Monday, February 7, 2011

INTERVIEW WITH JÓHANNA G. HARÐARDÓTTIR OF THE ÁSATRÚARFÉLAGIÐ, Part Three

Hof (temple) at Hlésey - June 22, 2010
KS - Can you explain why you named your farm Hlésey?

JH - It’s taken from Nordic mythology. I have always wanted to be in Hlésey - and my husband, too. That’s why we named this place Hlésey.

Hlésey was the place where the [sea-]giant Ægir lived [Hlér is another name for Ægir, and Hlésey means “island of Hlér”]. He was married to Rán, and they had nine daughters. Those nine daughters had names, every one of them meaning “wave.”

Ægir used to have these parties in Hlésey for the gods. They didn't take their weapons with them or anything. They just came there to party. Ægir used to make the mead to drink in a very, very big pot that Thor brought him once.

That’s where I wanted to live. Ha! When Ægir was brewing the mead, the sea would froth. So I always know when some party is going on there. I’ve never been invited, though. Not yet.

KS - Can you talk about the hof [temple] that you built here at Hlésey?

JH - I have this little temple, down there by the sea. It’s not ready yet. It’s always a circle, and it’s open for the directions - north and south and east and west. We meet there. In the middle, we have this fireplace. It’s a wonderful place. I have these chairs to put there and some cloths to hang on the walls when there are some great parties there. We will meet there a lot. It’s a great place.

KS - Contemporary Ásatrú in Iceland seems very green and ecologically-oriented. How do you feel that this mindset - which goes back to Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson at the founding of the Ásatrúarfélagið - connects with the lives of Iceland’s original settlers?

JH - Not only the settlers of Iceland, but all people at that time in history. People knew - and we still know in Iceland - that we don’t rule the world. We are not the rulers; we are just part of this system. Here in Iceland, it’s still so obvious we don’t rule. We have to work with nature and not against it.

We don’t know when we are getting an earthquake or volcano outburst. We’re not thinking about it all the time; that doesn’t help at all. When we’re there, we’ll have to face it. It’s the same thing - we work with nature and not against it. There’s another word which is very hard to explain - æðruleysi. Don’t worry about things, but when you get there, do your best. That’s the main thought.

We have this Earth, our mother, and once we have polluted that and killed it, there is no other. So, we’d better take care.

KS - In America, we’re addicted to oil, and it sometimes seems like we’re set on destroying the entire ocean.

JH - It’s horrible. It’s horrible. We are just as bad. We are destroying, also. It’s so sad, to look at what’s happening in the world. People don’t realize. It’s the same thing - life is starting here, and then it’s over here, and it’s okay whatever you do, as long as you go to heaven. My children and my grandchildren will be alive, I hope, and I want them to have a world, too.

KS - There is a mindset for some people, that it’s okay whatever they do here, because there is going to be another place for them.

JH - That’s not keeping a clear head.

KS - In America, we’re happy when they put up one windmill or do anything vaguely green. Can you explain why Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson erected a níðstöng [“scorn-pole”] against a hydropower project? Why is hydropower not considered a green technology in Iceland?

JH - It’s not as good as we thought it would be. When you drill a hole in the ground, and you drill very far down - I’m not an engineer, I’ll tell you that much - steam comes out in the air, and it’s got brennistein [sulfur]. It’s the same as in matches. That’s what you get. It’s not good for your lungs, that’s for sure. I guess everything has its bad side. Destroying the land is the worst thing. That’s really horrible.

KS - Ásatrú doesn’t really have “holy books” in the way that other religions do. The main texts of Ásatrú are the two Eddas, which were both written down by Christian scholars after the conversion of Iceland. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have books written by the prophets of their faith; Ásatrú has a collection of poems written down by monks and a manual on how to write archaic poetry. How do you think that the use of these “filtered” sources affects the psychology and practice of Ásatrú today?

JH - I really don’t know how to answer that question. Of course, we know that Snorri Sturluson was writing this in a Christian age, but why did he do it? He must have been pagan. He must have. Why do you write these things down? He wrote this prologue to excuse himself, really, because you’re not supposed to write things like that, but he does it anyway. He would not have written it, unless he cared.

