Lately, I have been reconsidering my earlier approach of not identifying as Asatru. I don’t have any definitive answers, and this post is pretty much me thinking out loud.
Entire legal battles hinge on the definition of a single, seemingly static word. Questions of personal and community identity are bound to be at least as complex. If nine judges looking at the exact same laws and the exact same precedents cannot all reach one decision on what a term may or may not mean, well… what does that say for a subject as deeply personal as faith?
I’ll begin with one label I am very comfortable with: polytheist. This is my go-to term if I am having a cordial discussion with someone out in the everyday world. It establishes a belief in multiple Gods, and the conversation can proceed from there. Saying that I am Heathen works less well in certain circles. In my line of work, we're more likely to think of the biker gang rather than a spiritual faith. Even without that particular association, the word “Heathen” cannot travel just anywhere without bringing along some baggage (often the listener's). Nonetheless, Heathen has been my term of choice because of its history and because, early on, it was actually the word I was hearing from my Gods.
On a personal level, I don’t identify as Pagan or Neo-Pagan for a simple reason: for me, these descriptors do not reflect how utterly life-changing it has been for me to discover that our Gods and Goddess are real. Others may be quite comfortable with these terms and with variations on them. I only speak to my own proclivities here. In my opinion, Pagan is a remarkably general term (as well as the name of another biker gang). I could easily state that I have been Pagan for over a decade now. Some of the people I met in that time talked about the Gods, but usually in the context of them being either archetypes or aspects of a monotheistic or dualistic entity. I saw no point to worshiping “gods” like that. The most accurate label I could find for myself was “Panentheist.” Pagan was not my term of choice. To my mind, it was an umbrella term that could include everything from Atheists who enjoy mythology to spellcasting Christians to Wiccans to… well, you name it. I've always been interested in precision.
When I finally did meet our Gods, I started looking into Asatru. This did not go very well at first. Initially, I seemed to be pulling up every implicitly or explicitly racist site out there. Fortunately, I decided to trust my own experiences over the rantings and ramblings of mere mortals. Soon, I found solid Asatru resources, like Asatru Ring Frankfurt and Erich's Hall. Not everyone out there was a nutjob, but I did have to dig and to have faith. Then too, I was also dealing with the fact that Loki was the first God to really reach out to me.
Despite the good websites, it did not take long to get a certain impression of how Asatruar sometimes conduct themselves. For example, I saw a post in one group by a young fellow describing a pleasant experience out in nature. It was quite a beautiful little reflection, discussing the intersection of light and dark. But immediately, a number of "more experienced" men jumped down his throat. They called him "brother" while giving him orders to disregard his own experiences. The not-so-subtle attitude I saw there and on some other sites was "keep your mouth shut for approximately the next five years"--i.e., new converts have next to nothing to offer. I can't say I found this "tough guy" approach particularly persuasive. Less so, being in criminal justice.
Sometimes, I envy those who can identify as Vanatru. However, my fulltrui is most definitely Aesir, so that term would not fit me particularly well. The stand-alone meaning of Asatru is actually quite beautiful and very accurate. There are many inspiring people out there who describe themselves as Asatru, e.g., Larisa Hunter and Glenn Bergen. So far, I have also not had any bad experiences with the Heathens and Asatruar I've met face-to-face, even where we differ heavily on philosophy and practice. Perhaps I've just been lucky on that last point. But I'm wondering--really wondering--if I should continue to shy away from such a perfectly good word.
From Asatru Ring Frankfurt:
"Asatru is a modern religion with old roots. It is not about imitating what 'once might have been'. Asatru is about living with the gods today, here and now, even though we do keep in mind what once was, and let the inspiration flow through the sources like the Edda."
"We belief in the equality of all mankind. We strongly object any kind of misuse of Asatru by any extremist group or individuals. Any form of ostracism... has nothing in common with us. In the old times anyone who heard the call of the gods could follow them, and this is still true today."