Thursday, February 24, 2011

Interview with Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir of the Ásatrúarfélagið, Part Four

KS - What is your interpretation of the sun cross, the symbol of the Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”)? What does it mean to you?

JH - The sun cross is a circle. Like I was talking about, we believe in life going in a circle. It’s like when the sea floods and gets high, and then it flows out again - it’s a circle. It’s spring and summer and autumn and winter. It’s dawn, and then it’s day, and then it gets dark, and it’s light. Everything goes in circles. This circle around the cross is just a token of that.

Then, in the middle, there’s this cross. The cross is so much older than Christianity. In all old religions, there’s this cross. It’s a token of those four elements of the world. It’s connected to so many things. It’s also north and south and east and west. It’s a sign, really, where to go. It’s a guiding sign for so many ways in life.

Ásatrúarfélagið Center in Reykjavík (July 3, 2010)

KS - You have written that the völvas were not prophetesses. Can you explain that?

JH - I believe that they were not really prophetesses. People came - it seems like both those who were high in society and those who were lower - they came to them to ask them to read the runes for them. I think that the völvas were not fortune tellers, really. They were somebody that you consulted about what’s going to happen, what may be coming. You’re not told what to do, exactly - just what’s coming, what might be coming.

KS - How would you describe the relationship of Icelandic staves to runes?

JH - These are magic symbols that are much younger than the runes themselves. This is something that people used in Iceland for protection and magic. This is really nothing to do with the settlers or that time. This is from a much later period - 1400 or 1500 - while the witch hunt was going on in Europe.

KS - Do you think that Ásatrú in Iceland is a continuous tradition that goes back to settlement times, a contemporary recreation of the ancient faith, or something that is closer to the Romantic revival in the 19th century?

JH - I wish it was something that was continuous since the year 1000, but I couldn’t say that. We really don’t know what happened all this time, when we were being christened - first once and then twice! Ha! I really couldn’t say that.

Now, I’m just talking for myself, because I found out that I was Ásatrúar when I was very young, and I don’t know why. Nobody told me to. It’s just something that I had in myself. I think it’s really something that is not taught to you. It’s part of your personality.

There might be a little romance in it, because there is, of course, always romance in being in harmony with nature. I guess that would be maybe the closest to an answer to that. It’s not because we decide to be Romantic. It’s just something that you feel within yourself.

KS - Do you think Ásatrú is geographically specific? Do you feel that someone in South America, for example, could have these feelings and come to it, too?

JH - Yes. I’m sure. I’m sure they do.

I have friends in different places of the world who have this same feeling, and some of them are not Ásatrúar. I have a lot of friends who are in different religious groups, and I don’t think, really, that it has anything to do with God. If there is a God - I say, if there is a God - I think he comes from within yourself. I think it’s something in yourself. It’s not something that comes from out there and to you, but it comes from your heart or your soul or whatever you call it.

A lot of people all over the world have this in themselves. It’s just a question of what they call it and how they express it.

KS - The Ásatrúarfélagið got its own burial ground in 1999, and I’ve seen the architectural plans for a large and elaborate hof [temple] that will be built in Reykjavik. This building will surely be the only church of its kind in the world, and it will draw national and international attention. It will appear in all the guidebooks to Reykjavík and will become a tourist destination. What do you think this higher profile will do for the group and the religion? Do you think this attention will have a positive or negative effect?

JH - I really don’t like the idea of that. I don’t like the idea of that. Maybe it’s just my pessimism, I don’t know. I don’t think it will do us any favors. Ha! I hopefully will be dead by then. Ha! Let’s be positive. Something that I have been talking about for a long, long time is that we need our website in English.

KS - If Ásatrú has no set dogma or theology, how is it a religion? How do you define what a religion is?

JH - Ha! That’s a horrible thing! How can you ask your friend a question like that? Ha!

KS - Is it a religion? Is it a social group? Is it a nationalist group?

JH - It’s not a nationalist group, that’s for certain.

I don’t think I want to answer that question. It will be misunderstood.

KS - I think it’s wonderful to find a religious group where everyone disagrees. Ha!

JH - We don’t disagree, really. We agree on being free.

It’s fun, especially in the winter. There are not so many people who come to opið húsið [“open house” - the Ásatrúarfélagið’s weekly Saturday afternoon meeting] in the summer. You go there on Saturday, and you talk about things, and everybody disagrees with everyone. It’s good. It’s very good. It’s so good for you.

It’s just like when you enter a room with a group of people, you can sit down, you don’t have to say anything, and you still feel good. It’s the same thing. It’s very nice. It makes you think, and it really helps you to live a better life, if you discuss things with people who are your friends.

KS - How would explain the use of seiðr [an ancient form of magic] in saga times?

JH - We don’t know anything about it. That’s just it. It might have been drugs, for all I know. You never know. I don’t know about it. I wasn’t there. Ha!

KS - Everybody always seems to have an answer for these sorts of things. Ha!

JS - It’s so easy, always having some answers. Ha! I don’t have them. Not with this.

KS - In Iceland, I’ve heard both “ég er Ásatrúar” [“I am an Ásatrúar”] and “ég er heiðinn” [“I am heathen”]. What’s the difference in meaning?

JH - I can say both. It’s a good question, actually. They’re not the same.

You can say, “ég er Ásatrúar.” I say that. Then I mean, “I believe in Æsir, I believe in the gods,” which I do, in a way - in my way.

If I say, “ég er heiðinn,” it doesn’t mean I believe in the gods. I can believe in nothing at all, or myself, or stones in my garden, or elves, or huldufólk [“hidden folk”], or whatever. It has nothing to do with the gods. Heiðinn means that I’m not Christian; I’m not a believer in Christianity. I’m not religious, in that way. It’s a bit different.

If you say Ásatrúar, it means you are in the society of people of Ásatrú. You believe in the old gods. That is something that you believe in, and you have read the Hávamál and so on, and you want to make this kind of life your lifestyle.

Being a heathen is a bit different. It’s wider, really. It’s more like pagan. Still, in Iceland, “heathen” is used for Ásatrúar, mostly. Sometimes people say - people who have left the Church of Iceland, and they’re not registered in any religious group, and they don’t believe anything - they say, “ég er heiðinn.”

Heiðinn always means heiður - clear. “I have a clear head.”

KS - I think that’s the end of my questions.

JH - Alright. So, would you like a banana? You must be hungry.

1 comment:

Amalia Dillin said...

I loved this series of posts-- the interview was great! The way she talks about the Norse gods and the faith of Asatru is fascinating and compelling. Thanks for sharing this.

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