphlet handed out by the Industrial Workers of the World during the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike. It was in reference to local institutionalized religious leaders, who were allied with local business owners, asking their congregations to break the strike and go back work. The main criticisms of religion by many anarchists have always been aimed at institutionalized, hierarchical religious organizations which encourage fear of other religious and spiritual beliefs, ideas, and their practitioners and act in support of the entrenched elites in society.
It is our assertion that historic Heathenry, meaning the spiritual practices of our pre-Christian Germanic ancestors, has more in common with anarchist social arrangements than any other modern political philosophy. Our ancestors once lived in a holistic world where religious belief, as typically conceived of in Christian dominated cultures, was synonymous with law, social organization, and communal belief. The decentralized, horizontal, autonomous, and democratically organized groups of people practicing indigenous spiritual folkways are nothing like large, vertical, hierarchical religious organizations. While their society was not an ideal anarchist paradise (as shown by their ownership of slaves and the near-monopoly held by males on political power) the positive, self-empowering, community-strengthening ideas which formed the foundation of their way of life are an enduring source of inspiration for us. These central elements hold truth, meaning, and purpose which are just as valid today as they were a thousand years ago. Above all else we believe spiritual people can be revolutionaries and have their part to play in the great struggle for a better common world.
Why are you so hung up on spirituality? Hasn't it always been a source of oppression and superstition?
As one of the most ancient and enduring methods of expression in human history, with archaeological evidence of its existence going back to the rise of modern homo sapiens, we believe spirituality is a vital part of our humanity. In the eons before the rise of organized States spiritual practices in the ancient tribal societies were the purview of the whole of the tribe. While there were elders, healers, seers and other respected specialists they did not have dogmatic power to dictate beliefs and ideas to others. The cosmologies they believed in were the result of hundreds, even thousands of years of oral tradition, cultural evolution, and folk wisdom refined by the experiences and needs of the tribes.
On a very superficial level these stories served to explain natural phenomena in a way people could understand it within the worldview of the times. What much modern analysis of ancient spirituality ignores is the greater depth to these stories. They did more than explain the world's functions. They served to carry on the ideas, ethics, expectations, beliefs, culture, and collected knowledge of the group to the next generation. Unlike modern, institutionalized religion these beliefs did not reside in a building people visited once a week for obligatory services. They permeated every aspect of their daily lives, serving as a guide for every aspect of life. Through the tales of gods, heroes, and animistic spirits people explored every aspect of life through metaphor, symbol, and story.
The institutionalization of spirituality has taken a vital element of our human experience away from us. It has turned what once had beauty, meaning, and truth into a crude club used to oppress the masses through division, self-denial, and patriarchal dogma, for the purposes of centralized social control. Liberating our spirituality from these institutions by returning the power of belief to the people is a vital step in breaking free from the social structures that oppress us collectively. We argue reviving and practicing the pre-Christian folk religions of the world is one of many ways to achieve this goal.
What makes Heathenry so different from other religions?
Heathenry is one of the many currents of the modern Pagan revival. It is inspired by the indigenous folkway of the ancient Iron Age peoples of Northern Europe known as the Germanics: the ancestors of many modern Scandinavians, Germans, English, Afrikaners, Dutch, and many other nations and cultures. While modern Heathenry is inspired by the practices of those peoples, it is not limited to their descendants alone. Heathenry accepts any person who is willing to learn and live by its ideas regardless of ethnicity or national origin(1). Those who claim otherwise are a small, highly vocal minority at best.
Heathenry, like other Pagan practices ancient and modern, has no religious dogma, is highly decentralized, highly localized and has no specialized religious hierarchy dictating personal belief. With no religious hierarchy to demand resources and impose social control the adherents were and are free to define their spirituality by what was beneficial for them in the here and now. Heathenry, as a revival of the ancient folkway of the Germanics, is about more than just the supernatural and mythological aspects of their culture. Unlike institutionalized religions, in Heathenry the way ordinary people lived their lives and grappled with the great challenges of living is just as important as those ideas. As a result there is a broad spectrum of opinions regarding the importance of the supernatural in Heathenry. There are Heathens that believe our collective mythologies are ethical tales and the gods are characters who embody cultural archetypes and ideas. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe they have daily interactions with the gods and landvættir (animistic nature spirits). Heathenry is a spectrum united by common ethics, mythology, sources, customs, and shared cultural practices.