Just like today, we don’t have this dogma. Snorri Sturluson is a scholar. He knows stories; he gets them. Storytelling in Iceland was very much alive at that time. People were telling stories, and they were not written down. They were something that you told your children, and your children told their children. That’s what he’s taking.

KS - So, Snorri collected folk tales like the Brothers Grimm did in 19th-century Germany.

JH - Yes. You’re getting bits and pieces. For me, it doesn’t matter all that much. I’m very thankful for Snorri Sturluson - who was my twenty-seventh grandfather - for writing this down, because now we have something. But even if he didn’t, I’m still myself, and I would still believe in the same things. I don’t know. I don’t really think that one book or the other changes personality.

KS - Is everybody in Iceland related to everybody else?

JH - Yes. I guess maybe eighty percent of the nation is related. That’s the funny thing about Iceland. You can dig up your forefathers all the way to Norway.

It’s very easy in Iceland. We even have it on the web. It’s called Íslendingabók. You just type your name in there, and it pops up. You click “find my forefathers,” and there will come all the names. We are very much into this.

KS - Since you’re descended from Snorri, that means you’re also descended from [saga figure] Skallagrím.

JH - Yes, and Kveldúlfr and all those guys. They’re all there. Then again, you ask yourself - I wonder if my great-great-grandfather had to go to Alþingi and nine months later, somebody was born. Ha!

KS - Do you feel that Ásatrú is a specifically Icelandic religion, or do you think that it is connected to a historical pan-Germanic faith that includes the worship of Wodan and Donar in Germany, Woden and Thunor in Britain, Yngvi-Frey in Sweden, and so on? In other words, is Ásatrú Icelandic, or do you see a continuum where the whole northern world shared the same faith?

JH - I’m very glad to say that most of the people in the Nordic countries believe like we do. That is, they have this free mind of thinking what Ásatrú is. Of course, everybody has their own way, but they have the same psychology.

Sometimes you meet people that see it quite differently. I’m very afraid of that, because it has to do with racism and all kinds of things that I don’t like and are not a part of Ásatrú, at all. I see it in different countries, but it’s not the majority. Not the majority of people I know, anyway, but I know it’s there.

We don’t like it when people come with these racist or even nazi ideas, and they want to befriend us. Australia and America are worst. We really take care of who we talk to, because we know about this, and it’s something that we do not want to have anything to do with. It’s scary. It’s sad. It’s so sad.

KS - Can you explain what you mean when you write on your website that the gods and goddesses are jafnrétthá og jafndýrkuð?

JH - They’re equal to each other. They have the same powers. They have the same rights. They have the same responsibilities. They are equal across the genders.

KS - The number of women in Ásatrú goes up every year, and it has grown steadily since the founding of the Ásatrúarfélagið in 1972. What do you feel is the appeal of Ásatrú for women?

JH - It has a great appeal. Women sometimes understand these circles very well. We have periods, twenty-eight days between. We know about the circle of life, how it goes. Women are sometimes - here, at least - more green than men are. They think more about nature and connections to nature than men do. It may be not right to say this, but I feel that.

Talking to new women in the group of Ásatrú people, they are really very green. They are thinking about the future for their children and for the world. This is maybe what brings women into Ásatrú.

The population of young people in the Ásatrúarfélagið is growing very rapidly. I think young people are starting to think differently. They do understand that we have to be in peace. It’s not all about money.

KS - I’ve read that the Ásatrúarfélagið is fighting for the right to marry gay couples. What’s the latest news on that struggle?

JH - This has come to a very good conclusion, because the government has decided that now everybody can get married wherever they want. It happened last month. Congratulate me! Ha! So, it’s solved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

www.norsemyth.org er fullkomin blogg fyrir þá sem vilja vita um þetta efni. Þú veist svo mikið þess næstum erfitt að halda því fram við þig (ekki að ég virkilega myndi vilja ... Haha). Þú setur örugglega nýjan snúning á efni þessi verið skrifað um í mörg ár. Great efni, bara frábært!

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