The core of Mr. Reinan's story was Camp Courage's cancellation of a booking by the Asatru Folk Assembly, an extremist organization that planned to use the Minnesota campground for what was presented as "a harvest-type festival." The AFA's reservation was cancelled when Camp Courage management determined that the group's "mission and areas of focus significantly conflict with [our] core values."
|Logo of the Asatru Folk Assembly|
Across the globe, Heathens come from a wide variety of nationalities, ethnicities, economic circumstances, educational levels, and gender identities. There are African-American Heathens, Latinx Heathens, transgender Heathens, and Heathens who are members of LGBTQ+ communities. Ásatrú and Heathen organizations and individuals have repeatedly and publicly denounced the AFA as a fringe group that does not represent the overwhelming majority of those who practice the various associated traditions.
The questions that Mr. Reinan asked me were more insightful and interesting than many I have been asked by mainstream journalists on the topic of Ásatrú. Due to the space limitations of his article, he didn't use most of my answers. He has kindly given me permission to post his questions (in bold) along with my full replies.
In general, what is your view on the current state of Norse-focused religions? Are they gaining adherents in the United States? I’ve seen your 2013 census – do you still think that’s accurate?
|Worldwide Heathen Census was conducted in 2013|
My original study was designed to complement works like the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center, which disappear members of minority religions into categories like "New Age" or "No Religious Preference." Such erasure distorts the rich web of small religions in the United States.
To what do you attribute the appeal of Nordic heritage religions?
The various revivals, reconstructions, and re-imaginings of pre-Christian Norse and Germanic religions appeal to a wide base of people for a wide variety of reasons.
|Bronze Age rock carving in Sweden|
What makes Heathenry different from the majority of world religions is that the vast majority of its followers today choose to participate in the religion. This distinguishes the tradition from so many faiths – Christianity, Judaism, Islam – in which one basically continues the religion in which one was raised.
Through such a lens, Heathenry is a religion of free will and adult choice, and the others are based on family practice and ancestry.
What makes a group a religion rather than a cultural enterprise?
What makes any group a religion rather than a cultural enterprise? If we define "religious practice" to mean only a sacred moment in which one is engaged with the numinous, then Heathenry qualifies just as much as Christianity or any other better-known faith.
But the lines between religion and cultural enterprise are blurred for all of us. How often do we hear that a friend is "culturally Catholic" or "culturally Jewish"?
There is more to belonging to a tradition than that moment when one eats the communion wafer or raises the horn to Odin.
How accurate or authentic are the religious beliefs and practices observed by these religions? In other words, do you think they’re some actual approximation of pre-Christian beliefs and practices, or are they more a wishful re-creation in modern terms of what people hope or guess they were like?
There is a variety of approach to ritual and belief in worldwide Heathenry, just as there is for any religious tradition.
|First-century ritual of the goddess Nerthus (Emil Doepler, 1900)|
Like liberal Jewish practitioners, there are Heathens who believe that their religion must change with the times and incorporate modern developments in science, human rights, and so forth.
Is it fair to ask a Muslim today how "accurate or authentic" her religious beliefs and practices are? Religious traditions are very complex and interesting things.
Do you consider the Asatru Folk Assembly to be a white supremacist group?
Since its inception, the leaders of the Asatru Folk Assembly have defined the organization in opposition to the tolerant mainstream of Heathenry.
|McNallen is profiled in Gods of the Blood|
For decades, McNallen and prominent members have issued screeds against racial minorities, claimed that religious affiliation is determined by DNA, and insisted that their version of the religion is only for white people.
The group's tactic has long been to use dog-whistle terms while simultaneously engaging in activities such as recruiting at white-power conventions, as reported by Media Matters and confirmed by sociologist Dr. Jennifer Snook. Recently, the new leadership has abandoned the old caution and openly used white nationalist rhetoric in public statements.
At this point, with decades of history and documentation, it is difficult to see the AFA as anything other than a hate group on the extreme fringe of Heathenry.
In your view, how widespread are supremacists in the Nordic folk religions versus those who are involved for benign cultural reasons?
|White nationalists vs. regular Heathens as % of total Heathen|
community, based on research of sociologist Jennifer Snook
Heathenry is no different, yet the coverage of Heathenry is different. Almost without exception, journalists and academics will only cover the racist element. This is quite different from treatment of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
The tiny percentage of extremist Heathens is repeatedly held up for public scrutiny while the mainstream of everyday Heathens is completely ignored. This is a shameful practice, and I hope that – with the growth of the Heathen population in the United States – this will change.