One of the aspects, as anarchists, we are most drawn to in Heathenry are the popular assemblies of the Germanic peoples. In the pre-Christian age these peoples lived in tribes where, in some places and in some times, every free person, regardless of gender or sex, had equal right to speak, petition, and vote in popular assemblies known as Dings and Things. These assemblies were a major aspect of our ancestor’s lives. They existed to give every community member a voice and to maintain the peace for the sake of the whole community. Breaches of the peace and injuries were resolved by the Things by mandating restitution for the injured based, in part, on labor lost as a consequence of the action. Sometimes conflicts before the Things were resolved by formal, personal combat as an alternative to wasteful, vicious “blood feuds” in which entire families would slaughter one another in a never-ending cycle of retribution and vengeance. Community members who consistently disturbed the collective peace for their own individual ends, rather than face prison time, were typically exiled and forced into outlawry to seek a new life in another tribe or alone. Every member of the tribe participated in keeping the peace.
These assemblies show up in the mythic poetry of northern Europe, known as the Eddas. In the great creation story outlined in the Völuspá the gods resolve the details of the creation of the Earth, known as Miðgarðr, by holding council. The closest they have to a Chief god, Óðinn, is much more a first among equals who frequently does his own dirty work. Óðinn stands in stark contrast to the typical modern religions that have an infallible god-king. The flaws shown in all the gods by their mistakes, scars, shortcomings, and failings makes them much more relatable than a distant, perfect lord.
But most importantly, we are Heathens. We are anarchists. It is only natural for those of common mind to gather and take action when presented with the problems of society at large. Some of us might even go as far as saying that the spinners of fate, the Norns, decided this long ago.
Aren't indigenous religions supposed to be the property of the descendants of the practitioners? Doesn't universalism, accepting all peoples, dilute indigenous spirituality?
A false dichotomy was set up between so called “folkish” and “universalist” Heathens. Folkish are those who think that genetic and racial origins have spiritual connotations, while the universalists focus on Heathenry as a more cultural force, accepting nearly any interpretation and practitioner. We assert that this is a false dichotomy and the real split in Heathenry is one between racists and non-racists. Regardless of the semantics and posturing, we have consistently found this divide is far greater than any other in our community.
Every time a form of indigenous spirituality was destroyed it was as a direct result of acts of cultural imperialism by the supporters of other, top-down hierarchical religions who sought to expand their influence by forcing the conversion of others and through cultural appropriation. By co-opting and suppressing indigenous spirituality, these institutionalized religions, or those seeking to make a profit from the "exotic" otherness of unfamiliar cultures, succeeded in destroying the spiritual practices of ancient peoples.
I've heard Heathens and Pagans are all a bunch of Luddites who hate technology, science, and modern medicine.
We obviously don't hate technology. If we did we wouldn't be using the Internet to post this FAQ! On a more serious note there is nothing in Heathenry which puts our folkway at odds with science. Our lore teaches us of the importance of using our wisdom, wits, and skills to improve our lives and the health of our communities. Science, like spirituality, is one of many ways to understand the world. While some of the products of modern science have proven harmful to humanity we do not believe the fault is with the scientific process or its discoveries but how those findings are used.
We believe groups which seek to isolate themselves from society and escape into technophobic enclaves are ultimately doing themselves the most harm. Cutting oneself off from the greater part of humanity and engaging in self-imposed isolation has never been a genuine, practical answer to the problems that face us. Removing yourself from the world does not remove you from the troubles of the world. All it does is ensure dogmatism, irrelevance, and the slow slide into stagnation and self-destruction.
Isn't that all stuff used by racists to justify their white power trip?
There are a lot of racist organizations who promote or tolerate a racialized form of Heathenry. These modern organizations are not the first who have worked hard to co-opt these ideas for their own twisted ends. With the rise of nationalism in the mid-19th century many groups turned to their culture's pre-Christian past for ideas and inspiration. Some used it to justify imperialism, oppression, fascism, and racial superiority. Others(2) turned to our tribal past as an example of how people could live free of oppressive State and social conditions in peaceful cooperation. When the Nazis rose to power in Germany most of these organizations; leftist, centrist, and rightist alike, were purged. Hitler himself was openly disdainful of mysticism of any sort(3), barely tolerating it as an eccentricity on the part of his chief enforcer Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and his henchmen in the SS. Any who conduct research into the warped world that is Nazi occultism will swiftly find it has little, if anything, in common with Heathen practices, methods, or ideas beyond a handful of stolen trappings.
