|Heri (second from left) and Týr pose with Thor's hammer pendants|
KS – Growing up as a child in the Faroes, were you taught about the Faroe Islands’ conversion to Christianity?
HJ – Yeah, yeah! That’s the main theme of the Færeyinga Saga, the history of the Faroe Islanders. When we learned Faroese ancient history in school, at the same time you learn about the conversion. That is the main theme.
Historically, the guy who brings Christianity from Norway has been the good guy, but Tróndur í Gøtu – the one who’s the pagan and the resister of Christianity – is really the main character of the story. It starts with him and ends with him. It starts with his birth and youth and ends with his death, the whole story. Initially, he wins. He doesn’t kill Sigmund [the Christian], but he dies as a consequence of their fighting. It’s really ambiguous in that way.
What can you say? We are a country with a Christian constitution and have been for a very, very long time. There’s not many ways to tell a good pagan story.
|Tróndur í Gøtu raises Thor's hammer against|
the arrival of Christianity in the Faroe Islands
on a Faroese stamp by Anker Eli Petersen
KS – Were you raised Lutheran?
HJ – Yeah, yeah. Unless you have a very good reason, you get christened and confirmed and…
KS – Is it still an official state Lutheran Church today?
HJ – Yeah. Yeah, it is, unfortunately.
KS – “Sand in the Wind” really seems like an atheist anthem, and some of the mythic songs like “The Ride to Hel” may use the mythology, but there’s an atheistic worldview behind them.
HJ – Yeah.
KS – Would you describe yourself as an atheist?
HJ – Definitely. It’s very difficult to sell atheism through mythology, but… Ha! It’s confusing, but there you go.
I’m definitely an atheist. I used to be Christian, just because that was the way I was raised. As soon as I thought twice about it, I realized that I didn’t believe in it. Then I got into the mythology.
You know, once you have one reason to scrap one mythology, it’s very hard not to use the same reason to scrap the other one. How do you go from Christianity to pagan? I think it’s impossible, at least while being honest – intellectually honest.
But hey, you can be fascinated by mythology all you like. You don’t have to believe in it. I also find the Greek and Egyptian mythology very fascinating. That doesn’t mean you have to believe in it.
|While I was interviewing Heri backstage at Paganfest,|
this Týr t-shirt was being sold in the concert venue
KS – A couple of mutual acquaintances have suggested to me that you value Norse mythology more as cultural heritage than religious belief. Many of the Ásatrúar I know think that the tradition is about honoring and respecting the ancient worldview, not literally believing in magic spells and mystical creatures.
HJ – Exactly.
KS – However, some of them feel that you called them out as crazy people in past comments. How would you explain your views on Ásatrú to those who come from an approach built on tradition and culture?
HJ – Tradition and culture is all good, but I have a problem with believing in any of it literally. You don’t even have to go to spells and witchcraft. So long as you believe any of it literally – the mythology – I have a problem with it. I’m not gonna sweet-talk those people.
|Týr's fans salute the band at Paganfest in Chicago – April 13, 2013|
KS – What is the problem you have with it?
HJ – It’s obviously not true. Having to explain that to adults, I think, is [sighs dramatically] a waste of my good time. Ha!
There is no Odin out there, anywhere, any more than there is a Yahweh.
KS – I think a lot of people don’t believe that the mythology is literally true, but that it’s a metaphorical construct, a way of seeing the world, a worldview.
HJ – Fair enough. Then I don’t see why they want anything more from me. I don’t think I insulted those people in any way.
KS – The By the Light of the Northern Star album cover shows a Viking destroying a crucifix.
HJ – Mmm-hmm.
|The cover of Týr's By the Light of the Northern Star|
KS – The lyrics to “Hold the Heathen Hammer High” specifically talk about “pagan pride,” and the song’s video shows the band cutting down a cross, burning it and spitting on it. Some of the songs I mentioned earlier can be read metaphorically, but “Hear the Heathen Call” and these other songs – it’s a bit hard to interpret them metaphorically when you’re literally spitting on a crucifix in the video. What are you artistically trying to convey with this sort of language and imagery?
HJ – I’m very aware that it’s very confusing to sell atheism through mythology like that, or to hack down one mythology with another mythology. That’s problematic already, to begin with – but here I am. Ha! What am I gonna do? Ha!
No, you’re absolutely right. It’s very complicated. I didn’t make it easy for myself. But that’s what it’s like.
KS – I was a bit shocked the first time I heard the lyrics to the title track on By the Light of the Northern Star:
May the mighty Mjølnir nail the bleedingThat’s very strong language! You’re a public figure, and this is your art that you’re putting out there. How do you reconcile an artistic statement like this with the fact that you were married in the Lutheran church and had your son baptized in the Lutheran church? Here in America, you have the option of a non-religious civil ceremony.
And naked Nazarene upon the pagan planks
Pound in the painful nails now and hang him high and dry
HJ – Yeah.
KS – Why did you choose to participate in the church as an adult?
HJ – Well, my wife at the time – ex-wife now – wanted to be married in the church. I know my mother also wanted that to happen. I had no problem with it.
I felt a bit of a hypocrite, but blasphemy is a victimless crime. Ha! There’s no problem for anyone but me maybe looking like a hyprocrite. I can take that. I’ve been a hypocrite before and probably will be again. Ha!
But with those two mythologies meeting like that, it’s also in a way putting Jesus at the same level as Thor. Suppose Thor was – ha! – on a short crusade or an errand in the Roman world and had to lend his hammer. “Maybe I won’t lend it. I’ll just go myself. What do you need it for anyway?” “Oh, there’s this guy we need to crucify.” Ha! I mean… Ha!
|Church of Tvøroyri in the Faroe Islands|
KS – I think By the Light of the Northern Star and The Lay of Thrym are very different albums. The newer one is very clearly metaphorical and obviously about political situations in the modern world.
HJ – Yes, yes. Northern Star is very mythological, whereas The Lay of Thrym is very political and more contemporary, in that way.
I just felt very angry about Christianity at the time, and I have no problem lumping it in with the Norse mythology like that. As I said, I see the problem. I see the problems it may create, but I take artistic liberty.
KS – You’ve said that the 1990 Black Sabbath album Tyr was an influence on your band’s name and logo. Were you a fan of that period of Sabbath – when the band was basically a Tony Iommi solo project?
HJ – No, not nearly as much as I did when it was Dio – Mob Rules, Heaven and Hell, Dehumanizer. When he sort of changed the lineup for every album, I was not that much of a fan of Black Sabbath. I loved the short turn into Nordic mythology, and there are a few songs on that album I think are really good. An album like Headless Cross, for example, that’s a really good one – but it’s nothing compared to when Dio was in the band, I think. No, that is not my favorite Sabbath period.
|The cover of Black Sabbath's Tyr|
This concludes The Norse Mythology Blog's interview with Heri Joensen.