Thursday, June 30, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
There is a big split in the Heathen community, one that most Heathens become aware of shortly after they first come into contact with Germanic lore. While there are many specifics and nuances to the competing ideologies the heart of the matter lies in the importance of ancestors and heroes in modern practice. No Heathen in the world would deny the importance of heritage and reverence for our ancestors. It is as much a part of our folkway as blot, sagas, and honor. To remove the veneration of our forebears from practice would be like asking a fish to live on dry land. Sadly this beautiful, integral practice has been twisted by modern, ahistorial ideas about race to fit prejudices that did not exist in pre-Christian Europe.
In modern Heathenry there are many groups that require their members have direct descent from the Germanic world. They argue the importance of ancestors and tradition as their justification. They claim all indigenous traditions are founded intimately in family and ethnicity. They claim this is in line with the historical record, tradition, and practices found in other indigenous religions. In documents such as Tacitus' Germania, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the Heimskringla we see there was heavy emphasis on ancestral worship. Great heroes in one's lineage were honored. This extended into naming conventions with it being very common for families to name newly-born children after recently deceased family members or great ancestors. This is indisputable and commonly cited by proponents of blood lineage.
From this evidence those obsessed with blood and soil claim ethnicity must be important if lineage was so vital. This is a logical leap that has nothing to stand on. In every case of the tracing of descent there is no mention made of the national origin of the ancestor. The importance given in sagas was not if an ancestor was a Roman or a Dane or a Pole but specifically who they were and what they did. This practice was not unique to pre-Christian times or Western Europe. In Ibn Fadlan's account of the Rus the only mention he makes of the ethnicity of the Rus is in describing their appearance. He spends much more time discussing their religious practices, cleanliness, and social customs than he does their ethnicity. He always refers to them as Rus, not by their ethnicity. This emphasis on culture, class, and religion remained the main forms of identification up to the settlement of the Americas.
This lack of concern for ethnic descent is shown most dramatically in the treatment of slaves in Iceland and Norway. Slaves came either from raids or as punishment for a crime. In spite of this status it was possible for slaves to accumulate property and eventually buy their freedom. Any who did, while socially not quite equal to other freemen, were in the eyes of the law the same as other free people. In Iceland the children of free slaves were considered legally and socially equal to other members of society while in Norway the taint of association took four generations to wash away. Religiously speaking these freed slaves practiced along with other free members of society as equals. No consideration was given for the ethnic or national origin of the former slave anywhere in the laws of the Old North. To many this may come as a surprise. According to the blood and soil argument ethnicity and race are ancient universally held ideas. This argument sweeps aside the facts in the historical record that show the flaws in their reasoning. In truth our society's ideas on race are very modern in origin.
The tying of culture to ethnicity in Western thought began not in the distant past but in the 17th century. In the Americas much of the labor on sugar and tobacco plantations was done by slaves and indentured servants. To ensure poor whites and slaves would never unite against the power of the great plantation owners as they did during Bacon's Rebellion laws were passed stripping the African slaves of rights and protections affirming their status as the permanent underclass in the American South. The ideas of racial supremacy that started with these laws would be reinforced as a means to divide the lower classes. Prior to the passage of these laws it was not unusual for black slaves and white indentured servants to work, live, and runaway together. This fear of a united front was very real; the only thing that stopped Bacon's Rebellion was the death of its leader. Another uprising could have easily swept away the great landowners of Virginia who depended on cheap and slave labor for their wealth. The Virginia slave codes would be the first in Western history to establish legal supremacy based solely on ethnicity.
At this point the most common rebuttal by blood and soilers is to cite Jewish and Native American practices regarding ethnic descent. They argue these examples prove the centrality of ethnicity to culture and indigenous religion. These arguments are similarly flawed and use a highly selective examination of the facts. In the case of Judaism the most commonly cited fact is the importance of matrilineal descent in Jewish society. This ignores the long-standing practice of accepting converts by all denominations of Judaism who prove themselves worthy. The Native American argument is similarly fallacious. For centuries prior to the American subjugation many of the tribes intermarried freely. It was not unusual for runaway slaves fleeing their masters to seek membership in the tribes. One of the most prominent examples was the Seminole Nation who formed from a conglomeration of Creeks, Choctaw, Yuchi, Yamassee, and runaway African slaves. The blood quotient requirement was imposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the late 19th century based on older laws passed in Virginia in the 18th century as part of the aftermath of Bacon's Rebellion. Claiming culture and ethnicity are one in the same, as the blood and soil Heathens do, can only work if you ignore the facts and make things up to fit your personal conception of reality.
At the end of the day the claims of cultural and historical justification for requiring blood descent to practice any form of Heathen spirituality are built on a twisted, deceptive interpretation of the facts. This rotted foundation has no higher justification or purpose. It only exists to justify prejudice and disguise racism as “spiritual purity.” The blood Heathens accuse those who do not meet their arbitrary and indefensible standards of being cultural vandals and thieves. It is they who are the thieves and vandals. They loot from a body of lore that embraces pragmatic wisdom, honor, courage, and fairness to justify their insecurities and fears. They vandalize a beautiful folkway to fit their cowardly obsession with race. Their claims of protecting the spiritual legacy of the Old North are nothing more than a smokescreen meant to hide their true feelings.
You may wonder, “Why worry about an ideology based on fictions? Won't the truth bring them down?” There have been many cases in history of ideas built on deception gaining far more credibility and influence than they had any right to because it sounded good. There are others where the radical actions of a few tainted the honor of the many leaving them stuck fighting ghosts. We as a community stand at a vital crossroads. If we do nothing and hope the problem goes away the problem will overwhelm us one way or the other. Our ancestors were not ones to shy away from struggle when it was justified. We must stand and with a strong voice refuse to have anything to do with the blood and soil Heathens whose obsession with ethnicity belongs in the dustbin of history with the institution that spawned their prejudices. If we cannot cut loose this deadweight of the past then we will be doomed in the future to see it drag us down. In the old days our Folkway died once under the onslaught of the flame and steel of missionaries and invaders. It would be a terrible shame on the Folk if we fell in the modern age not to mighty foes but thanks to our unwillingness to act decisively and expunge an idea with no ethical, spiritual, or factual foundation.