In Heathenry, through our actions, we wish to revive the ancient spiritual practice, ethics and worldview of our ancestors by reconstructing the mindset of the ancients in a modern context. Circle Ansuz believes by applying modern science, philosophical ideas, and radical theory in conjunction with ancient methods, traditions, and worldviews we can better understand and solve modern problems. Racism, as shown by modern historical and anthropological research, has no scientific or spiritual basis(4). Some try citing certain sagas, like the Rigsthula, to claim they are "descendants of Gods" to justify their racialism. This view is based on very narrow, superficial interpretations of the texts which does not consider other factors or motivations behind their composition. There is no evidence to suggest the ancient pre-Christian Germanic societies practiced any kind of racial discrimination, supremacy, or segregation.(5) Our ancestors did have a concept of separateness that was in no way based on race, but rather on one being "inside" or "outside" of the community. You were a community or family member or you were an outsider, regardless of what you looked like or your ethnicity. The Germanics were far-wandering traders and explorers who were very familiar with the world and its peoples. They had extensive trade networks going as far south as North Africa, Iraq, and the Indian subcontinent and as far East as Siberia, and as far West as the Americas (as they would later be known). Those who argue this lack of racism was due to lack of contact can only make this claim by ignoring all facts to the contrary.
Do you think only white people can be racist?
No. Some accuse us of "hating white people" because we focus on confronting white racists. They claim our lack of opposition to Black Power and Chicano Pride means we think only whites can be racist. We understand there is a world of difference between the racism espoused by groups like Wotansvolk, Blood & Honor, the Order, and the National Socialist Movement and the Black Power and Chicano Pride movements. Black Power is all about liberating a community which has been socially, legally, and economically oppressed and exploited for several hundred years. Chicano Liberation comes from the same current. These movements, if anything, have far more in common ideologically with the Gay Liberation movement, the decolonization movement, and the Women's Liberation movement than they do with hate groups.
That said, we are opposed to all groups which espouse any form of racial supremacy or segregation. Organizations like the New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam are just as worthy of condemnation as the Ku Klux Klan, the NSM, and any group which adheres to 14/88. Any group demanding segregation or supremacy is committed to the same, basic ideal of denying their fellow human beings their essential humanity.
There are many reasons for our focus on white hate groups. First, there are a lot more of them. They are regularly doing harm to innocent people. Their actions inflame race-based tension and encourage the growth of other hate groups like the New Black Panthers and the NOI. Such deeds destroy the peace and safety of communities while encouraging the perpetuation and growth of the vicious cycle of hate and retribution. Second, they are doing this while claiming it is justified by the traditions and spirituality of the ancient northern Europeans. When a skinhead wearing a Thor's Hammer breaks someones head over the pavement or a radical traditionalist justifies their words of dehumanization by invoking Odin their actions are held against our greater community. They steal the trappings, pervert the lore, and bring condemnation and shame on the Folk. For these reasons we consider them to be the greater of the evils. As Heathens we believe one should not shy away from difficult tasks if they are necessary for the sake of frith and Folk. As Heathens and anarchists we feel their co-optation is an attack on our Folk that must be answered. The cruelty, oppression, and tyranny those groups advocate is condemned in the lore and by the cultures we honor with our deeds.
You're just a bunch of self-hating anti-white liberals!
This particular mantra is a very popular one among racist skinheads, white power hate groups, and other such organizations as a retort to any who oppose them. It is what is known as the "Bob Whitaker mantra", and is used by white racists to explain how they are not actually racist and anyone who opposes them are the real racists. In the words of one neo-Nazi:"racism is code word for anti-White; anti-racism is code for White genocide. Our people are the ones who truly believe in diversity: our enemies want to destroy diversity through racial integration".(6)
For very obvious reasons this claim is loaded with factual and logical flaws. We are opposed to all groups who use race as a criteria for discrimination, persecution, and oppression. Racism, as a social construct, is a tool of oppression used by the powerful to divide the people based on superficial characteristics like skin color, making it easier for them to rule unopposed. Perpetuating racism ensures this powerful tool of elite control continues, making it easier for the handful who prey on all of the people to continue their pillaging unnoticed and unopposed. Those who wallow in hatred of others, regardless of which group they blindly hate, are unknowing pawns of the system they claim to rail against.
Furthermore, we as Heathens feel that making racism a major element of our practice is contrary to what Heathenry is about. At the core of Heathenry is the central importance of reconstructing the mindset of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples in a modern context. This is done using written sources and archaeological evidence from the pre-Christian period to understand the society of the ancients as best as possible. Racism as we know it today did not exist in pre-Christian Europe. The word "race" itself did not enter the English language until the 16th century at the earliest. The first laws in Western history to grant specific privileges to groups based on physical ethnicity first developed in the wake of an uprising by poor white indentured servants and blacks slaves in Virginia. These laws were passed with the explicit purpose of dividing the poor and the indigenous tribes of Virginia along ethnic lines. By dividing and pitting these groups against one another the early plantation aristocrats secured their control over the country. Similar laws were instituted by the European powers participating in the colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas to prevent any settlers, soldiers, and administrators from sympathizing with the natives(7). This system's impact has continued into present day thanks to the income inequalities caused by the depredations of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism.
Based on the facts regarding the origins of race and racism we believe including it in any Heathen practice is contrary to the core principles of Heathenry. It is ahistorical, contradicts the behavior of the ancients and the gods who are shown to freely adopt and intermarry with other cultures, and is contrary to the meritocratic principles at the heart of Heathenry. Perpetuating an ideology which was used to oppress, enslave, and divide is contrary to the Heathen ideals of frith and freedom.
As for the last element: we're anarchists, not liberals. Unlike liberals, we are opposed to any top-down state-like entity which seeks to impose itself on the people. If you want to know more, we highly recommend Alexander Berkman's What is Anarchism?, available free online at http://libcom.org/library/what-is-anarchism-alexander-berkman.
So aren’t you really just a bunch of whites trying to play at being indigenous?
Not at all. We are exploring new ideas of indigenism. What does it mean to be the descendants of colonizers? Of immigrants? Of people who are historically “from another land”? How do we stand in solidarity with others? These are questions we wish to answer as we develop our form of anarchism. We believe there is a radical history to White decolonization that is only now being realized. The reality is that racism was invented by the ruling class as a wedge to divide the people from each other and strengthen the elites' position in society. We believe to defeat white supremacy and racialism we must organize within our own communities while reaching out to allies outside. None can be free as long as any of us are in chains. By standing in solidarity with all who are harmed by this artificial social construct we can better understand, dismantle, and abolish the power of white privilege in society and try to repair the damage it has done to oppressed and oppressor alike. We are forging a new path, exploring the edges of our ideas, and are adding to the greater milieu of anarchist and Heathen thought.
Are you saying anarchism is the one, true political philosophy for all Heathens?
Of course not! We recognize the political philosophies of the modern day are ones which developed to address the problems of the here and now. The conditions the ancient Germanics lived in, while a source of inspiration and guidance for us, did not directly give rise to modern corporatism, liberal democracy, anarchism, or authoritarianism. We believe by interpreting Heathenry through an anarchist lens we can gain a better understanding of our past, the society of our ancestors, and attain new insights for how we can apply such practices in a modern context while addressing the problems and challenges of the modern day. We believe, in fact, the only political philosophies which are at odds with Heathenry and ancient Germanic society are those which demand absolute obedience to a single, established authority. To become that new authority would be contrary to everything we stand for as anarchists.
That said, while we do not believe in forcing any “one true way” on any community we will not compromise, moderate, or negotiate on our direct action opposition to fascist, neo-Nazi, and other authoritarian groups. We believe, as Heathens and anarchists, that problems must be solved by confronting them at their source and defeating them. Just as Odin and his brothers rose against the great giant to free their people from stagnation and oppression we believe it is our duty to stand against these enemies of our Folk by whatever means are most effective for defeating their efforts and removing their influence from our community.
1) Gardell, Mattias – “Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism” 2003 p.163
2) George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson) 1966
7) Banton, Michael (1977) (paperback). The idea of race. Boulder: Westview Press.